What Is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae Explained

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Sallie Mae is a consumer bank that offers private student loans and other financial products. It's a major player in the education industry—and has been for decades.

Definition and Examples of Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is a publicly-traded company that is a major provider of private student loans in the U.S. As of the third quarter of 2021, Sallie Mae held $20.5 billion in private student loans. It held another $703 million in federal student loans issued through the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.

Other examples of Sallie Mae products include credit cards and online savings accounts.

How Sallie Mae Works

The Sallie Mae of today is different from the original Sallie Mae. In 1972, the Student Loan Marketing Association, also called SLMA or Sallie Mae, was created by Congress as a “government-sponsored enterprise,” or GSE. In other words, it was a private, for-profit corporation that had to follow specific regulations from the government. The goal of the SLMA was to act as a secondary market for student loans to improve access to education.

But in 1983, SLMA became a publicly owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1996, Congress initiated a process to convert SLMA into a private company. It was officially named SLM Corporation and commonly known as Sallie Mae. By 2005, Sallie Mae was a private-sector corporation.

In 2014, Sallie Mae split into two separate companies: Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient became a servicer for private, FFEL, and other federal student loans previously held by Sallie Mae, as well as newly originated federal student loans, as allocated to it by the U.S. Department of Education.


Navient is exiting the federal student loan servicing business, offloading its accounts to Maximus, and in January 2022 agreed to a $1.85 billion settlement to resolve claims of predatory lending. About 66,000 borrowers will have their remaining balances canceled, and others may see about $260 in restitution payments as a result of this settlement.

Sallie Mae continues to originate and manage private student loans and other bank products and does not offer or service federal student loans (outside of the outstanding FFEL loans it still owns). As a private lender, Sallie Mae offers a wider variety of borrowing options than students could get through federal student loans. Sallie Mae’s educational loans include:

  • Undergraduate and graduate school loans
  • Parent loans (available to parents who want to help finance their child's undergraduate or graduate education)
  • Loans for law school and medical or dental school or residencies
  • Loans for private K-12 schooling

Private student loans like those offered by Sallie Mae require applicants to undergo a credit check to determine their eligibility and specific loan terms (the interest rate, for example). If they aren't deemed creditworthy, they'll need a creditworthy co-signer to improve the odds of approval.

Even so, these loans provide students who aren’t eligible for federal student aid or loans with a means to borrow money to pay for their education. For example, students who don’t qualify for federal loans because they maintain less than half-time enrollment status would be considered by Sallie Mae.

To sweeten the deal, Sallie Mae private fixed- and variable-rate student loans don’t charge student loan origination fees, and in-school deferments are available, along with interest-only payment plans and other repayment plan options.


PLUS loans can help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. PLUS Loans have higher interest rates and origination fees than other federal student loans. For some students and parents considering PLUS Loans, private student loans can be a way to lower borrowing costs—if you qualify for lower rates. Direct PLUS Loans are federal loans that parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to help pay for college or career school. A Direct PLUS Loan is also referred to parent PLUS loan when made to a parent borrower.

Types of Sallie Mae Products

In addition to its student loan offerings, Sallie Mae also provides other financial products. Online savings options include “SmartyPig,” a goal-oriented online savings account, as well as other high-yield savings accounts, money market accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs).

Sallie Mae is also in the credit card business. The Sallie Mae Ignite Card is designed for college students looking to build credit; the Sallie Mae Accelerate Card offers a 2% cash-back reward to put toward paying down student loans; and the Sallie Mae Evolve credit card offers a 2% cash back in your two top spending categories each month.


Sallie Mae does not offer student loan consolidation or refinancing.

How To Get Sallie Mae Products

The best way to learn more about student loans and other products the company offers is to visit SallieMae.com. Click the relevant product vertical link (student loans, credit cards, or savings) for information on the product, including how to apply for it. Application requirements vary by product.

If you have additional questions about these products, reach the team by visiting its contact page and finding the specific phone number or mailing address that corresponds to your question. You can also call Sallie Mae at 855-756-5626 (855-SLM-LOAN) if you’re interested in new student loans, or 800-472-5543 (800-4-SALLIE) if you’re an existing borrower.

Key Takeaways

  • Sallie Mae is a consumer bank that offers private student loans and other financial products.
  • It was formed as a government-sponsored enterprise but later became a private-sector corporation.
  • Its educational loan offerings include undergraduate and graduate school loans, parent-student loans, loans for law school and medical or dental school, and loans for private K–12 schooling.
  • Its educational loans require a credit check for approval but provide a borrowing option for students who don't qualify for federal student loans.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sallie Mae. "Sallie Mae Reports Financial Results," Page 4. Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

  2. U.S. Department of the Treasury. "Lessons Learned From The Privatization of Sallie Mae," Pages 7–14. Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

  3. Navient. "Sallie Mae Board Approves Strategic Separation of Navient Corporation, Sets Record Date and Distribution Date." Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

  4. AttorneyGeneral.gov. "Attorney General Josh Shapiro Announces $1.85 Billion Landmark Settlement with Student Loan Servicer Navient." Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

  5. Federal Student Aid. "Understand How Interest Is Calculated and What Fees Are Associated With Your Federal Student Loan." Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

  6. Sallie Mae. "Apply for Cash Back Credit Cards." Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.

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