Sallie Mae Bank Review

Known for student loans, Sallie Mae also offers online-only savings vehicles

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Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae

Known primarily for student loans, Sallie Mae got its start in 1973 as a government entity specifically servicing federal student loans. After it went through the process of cutting ties with the federal government between 1997 and 2004, Sallie Mae became a publicly-traded consumer bank. Though private student loans are still part of its menu of products, the bank also offers online-only savings vehicles, credit cards, and private loans. This in-depth and unbiased review can help you decide if Sallie Mae's deposit accounts are right for you.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Company Overview
Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Solid interest rates

  • No minimum balances or monthly fees

  • Encourages savings goals

Cons
  • No checking accounts available

  • Customers must have another bank to fund Sallie Mae accounts

  • No ATM access

Company Overview
  • Year Founded 1972
  • Official Website www.salliemae.com
  • Banking Products Offered Savings, MMAs, CDs, Credit Cards
  • Customer Service Monday - Friday, 8 a.m to 8 p.m: 877-346-2756

Pros Explained

  • Solid interest rates: All of Sallie Mae's deposit accounts, including their savings accounts, CDs, and Money Market account, offer fairly high APYs. While it may be possible to find higher rates elsewhere, these rates are pretty noteworthy.
  • No minimum balances or monthly fees: Neither the savings accounts nor the money market account require a minimum balance, and you won't see your interest swallowed up by monthly service fees for either type of account.
  • Encourages savings goals: The Sallie Mae SmartyPig savings account allows savers to organize their money by assigning it to various goals. By encouraging this kind of targeted savings, Sallie Mae helps its customers to make progress toward reaching a number of savings goals all at once.

Cons Explained

  • No checking accounts available: Sallie Mae's deposit accounts do not include any checking accounts. It is not possible for customers to use Sallie Mae as their primary bank.
  • Customers must have another bank to fund Sallie Mae accounts: Related to the lack of checking accounts, customers must have access to another bank to be able to fund a Sallie Mae account. It's not possible to open a Sallie Mae deposit account without an external bank account.
  • No ATM access: There is only one Sallie Mae branch in the United States, and there are no ATMs whatsoever associated with the institution. To access the money in your Sallie Mae account, you will have to transfer it to your external account first.

Who Is Sallie Mae Best For?

Sallie Mae will work best for customers who want an online-only institution to stash their savings. It will be an especially good fit for customers who:

  • Want a better-than-average APY on multiple savings vehicles
  • Need savings accounts with no fees or minimum balances
  • Are looking for savings vehicles that are difficult to access
  • Want encouragement to meet multiple savings goals
  • Do not need to keep their checking and savings accounts at the same bank
  • Have no need for ATM access for their savings accounts

What Does Sallie Mae Offer?

Though it is inextricably associated with student loans, Sallie Mae offers a decent number of traditional banking products and services. These include:

  • Savings accounts
  • Money market account
  • Certificates of Deposit
  • Credit cards

Savings Accounts

High-Yield Savings Account has no minimum balance and no monthly fees, and you can open it with $0. The 0.55% APY, while nothing to sneeze at in the current economy, is not the highest rate you can find from a high yield savings account, particularly among online-only banks.

However, the lack of monthly fees or minimum balances may make this account tempting to those who might otherwise chase higher yields. In addition, Sallie Mae does not offer a tiered APY depending on your balance. Whether you have a balance of $1 or $250,000, you'll earn the 0.55% APY.

SmartyPig Savings Account was created specifically to help savers reach their goals, like a virtual piggy bank. SmartyPig savers have a primary account, where all deposits go, and you can set up multiple savings goals within the primary account. Each of your savings goals gets its own sub-account, so you can track your progress as you add money to meet each goal. This kind of targeted savings strategy helps customers visualize their progress. You can set up automated monthly or biweekly deposits, and you can make withdrawals at any time with no fee.

Like the High-Yield Savings Account, SmartyPig has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, and no minimum opening balance. The APY is tiered however. Balances of $2,500 or less enjoy an impressive 1.05% APY--but the APY is reduced as your balance increases, with an APY of 0.95% on balances between $2,500 and $10,000, 0.75% on balances between $10,000 and $50,000, and 0.65% on balances above $50,000. This backwards APY tier is designed to help encourage new savers to get in the habit of putting money away.

SmartyPig offers a $10 referral bonus for every friend you refer who opens an account, sets a goal, and contributes to it.

Sallie Mae Savings Accounts
Account Name Minimum Opening Deposit Monthly Fee APY
High-Yield Savings Account $0 None 0.55%
SmartyPig $0 None 1.05% if $2,500 or less
0.95% if $2,500-$10,000
0.75% if $10,000 to $50,000
0.65% if $50,000+
As of October 9, 2020

Money Market Account

Sallie Mae's Money Market Account offers a solid 0.60% APY on all balances. The interest is compounded daily, and paid out monthly, and there are no monthly service fees.

What may make the money market account even more tempting for Sallie Mae customers is the fact that these accounts come with check-writing privileges--which means you can enjoy some of the benefits of a checking account. However, it's important to remember that a money market account is not the same as a checking account, even if it does come with paper checks. To start, there is no associated debit or ATM card, so writing a check is the only additional method for accessing your money.

In addition, Federal Regulation D limits certain types of withdrawal and transfer transactions on savings and money market accounts to 6 per statement period. Checks are included among that limit of 6 withdrawals. Sallie Mae will levy an excessive transaction fee of $10 if you make more than 6 withdrawals in a month, and you may be charged for up to 7 excessive withdrawal fees per month. (Additional withdrawals past that point will see the $10 fee levied the following month. Unlike some other institutions, Sallie Mae does not appear to close down money market accounts that routinely go over the 6-withdrawal-per-month limit).

Certificates of Deposit

Sallie Mae offers CDs in terms ranging from 6 months to 60 months. All CDs have a minimum opening deposit of $2,500. If you decide to terminate your CD prior to its maturity date, expect to pay a penalty. CDs with a term of 12 months or less have a penalty equal to 90 days of simple interest. Those with a term greater than 12 months have a penalty equal to 180 days of simple interest.

The rates you can expect depend on the term length:

Sallie Mae CD Rates
Term APY
6 Months
9 Months
11 Months
0.30%
12 Months
13 Months
15 Months
0.50%

18 Months
 
0.55%
24 Months
30 Months
36 Months
60 Months
0.60%
As of October 7, 2020

Credit Cards

All three of the credit cards Sallie Mae offers are cash back cards, providing with a no-annual fee option that puts no limits on cash back earnings and offers a variety of bonus cash back rewards:

  • Sallie Mae Ignite: This is Sallie Mae's student card. Cardholders can earn unlimited 2% cash back for the first year, plus a 25% bonus on base cash back rewards after six consecutive on-time payments. After the introductory 12-month period, the percentage drops down to 1% unlimited cash back.
  • Sallie Mae Accelerate: Cardholders earn 2.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases for the first year, which drops down to 1.25% unlimited cash back thereafter. You can also get a 25% bonus on any cash back rewards used to pay down any student loan.
  • Sallie Mae Evolve: With this card, you earn 2.5% unlimited cash back for the first year, dropping down to 1.25% thereafter. The card also offers a 25% bonus on base cash back rewards earned in your top two spending categories each month.

Sallie Mae Customer Service

Customers needing help can reach customer service representatives over the phone from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. If you need help outside of those times, you are unfortunately out of luck. There is no online live chat or other help options.

Sallie Mae does offer a mobile app, which does not appear to be well-regarded among customers. It holds a 3.6 out of 5 star rating on Apple, and a dismal 2.1 out of 5 star rating on Google Play.

It's also important to note that Sallie Mae, in its role as a student loan provider and servicer, has been accused of a number of unfair lending practices. While none of these issues are related to Sallie Mae's bank offerings, consumers may want to keep these controversies in mind when deciding if Sallie Mae is the right institution for them.

How to Bank with Sallie Mae

To open an account with Sallie Mae, you will need to connect an external bank. This is the only way to fund your new Sallie Mae account. Once you have set up your new account, you will handle all of your banking chores and transactions either on the Sallie Mae website, by using the mobile app, or with the mobile text banking feature.

You can deposit checks using the mobile deposit feature on the app. Otherwise, you will have to deposit checks via mail.

None of the Sallie Mae accounts come with a debit card or ATM card, although the money market account does include check-writing. If you need to access your money, you will have to transfer it out of your Sallie Mae account and into your external bank account.

Verdict

For customers looking for a place to stash savings that will be difficult to access, Sallie Mae is an excellent choice. The rates are above average and the accounts and products are set up to try to encourage savings and wealth-building. The fact that there are no branches, ATMs, debit cards, or easy access to your money can be a major boon for any would-be saver who struggles with financial discipline.

However, lack of access could also be a major detriment. Customers need to have and maintain at least one other bank account to access any of Sallie Mae's products and services, and anyone who needs to withdraw their money in a hurry would be ill-served by this online-only institution. The lackluster customer service and a history of student loan scandals may also turn off potential customers.

Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing consumers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of banks. We collected over 20 data points across more than 80 banks including products available, interest rates, fees, and accessibility to ensure that our content helps users make the right decision for their savings and banking needs.