PNC Bank vs Sallie Mae

PNC Bank vs Sallie Mae

It’s never easy to shop for a new bank. The process of comparing features and services, poring over interest rates, and even the input from well-meaning loved ones can make your head spin. This is true whether you’re looking for a checking account, savings account, money market account, or even a certificate of deposit (or all of the above).

You might know for certain that you want certain features from your next bank, such as:

  • Local branches in your area
  • ATM access and/or checks
  • Mobile app to manage your account from anywhere
  • Mobile check deposit functionality
  • Accounts that are FDIC-insured

Luckily, many national banks offer all of these serves — and some offer even more! — as well as competitive savings rates. Two of these such banks are Sallie Mae and PNC.

In the following review, we will go over each bank in detail, covering the services and features you’ll find there, interest rates offered, and what to consider when making your decision. By the time you’re done, you should have a good idea of which bank would be the better fit for your own banking habits, or if you should even continue the search.

So, let’s begin.

  Checking Account Savings Account Money Market Account (MMA) Certificates of Deposit (CDs) No-Penalty CDs
PNC Bank Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sallie Mae Bank No Yes
Yes Yes No

Checking Accounts

Most people start their bank search whilst looking for a new checking account. After all, a checking account is one of those things that everyone needs, no matter your spending habits and preferences.

With a checking account, you have a safe place to put your paycheck each month, an account that makes budgeting easy, and the ability to access cash quickly when you need it. It’s very different from a savings account — where you’ll tuck away funds that you don’t intend to use for a while — though the two are both very important.

When shopping for a new checking account, you’ll want to look for a few key features. These include free accounts, account access via smartphone app, mobile check deposit, and free ATM cards. Depending on how you bank, you may also want to opt for a bank that has local brick-and-mortar branches.  

Comparing checking accounts from PNC Bank and Sallie Mae Bank is easy, though — namely because Sallie Mae Bank doesn’t actually offer checking accounts.

  Checking Account Offered? Monthly Fees Minimum deposit ATM debit card Checks Mobile deposit Local branch access Interest bearing?
PNC Bank Yes $7-25 (can be waived) $25 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sallie Mae Bank No n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a One (1) n/a

Before you write off Sallie Mae Bank entirely because of their lack of checking accounts, though, consider the benefits this can provide.

For instance, many financial experts recommend keeping your checking account at a different bank than your savings account(s). This separation promotes your saving goals and even keeps you from the temptation of overspending.

While Sallie Mae can’t help with you with your checking account needs, PNC Bank definitely steps up to the plate…

PNC Bank: Checking Accounts

At PNC Bank, there are three checking account options to choose from. All three include:

  • Access to 80,000+ free network ATMs across the country
  • ATM fee reimbursement for using out-of-network machines (reimbursement amount varies)
  • Complimentary PNC Visa® debit card
  • Unlimited check writing
  • Overdraft protection
  • Mobile banking
  • Free online bill pay
  • Earning cash with PNC Purchase Buyback
  • In-person banking at locations in 20 states

PNC Bank’s checking account options are Standard Checking, Performance Checking, and Performance Select Checking. Let’s take a look at a few ways they differ:

  • Monthly fee — Standard: $7, Performance: $15, Performance Select: $25 (These can be waived by either maintaining a specified average balance or receiving minimum direct deposits each month.)
  • ATM fee reimbursements — Standard: up to $5/statement cycle, Performance: up to 4 charges per statement cycle, Performance Select: up to $20/statement cycle
  • Domestic incoming/outgoing wires: Standard and Performance: $15-30, Performance Select: free
  • Stop payments: Standard and Performance: $33, Performance Select: free

These aren’t the only differences between the account types, but they are the most common features sought.

PNC Bank checking accounts are interest-bearing, which you won’t find everywhere. The rate isn’t as impactful as your savings account or CD, but every penny that you can earn in interest is extra money you didn’t have to earn. At PNC Bank, checking accounts currently earn 0.01% APY (rate current as of May 26, 2019).

Sallie Mae Bank: Checking Accounts

Checking accounts are not offered by Sallie Mae Bank.

Summary: PNC Bank wins by default, as Sallie Mae Bank doesn’t currently have checking account options.

Savings Accounts

A checking account is important for your daily spending, just like a savings account is imperative for your future financial plans. You may use your savings account for a rainy day (emergency) fund, or for specific plans such as the down payment on a new home.

When choosing a savings account, the most important things you’ll want to consider are how much interest your money will earn, and whether monthly fees will eat into your balance.

  High-Yield Savings Offered? Monthly Fees Minimum deposit ATM card Above-average interest rate? Mobile deposit Local branch access
PNC Bank No $5


(can be waived)

$25 Yes Limited Yes Yes
Sallie Mae Bank Yes None None No Yes Yes No

PNC Bank: Savings Accounts

Opening a savings account at PNC is quick and simple. You only need $25, and have the option of a Standard Savings or ‘S’ is for Savings account (designed for those under 18).

You’ll enjoy these perks with a PNC Bank savings account:

  • Free bank card
  • No deposit limits
  • No fees for transfers or withdrawals
  • FDIC-insured savings
  • 5-star app with mobile check deposit
  • Easy access to your account(s) via mobile, web, or phone

With Auto Savings, you can easily (and automatically) transfer into your savings account each month, helping you meet your savings goals. Additionally, you can connect this account to your PNC Bank checking account, allowing you to use your savings as overdraft protection.

The base interest rate at PNC Bank is 0.01% APY on savings accounts, whereas the national average is about 0.08% APY. However, if you qualify for their Relationship Rates (by linking an eligible PNC checking account or receiving eligible direct deposits), this rate goes up to 0.10% APY (rates current as of May 27, 2019).

If you are under the age of 18, maintain a monthly average balance of $300+, or set up an auto transfer of $25+ each month from your PNC checking account, your savings account fees are waived. Otherwise, your account will set you back $5 each month.

Sallie Mae Bank: Savings Accounts

At Sallie Mae Bank, you’ll find two savings options: the SmartyPig account and a high-yield savings account. Both have a $0 minimum deposit requirement, both are fee-free, and both offer interest rates much higher than the national average.

SmartyPig is a goals-based account, allowing you to plan for specific things and easily track your progress. The high-yield savings account is your standard fare, though it offers an impressive interest rate without monthly fees or minimums.

Both savings accounts have:

  • No minimum deposit requirement
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • No monthly service fees
  • FDIC-insured protection
  • No transfer limits
  • Easy online account management

Interest rates from the high-yield savings account are currently 2.10% APY, a significant jump from the national average of 0.08% APY. If you opt for the SmartyPig savings account, you’ll instead 1.80% APY instead. (Rates current as of May 27, 2019)

Summary: With no deposit or balance requirements, no fees, and impressive interest rates, Sallie Mae is the easy winner here.

Money Market Accounts (MMAs)

The difference between savings and money market accounts (MMAs) is minimal. However, there are a few important things that differentiate the two.

Both are savings accounts, not intended for everyday spending. However, MMAs typically offer improved access to your funds, making it easier to spend your savings when needed. For instance, some banks provide debit cards and/or checkbooks for MMA customers, while these aren’t usually given for standard savings accounts.

Many MMAs offer higher interest rates on your savings than you’ll find with savings accounts, too. These higher rates are usually reserved for customers with higher savings account balances, though.

  Money Market Account Offered? Monthly Fees Minimum deposit ATM debit card Above-average interest rate? Mobile deposit Local branch access
PNC Bank Yes $12 (can be waived) $100 Yes Yes (with certain account options) Yes Yes
Sallie Mae Bank Yes None $0 No Yes Yes No

PNC Bank: Money Market Accounts

You’ll earn considerably more in interest when you put your savings into a PNC money market account, versus a savings account. The catch, though, is that you’ll need a minimum deposit of $10,000 in order to earn that much-higher rate.

You only need to deposit $100 to open an MMA at this bank, but that will only earn you a rare of 0.03% APY. However, if you deposit $10,000 or more — then connect an eligible PNC Bank checking account, and either make 5 qualifying purchases each month or receive enough in direct deposits — your rate will jump to as high as 2.00% APY, thanks to Relationship Rates.

As long as you maintain a monthly average balance of $5,000, your MMA is fee-free. Otherwise, you can expect a monthly service fee of $12 for the account. There are no fees for transfers or withdrawals, as long as you stay below the federal six-per-statement-cycle limit.

Access to your funds is easy using your free PNC bank card, or with phone, web, or mobile app access. You can also pop in to one of PNC Bank’s local branches, located in 20 states across the country.

Sallie Mae Bank: Money Market Accounts

Money market accounts at Sallie Mae Bank are unique in that you will still earn their market-topping interest rate, regardless of the balance you carry. There is no minimum balance to open or to earn interest, and the account is entirely fee-free.

No matter the balance you hold, you’ll earn an impressive 2.30% APY (rate current as of May 27, 2019). You’ll have the ability to write checks directly from this account, can easily manage your funds online or through the app, and your money is FDIC-insured up to the maximum limits.

Summary: With no minimums, no fees, and a high APY regardless of balance, Sallie Mae takes the win in the MMA category.

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

Know that you’ll be saving for a while and won’t need to touch your money? Then a certificate of deposit, or CD, is an excellent way to earn an even higher interest rate.

They’re a great option for things like a future down payment, as you know you can lock those funds away for a few years. You can also opt for a CD ladder to maximize returns and improve liquidity.

  Term CD offered? Term lengths No-Penalty CD offered? Early withdrawal penalties Minimum deposit Above- average interest rate?
PNC Bank Yes 7 days – 120 months Yes 30 – 365 days’ interest $1,000 No
Sallie Mae Bank Yes 6 – 60 months No 90 or 180 days’ interest $2,500 Yes

PNC Bank: Certificates of Deposit

When saving with PNC Bank, you’ll have many options to choose from… especially when it comes to your CDs. Here, there are actually five different products to choose from, with a variety of features and terms ranging from 7 days to 120 months long.

At PNC Bank, you can choose from the following CDs:

  • Fixed Rate: Typical term CD with terms ranging from 7 days to 10 years long
  • Ready Access: A no-penalty CD with terms from 3-12 months long, allowing you to access your funds without penalty at any time after the first seven days
  • Callable CD: A higher-interest product with only two term options, 36 months or 60 months; however, the bank will have the option to “call” your CD if rates drop
  • Variable Rate: Only one term option, 18 months, and is tied to the three-month Treasury Bill
  • Stepped Rate: This 36-month product includes rates that climb every six months

PNC Bank does not charge monthly maintenance fees for any of their CD products. Though minimum deposit requirements vary between the product options, the lowest amount you can get away with is $1,000.

PNC Bank’s term CDs offer the following interest rates. Keep in mind that these rates also rely on the specific CD product you choose and your opening deposit amount (rates current as of May 27, 2019):

  • 1-month CD, up to 0.05% APY
  • 3-month CD, up to 0.09% APY
  • 6-month CD, up to 0.12% APY
  • 12-month CD, up to 0.19% APY
  • 18-month CD, up to 1.65% APY
  • 24-month CD, up to 1.75% APY
  • 36-month CD, up to 1.50% APY
  • 48-month CD, up to 1.50% APY
  • 60-month CD, up to 1.50% APY
  • 84-month CD, up to 1.56% APY
  • 120-month CD, up to 1.65% APY

As is the case with most banks’ CDs, your money would perform better in a high-yield savings account if you’re only planning to save for a few months. Opting for a savings account also gives you quick access to your money while avoiding potential penalty fees.

However, once you move into the 18-month and higher CD terms, the interest rate you’ll earn is significantly higher than the savings rate at the same bank. Therefore, it makes more sense to choose a CD if you know for certain that you don’t plan to touch the money for a while.

If you do need to pull out funds before your CD reaches maturity, there are steep consequences. These early withdrawal fees can easily eat up most, if not all, of your interest earned. Depending on your unique situation, they can even cut into your original principal balance!

Early withdrawal penalties at PNC Bank are as follows:

  • For CD terms of less than 3 months, you will forfeit all interest earned as penalty
  • For CD terms of 3 months to less than 12 months, the penalty is 3 months’ interest
  • For CD terms more than 12 months, the penalty jumps to 6 months’ interest

Callable CDs are a bit different, with a flat penalty rate of 12 months’ interest. The Ready Access CDs have no penalty for early withdrawals, as long as you don’t touch the principal balance sooner than seven days from the date you made the initial deposit.

As expected, your money will be FDIC protected while in a CD at PNC Bank.

Sallie Mae Bank: Certificates of Deposit

Certificates of deposit are pretty simple at Sallie Mae Bank: they only come in one flavor. Their term CDs make the process straightforward and easy, without any confusion features or tricky terms to keep in mind.

With a Sallie Mae CD, you’ll be able to choose a term length between 6 and 60 months, with very competitive interest rates being offered for each. In fact, even their 6-month term CD offers a rate significantly higher than what many other banks offer for high-yield savings.

There are no monthly maintenance fees with Sallie Mae CDs, and all deposits are FDIC insured. There is a minimum deposit (and minimum balance limit) of $2,500, as well.

Currently, CD rates through the bank are between 2.20% APY for a 6-month CD and 3.10% APY for the 60-month product (rates are current as of May 27, 2019). At the end of the term, your CD will automatically renew unless you request otherwise.

As with most CDs, you’ll incur early withdrawal fees if you need to touch your money prior to maturation. These penalties can be quite steep, so be sure that you can leave those savings alone before opting for a CD (over, say, a savings account). Early withdrawal penalties at Sallie Mae Bank are as follows:

  • For CD terms of 12 months or less, your penalty will be 90 days’ simple interest
  • For CD terms greater than 12 months, your penalty will be 180 days’ simple interest

Depending on your initial deposit, the term chosen, and how long you actually kept the money in the CD, these fees can easily eat up most (or all) of your interest earned. In some cases, the penalty can even dip into your principal deposit!

Summary: Both banks offer great CD options, though Sallie Mae Bank’s interest rates are notably higher. Even still, PNC Bank offers additional CD products, more flexible terms, and even a lower initial deposit, giving them the slight edge here.

Banking Features

There are a few things you may be looking at when searching around for a new bank, depending on how you bank and your own financial needs. This is important to do, too, as choosing the wrong bank can mean money lost to lower interest rates, monthly fees, and more. Plus, you want to find an institution that allows you to bank the way you need, no matter where you are.

With that said, here are a few of the most-often sought features and why they are important.

FDIC Insured

Thanks to the FDIC, your money will be safe whether you choose PNC Bank or Sallie Mae Bank. Deposits are automatically protected up to established limits — currently at $250,000 per depositor, per institution, and per ownership category — so you can rest easy.

Verdict: It’s a tie.

Brick-and-Mortar Branches

Online banks are all the rage these days, though brick-and-mortar institutions certainly aren’t on their way out the door or anything. With online banks, you will typically find higher interest rates, improved online/smartphone access to funds, and great features like mobile deposit.

With PNC Bank, you will find branches scattered across 20 states, mostly in the eastern half of the country. This is great for customers in those states who want in-person banking services; for those too far from a branch location, you’ll need to rely on PNC Bank’s mobile and web account services.

Sallie Mae Bank, on the other hand, has one local branch in Utah. If you absolutely insist on doing your banking in-person, this probably isn’t the bank for you. However, their exceptional interest rates and great banking features mean that your money is always at your fingertips, if you decide that an online bank might be the answer.

Verdict: Based on brick-and-mortar branches alone, PNC Bank is the winner here.

ATM Cards

Being able to use your bank’s ATM is important, whether you need to check a balance, make a transfer, or withdraw cash on the go.

PNC Bank offers ATM cards to their banking customers, making it easy to access money whenever you need. Cards are complementary and can be used at any of their 80,000+ nationwide locations for free (or at any ATM for whatever fee that machine’s owner charges).

Since Sallie Mae Bank doesn’t offer checking accounts, you won’t be able to use a check card for your purchases. Unfortunately, they also don’t offer an ATM card for their savings or money market account holders, either. If you need to get cash from Sallie Mae, you will need to either transfer to an external bank (such as your checking account) that offers ATM card access, or write a check directly from your money market account.

Verdict: PNC Bank wins here.

Mobile App

Most banking is done electronically these days, either online or via convenient smartphone apps. This makes it simple to view accounts, transfer funds, and even deposit checks from your phone.

Both Sallie Mae and PNC banks offer handy mobile apps that allow you to do all of this.

PNC Bank’s mobile app is ranked #53 in the App Store’s finance category, with 435,000 reviews (and an average of 4.8 stars). Sallie Mae Bank also has a mobile app with comparable functionality. Unfortunately, though, their bank’s app has only 60 reviews for an average of 1.4 stars.

Verdict: PNC Bank wins here, for having a top-rated app and thousands of excellent reviews.

Mobile Check Deposit

The last time you walked into your local bank branch, what was it to do? If you’re like most modern banking customers, it probably had to do with depositing or cashing a check. Luckily, with the introduction of mobile check deposit, this is now easy to do from the comfort of home, with only a smartphone and a few seconds.

Sallie Mae and PNC banks both offer check deposit capability through their mobile platforms. There doesn’t seem to be a difference between the features at each bank, so we’ll call this one a wash.

Verdict: It’s a tie.

Which Bank Is Right for You?

Each and every banking customer is unique, from the way they save and spend to their location, how they receive funds, and their future financial plans. This means that the perfect bank for your parents, siblings, and friends might not be the perfect bank for you. In fact, the bank that’s perfect for you today might not even be right a few years down the line!

In order to pick your next bank, it’s important to evaluate what’s most important to you. Look at the features you use most, what you wish you had, and how you spend/save on a regular basis. Also consider what you’re saving and how you could optimize those funds, and what your big purchase plans are in the next five or 10 years.

While interest rates are important, they aren’t the only thing you should look at in your search. With a little bit of legwork — and hopefully, reviews like these — you can find the institution that has the features you need, the products you want, and the interest rates your money deserves.