Sallie Mae was founded in 1972 and has been serving students and offering basic banking services since then. While it’s best known for its student loan program and college-planning resources, it does offer savings accounts and CDs — which we’ll be focusing on for the purposes of this review.
Sallie Mae’s rates are competitive, with APYs similar to those of big-name competitors like Capital One. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer checking accounts or physical locations, so it may not be an all-in-one banking solution. However, you may find it interesting if all you’re searching for is a way to maximize your savings.
How Sallie Mae stacks up
- High-yield savings accounts
- Competitive APYs
- Simple online banking
- Serves all 50 states
- No way to deposit funds unless you use another bank
- $2,500 minimum required to open CD
- No physical branches (online only)
- Poorly rated mobile app
What’s interesting about Sallie Mae
Sallie Mae claims that you can “choose how you’d like to grow your money — whether you’re just starting out or working toward your next financial goal.”
With savings accounts, as Sallie Mae claims, customers have a few different choices as to how they can grow their money. There are options that come standard with most online banks, like CDs and a money market account, as well as a high-yield savings account that grows money at similar rates as competitors like Ally Bank. Sallie Mae also has a unique “piggy bank” account, which is billed as a tiered savings account but which currently sits at a high 1.30% APY for all balances. The account allows you to work toward your next financial goal by letting you create and track your savings goals — plus, you can set up automatic deposits from your bank account to make sure you’re consistently making progress toward your goal.
Things to consider
It’s impossible to have a “full” banking experience with Sallie Mae, because it doesn’t offer any checking accounts. Even though you can write a check from your money market account, the number of fee-free checks written is limited to six per statement period, and you won’t have any ATM access for emergency cash. This isn’t uncommon for savings accounts, but it also means that Sallie Mae may not be the right option for you if you’d like to keep all of your banking under one roof.
For an online-only business, having a functional mobile app is critical. Unfortunately, Sallie Mae falls short. While its loan and college-planning app is praised, its banking app doesn’t enjoy the same high rating. Currently, the app earns a two out of five on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, with users citing clunky design and lots of bugs — including, for many users, the inability to even log in. A poor mobile app may not make a difference to you if you rarely access your account on the go, but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless.
While branches are largely unnecessary for the types of products Sallie Mae offers, some customers prefer to be able to talk face-to-face while performing transactions or resolving issues. With Sallie Mae, you don’t have that option. If in-person banking is important to you, a hybrid bank like Capital One may better serve your needs.
Checking and savings accounts
Sallie Mae offers two savings accounts: a high-yield savings account and a SmartyPig savings account. Signing up with either will get you a better return on your money than with many traditional banks — the high-yield account currently has an APY of 1.10%, while the SmartyPig account currently sits between 1.20% to 1.30% for all balances. These rates rival those of big names like Capital One and Ally Bank, so if all you’re looking to do is grow your investment, Sallie Mae is a great option.
While these aren’t the highest rates on the market, they’re certainly among the most competitive, and the addition of savings tools with SmartyPig could make Sallie Mae an easy, simplified way to manage your investments.
Just keep in mind that Sallie Mae is an online-only bank with no checking accounts, so there’s no way to access your money at ATMs or at a branch. Additionally, managing your money on the go may not be a great experience: Sallie Mae’s banking apps are poorly rated, so you may want to do most of your banking on the desktop site.
Money market accounts
A Sallie Mae money market account is a viable option for customers who want to earn more from their money than they would with most banks. The current 1.15% APY is competitive for a money market account, and with no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements, it could be a viable option for people looking to grow their savings but still have the ability to access money through check-writing. Accessing your account details on the go may be difficult due to Sallie Mae’s buggy app, but otherwise, its money market account has a lot going for it.
Sallie Mae’s CDs provide better returns than those of many other banks, and you don’t need to lock up your money for long to get a good rate. Sallie Mae’s shortest term is six months, which currently gets an APY of 1.10%. In contrast, Ally’s high-yield CD only gets 0.75% for six months, so Sallie Mae is a particularly good option if you’re looking to invest for shorter periods of time.
If you choose to invest for longer, though, you’ll get even better rates, with APYs climbing to 1.15% for a one-year term and 1.20% for a five-year term. Those rates are some of the highest we’ve seen — just keep in mind that Sallie Mae requires a minimum balance of $2,500 for all terms, so it’s not the best option for investing smaller funds.
And unlike with many other banks, Sallie Mae’s rates are good even for CDs with shorter term lengths. You’ll start getting the best returns when you invest for at least one year, but it’s nice to have the option of a shorter term if you’d rather not tie up your funds for that long.
Sallie Mae provides three main credit cards for its account holders. The cash back cards provide up to 2.5% cash back with a 25% match on rewards if the user has made six consecutive online payments. With no annual fee and unlimited rewards, card members can enjoy the perks of a credit card without too many expenses.
While not tied directly to personal banking, it’s still worth mentioning that Sallie Mae specializes in helping college students with their loan products. It’s no surprise, then, that it has financial resources designed to help people just getting started — in or out of college — get on their feet. From college planning resources and personal loans to SmartyPig savings accounts, Sallie Mae keeps the education of its customers front and center.
The final word
All in all, Sallie Mae is a strong option for those who want competitive rates for depositing their money and letting it sit. If you don’t need to make a lot of withdrawals or transfers, you likely won’t have a problem with the lack of branch access or checking accounts. If you need to do your banking in person and need a solution that allows you to freely withdraw your money anytime you want, however, you may be better off checking out other banking institutions like TIAA Bank or Capital One, which offer similar returns but some in-person branches.