Meet Connie Fort, Assistant Manager of Consumer Loans at Merchants

Connie and her husband, Tim

Connie and her husband, Tim, at the Grand Canyon

When did you start your banking career?

Connie: Twenty-six years ago I started at Merchants in Winona as a Commercial Lending Assistant. I knew that I wanted to get into lending, so I switched and became a Customer Service Representative. I stayed in Customer Service for seven years and then became a Credit Analyst. During that time, I learned that I was the kind of person who wanted to be in front of customers. A few years later, the Consumer Lender position opened up and I’ve been here for ten years now. Before Merchants, I worked at a brewery in La Crosse…can you believe that?

What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to apply for a HELOC?

Connie: Make sure to check your credit rating. There are a few websites that allow you to download a free credit report and you can bring in the report and we can go through it together. It’s also helpful if you come with an idea of how much you want to borrow and then together we can determine how much equity you have in your home.

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

Connie: To save, save, save. You do not buy anything until have saved for it. My parents were very frugal with their money and they passed that on to me and my two sisters.

If you won the Powerball what’s the first thing you would do?

Connie: I would buy a cabin up north. We love to be outdoors…just canoeing or spending time on the lake. It’s just an awesome way to relax and forget about everything.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Connie: When I think of green, I think of Spring and the pretty trees and blooming flowers.

If you could start a home remodeling project right now, what would it be and why?

Connie: I want to change my bedroom because we don’t have a master bath. We’ve found out that when we have family visiting and we have to share the same bathroom it can become difficult.

Contact Connie today to start the application process for your Home Equity Line of Credit. For more information on HELOC options at Merchants Bank, visit our website.

Tortilla Roll-Ups



  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 package cream cheese, softened
  • 12 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 package dry Ranch dressing mix
  • chopped onion, if desired
  • 8-10 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • extra salsa



Combine all ingredients and spread a thin layer of mix on each tortilla. Roll tortillas and refrigerate 30 minutes. Cut rolls into bite-sized pieces and serve with salsa.


Merchants Family Cookbooks are available at all Merchants Bank locations for $15. Proceeds benefit local food shelf programs.

Celebrate Community Banking Month with Us at these April Events

Merchants Bank, Community Events

Our staff invites you to join them at these great events throughout April. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for information on these events or pictures from other events you may have missed.

4/17 Caledonia’s Community Banking Month Celebration
“Come Experience the Difference”: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
At Merchants Bank in Caledonia

Please celebrate Community Banking Month with us and enjoy lunch in our lobby.

4/24 Spring Grove’s Community Banking Month Celebration
“Come Experience the Difference”: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Please celebrate Community Banking Month with us and enjoy lunch in our lobby.

4/30 Lakeville’s 10-Year Anniversary Celebration: 4:30 – 7:00 p.m.
At Merchants Bank in Lakeville

Stop by and celebrate our 10-year anniversary at Merchants Bank in Lakeville.

New Staff Here to Help You


At Merchants Bank, we are happy to welcome new employees and celebrate new positions filled by current staff. These frontline employees are all looking forward to serving you. Take a moment to congratulate them.

Alyssa Childs has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Red Wing. She is currently attending Red Wing High School. Her favorite place to be is by the ocean. She has been able to travel there a lot with her family. She also enjoys spending time outdoors in the summer. Alyssa has two younger brothers and one older sister.

Jennifer Easton has joined Merchants Bank as a Lead Teller in Cottage Grove. Jennifer previously worked at Prudential Insurance as a Death Claims Specialist and at TCF Bank as an Assistant Branch Manager. Jennifer has an 11 year old son and enjoys reading, going to the gym, camping and hosting the neighborhood kids on the weekends.

Heidi Kramer has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Onalaska. Heidi previously worked at Kmart in their Cash Office and at Altra Federal Credit Union as a Teller. Heidi is currently attending at Western Tech, where she is studying for her Associates Degree in Finance. After graduation, she also hopes work towards a Bachelors Degree.

Kayla Lentz has joined Merchants Bank as a Part-Time Teller in Red Wing. Kayla also works at Hy-Vee as a Customer Service Representative. Kayla enjoys being outside where she can hike, swim and play volleyball. She loves all different kinds of animals and wildlife.  She has four dogs that greet her lovingly when she gets home.

Myths About Home Equity Lines of Credit

Merchants Bank, Home Equity Loans, Home Equity Lines of Credit

You may be able to use the equity in your home to your advantage with a Home Equity Line of Credit, or HELOC. While the idea sounds simple, the details of a HELOC can be confusing. Here are a few common HELOC myths explained.

Myth: A Second Mortgage and a Home Equity Line of Credit are the same thing.
There are two types of loans that use the equity in your home as collateral. They are either a Second Mortgage (also known as a Home Equity Loan) or a Home Equity Line of Credit. Each works differently and which loan type works best for you is often determined by the purpose you have chosen to take out the loan. The interest rate the bank charges on either of these can take several factors into account, such as your credit score, the loan to value or the loan type.

A Second Mortgage, or Home Equity Loan, is simply borrowing money, using the equity in your home to secure the loan, much as a personal loan may use the equity in a car to secure the loan.

A Home Equity Line of Credit is a revolving loan that works very much like a credit card. The equity you have in your home secures a credit line with a variable interest rate that is available to you for a certain amount of time (usually ten years). The monthly payments are determined by how much money you owe the Bank, not by how big the line of credit is. As you pay down the amount you owe on your line of credit, the rest is available for other uses. The line of credit works well for do-it-yourself projects or a series of projects because you only make payments on the money you’ve already used.

Myth: I can only use my HELOC on purchases for my home.
A Home Equity Line of Credit can be a great way to get that new roof or finally finish the lower level, but it can also be used to buy a new car or to pay for a college education. The flexibility of a HELOC means you can make your home equity work for current financial needs. In addition, the interest you pay on a Home Equity Loan or Home Equity Line of Credit may be deductible on your federal tax return. The interest you pay on car loans, credit cards and almost all other loans definitely is not. We suggest you consult your tax advisor regarding interest deductibility.

To learn more about Home Equity Lines of Credit, visit our website or contact your local Merchants Bank today.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Credit Card Processing is “Quick, Concise and Thorough”

Merchants Bank, Credit Card Processing

David Wilson, President of Winona Golf & Dining.

That’s how David Wilson, President of Winona Golf & Dining, describes his experience with Merchants Bank and merchant processing to take care of credit and debit card transactions at the expanding business, which includes Signatures Restaurant, The Grill at Signatures, Visions Event Center and The Bridges golf course.

Looking to the future

The experience has been so good that Winona Golf & Dining and Merchants are partnering to offer mobile card processing, allowing golfers to use credit cards or debit cards to quickly pay for beverages while on the golf course.

“We are working together so we can enhance the experience for our guests and so Merchants can bring something new to its customers. It would have been easy to say ‘we don’t have that,’ but instead the response we received was ‘let’s see how we can make that happen.’”

David’s advice

“If you’re looking to do anything with a financial institution, don’t do it before you first check with Merchants Bank. I’ve worked with people at all levels of the organization. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure that their customers are truly taken care of. That’s what we try to do too.”

Visit our website to learn more about credit card processing for your business.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Year to Shareholders and Re-elects Directors

Rod Nelson, President/CEO

Rod Nelson, President/CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) held its annual meeting Thursday, April 9, formally reporting income to shareholders and re-electing four members to the MFGI Board of Directors.

MFGI President & CEO Rodney R. Nelson reported that the organization had an exceptional year, recording $12,349,695 in net income in 2014. It was MFGI’s second best year in terms of income, less than $100,000 behind 2012’s net income of $12,439,492.

“Our shareholders deserve this good news made possible by the positive work of our employees and the continued support of our valued customers,” Nelson said. “We look forward to a successful 2015.”

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were: Michael F. Cichanowski, Chief Executive Officer, We-no-nah Canoe, Inc.; Richard J. Pope, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, WinCraft, Inc.; Timothy A. Murphy, Partner, Rippe, Hammell & Murphy; and Bruce E. Ryan, President, Ryan Windows & Siding, Inc.

Nelson, Chief Financial Officer Sue Savat, Merchants Bank President and Chief Banking Officer Greg Evans and Chief Information Officer Rodney Nelsestuen were featured speakers.

MFGI has more than $1.5 billion in assets and holds 21 Merchants Bank locations, including Minnesota locations in Winona, Rushford, Lanesboro, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Merchants Bank was founded in 1875. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Merchants Capital, the company’s leasing arm, is based in the Twin Cities.

Merchants has more than 425 employees, many of whom give significant volunteer time to organizations in their communities. Additionally, during 2014, Merchants Bank made charitable donations to nearly 300 organizations. The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its employees and mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.