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Sallie Mae Evolve Card Review

Dayana Yochim

Written by Dayana Yochim
Edited by Carolyn Kimball
Fact-checked by Andrea Coombes

March 12, 2024

Why trust us? has no financial relationship with any of the credit card providers whose products we analyze and review. Our opinions are based solely on data and our own extensive independent research — that means unbiased guidance for consumers. Rewards cards in our cashback credit card calculator are listed in descending order according to how much money they pay out annually based on the inputs.

Editor’s note: The Sallie Mae Evolve card has been rebranded as the ignite+ World Mastercard through First Bank & Trust. See more information here. To find a great cashback credit card for you, use our credit card rewards calculator.

Impressive menu of rewards categories, Sallie. Impressive.

What makes a pricey car repair less painful? Earning an unlimited 2% cash back when you put the tab on plastic. That also goes for chargeable expenses that fall under any of Sallie Mae’s broad — and very real-world — spending categories, whether it’s a fender bender, vet bill, divorce lawyer fees, property taxes. (Fun spending also counts. We’re just in a mood rn.)

The basics: Earn 2% cash back on your two highest spending categories per month and 1.5% unlimited cash back on everything else.

Pros and cons

thumb_up_off_alt Pros

  • 2% cash back on your two biggest spending categories each month
  • 1.5% rewards on everything else
  • No caps on rewards spending
  • No annual fee
  • 15-month 0% APR on purchases and transfers

thumb_down_off_alt Cons

  • No sign-up bonus
  • 3% foreign transaction fee is le yuck
  • $25 minimum redemption requirement
  • Higher bonus rates available elsewhere if you’re a planner

Cashback rewards spending categories

The following table shows the cashback rewards rate per $1 spent in the six most common spending categories. The “Bonus Rate” refers to the amount you can earn in excess of the card’s standard rewards rate.

Some cashback cards limit the spending amount eligible for the bonus rate (aka the “Spend Cap”). Once you hit that cap (e.g., $1,500 spending in a particular category during a defined time period), the rewards rate on future purchases in that category reverts to the lower “Default Rate.”

Category Default Rate Bonus Rate Bonus Spend Cap Bonus Spend Period (Months)
Gas 1.50% - - -
Travel 1.50% - - -
Dining 1.50% - - -
Entertainment 1.50% - - -
Pharmacy 1.50% - - -
Groceries 1.50% - - -
Other Purchases 1.50% - - -

Note: The table above illustrates the base cashback rate for this credit card, which is what we use in our rewards calculator. Additionally, the Sallie Mae Evolve card pays an unlimited 2% cash back on your two biggest spending categories per month.

What we like

There are no rotating bonus categories, unlike most tiered cashback cards. The 2% rate is automatically (thankyouverymuch) applied to your two largest spending categories each month.

And you can earn an unlimited 2% cash back on those purchases.

We’re cool with the 1.5% base cashback rate — also unlimited — on everything that doesn’t qualify for the bonus rate, especially since it’s a card without an annual fee.

2%-eligible categories include healthcare, personal services (landscaping, beauty shops), professional services (lawyers, real estate agents), schools and government (property taxes, tuition), utilities and wholesale clubs in addition to the the traditional cashback card spending categories (dining, gas, entertainment, groceries, etc.).

A nice extra if you’re prone to phone fumbles: Up to $600 per claim in cell phone protection on up to three phones if you pay your bill with the card. (Fine print: There’s a $50 copay per claim and a $1,000 max claim benefit per year.)

What we don't like

If you’re a planner and know you’ve got a big expense in a traditional rewards category on the horizon, you can probably score a cashback rate that’s higher than 2% with another card.

Patience required: Rewards are redeemable only after you’ve accumulated $25 worth. (Let’s math that: It’ll require $1,250 in spending at the 2% cashback rate, or $1,666 at the 1.5% rate.)

We’re revoking Sallie’s passport: The 3% foreign transaction fee isn’t a good travel look.

Speaking of fees, back away from the ATM: There’s a 5% (or $10, whichever is higher) cash advance fee.

The fine print

Take a tour of the Sallie Mae Evolve card terms and other key disclosures.

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The results of the Credit Card Rewards Calculator are based on the monthly spending amounts you enter and the annual dollar value of the rewards each credit card program pays per $1 spent. Credit card companies often express this payout amount as a percentage (e.g., 1.5% of every dollar spent) or on a points basis (e.g. ,1.5 points for every dollar spent). We converted all of them to a dollar amount (“Cash Back Per Year”) to make comparing offers easier.

To calculate the amount of cash back you could earn per year, we factored in:

  • Spend category inputs: The default dollar values for each “Spend Category” in the Best Cashback Credit Cards tool — gas, groceries, travel, restaurant, entertainment, pharmacy, other — are based on average American spending data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also include additional spend categories (such as streaming services, online shopping, utilities, transit, Amazon and more) to help you see which rewards cards are most closely aligned with your actual spending patterns. We encourage you to customize the monthly spend inputs for the most accurate results.
  • Tiered rewards rates: If a rewards credit card pays higher cashback rates on certain spending categories (also called “Bonus Rewards”), that difference is reflected in the total “Cash Back Per Year” tally.
  • Rewards spending caps: Some cards impose category- or time-based limits (monthly, quarterly, annually) that affect the amount of rewards you can earn. For example, a card may pay 3% cash back on groceries on up to $1,000 of spending each quarter, then revert to the base/default rewards rate until the following quarter. We accounted for bonus spending caps and timeframe in the calculations.
  • Default rewards rates: Purchases that exceed a spending cap are usually subject to a lower default rewards rate (e.g., 1% or 1.5%). We mathed that out too.
  • Annual fees: If a rewards card charges an annual fee, we deducted that amount from the “Cash Back Per Year” total to provide a true accounting of a card’s annual rewards payout.

What’s not included in the “Cash Back Per Year” total is the cash value of any sign-up/introductory bonus. We highlight any Welcome Bonus separately. While sign-up bonuses can be the most lucrative part of getting a new cashback rewards credit card, not everyone will want or be able to do what it takes to earn the extra cash. (It usually requires spending a certain amount in a specified time period after the card is activated.)

About the Editorial Team

Dayana Yochim
Dayana Yochim

Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool,, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on "Today," "Good Morning America," CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic.

Carolyn Kimball
Carolyn Kimball

Carolyn Kimball is Managing Editor for Reink Media Group and the lead editor for content on Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.

Andrea Coombes
Andrea Coombes

Andrea Coombes has 20+ years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. Her personal finance articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MarketWatch, Forbes, and other publications, and she's shared her expertise on CBS, NPR, "Marketplace," and more. She's been a financial coach and certified consumer credit counselor, and is working on becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She knows that owning pets isn't necessarily the best financial decision; her dog and two cats would argue this point.