Stack the Savings

Person looking at bills

How to save money on utility bills

Bills, bills, bills. Every month they come and every month they squeeze your budget. What can you do, other than shrug your shoulders. Well, there are actually quite a lot of things you can do to lower your monthly water, energy and heating bills. Here are some tips.

  • Do a Comb Over. Go through each of your monthly bills in detail. Are there charges that seem off to you? Make a note of them, call that company and ask to have them explained. There’s a good chance you can get some of those charges removed for good. Even if you don’t see a mysterious charge on your bills, it’s a good idea to call and ask for any deals or discounts.
  • Turn it Down. If your water heater is set hotter than 120 degrees, turn it down to that mark. You’ll still have hot water, but you’ll be using less energy to heat the water, which translates to savings.
  • Cold is Best. Wash all your clothes using cold water. As US News reports, unless your clothes are extremely dirty, they’ll come clean just fine using the cold water setting. Using only cold water will reduce your energy consumption, saving you up to 50 cents per load depending on your washer.
  • Turn Them Right. If you have ceiling fans, make sure you’re using them to reduce energy costs. In the summer, you want the fan blades rotating counterclockwise, as this will provide a cooling breeze under the fan. In the winter, switch the blade direction to clockwise, so that the warm air is pushed down from the ceiling and circulated throughout the room.

Article written by Chris O’Shea, originally published by SavvyMoney.

Merchants’ Strength Allows for Dividend Declaration, COVID-19 Relief Initiatives

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) has announced financial results for the first quarter and a dividend payment to shareholders, according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

As a result of continued strong performance, the MFGI Board of Directors authorized a semiannual dividend of 75 cents per share to shareholders during its April meeting. Dividends will be paid in June to shareholders of record as of May 22. First quarter earnings of $3,806,000 were slightly behind MFGI’s 2020 plan, but ahead of 2019 first quarter performance.

“While our earnings for the first quarter of the year were solid, these results seem insignificant when we consider the current state of the world and the challenges many of our customers and communities are facing,” said Evans. “It’s evident that the banking industry will also face extraordinary challenges going forward, but we will be absolutely unwavering in our ongoing commitment to be a trusted advisor for our clients and a leader in our communities as we face the upcoming challenges together. Our dividend declaration is representative of strength and resolve.”

Merchants has committed to assisting customers experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic through several initiatives, including loan payment deferral relief on many business, personal and mortgage loans, and emergency business funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Through the first wave of PPP, the Small Business Administration approved 1,050 PPP loans through Merchants with funds totaling approximately $200 million. While Bank customers were the priority throughout the first round of funding, Merchants anticipates being able to accommodate some non-customer requests during the awaited second round.

In addition to these relief programs, Merchants has also contributed to several community funds to assist individuals and businesses affected, including a $50,000 donation to the Winona Port Authority Emergency Loan Fund.

For additional information on financial relief options available through the CARES Act, other assistance programs and updates regarding contribution deadlines and distribution requirements for retirement accounts, visit

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. MFGI also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, MN. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.1 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. is a publicly-traded company. Ownership is made up of its more than 440 employees and mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Top 5 Alerts You Should Turn On Now

Notification Messages on Smartphone

We’re all looking for ways to make sure our personal information and finances are safe. With our Personal and Small Business Online Banking, you can set up Alerts to add an extra layer of security for your accounts and give you some peace of mind.

With the Alerts feature you can set up various kinds of notifications for transactions in and out of your accounts (checking, savings, lines of credit and loans), as well as profile updates.

Notifications can be sent to your email or if you set them up in our mobile app you’ll have the option of receiving a text message or push notification to your mobile device’s home screen. You can find Alerts by going to the “Profile” tab in Online Banking, then selecting the “Alerts” section and clicking on the bell.


With over 20 alerts, you may be wondering where to start. Here are five alerts to turn on now to help you manage your money and add an additional layer of security.

Transaction over threshold amount – this is a great alert to keep an eye on what is going in and out of your account. If you want to know when a large purchase posts or deposit comes in to your account, set a threshold for a little less than the amount you’re expecting. Or, if you’d like notifications for all your transactions, set a very low threshold like $0.50 or $1.00.

Email address was changed – Your email account is often an essential tool for information security, and you want to be sure your information is going to the correct address. Setting up this alert means you’ll be notified if your contact email is changed in Online & Mobile Banking.

Account balance above/below threshold – These are actually two separate alerts, but function the same. If you’d like to know if your account balance falls below a certain dollar amount, set a balance below threshold alert for that amount. If you want to know if an account is over a certain dollar amount, set a balance above threshold.

Debit transaction was posted – Since debit card fraud is not uncommon, this is a great tool to see when your debit card is used to make a purchase. If you haven’t used your debit card and you get this alert or notification, you’ll know to contact the bank as soon as possible.

Payment was posted to a loan – This alert will notify you when your loan payment is processed. This is a perfect alert for peace of mind that your payments are being made on time, especially if you have an automatic payment set up.

There are many more alert options that could fit your needs. Log in to your Online Banking to explore more at Questions? Contact the Customer Service Represetative at your local branch or our Electronic Banking team.

Meet Sarah Danielson, Commercial Banker

Sarah Danielson, Commercial Banker

Get to know more about Sarah Danielson and how she approaches working with businesses every day.

When did you start your banking career?
Sarah: I started working as a Teller in 1994. At the time, I worked mostly with commercial customers and really enjoyed learning about that side of banking. When I had the chance to apply for a job in the Loan Review area, I took it. In Loan Review, I spent my time analyzing business financials and while I really enjoyed it, I missed being in front of people. Ultimately, I knew the best path would be to become a Commercial Banker so I could use all of my knowledge and interact with customers again.

What do you like most about your job?
Sarah: I enjoy being there for my customers through the ups and downs of their businesses. Owning a business isn’t always easy – I know first hand – and I can relate to what it’s like for my business customers day in and day out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It’s so encouraging to see people believe in themselves and have the courage to take the next step in establishing or running their business.

Share your top business/commercial banking tip.
Sarah: The secret to success is having a full understanding of what you’re doing. You might wonder how that’s possible. Start by surrounding yourself with a team of trusted experts, like a lawyer, accountant and a banker, just to name a few.

What do you hope your customers say about working with you?
Sarah: I hope they see me as a trusted partner…someone who has knowledge to share, but also looks out for their best interests.

Can you help businesses assess which business banking options would be most beneficial? How does this process work?
Sarah: Definitely. It’s as simple as sitting down and taking the time to listen to a customer. I try to uncover their true needs and pair that with my knowledge from being in such a wide variety of banking positions helps me make the best recommendation(s).

What does community banking mean to you?
Sarah: It’s gratifying to be part of a banking team where employees are so dedicated to improving the community professionally, through their work helping businesses grow, and personally, through volunteer and service work. I believe in community and community banking.

What are some of the biggest benefits to a business to working with a Merchants Bank Commercial Banker?
Sarah: I think we’re different because our team is interested helping businesses with their entire banking experience, from loans to deposits and cash management tools. I’m not just your lender. I want to be your banker and someone who provides the best guidance about your financial picture.

Top 3 Tips to Make the Most of Small Business Online Banking

Businesswoman on Computer

Welcome, again, to our new Small Business Online Banking system! Small Business Online Banking is a great tool for businesses who need a convenient, capable online solution and don’t need Treasury Management tools or services.

It’s probably a little different than you’re used to, so we’d like to go over a few quick tips and functions to make sure you’re getting as much as possible from the platform:

1.) Add and Edit Users

Think about efficiency and security: should certain employees have access to information or capabilities in online banking? Go ahead and add them! You can make sure they have only the visibility and functions they need for their position.  And you can edit your users’ access at any time! For a detailed “how-to”, check out our video tutorial.

2.) Make a Deposit Into Any Merchants Bank Account

Did you know your business can make a deposit into any Merchants Bank account? You just have to know the account type and number you want to make a deposit into – this is perfect for depositing into Merchants Bank accounts that you don’t own or may not be an authorized signer on. You can do that in the “Transfers” tab, and then go to the “Unlinked Account” section.

Unliked account screenshot

3.) Download Transactions into Excel

Maybe you’re between statements and have had an active few weeks, and now you’d like to review those transactions on paper. In our new system, you can download your transaction history into an Excel Workbook.

Simply go to your “Accounts” tab, and the down to “Account Activity,”  select the account you’d like transactions for and click the green “Spreadsheet” link. It will automatically start the download.

Small business account transaction sample

If you have any questions about online banking, call our Electronic Banking team at (866) 496-0522, we’re happy to help!

Merchants Bank Named Community Champion by Minnesota Bankers Association

Co-workers with hands in for teamwork

Merchants Bank is one of 40 banks in the state to be named a Community Champion by the Minnesota Bankers Association in recognition of the Bank’s local community contributions, service and support.

“We are proud to be recognized for our community engagement efforts in 2019, but the current state of the world provides a stark reminder that we have great challenges ahead of us in all of our communities,” said Greg Evans, President & CEO. “As we always have, we will embrace those challenges as opportunities. By working together, we can and will help those in need and support the heroes on the front lines of the pandemic response.”

As a commitment to local community leadership, Merchants Bank employees volunteered more than 15,000 hours to 211 organizations in 2019. In addition to last year’s volunteer efforts, Merchants Bank contributed to more than 500 organizations with total charitable donations of more than $595,000.00, or 2.63% of Merchants Bank’s pre-tax income. Local community commitment and support has been key priority for Merchants since it’s founding in 1875.

The Minnesota Bankers Association Community Champion recognition honors banks based on their community involvement in the past year. Criteria included volunteer hours, number of employees volunteering, charitable contributions, number of organizations supported and how often financial education was provided to the community. 40 banks from across the state were honored for their 2019 community efforts. In total, the 40 banks contributed $3.1 million in charitable donations and 92,500 volunteer hours.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. As the parent company for Merchants Bank, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, Minn. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.1 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Member FDIC

Everyday Tips For Saving Money

Woman adjusting thermostat

Saving money can be hard, but there are simple ways to cut back on everyday spending that can start adding up at the end of each month.

Begin your quest by making a list of things you spend money on – such as groceries, entertainment and utilities. Now use that as your guide for trying to cut back a little – because even small things can make a big difference.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Turn your thermostat up a bit in the summer or down in the winter.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when you leave home or aren’t in a room.
  • Look for things that are on sale at the grocery store. And use coupons or buy store brands to reduce costs.
  • No matter where you go, stick to your shopping list to avoid impulse buys.
  • Consider cutting back on the number of times you eat out, or order water with your meal instead of a cocktail or two.
  • You probably don’t need to buy a $3 cup of coffee every day.
  • Ask yourself if you really need to pay more than $100 a month or more for TV.
  • Buy used – such as cars or clothing – when possible.
  • If you need to buy new, shop sales and don’t pay full price.
  • If you buy a car, choose one without a ton of costly options and that is fuel-efficient.
  • Find free things to do – whether it’s a concert or a day at a museum. Having fun doesn’t have to cost money.

Make it challenging by putting your newfound savings into an account where you can earn interest, and try not to touch it until you reach your savings goal.
And on occasion, once you get to where your savings are starting to make a noticeable difference, give yourself a treat, such as a night out.

You’ll deserve it for making saving a part of your daily routine!

Merchants Bank Hires New Chief Information Officer

Stephen Swenson, Chief Information Officer

Stephen Swenson has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President/Chief Information Officer (CIO), according to Greg Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer. Swenson will replace current CIO, Rodney Nelsestuen, who will be retiring in May.

“The expertise Stephen brings to Merchants as a technology thought leader will be a benefit to all of our stakeholders. The specific experience he has had in the financial services industry will help ensure our digital banking services evolve with customer needs and expectations while also maintaining our disciplined focus on information security and customer privacy,” said Evans.

Swenson has more than 25 years of experience in information technology and operations as both as an executive and consultant to the financial services industry. He has helped provide leadership and consulted for U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Alerus, Cornerstone Bank and other financial institutions to implement large-scale technology solutions, facilitate change management and improve operational processes.

“I’m excited to join Merchants because of their commitment to innovation and leveraging technology to create a better customer experience,” said Swenson. “The combination of Merchants’ service culture and investment in digital banking tools is a strong foundation to build on as we look to the needs of customers into the future.”

Swenson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business, also holds a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems and is a Certified Public Account (CPA inactive).

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. As the parent company for Merchants Bank, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, Minn. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.1 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Steve Christopherson Named Commercial Banking Department Leader for Merchants Bank-Winona and Senior Lending Officer for the Bank’s Winona Region


Experienced Senior Lender/Commercial Banker, Steve Christopherson has been named Commercial Banking Manager in Winona and Senior Lending Officer for the Winona Region, according to Andrew Guzzo, Winona and Southern Region President. Christopherson will replace current Commercial Banking Manager/Senior Lending Officer, Randy Domeyer, who will be retiring in April.

“We are thrilled to have Steve join our team to provide leadership for our Commercial Banking area and continue the personalized advisor approach we take in caring for our valued business clients,” said Guzzo.

With more than 35 years in commercial banking, Christopherson is a seasoned leader in the financial industry. He was most recently the Market President for Old National Bank in Maple Grove and Waconia and also spent more than 20 years with U.S. Bank in various lending and leadership roles. Christopherson has management experience overseeing business and retail banking operations, credit analysis and credit support and a Small Business Administration (SBA) financing division. His wealth of knowledge in a wide array of commercial banking areas, including ag lending, will help Merchants Bank continue to best serve business clients.

“Being able to make a difference for businesses and knowing I can have an impact on the community as a banker is important to me – and that’s also important to Merchants Bank. I’m looking forward to being part of a community-focused, progressive and financially strong organization,” said Christopherson.

Christopherson attended North Dakota State University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. He also holds a Mini-MBA from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He and his wife, Leann, have relocated to the Winona area and are looking forward to becoming involved in the community. They have three grown daughters, two of whom attended college in Winona. His hobbies include pheasant hunting, golfing and snowmobiling.

The Merchants Bank Commercial Banking team is comprised of more than 40 local experts, available throughout our regional footprint. In addition to traditional commercial loans, Merchants bankers specialize in ag banking, SBA loans, floor plan financing and equipment lease financing. As a regional banking leader, Merchants can assist businesses of any size with their business financing needs, including Treasury Management and deposit services.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. As the parent company for Merchants Bank, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, MN. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.1 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Loans are subject to approval.

Health Advice And Banking Tools To Help During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Woman using smartphone

The worldwide spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has prompted health officials to strongly advise us all to minimize our exposure to possible infection.

These advisories range from avoiding large gatherings to simple steps we can take to protect ourselves and others on a daily basis, such as how we go about our normal activities and how we meet our financial needs.

Important general health steps from the Centers for Disease Control include:

  • Avoid public areas and large gatherings.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
  • Stay at home if you are ill and call your medical provider for advice about testing or treatment.

When it comes to meeting many of your money needs, your financial institution offers a variety of digital services through online and mobile banking. These steps can reduce your visits to a branch and the need to handle money or checks when out of your home.

Online, mobile and other banking services include:

  • Online banking to manage your accounts, transfer funds, monitor transactions and more.
  • A mobile banking app that can be downloaded for use on your smartphone or tablet.
  • Mobile deposit from the app so you can deposit paper checks from anywhere at any time.
  • Paying bills with online bill pay.
  • Using person-to-person services such as Zelle to send money to family or friends.
  • Using your debit or credit card for payments instead of cash.
  • ATMs so you can get cash if necessary and to complete other banking needs.
  • Using a drive-thru at branches to promote social distancing.
  • Merchant Source Capture for depositing business checks from your office.

For other banking needs or questions about services and steps being taken to protect you, visit your financial institution’s website or call their customer service number.

The steps you take to protect yourself and others both at home and in public can minimize your exposure to COVID-19.