Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms Promoted to Assistant Vice President at Merchants Bank in Onalaska

Dawn Garms, Mortgage Lender

Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, according to Steve Christiansen, Merchants Bank President in Onalaska and La Crescent.

“Dawn’s people first attitude has helped her customers get into the homes that are right for them,” Christiansen said. “She does everything she can for her customers, and that has helped Dawn be successful.”

Garms joined Merchants in 2013, after spending a dozen years with another organization serving customers. She has consistently been one of the top mortgage lenders in the Merchants organization, building a broad referral network and consistently receiving high marks from her customers for her service to them.

“I know that buying a home can be stressful, and there are so many things for someone to think about. My goal is to take care of my customers from the start of the process to beyond the end of it,” Garms said. “If they have a question, I am there with the answer.”

Garms is an active member of the La Crosse Area Builders Association, La Crosse Area Realtors Association and La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as an Ambassador. She is a graduate of Northern Iowa University, where she majored in Finance and minored in Real Estate.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its location in Onalaska. Minnesota locations include La Crescent, Winona, St. Charles, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, 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 another Wisconsin location in Eau Claire. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Meet Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Tina MuellerGet to know Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Onalaska.When did you start your banking career?

Tina: I started in 1992, and I came to Merchants Bank in Onalaska in 2005. I’ve been a personal banker, consumer loan officer, branch manager and of course a mortgage lender. I have always worked for a community bank; I believe in local decision making as key decisions are made locally by people who live and work in the community.

What is your best banking tip?

Tina: The best thing people can do is develop a good credit rating. Be diligent about spending and make your monthly payments on time. Having a major credit card from your local bank is a great way to establish credit and paying off the balance in full each month is a good way to develop a credit rating. It is important to maintain a good credit rating to have a chance at obtaining the best rates possible on loans when they go to make a major purchase like a car or a home.

My coworkers have put together a great video series on building a good credit rating: Watch here.

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

Tina: One thing my parents taught me about money is how to save, which was huge. My first job was when I was in high school and the rule was if I was going to work, half of my pay check had to go into a savings account. I was amazed at a young age at how quickly funds would add up in a savings account. Paying yourself first and establishing a savings pattern builds discipline and good financial habits. Building savings also provides a sense of financial security and builds wealth.

If you $1,875,000 what is one FUN thing you’d do with the money?

Tina: That’s easy! I would buy a tiny place on the beach which I would share with family. I love relaxing by water and being in the sun. There is nothing better than the sound of waves crashing, birds chirping and the warm breeze blowing.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Tina: The Green Bay Packers – Go Pack Go!

Picture your dream home. What is your favorite room and why?

Tina: My favorite room in the house is the great room. A place where the whole family can hang out together. Whether we are kicking back and enjoying great conversations, or maybe watching a Packer game while grabbing something to eat. This is the room we tend to gather in. Big windows with a nice view would make it even better.

Dawn Farrell: Celebrating 30+ Years of Service


Dawn Farrell started working at La Crescent State Bank in 1981. When it was acquired by Merchants Bank in 1990,she stayed to continue serving the La Crescent community. Merchants thanks Dawn for her commitment to excellence over the years. In June, she will begin a new adventure: Retirement.

How did you get started in banking?

Dawn: I’ve lived in La Crescent my entire life, and it was important to me that I stay in La Crescent to work. I applied for a Teller position at La Crescent State Bank in 1979 and actually didn’t get that job. Three years later, the position opened again and the Teller supervisor called to see if I was still interested. Naturally, I was. Eventually I moved to the proof machine to track all of the Bank’s daily transactions, which I discovered I didn’t care for. I much prefer working with people. Then I started in customer service and I knew that was where I was meant to be. When Merchants Bank acquired La Crescent State Bank in 1990 I was very happy to continue in my role.

What has changed in banking since you started your career? What hasn’t?

Dawn: Technology and regulations have changed the most. In the early days, when someone would come in to open an account we wouldn’t even ask for an ID, we’d just take down the information they gave us. Now of course we are more diligent and detail-oriented regarding our customers’ identity.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to service. We have always cared about our customers and our community. I enjoy getting to know them and hearing their stories. I will greatly miss making those connections.

What is your favorite part about working with your customers and colleagues in the La Crescent community?

Dawn: My favorite part of my job is definitely working with customers and hearing the many stories they have to tell. It’s wonderful to find a strong bond with someone, and I’ve been fortunate to have that with a lot of my customers. I’ve also learned that everyone has their own way they manage their finances that works for them. I’ve enjoyed being able to provide additional insight for them over the years and provide education on tools we have available that may help, but they’ve taught me a lot too.

What will you miss most?

Dawn: I will miss the routine of the work day and the daily contact with people in our wonderful La Crescent community. I will not, however, miss waking up to an alarm clock!

What are some of your favorite memories?

Dawn: I have the fondest memories of the gatherings we organized. The Bank used to put on a senior breakfast with a different theme each year, and now we have great success with the Food Explosion campaign during Applefest. I remember we started that in 2010. I also adore my memories of the social events some of the bank employees would plan for ourselves, including canoe trips, bowling, golfing, hay rides and Christmas parties. We fondly refer to ourselves as “The Old Bank Ladies.” We still get together every Christmas season for a cookie exchange. Of course there are also a few customers that I will never forget.

How will you stay busy?

Dawn: I am looking forward to starting my retirement in the summer. We have 260 acres out in the country, and my husband has big plans for me to clean up our flower and vegetable gardens. We also have two children and five grandchildren. One of the grandsons wants me to play golf with him, so he’ll have to teach me to play golf. In the winter my three grandsons have hockey. My sisters and brother are retired as well and I’m sure I’ll be doing fun things with them. My husband and I will also be taking off to go on trips and doing whatever we want. I guess I’ll be staying busy!

Anything you’d like to add?

Dawn: I will miss my co-workers in La Crescent as well as the wonderful people I have connected with across the other 20 Merchants Bank locations. I’ll have to visit on occasion to say hi and keep up with what is going on in the area. I’d also like to thank the La Crescent community and our customers for their friendship over the years. You’ve all been part of a wonderful career!

It’s Nice to Earn Twice


Earn Double Credit Card Points Now-6/30

The spring shopping season has begun – and we have something to make it even better. From now through June 30, earn double points when you shop with a Merchants Bank Visa ScoreCard Credit Card.

When can I earn double points?

Anytime you make a purchase or balance transfer between May 1 and June 30, 2018 with a Merchants Bank Visa ScoreCard Credit Card.

How will I earn double points?

It’s automatic. You’ll see double points applied when you log in to your account on and on your monthly statements for May and June.

What if I don’t have a Visa ScoreCard Credit Card yet?

Start the application process online now or visit your local Merchants Bank branch.

Visit our website to learn about the terms and conditions as well as the other benefits of our card, like our 0% APR introductory rate for the first six months and a great every day rate of 9.99% APR after that.

To learn more, contact our Credit Card department:

Hope to See You at these Parades and Events


Join our staff at these great events. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for information on these events or pictures from other events you may have missed. 


5/19 Spring Grove Syttende Mai Parade
12:00 p.m.
Main Street in Spring Grove, MN
Month of June Lanesboro Dairy Days
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Lanesboro
Please join us for treats in our lobby to celebrate Dairy Days.
Month of June Rushford Dairy Days
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Rushford
Please join us for treats in our lobby to celebrate Dairy Days.
Fridays in June Hampton Dairy Days
8:030 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Merchants Bank in Hampton.
Please join us for treats in our lobby to celebrate Dairy Days.
Last Week of May, First Week of June Caledonia Dairy Days
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Caledonia
Please join us for beef and cheese sticks in our lobby to celebrate Dairy Days.
6/1 Retirement Party for Dawn Farrell in La Crescent
8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in La Crescent
Coffee, lemonade and cookies will be served.

Join us as we congratulate Dawn Farrell on her retirement and thank her for her years of service to our customers and the La Crescent community – 27 years with Merchants Bank and 10 years with the former La Crescent State Bank.

6/6 Spring Grove Music in the Park
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Viking Memorial Park
Merchants Bank staff will be serving dinner starting at 6:00 p.m. A BBQ pork sandwich, chips, cookie and a beverage will be $3, or a hot dog, chips, cookie and a beverage will be $2. All proceeds will benefit Music in the Park. Cat & Fiddle will perform at 6:30 p.m. The Spring Grove Syttende Mai Royalty will be serving free ice cream to celebrate June Dairy Days. We hope to see you there!
6/4 – 6/8 Customer Appreciation Open House in Apple Valley
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Apple Valley. Please join us in our lobby for:

  • Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for refreshments and coffee
  • Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. for pizza from Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom
  • Friday for a reception at 11:45 a.m. celebrating the riders from the 13th annual Christian Elder Memorial Bike Ride. Lunch served 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
6/10 Trinona Triathlon
Lake Park in Winona
6/14 Cannon Falls Chamber Fun Fest
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Mill Street in Cannon Falls
Street fair featuring vendor booths with a variety of merchandise including jewelry, honey, crafts, wine, home-baked goodies, and more, live music, games. clowns, face-painting and concessions. We will have our money machine on hand.
6/16 28th Annual Pancake Breakfast in Winona
7:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Merchants Bank in Winona-Downtown
$5.00 per person • $18.00 per family • Children 5 and under FREE. Open to the public. Parking available in Bank parking lot, located at the corner of Third and Walnut Streets. Enter by driving East on Second Street.
6/17 Winona Steamboat Days Grande Parade
12:01 p.m.
Broadway Street in Winona, MN.
6/26 Caledonia Music in the Park
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Mt. Pleasant Memorial Park
Merchants Bank will be serving burgers and hot dogs. Trouble Shooter will perform. We hope to see you there!
7/4 Caledonia Eitzen Days Parade
12:00 p.m.
Main Street in Etizen, MN
7/14 Lakeville Pan-O-Prog Grande Parade
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Holyoke Avenue in Lakeville, MN
7/21 Rushford Days Parade
7:00 p.m.
Home Street in Rushford, MN
7/22 Hastings Rivertown Days Parade
12:00 p.m.
Ramsey Street in Hastings, MN
8/5 Lanesboro Buffalo Bills Days Parade
1:30 p.m.
Located in Lanesboro, MN
8/17 Goodview Days Community Appreciation
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in Goodview
As a part of the Goodview Days celebration, food and drink will be served.
8/17 Goodview Days Kiddie Parade
10:00 a.m.
5th Street in Goodview, MN
8/17 Goodview Days Grande Parade
1:00 p.m.
6th Street between 38th and 51st Avenue in Goodview, MN
8/24 St. Charles Hot Dog Fundraiser
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in St. Charles
Hot dogs, chips and soda will be served for $3 and you’ll receive a FREE ice cream treat.
8/26 St. Charles Gladiolus Days Parade
1:00 p.m.
7th Street to Whitewater Ave in St. Charles, MN

Congratulate New and Promoted Staff

New Staff

BenzingJenna Jenna Benzing, Teller, Caledonia

Jenna is a sophomore at Caledonia High School and enjoys painting and playing music.

FranxmanLisa Lisa Franxman, Market President, Rosemount

Lisa is a well-known and respected area banker. Before Merchants, she had been with Anchor Bank since 2000 and in 2011 became the president of the Farmington location. Lisa is an experienced commercial and SBA lender, and in 2015, she received the Exceptional Business Woman award from the Dakota County Tribune. Lisa is also very active in the community: she serves on the Executive Board of Hope for Tomorrow, the Board of Directors for the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Dakota County Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Council. Read more about Lisa here.

GiesNicole Nicole Gies, Teller, Onalaska

Nicole previously worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Bethany Riverside in La Crosse. She is currently attending the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. She moved to La Crosse two years ago after completing her associate degree at the University of Wisconsin Baraboo/Sauk County. Her major is accounting with a minor in health information systems.

NelsonTim Tim Nelson, Mortgage Lender, Lakeville

Tim previously worked at MidwestOne Bank as a Mortgage Banking Officer and at Wells Fargo as a Home Mortgage Consultant. He has resided in Lakeville for 20 years and has four children (two boys and two girls) ranging in age from 23 down to 16. Tim has been a youth football and baseball coach for the past 15+ years. In his spare time he enjoys golfing with his buddies at Legends in Prior Lake. Read more about Tim here.

RamirezJayro Jayro Ramirez, Teller, Rochester – Green Meadows

Jayro previously worked at Planet Fitness as an Assistant Manager and at Cub Foods as a Grocery Stocker/Cashier.

SannesLogan Logan Sanness, Teller, Spring Grove

Logan also currently works at Caledonia Care and Rehab as an Assistant Dietary Manager. She is taking online classes at Purdue Global where she is working towards her bachelors degree in Accounting. Logan has a dog and enjoys traveling, tennis, swimming, reading, hiking, sight-seeing and watching movies.

SarviBarb Barbara Sarvi, Teller, Winona – Downtown

Barb previously worked as a Teller and in operations and loans at Rushford State Bank. Barb is a Winona native who recently moved back to the area with her husband. She enjoys spending time with family, making hand-crafted cards, reading and walking outdoors.

SchlakTamara Tamara Schlak, Lead Teller & Customer Service Representative, Cottage Grove

Tamara rejoined Merchants Bank, Cottage Grove as a Lead Teller. Tamara previously worked as a Lead Teller in Cottage Grove from 2013-2015. She has worked as an Assistant Manager at Salon 80 and as a Manager at Sally Beauty since she left Merchants. Tamara and her husband, Michael reside in Cottage Grove and have seven children. Tamara has done hair for 20 years and is currently in the process of getting her first book published. She is excited to be back with her Merchants family.

StormKaleb Kaleb Storm, Commercial/Ag Banking Officer, Winona

Kaleb previously worked as a Commercial/Ag Loan Officer at Unity Bank in Rush City, Minnesota. He also worked as a Ag/Commercial Credit Analyst at Unity Bank in Augusta, Wisconsin. Kaleb was raised in Westby, Wisconsin and comes from a dairy farm background. He received his Finance degree from UW-Eau Claire. Kaleb enjoys hunting, fishing, and farming. Read more about Kaleb here.

HamiltonBJ B.J. Hamilton, Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender, La Crescent

B.J. had been a Mortgage Lender at Altra since 2013. Before that, he spent nearly ten years in Montana, both working in home lending for Montana banks and working as a project manager for a construction company. B.J. is involved in the area. He is a member of the La Crosse Area Builders Association and the La Crosse Area Realtors Association. Read more about B.J. here.

WoodsStephanie Stephanie Woods, Teller, Hastings

Stephanie has worked at Afton Alps, Subway and Wrisky Ranch. Stephanie is currently a senior at Hastings High School and is a PSEO student, majoring in Biochemistry/Pre-med. She enjoys playing volleyball, riding horses and loves to exercise.

Transfers and Promotions

GarmsDawn Dawn Garms, Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender, Onalaska

Dawn has been promoted from Mortgage Lender to Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender. Since joining us in 2013, Dawn has proven herself to be a highly efficient lender and has received many satisfaction surveys with very high ratings. Dawn has a B.A. degree in Finance and a minor in Real Estate from the University of Northern Iowa graduating Magna Cum Laude. She is active in the La Crosse Realtors Association, La Crosse Area Builders Association and the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce.

FloresNora Nora Flores Moreno, Customer Service Representative, Rochester – Northwest Plaza

Nora transferred to a Customer Service Representative in Rochester – Northwest Plaza. She was originally a Teller in Rochester – Green Meadows.

What, Why and How: Merchants Bank Mortgage Underwriting

Mortgage Underwriting Team

Merchants Bank Underwriters (l-r): Chris Thrune, Angie Booher, Abbey Krumrie, Shelley Vondrasek, Teresa Ebersold, Lynn Corey, Shay Yackel, Kady Cada, Haley Schultz and Jenna Hartman.

Underwriting. A term you might not be familiar with, or if you are, one that brings to mind piles of documents and lots of questions. In this edition of our eNewsletter, we’re demystifying the underwriting process to help you understand why it’s important, essential and ultimately a beneficial part of the mortgage process.

“Underwriting is about assessing risk – the risk the Bank takes in loaning money, but also the risk the customer is taking by promising to pay back borrowed money. Our underwriters work hard every day to make sure applicants truly qualify for a mortgage and help guide them to smarter financial decisions,” says Underwriting Manager, Jenna Hartman.

But, first things first, where does underwriting fit in the mortgage process? Here’s a simple breakdown of the steps:

  1. Discussing Your Needs. You meet with a local lender to discuss your goals, budget and loan options. With your lender’s help, you select a home loan program.
  2. Pre-Approval Application. You apply for a mortgage pre-approval and provide the necessary paperwork to your mortgage lender. Pre-approval is a great first step to help you determine how much you can afford before you look for a house and show buyers you’re serious about purchasing a property or land.
  3. Pre-Approval Application Reviewed by Lender. The lender reviews your application and documentation.
  4. Pre-Approval Decision/Approval. After review, your lender determines if you qualify for mortgage pre-approval and how much you can afford. You’ll discuss your budget in more detail and prepare for your house search (or contractor search, if you’re building).
  5. House Hunting. Now comes the fun part! Once you have qualified, stay in touch with your lender during the building or house hunting process. Or, maybe you’ve already found the perfect home…then you’ll move on to step six.
  6. Application Reviewed by Underwriting. With the property selected, you provide additional documentation to your lender. From there, the Underwriting department at Merchants Bank, made up of nine employees based in Winona, MN, reviews your application, including all of the documentation you provided.
  7. Loan Decision/Approval. After careful review of all your documentation, the Underwriting department determines if you qualify for the home loan. The decision is communicated to you by your mortgage lender. If you are refinancing a current mortgage, you’re ready to sign papers.
  8. Buying/Building a Home. You finalize the details of the mortgage terms with your lender, who will also communicate with the realtor and/or sellers. Once terms have been agreed upon, you meet with all involved parties to sign the final paperwork.
  9. Moving In. Congratulations! Now that you’re moving in you’ll be busy making your house into a home and begin your mortgage payments. Our local Loan Servicing department will be with you throughout the repayment process to answer all your questions and help put you at ease. About a month after your loan closing, you’ll either receive your loan payment book or notice of your first automatic payment, whichever payment option you selected. If you are escrowing (putting money aside each month as part of your mortgage payment), for your property taxes and homeowner’s insurance the Loan Servicing department will pay those bills the next time they are due. Stay tuned for an article in our next eNewsletter with an inside look at Merchants Bank Loan Servicing and tips from our experts.

We’re with you from start to finish. This mortgage application process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the housing market.

The important thing to note is that while there are guidelines our Underwriting department must work within when reviewing loan applications, lenders, customers and underwriters can all work together to make the process go smoothly. Communication is key and another reason having local lenders and local underwriters is so beneficial to our customers. Jenna shares two common issues that can slow the loan process and how you can avoid them.

Acquiring New Debt

“One common issue we see is applying for or acquiring new debt – like a credit card – while our team is reviewing a loan application,” says Jenna.

She recommends consulting your lender prior to taking out new debt to avoid this hiccup in the loan process. “Even if you could save 25% at a department store or on furniture for your new home – it might not be worth it. Any new debt you take on during the loan process has to be documented and could affect if you qualify for the loan.”

Moving Money Between Accounts

Jenna adds, “[w]hen you move money from account to account or bank to bank, it can make our job to verify your financial assets more difficult.”

When your money is moved between accounts or financial institutions, it makes the paper trail to track the funds harder for the Underwriting team to verify. Many people don’t realize that verifying adequate liquid assets is part of the mortgage loan approval process. It’s all a part of the education we provide our customers. This problem can also be avoided by consulting your lender before you move any money.

If you have questions about the underwriting, or any part of the mortgage process, just ask your local Merchants Bank mortgage lender.

“Everyone in the Merchants Mortgage team is working hard for you – from the lenders to those of us behind the scenes. As underwriters, we know that when we approve a loan, there are people moving into homes and making memories. It’s such a rewarding process to be a part of.”

Additional Resources: