Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants Bank

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike's Peak.

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike’s Peak.

When did you start your banking career?

Nikki: I started at a much smaller bank in 2011 as a Customer Service Representative. When I first came to Merchants, I worked in the Electronic Banking department and since that time have become our Fraud Specialist.

What is your top fraud prevention tip?

Nikki: It’s difficult to pick one because there are so many tips to preventing fraud. I would say my first tip is to be conscious of where you are using your debit card – physical stores and online. Do you know and trust the company you are purchasing from? It’s important to stick with places you know. If a company or person calls asking you for your card information, be extremely cautious. Keep in mind that the Bank will never ask for your personal information unless you have previously initiated a conversation with us about your accounts or a loan application.

I would also recommend reviewing your bank statements or Online Banking records regularly. Set aside time to review purchases and if you notice something suspicious, call the Bank and talk to your Customer Service Representative or Electronic Banking immediately. If your account goes unchecked, fraud can go undetected for months or even years.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Nikki: They taught me to be cautious with credit cards. It’s easy to get in over your head if you’re not careful. My husband and I regularly review upcoming expenses and discuss when we should pay with our credit cards versus our debit card. Once our plan is set, we stick to it.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

Nikki: My husband. He has always wanted to go to New York City and I think he would like to enjoy the experience.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Nikki: My garden – It’s my hobby outside of work. My family always had a garden when I was growing up and now I have one that’s 14×14 feet in my backyard (I know, because I had to dig out the sod myself!). We grow most of your standard vegetables, like tomatoes, onions and peppers. I also have pots for plants that spread, like strawberries

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

3 Financial Tips for Snowbirds

eNews-Snowbird

Coordinating your winter travel plans can be chaotic. In the midst of preparing for your trip, keep in mind these three tips to ensure smooth sailing while you’re somewhere warm.

1. Communicate your change of address.

There are several businesses that should be aware of your change of address for the winter season, including Merchants Bank. To ensure you continue to receive important financial, medical or family information or to discontinue specific subscription services, you should contact the following regarding your address change:

  • Your bank
  • The Post Office
  • Your local newspaper (if you have it delivered)
  • Other delivery services

To alert Merchants Bank of your address change, stop in or call your local branch (link to contact us page) to let us know of the change. Please include dates of departure and return as well as the names of other account holders living at your address.

2. Know how to access your bank account information.

Managing your money across a few states or a country is critical to helping you feel at ease during your trip. Make sure you are comfortable with getting information about your accounts and managing your money through one of the following free options:

Or, if you prefer assistance enrolling in any of the listed services, simply contact our Electronic Banking department at 866-496-0522.

3. Be diligent in protecting your identity.

In the course of your travels, there are a number of circumstances that could impact the chance of identity theft. You could lose track of a card, leave financial statements in the mailbox, or post publically on a social media site that you’re out of town, which lets criminals know that your house is empty. Review our security tips to ensure that your personal information is safe.

Click here to view our Snowbird Kit.

Is Online Bill Pay Right For You?

Pros and cons of Online Banking

Pros and cons of Online Banking

This day and age is evolving into a largely digital era, and included in that evolution is finances. Online bill pay is an electronic payment service that allows you to set up secure accounts on the Internet to make one-time or recurring bill payments. Many love this innovative technology for its simplicity and economy, and a few shun it for big businesses’ hidden fees, the possibility of making mistakes and the risk of scams, insecurity and viruses. Read on to see for yourself if online bill pay is right for you.

The first thing a potential online bill payer needs to do is to figure out his or her needs. Do all of your billers accept electronic payments? If not, you will need a bill pay site that will accommodate that by issuing them paper checks. If that is the case, you also need to know to schedule that bill to be paid a little earlier to account for the time your bill pay company needs to send that live check out via the mail (usually about five days).

Furthermore, are your bill amounts the same every month? If not, a scheduled — not automatic — payment through your financial institution might be your best bet; that way, you have access handily to your checking and/or savings account information for variable amounts so as to avoid overdrafts.

There are many free online bill pay websites available to consumers; there are also many financial institutions that offer it via their websites, as well. Be sure to read all disclaimers and fine print to alleviate the fear of hidden fees. It may be a good idea to choose your next financial institution based in part on if they do offer free online bill pay, if that is what strikes you.

Similarly, you can put the control into the hands of the lenders and have the billers debit your account by signing up on the creditor’s own site. Whichever way you choose, automatic, scheduled payments help avoid late fees; they also have the potential to be a very well-organized way to manage your bills.

Dan Kadlec, a personal finance journalist for TIME Magazine, recommends doing all of your banking online for its personal and environmental efficiency.

“Stamps, envelopes and physical checks are an obsolete expense. You’ll save time, too,” Kadlec said. “But best of all, your bank will automatically keep track of what you spend and where you spend it for easy review, which makes budgeting a lot simpler.”

Reducing paper waste by banking and paying bills online does more than save the trees; it helps save the planet by reducing the fuel used by the vehicles that transport the paper statements, bills and checks. Javelin Strategy & Research found that if every U.S. home viewed and paid its bills online, the switch would cut solid waste by 1.6 billion tons a year and curb greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.1 million tons a year.

Some things to look out for

The main concern for anyone doing absolutely anything online these days is security.  But it doesn’t have to be distressing. Make sure your computer has the latest virus protection, never access your account from a public wi-fi system or on any sort of shared device and change your passwords regularly. Also, be on the lookout for messages that claim to be from your financial institution or bill pay company; they could be phishing scams from con artists trying to gain access to your account information. Don’t give out any personal or account information without confirming the source first. As mentioned before, monitor your accounts and statements and watch out for any transactions that you didn’t authorize.

Additionally, one must be careful of typos while paying bills online. You wouldn’t want to accidentally pay $36,000 for a $360 bill, right? Misplaced decimals are small, but frightening. Also alarming is the possibility of forgetting to hit the “Submit Payment” button at all. About 0.18 percent of online bill payments are challenged for mistakes every year (not including errors consumers catch and fix on their own), which translates to millions of snafus when taking into account the billions of payments submitted online each year.

Most of the time, financial institutions or companies will help sort out any problems, but Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association, confirmed that it is much more efficient to just do it correctly the first time.

“It is very easy in this electronic world to get caught up and move quickly, hit the send button before we mean to. We all need to take time, pause — and make sure the transaction is accurate,” Feddis said. Feddis recommends signing up for the bill pay site’s e-mail alert system, and that of your financer, as well, to be notified when a payment or change in your account has been made. This will help catch any mistakes or fraudulent behavior.

Weighing the pros and cons

In short, the positive qualities of online bill pay are abundant, but the practice is not without its difficulties. There are a lot of aspects to consider, such as the convenience factor based on your specific circumstances. It can be a very quick and efficient way to disseminate money because it can be done all in one setting, and it also saves the environment in more ways than one.

On the other hand, Internet security is always a concern for any interaction done online, and mistakes are an inevitable part of life, so vigilance and awareness are a huge necessity in managing finances online. The responsibility of weighing these options and making an informed decision is that of each consumer individually.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Improving Financial Health

8-14 FinanceHealthAdvice is easy to find on the Internet; sometimes it’s so easy to find that it’s overwhelming and discouraging. Financial advice is especially abundant, making it hard to sift through when you want to find the best steps to take to improve your financial health. Fortunately, all you have to do is start with the following steps and you will be on the path toward better financial health today.

Personal finance refers to the way that you manage your money now, such as by budgeting, and how you plan for the future, such as through investing. How well you handle your personal finances is your financial health. To improve your financial health, you must take control of your current spending and make sure you have a realistic and profitable plan for the future.

Calculate Net Worth

Some people become overwhelmed by their finances and ignore them. Even if you don’t want to know exactly how much money you do or do not have, it’s important for your financial health that you always stay on top of some basic calculations.

First, take out your calculator and add up all of your assets (the things you own) and subtract your liabilities (the money you owe) from that total. This resulting figure is known as your net worth, a number that describes where you are financially at the current moment.

“Calculating your net worth one time can be helpful, but the real value comes from making this calculation on a regular basis (at least yearly),” according to Jean Folger from Forbes. “Tracking your net worth over time allows you to evaluate your progress, highlight your successes and identify areas requiring improvement.”

Create a Simple Budget

It’s impossible to analyze your current spending and accurately predict your future finances without a budget. Fortunately, budgeting doesn’t have to be complex or time consuming. With a free online tool, such as Mint.com, it’s easy to automatically track expenses and determine how much you spend in various categories per month or week. You can use this information to tighten up on areas where you’re overspending and to determine how much you need to cut back to meet financial goals, such as saving up for a vacation.

Watch out for Lifestyle Inflation

“Most people will spend more money if they have more money to spend,” according to Folger. “As people advance in their careers and earn higher salaries, there tends to be a corresponding increase in spending … a phenomenon known as lifestyle inflation.”

If you want to have a healthy financial future, it’s important to keep lifestyle inflation in check. If you let lifestyle inflation get out of control, it will be much more difficult to save for your financial goals and plan for retirement.

In order to manage lifestyle inflation, be sure to recognize which life upgrades are required and reasonable and which are just a matter of the proverbial keeping up with the Joneses. For example, if you are promoted, you may need to buy nicer clothes, but you certainly do not need a sports car to perform well in your new position.

“Especially if you suddenly got a big jump in your income, keep your former standard of living and funnel the rest into paying off debts or adding to your retirement nest egg,” states Martha C. White from Time. “Since you’re not lowering your existing budget or cutting expenses, you’ll be able to accomplish all this without feeling like you’ve had to cut back or make sacrifices.”

Set Aside an Emergency Fund

Even if you have a well thought out budget, sometimes expenses arise suddenly that can blow your budget out of the water. If you have a $500 monthly automotive budget and you suddenly need an extra $700 for a repair, you will need an emergency fund to tap into.

One-time emergency expenses are one reason for an emergency fund, but they are not all you need to plan for. Most experts recommend saving enough to cover a few months’ expenses, so that your family can stay afloat if you lose your job or need to take unpaid leave.

Creating a category in your budget for your emergency fund ensures that you will regularly add to it and not use all of your discretionary money before you remember your emergency fund.

“Keep in mind that building an emergency fund is an ongoing mission: Odds are, as soon as it is funded you will need it for something,” states Folger. “Instead of being dejected about this, be glad that you were financially prepared, and start the process of building the fund again.”

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers. Edited from original content supplied by IMN.

Merchants Bank Hires New Information Technology Leader

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, according to Sue Savat, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

“Rodney’s expertise in planning, implementing and managing technology services will be a benefit to our customers. With his leadership, Merchants will focus on technology that best fits the needs of our customers and company operations,” said Savat.

Nelsestuen has been in the financial services industry for his entire career, including most recently at Eastwood Bank as the Vice President of Information Technology. He also has experience as a consultant for global financial institutions and technology companies.

“Merchants’ top priority is customer service and satisfaction. I look forward to contributing to that culture of service by bringing a sharper focus to technology services and the Information Technology team,” said Nelsestuen.

Nelsestuen graduated first in his class from the Graduate School of Banking in Madison. He holds a graduate certificate in Information Systems Management from the Keller Graduate School of DeVry University in Milwaukee and Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts from Hamline University in St. Paul. He received his Master in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School and his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Prevent Fraud on Your Merchants Bank Cards

fraud word abstractPreventing fraud on your bank accounts can feel like a daunting process, but at Merchants Bank, we make it easy. By collaborating with us, you’ll have 24/7 fraud detection monitoring on your debit and credit card accounts and gain access to education on latest fraud alerts and trends. The fight to prevent fraud involves not only our expertise and diligence, but a constant open line of communication with each of our customers.

How does fraud detection at Merchants Bank work?

  • We work with our trusted partners, FraudWatch at Elan Financial Services and VISA Falcon Fraud Prevention Services, to monitor fraud trends and detect fraudulent transactions on your debit or credit card accounts 24/7.
  • We will call you in the event of a suspicious transaction. You may receive a call from our partners, Elan or Falcon, who will make you aware that the call is being placed on behalf of Merchants Bank.
  • When our partners call you they will ask you for some identifying information – such as the last four digits of your Social Security Number. They will never ask you for your full number. If you are uncomfortable and don’t want to speak with our partners, please call your local Merchants Bank office and verify the transaction or let us know that you did not make the purchase in question.

What can you do to prevent fraud? Keep in touch!

  • Ensure the Bank has your most up-to-date contact information. Call your local branch if you need to make any changes.
  • Contact us before you go on vacation and don’t be shy about sharing the details, for example: dates, exact locations and how we can contact you while you’re gone. If you make purchases in a state or country where you don’t normally use your card, we may think these transactions are fraudulent unless we know otherwise.
  • If you forget to contact us before you left on vacation, call a Customer Service Representative at your local branch during your trip to provide the information listed above.
  • Contact us if you’ll be making a large purchase that would be uncharacteristic when compared to your purchase history.

Click here for more security information from Merchants Bank make sure to review the Alerts section of our website.

Five Common Online Banking Mistakes

7-14 OnlineMany will argue that banking online has been the best invention since sliced bread. And there’s no doubt about that: no more statements and papers — everything is on your computer or mobile device, right at your fingertips.

But while banking online is certainly a feat that will make your life easier, there are some things that people do without even realizing it can be hazardous to your account safety. For your own security and protection, avoid these top online banking mistakes:

1. Don’t use an easy-to-guess password – You may be surprised at how many people don’t use original passwords, and how dangerous it can be. In an analysis of 32 million passwords done by Imperva, an Internet and data security company, found the top 10 passwords are: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, rockyou, 1234567, 12345678 and abc123. These give hackers an easy in to your account. If you’re using one of these or something similar, consider changing it. Note that the best passwords are ones that use both letters and numerals and involve both lowercase and uppercase characters. Also, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

2. Don’t use public Wi-Fi – When it comes to online banking, accessing community Wi-Fi is a no-no. Why?

“People generally don’t bother to check out the security characteristics of public networks before logging on, plus wireless transmissions can be intercepted by nearby Bluetooth-type devices,” says Richard Barrington, a spokesman for MoneyRates.com. That includes public libraries, too.

“The PCs [at libraries] are subject to viruses and spyware that you have no control over,” explains Robert Sicillano, a consultant for McAfee, an expert on identity theft.

3. Don’t dismiss anti-virus protection - This kind of software helps detect and protect you from malicious software (malware) and computer viruses. That’s important because “[Common viruses like] trojans and worms can infect your computer and use keystrokes and other tactics to get your bank credentials,” warns Sol Nasisi, chief economist at BestCashCow.com. It’s best if you set up your protection software to automatically update daily. Also, sometimes your financial institution may provide free software, so be sure to ask about it if you’re unsure.

4. Don’t ignore your account - Check your account regularly. That will help ensure nothing suspicious is going on in your checking and savings accounts. Try checking it once a day or week, but at minimum, you should be looking at it once a month. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately.

5. Don’t post password hints on social media – It sounds obvious, but don’t share any super personal information on any of your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Doing so makes it easy for criminals to use this information and possibly open up an account in your name, or even use it to guess what your password is.

“It’s important to be careful sharing your pet’s name, your children’s names, or the name of the high school you attended, especially if you use this information as account passwords or answers to security questions,” says Lisa Robinson, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “Never share your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your bank account numbers, or your user names or passwords for any account.”

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.