Meet Kathy Simon, Credit Card Assistant Merchants

 

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Kathy and her grandchildren

When did you start your banking career?

 

Kathy: I started as a teller when I was 20 years old. I came to Merchants Bank in 2008 as a File Clerk, and then moved to Loan Servicing and Credit Cards.

What is your top banking tip?

Kathy: I would say check your statements for fraud. We see credit card fraud daily. If you pay attention to your statements, either paper or online, you may be able to catch fraud in time. If you suspect fraud on your account, the window to act is within 60 days from the statement’s cut-off date.

Acting as soon as you suspect something is always best. Or better yet, download our SecurLOCK mobile app on your mobile device to monitor your Merchants Credit Card daily. Many other cards have similar apps; take advantage of them to protect yourself.

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

Kathy: My mom always said, “Put money away for a rainy day!” That’s such a “mom” thing to say, isn’t it? But you what? It was great advice. A little saved goes a long way later.

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

Kathy: I would travel to Europe and give some to family and friends.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Kathy: It’s a toss-up between trees and avocados. If I had to pick, I’d say trees.

Click here to learn more about Credit Cards at Merchants Bank. Credit cards are subject to credit approval.

Commercial Lending: It’s about more than easy money

EvansGreg

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Written by Greg Evans, President and Chief Banking Officer

I was at a community networking event one evening last week that included a group of upper-level College of Business students from Winona State University.

“How hard is it to get a business loan?” they asked.

Great question. One I get all the time.

That depends. How hard is it going to be to pay it back?

Not complex stuff, really, but far from easy in practice.

For entrepreneurs looking to start a new business or experienced business owners looking to finance growth and expansion, there really has never been a better time to borrow money. Interest rates remain at historically-low levels. Most commercial banks have fully recovered from any credit problems lingering from the recent great recession. There is plenty of liquidity in the banking system, and banks are hungry to add good quality loans to the balance sheet.

The fact is that commercial banks are in the business of making loans. The change in the regulatory environment that resulted from the recession has, perhaps, created some additional challenges but by in large solid borrowers will have choices in selecting a lender. The institutions serving the Seven Rivers Region, including Merchants Bank, are predominantly community banks and are eager to provide more loans to drive economic growth in our Main Street communities.

So, with plenty of money supply to meet commercial credit demand, how should a business owner go about choosing the right banking partner?

I would recommend looking for a banker comfortable playing the role of a trusted adviser, willing to take the time to fully understand your business and drill into the question, “How hard is it going to be to pay it back?”

For us at Merchants, commercial banking is a relationship business. When we evaluate a loan request, we are diligent in our underwriting of the transaction itself. But, we are far less interested in the single piece of here-and-now business than we are in developing a complete understanding of the total operation and being able to deliver a full suite of business banking solutions that set up a business owner for long-term success.

When I think about our best business customers, clients that immediately come to mind are those trusted relationships that have been shaped over years, even decades. I would like to think that these valued long-standing relationships are the result of one of our bankers starting with this end in mind way back when.

When a commercial lender meets with a prospective new customer, the most important consideration ought to be, “how are we going to meet this customer’s needs … not only today… but well into the future.” In the same manner, it’s advisable for the business owner to be thinking in terms of finding a partner who can become a trusted advisor for the long haul. That type of relationship isn’t forged overnight, but there are behaviors that should be evident early on to warrant the level of trust that a business owner places in a banker.

Any seasoned banker should articulate that credit underwriting will be governed by the fundamental assessment of the “5 Cs” of credit (character of the borrower, market conditions, collateral pledged as a potential secondary source of repayment, capital generally understood as “skin in the game” and capacity). In banking today, capacity – a company’s ability to absorb and repay debt – should be embraced as most fundamentally important because it reflects significantly on the viability of the business itself. Cash is what repays loans, so cash flow of the business is the best source of repayment. In addition to the fundamentals, any banker should be successful at demonstrating the following to a prospective borrower:

  • Responsiveness – business credit underwriting necessarily requires some time, but find a banker who keeps you well informed throughout the process and is available to you regularly
  • Integrity – having a trusted relationship isn’t optional; the ability to earn a high degree of trust is the price of admission for any banker deserving of the opportunity to become your banking partner
  • Thorough underwriting – scrutiny associated with credit requests should be embraced as part of the process if a banker is truly serving the best interests of the business; fundamental review of financial information, projections, business plans, etc., is necessary for everybody to feel a high degree of confidence that the debt can be serviced
  • Experience and knowledge – business owners should have an expectation that their business banker will bring a value-added component to the relationship; familiarity with specific industries and credit cycles is something you should ask your banker about to be confident about the banker’s ability to meet your needs for the long haul

At Merchants Bank, we strive to deliver on that formula in meeting the needs of our business clients. Our bank locations are small enough where our staff can know the name of each person who walks through our door. At the same time, our strength with $1.5 billion in assets allows us to deliver to the market all of the resources required to meet the financing needs of virtually any business in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. It’s a beneficial combination for our business clients.

I know every bank suggests it stands apart because of the personalized service it delivers and the quality of its bankers. Sometimes that’s true, but put your bank and banker to the test. Look closely at the expertise and passion of the employees. Are they responsive? Do they truly understand your business and your needs? Do they know what they are talking about? Do they care? Are they professional? Can they be trusted to say “no” when that answer truly serves your best interest and the interest of your business?

There is a good deal that goes into commercial lending, and this really only touches the surface. For any business owner, having a banker that can meet those standards is probably more important than the pricing, terms and conditions of any loan package. If you’re looking for a successful formula, do your homework and find that kind of banker. Then, build a long-term relationship.

 Loans are subject to credit approval.

Meet Dawn Garms, Mortgage Lender at Merchants

Garms,DawnWhen did you start your banking career?

Dawn: I started as a mortgage Lender with Altra in 2001. I was there for twelve years and then came to Merchants in 2013.

What is your top tip for a first time home-buyer?

Dawn: Get pre-approved first. Pre-approval helps you determine the maximum amount you can spend to purchase a home. You can also go over what to expect for monthly payments, down payments and other mortgage options with a lender at that time. It really gives you a clear picture of what you can afford and how that fits into what you’re comfortable with for your personal monthly budget.

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

Dawn: The best thing they taught me is the importance of knowing your finances. Know what you can handle so that you are comfortable in your monthly budget.

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

Dawn: I would travel all over Europe for an extended period of time, and explore all of the different countries.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Dawn: The green of fresh trees on a mountain hike.

What’s one lesson you learned when buying your own home?

Dawn: Use a lender that is knowledge so they can guide you through the process. Buying a home should not cause a headache…it should be a smooth, pain-free process.

Subject to credit approval. Contact Dawn today to start the application process for mortgage pre-approval. To find current mortgage rates and apply online, visit our website.

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.

Meet Andrea Lisowski, Consumer Loans Manager at Merchants

From l-r: Andrea's friend, Linda; her husband, Jeff and Andrea take in Lambeau Field.

From l-r: Andrea’s friend, Linda; her husband, Jeff and Andrea take in Lambeau Field.

When did you start your banking career?

Andrea: It will be thirty years this June. I have been very fortunate during my time here. I started at Merchants a floater, basically going between a few different departments like bookkeeping and proof. After that I was afforded the opportunity to learn several different positions, including being a Teller, working in our Loan Servicing Department and also as a Customer Service Representative. I’ve been in Consumer Lending for 25 years. This department has a lot of experience…we’ve all been all here a long time and have a great knowledge of several different departments.

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

Andrea: Think about a HELOC as something that can meet your immediate and future needs. You need to have a longer term thought process in mind, because it’s a flexible product that has many possible uses. You may need a new roof this year, but will you have any house updates next year or the year after that? Do you have a child going to college in the near future? I believe our HELOC is one of the best products that we offer. If you’re disciplined in your borrowing, it’s an option that could make a lot of sense for you.

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

Andrea: If you don’t have the money, you don’t buy it. They also taught me the Envelope Saving plan. It does work if you stick to it!

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

Andrea: My husband and I have always wanted to do a “stadium tour.” Buy luxury RV and go with some friends around the country to different baseball or football stadiums. That would be fun.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Andrea: The green turf of a football or baseball field. My husband and I have enjoyed many great memories of our kids on the field!

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

Andrea: I would do a bathroom remodel. We’re limited in space and we only have one bathroom. I’d make our current bathroom larger and add on another where we could fit it.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Contact Andrea 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.

Meet John Aarness, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank

John Aarness Merchants Bank Mortgage LenderWhen did you start your lending career?

John: I started my lending career in southern California in March of 1972. The bulk of my time was spent originating FHA and VA loans. Eventually I moved to Minnesota with my wife and started at Merchants in 2001.

What is your top tip for someone looking to build a home?

John: Be patient, talk to an experienced builder and know what you want. Knowing what you want is the hardest part. I would also suggest building a traditional house…remember, you have to sell it eventually.

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

John: Earn it before you spend it. I always earned money to pay for something I wanted, whether it was shoveling sidewalks when I was younger or getting a part-time job when I was old enough.

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

John: I have three boys and I would pay off their mortgages.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

John: I have a 1984 ugly green Vespa scooter. It’s a real beaut, despite the color. A fun machine.

Picture your dream house. What’s your favorite room and why?

John: I think it would be a luxury garage…heated, with a refrigerator, a large work bench and fully equipped with all the tools I need. Of course, it’d have a big TV too.

Contact John today to get start the application process for your home building or buying project. Find current mortgage rates and apply on our website.

Watch Out for These Red Flags to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

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It is hard to overstate the popularity of online shopping. There is almost no category of product that can’t be purchased online. From wedding dresses, to pets and potato chips, consumers are heading online to purchase things that only a few years ago would have been considered strange to buy online. With so many online stores to choose from, it can be hard to tell which are legitimate and which could leave you vulnerable to scam or identity theft.

One of the easiest ways to tell if a website is secure is by looking for a Trust Seal.

“Typically, these seals are associated with secure sockets layer, or SSL for short,” states John Rampton, a Forbes contributor. “This simply means that your site has been verified and that there is a secure transmission for customers to safely enter their credit card information.”

When you are shopping online, you may have run into one of the seals and not even realized it. If you searched for a store through Google, for example, you probably have seen the small logo with a checkmark that states “Google Trusted Stores,” which is the search engine’s own Trust Seal. There are also several other companies that examine stores and give out trust seals.

“While trust seals are an important feature for [an] e-commerce website, which seals are the most reliable?” asks Rampton.  “In a survey conducted by the research group the Baymard Institute, the most trusted badge was Norton, with 36 percent of the votes. This was followed by McAfee (23 percent), TRUSTe (13.2 percent) and BBB Accredited (13.2 percent).”

The other ways that you can determine an online store’s trustworthiness are much less clear-cut than Trust Seals. Online reviews, for example, are one of the most important ways that consumers make decisions about a business’s reputation. If an online store has many positive reviews, you will likely feel safer giving it your credit card information. It is entirely possible for a good online store to not have many reviews, however, and positive reviews can be faked, so it is not a foolproof method.

It is also important to not ignore your gut feeling when shopping online. If you find a product for significantly less than every other store selling it, then that is a definite red flag. Another tactic to keep an eye out for is if a store claims to have the product you are looking for during an initial search, but then tries to redirect you to other similar products because they do not actually have what you need.

Furthermore, if a website doesn’t seem professionally designed, is extremely outdated, or very difficult to navigate, you may want to find another.

“Would you seriously give your credit card information to [a] website that looks like it belongs in 1995?” asks Rampton. “Common sense would say absolutely not.”

You should also look for contact information that would allow you to speak with an employee if you have questions or problems with your order. If there is no way to contact customer service, that is a big red flag.

Once you decide to make a purchase, there are further things to keep in mind.

“Don’t send your credit card details via email, post them on social media (even in a private message), or enter them on an unsecured website,” states Lexy Savvides from Cnet.com. “Don’t give away more information than you need. Retailers generally don’t need to know details like your date of birth or social security number, so why disclose it if you don’t have to?”

If you keep this information in mind and always choose the path of caution, you should be able to shop online without incident.

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