Meet Dawn Stenberg, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

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Dawn and her daughter in the kitchen at home.

Get to know Dawn Stenberg, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Winona.

When did you start your banking/lending career?

Dawn: I started in banking in 2002, and I’ve been in mortgage since 2008. I came to Merchants in 2012, and here I’ve been a mortgage coordinator, mortgage underwriter, and now a mortgage lender.

What is your best banking/borrowing tip?

Dawn: A question I get asked a lot is whether or not customers should close open credit card accounts. It actually makes more sense to keep accounts with a long, healthy history open. If you close accounts in good standing and then just have fairly new loans open, it actually can hurt your credit score. Of course, fraud is a concern too. The more accounts that are open the more difficult it is to keep track of them all, making you more vulnerable to fraud. It’s important to find the happy medium between keeping healthy accounts open while still being able to manage and monitor all of them.

What is something smart borrowers do?

Dawn: Something that makes the process easier for everyone is to consistently make all of your loan payments on time. It’s also great to see customers saving, even if it’s just a little bit from each paycheck. Anything is better than nothing, and over time the savings will grow and it’ll help you be comfortable in your home.

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

Dawn: Have a budget. It’s important to keep track of your finances to ensure you are not overspending and to stay on track with your financial goals. It can also help create healthy spending habits.

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

Dawn: I would take a long extended vacation! Probably to Europe or New Zealand.

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

Dawn: My favorite room is the kitchen; I love to cook. My favorite times are when my kids are helping me bake around the island. The kitchen for me is the focal point of the home – It’s where the family all gathers together.

Meet Ben Franko, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Ben Franko, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank, and his son

Ben Franko, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank, and his son.

Get to know Ben Franko, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Eau Claire.

When did you start your banking/lending career?

Ben: I’ve been in banking since September 2005. I’ve worked in many positions on the retail side of the bank, such as a personal banker, customer service supervisory, branch manager, mortgage officer and mortgage sales manager. I started with Merchants on June 30, 2017 as a mortgage lender and I’m happy to use my experience in credit and customer service to help people get homes they could afford.

What is your best borrowing/banking tip?

Ben: My top home buying tip is always get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start the home buying or building process. It’s important to understand how the purchase you’re making will affect your budget.

What is something smart borrowers do?

Ben: This ties in with getting pre-approved for your mortgage: be prepared, know how your costs will interact. Just because you can afford a payment on paper, doesn’t mean that’s realistic. It’s a bad idea to stretch your budget; you want to be comfortable making that payment even when unforeseen expenses come up.

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

Ben: One of the things I was taught from a young age is you work very hard for your money, so spend and save wisely. It’s always good to avoid making impulse purchases. Picture your dream home.

What is your favorite room in your house and why?

Ben: I’m very fortunate to have my dream home, and my favorite room is my kitchen/sunroom. I love being in the kitchen cooking and entertaining. It was the most important feature when we were looking, so when we walked in we knew immediately we were home.

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

Ben: I would go back to Europe and spend most of my time in Belgium and Holland where my family is from.

Arlene Schwerzler Joins Merchants Bank in Red Wing as a Mortgage Lender

Arlene Schwerzler, Mortgage Lender

Arlene Schwerzler has joined Merchants Bank in Red Wing as a Vice President and Mortgage Lender, according to Dan Massett, Regional President for Merchants Bank in Red Wing, Cannon Falls and Hampton.

Schwerzler is a familiar name and face to the Merchants Bank employees and many customers in Red Wing. As a long-time mortgage lender at Merchants Bank in Winona, Schwerzler served many customers in Red Wing.

“Many of my customers already live in Red Wing, and I’m lucky to have a strong referral network,” Schwerzler said. “I look forward to being in Red Wing every day and taking care of mortgages for my customers, the people referred to me and many new customers from start to finish.”

Schwerzler has been in banking for more than 30 years. She started as a Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Winona in 1998 and also spent a short amount of time at Merchants Bank in Rochester. She has a loyal following.

“Certainly, Arlene has a great amount of experience and that helps to serve her customers, but what makes her stand apart from other lenders is her willingness to go the extra mile and to be there whenever her customers have questions,” Massett said. “Buying a home can be stressful, but Arlene takes that stress away.”

Merchants Bank offer a full-range of home mortgage products and is well known as a leader in the mortgage industry because of its commitment to integrity and service to its customers, making sure they are taken care of throughout the process. Another of Merchants Bank’s strengths is that it services its loans, which means that questions are answered by a Merchants Bank employee who lives in the area. Currently, Merchants Bank services more than $2.6 billion in home mortgage loans.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including Minnesota locations in Red Wing, Cannon Falls, Hampton, Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Rushford, Lanesboro, 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. Loans are subject to approval. Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, the company’s leasing arm, is based in the Twin Cities.

Ben Franko Joins Merchants Bank in Eau Claire as a Mortgage Lender

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Ben Franko, Mortgage Lender

Ben Franko has joined Merchants Bank in Eau Claire as a Mortgage Lender and Assistant Vice President, according to Larry Accola, President for Merchants Bank in Eau Claire.

“We’re excited to add Ben to our team. His knowledge and passion for our community, the Chippewa Valley and mortgage lending will make the experience easy for customers as he guides them through the mortgage loan process from start to finish and helps get them into the right home,” Accola said.

Franko has been serving customers throughout the area in a number of roles over the past 13 years, including more than nine years in mortgage lending, most recently with Wells Fargo.

“I believe the most important part of banking is the relationship between a banker and customer,” Franko said. “And the best place for a customer to develop that sort of relationship is in a true community bank like Merchants, where it’s clear the Bank puts its customers’ best interests at the forefront of what it does each and every day.”

One of Merchants Bank’s strengths is that it services its loans, which means that questions are answered by a Merchants Bank employee who lives in the area. Currently, Merchants Bank services more than $2.5 billion in mortgage loans.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Franko has been involved in the community and currently serves as President for the Community Table Board of Directors. Franko and his wife, Sonja, have a son, George, and a daughter, Madeline.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its location in Eau Claire and another Wisconsin location in Onalaska. Minnesota locations include Winona, St. Charles, Caledonia, Spring Grove, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, La Crescent, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Your Top HELOC Questions Answered

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You may be able to use the equity in your home to your advantage with a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). While the idea sounds simple, HELOCs can be confusing. Get the basics here.

What is a difference between a Second Mortgage and a HELOC?
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.

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.

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. 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.

Each loan works differently and which one may be best for you is often determined by your purpose for taking out the loan. The interest rate the bank charges on these loans typically takes several factors into account, such as your credit score, the loan to value or the loan type.

What is Loan-to-Value?
As mentioned above, loan-to-value is one of the factors taken into consideration when determining the loan interest rate. To calculate your loan-to-value, add the amount you want to borrow to the unpaid balance of your mortgage then divide that number by the appraised value of your home. The result will be a percentage that is referred to as the Loan-to-Value of your home. The lower the percentage, the lower your interest rate may be. 

Can I borrow more than the value of my home?
While some mortgage lenders offer loans that often will go over 100% of your home’s value, we don’t think it’s a good idea. Borrowing in that manner will make it difficult, if not impossible, to sell your home should you want, or need to move.

Can I use a HELOC for something other than home improvements?
Yes. 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 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.

What’s the next step?
If you’re interested in learning more, check out these HELOC resources:

Katie Lund Joins Merchants Bank in Rochester as a Mortgage Lender

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Katie Lund, Mortgage Lender

Katie Lund has joined Merchants Bank in Rochester as a Mortgage Lender, according to John Doyle, President of Merchants Bank in Rochester.

Lund has been part of the Merchants Bank team since 2008, when she joined Merchants Bank Equipment Finance (then known as Merchants Capital Resources). Since 2013, she has worked at Merchants Bank in Rosemount as a Mortgage Loan Coordinator.

“Katie brings a great deal of knowledge and experience with the mortgage origination process, which will be an immediate benefit to our customers,”Doyle said. “She puts the needs of our customers first, and she is dedicated to making sure those needs are met. I know people will enjoy working with her.”

Lund’s office will be at Merchants Bank’s Northwest Plaza location. She is a native of St. Charles, MN, and has recently moved to Rochester with her family.

“I’m familiar with the needs of the individuals and families who are part of the Rochester market,”Lund said. “I’m excited to help people realize their dreams of home ownership with the programs and support we can offer at Merchants. Given the very active Rochester housing market, I’m especially looking forward to helping people get pre-qualified for their loans, so they can be first in line when they make an offer on their next home.”

Is Your Home Ready for Winter?

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Minnesota and Wisconsin are known for cold winters. Just how cold? On January 9 and 10 of 1982, the wind chill was purported to be -71 degrees in Minnesota. That type of weather can be fatal to people and animals, and it really does a number on our homes, too.

Most days aren’t nearly that cold, but many can get downright numbing. What can you do to prepare your home for this weather? We’ve compiled some of the best tips.

As you go through these tips, remember that everyone has a different level of comfort in tackling home projects. Please consider hiring professionals whenever you believe it is necessary.

Inside

  • Insulate walls and attic.
  • Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near a fireplace, wood stove or portable heater. Vent all fuel-burning equipment outside.
  • Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay.
  • Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces. Use a sealant to plug up any leaks.
  • Test your sump pump.

Outside

  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
    Service snow-removal equipment. Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels.
  • Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent them from causing a problem with ice or wind.
  • Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. The dirt grade around the exterior of your home should slope away from the house.
  • Remove and drain any attached hoses and store them for the winter.
  • Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
  • Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand.
  • Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening. Re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and ice can pull gutters off the house.
  • Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet.
    Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.

Projects Where You’ll Definitely Want Professional Help

  • Have chimney and flue inspected.
  • Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles. Have a professional replace them as necessary to prevent roof leaks.
  • Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate.
  • Have a professional Inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is in good repair.

Again, please consider hiring local professionals when needed, including clearing your driveway and sidewalks, if necessary.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

When the weather gets cold, take care of your pets. Bring them inside, or make sure they have adequate shelter and unfrozen water, if they are outdoors.

If you need help financing any home repairs or projects, a Home Equity Line of Credit may be the answer. Contact your local Merchants Bank location today.

Tips compiled from emergency.cdc.gov, bobvila.com and kiplinger.com.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

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