The Truth About Refinancing

Mortgage rates are low but does that mean refinancing is right for you?  Everyone has different goals or situations in their life.  One size doesn’t fit all when discussing mortgage refinancing.

A few things to think about when considering refinancing:

1)     Are you looking for additional monthly cash flow?

2)     Do you want to shorten the term of the loan and save interest expense?

3)     Should you refinance the existing mortgage and pull additional equity out of you home for various reasons?

4)     Will you be moving out of your current home in the next 3-5 years?

5)     What are your personal financial goals?  Age of children, retirement, etc.?

We’ll ask these questions so that we can give you the best advice and options.

If you are shopping to refinance your mortgage:

1)     Beware of the full cost of refinancing your mortgage.  The rate is only a part of the cost.  It is very important that you also know what your total closing costs will be.  It is a “package deal”.  You may be quoted a low rate only to find out that the closing costs are very high.  Review the closing costs and understand what they are.

2)     Is it important to you to be able to stop in and talk directly to your mortgage lender or are you comfortable with contacting your lender via an 800 number for questions or service?  This is the difference between a Service Retained and Service Released mortgage loan.

To summarize:  Be comfortable with your mortgage lender.  Trust that person to do the best job for you and to put your best interest first!

At Citizens, we are available to answer any questions that you may have.  Our goal is to make sure that our clients have the right mortgage!

Shirley Laraway, Vice President

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Could you use $4,000 for College?

Citizens Bank Minnesota has paid out $104,500 in awards since 2000 with their Scholarship Program. 

Citizens awards two or more scholarships each year to local graduating seniors who will be attending post-secondary education. Scholarship Management Services, a division of Scholarship America of St. Peter, performs the selection process and administration. This program was instituted at Citizens as a way to show our commitment to the community and our belief in today’s youth. Citizens plans to continue this tradition for years to come!

Applicants for the scholarship program must be high school seniors, who plan to enroll in a full-time undergraduate course of study at an accredited four year college or university in the fall following graduation. This program’s requirements include that the student be a customer of Citizens Bank Minnesota with an open and active checking account. The applicant must also attend the required educational banking classes before applications are distributed.

Students applying for the scholarship are required to attend the ‘Real Life 101’ seminar. This seminar focuses on teaching valuable lessons in banking. The classes include Personal Finance, Loans and Credit, Investments, Insurance and Online Banking tools. The classes include lecture as well as real life examples, such as how to work a budget, what is needed to apply for a loan, and various investment options to name a few.

Scholarship awards are $1,000.00 each. Awards may be renewed for an additional three years, on the basis of satisfactory academic performance and maintaining full-time enrollment. Applicants not selected for the scholarship awards will be entered into a drawing to win some fun prizes. Not all applicants will be selected to receive an award.

Interested students must complete the application they receive after meeting the bank’s requirements. Applicants are responsible for gathering and submitting all necessary information. Applications are evaluated on the information provided; therefore, the applicant must answer questions to the fullest extent possible. All information received is considered confidential and is reviewed only by Scholarship America. Applications must be completed and postmarked by the deadline set by Scholarship America.

Scholarship recipients are selected on the basis of academic record, potential to succeed, leadership, participation in school and community activities, honors received and work experience. Students are also asked to complete a statement of educational and career goals, and submit an outside appraisal from a teacher or counselor. Financial need is not considered. Selection of recipients is made by Scholarship America. In no instance does any bank or school official play a part in the selection. All applicants agree to accept the decision of Scholarship America as final.

If you are interested in this program contact Scholarship Coordinator Missy Marti (mmarti@citizensmn.com). Our first Real Life 101 seminar for 2010 will be held Tuesday, December 28th in New Ulm. 

Missy Marti, Assistant Marketing Director/eWorld Coordinator

Marketing On A Shoestring Budget

Give Your Customers ‘Over The Top’ Service To Gain More Business, Loyalty and Referrals

Do your customers love you?  You may think that is a silly question…but, think of the last time you did business with someone who really irritated you….not a pleasant memory and you probably didn’t go back.  Now think of a time when you had superb service that was above and beyond your expectations….different story, right?  You probably told everyone you know, or they earned more of your business, or you may have even referred them to a friend or family member because you were so pleased.  Times are tight and most businesses don’t have tons of money to throw at expensive advertising or marketing trinkets!   In this downturn economy every business needs to create WOW! Customer Service Experiences to get ahead.  The great news is the cost can be very minimal or absolutely nothing! 

Saying you have good customer service isn’t good enough.  Can you readily list the WOW! Experiences you are creating today for your customers on a regular basis?  If so, you are off to a great start!  Think of all those times you have contact with a client…answering the phone, greeting them when they walk in the door, assisting them with a sale or handling a complaint or mistake.  Next, ask yourself, “What extra steps are you taking to make your clients feel like royalty, like they really matter?”….because they do!  You know the old saying, “take care of your customers or someone else will!”    

Steps to Creating WOW Experiences For Customers

  • Have a can-do positive attitude toward your customers and staff.
  • Really hear what they are saying.
  • Rattle and revive your customer service standards and make them WOW! Moments for your customers, such as inventing a new way to greet customers as they walk in the door or answer the phone in a way that will make your customers smile instantly.
  • Train employees on those WOW! Moments and watch carefully to make sure they are following through. 
  • Remember people like to have fun!
  • Send out a survey to customers asking for honest feedback about what they love about you and what needs improvement…then listen to the feedback and change what needs to be changed!
  • Train your employees on how to handle complaints with finesse.  Empower your employees to make the situation better for the customer without having to jump a bunch of hoops.   

Always remember – “The Customer is King” and “There Are No Traffic Jams on The Extra Mile” 

Now…go out and love your customers! 

My Best,

Jean Geistfeld, Marketing Director

An Economic Downturn Can Be a Great Time to Start a Business

Really?  It sounds strange, but think about it.

  • Costs are lower.
  • More workers are available and looking for work.
  • Potential customers are looking to cut costs and are more likely to give a new supplier a try.
  • The competition is likely focused internally on cutting costs themselves, and perhaps not giving much effort to marketing.

The one difficulty left to face is . . . . capital.

Lenders and investors are very careful about who and what they invest in during a downturn.  You may have a savings account, a home equity line of credit, credit cards, or other sources of cash to start up a business.  This is well and good.  But if capital is short, your plan of attack to attract that capital needs to be a very well prepared business plan.

Four Ideas For a Better Business Plan 

  1. Be Thorough.  Cover all of the details of your start-up business.  Go to http://www.citizensmn.com/business/getting-started/how-to-prepare-a-business-plan.html  for additional information on this topic.
  2. Use Candor.  No one wants to hear that “we are the best” and “everything is wonderful”.  Identify your critical factors for success, and tell why you are uniquely qualified to succeed, even if your future success is based upon past failures.  Don’t be afraid to identify your weaknesses, and how you plan to address those.
  3. Be Conservative and Identify Contingencies.  Everyone knows that initial sales projections are difficult to meet.  Thus, give a solid basis for your underlying assumptions, and show a “worst case”, “best case”, and “most likely” case scenario.
  4.  Make a Case for Why You’ve Built the Better Mousetrap.  In other words, there has to be a reason that the public will change their behavior and buy your product or service over what they are currently doing.  What is that reason?  What will incent customers to use your mousetrap?  Does it solve a problem? What is that problem? 

For Further Reading 

These related books will inspire you to find your niche and transform your business into something unique and lasting:

  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin.  Transform your business by being remarkable.
  • Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t.
  • Thank God It’s Monday, by Roxanne Emmerich.  How to create a workplace you and your customers love.

By: Julie Baumgartner, Vice President

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Banking Acronyms 101

Ever received a text you didn’t understand? For example; Ur my BFF! LOL! IDK, where r u? They assume you understand all the little acronyms in the message. Well, don’t assume anything. The same goes with banking. Because I have been in banking for several years I assume everyone knows the banking acronyms as well as I do. I see them everyday, you don’t. So, here’s a small lesson in banking acronyms: 

ACH – Automated Clearing House
A computer-based clearing and settlement facility for interchange of electronic debits and credits among financial institutions.

APR – Annual Percentage Rate
The amount of interest the borrower actually pays, including loan interest points, and origination fees.

APY – Annual Percentage Yield
The amount of interest expressed as a percentage rate, a deposit account (or a share draft account) would earn in a year at a stated interest rate. The APY disclosure, showing the effect of interest compounding, assumes that funds remain on deposit for a full 365-day year at the advertised rate, and no additional deposits or withdrawals are made.

ATM – Automated Teller Machine
A computer terminal activated by a magnetically encoded bank card, allowing consumers to make deposits, obtain cash from checking or savings accounts, pay bills, transfer money between accounts, and does other routine transactions as they would at a bank teller window.

CD – Certificate of Deposit
A receipt for a time deposit  issued for a stated time period and normally paying a fixed rate of interest.

DBA – Doing Business As
A name used for business purposes that is not the legal name of the individual or organization actually conducting the business. A proprietorship commonly operates under a DBA, as in John Smith DBA John’s Auto Body.

DDL – Daily Dollar Limit
Refers to the maximum dollar amount you can withdrawal from your ATM card at an ATM within a 24-hour period.

EFT – Electronic Funds Transfer
A transfer of funds between accounts by electronic means rather than conventional paper-based payment methods, such as check writing.

EIN – Employer Identification Number
A Taxpayer Identification Number  for entities other than individuals, such as partnerships, corporations, estates and trusts.

FRB – Federal Reserve Bank
One of the 12 banks that, with their branches, make up the Federal Reserve System.

FHA – Fair Housing Act
A law enacted as part of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination of home sales, rentals and financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or those with disabilities.

IRA – Individual Retirement Account
A tax-deferred retirement account allowing an individual to contribute a pre-set amount annually from personal income.

IRS – Internal Revenue Service
An agency of the federal government that is responsible for the administration and collection of federal income taxes.

PIN – Personal Identification Number
A numeric identification code used by bank customers when making transactions at a self-service electronic banking terminal, such as an automated teller machine.

POA – Power of Attorney
An instrument by which one person, as principal, appoints another as his agent and confers upon him the authority to perform certain specified acts or kinds of acts on behalf of the principal.

POD – Payable on Death
A regular bank account that names a specific person as the beneficiary of all funds once the bank account holder dies.

POS – Point of Sale
A system that uses a computer terminal located at the point of sales transaction so that the data can be captured immediately by the computer system.

PR – Personal Representative
The generic term for an executor for the estate of a deceased person who left a will or the administrator of an intestate estate.

RTN – Routing Number
A numeric coding facilitating check clearing among banks. The ABA numbering system, managed by the American Bankers Association, assigns a unique identifier to each U.S. financial institution.

SBA – Small Business Administration
A United States government agency that provides support to small businesses.

TIN – Tax Identification Number
An identifying number used for tax purposes in the United States. It is also known as a Tax Identification Number or Federal Taxpayer Identification Number. It may be assigned by the Social Security Administration or by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service.)

UGMA – Uniform Gift to Minors Act
A UGMA provides a child under the age of 18 (a minor) with a way to own investments. The money is in the minor’s name, but the custodian (usually the parent) has the responsibility to handle the money in a prudent manner for the minor’s benefit. The parent cannot withdraw the money to use for his or her own needs.

UTMA – Uniform Transfers to Minors Act
The Act allows the donor of the gift to transfer title to a custodian who will manage and invest the property until the minor reaches a certain age. The age is generally 21, but is different in some states (usually 18 in those cases). In the interim, the custodian can also make payments for the benefit of the minor out of the corpus of the gift.

By Cindy Lewis, Customer Service Director

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New Computer – first things first

The Internet is not a scary place if we use some common sense to protect ourselves. Most malicious activities entice you to take an action and the fraudsters only get better as we learn their tactics. If you are able to do these 4 things you will be better off than most: 

1. Learn your security software. While there is nothing that will completely protect you from all the bad stuff on the Internet, good security software will take you a long ways. Security software with a paid subscription is best, but you need to make sure that it stays up to date and that you continue paying for updates from year to year. 

2. Learn how to check for updates. Both Windows and Mac have update utilities that you should understand how to use. The updates do typically install automatically, but some updates still require your interaction to complete. “Windows Update” can be found in the start menu and “Apple Update” is in the Apple menu. 

3. Be careful what you click. Did you know some countries can measure fraud income as a percentage of their gross domestic income?  The combination of weak punishment of fraud perpetrated over the Internet and the weakened economy has created an outbreak of Internet fraud.  Read unexpected messages received through email or Facebook with an air of distrust.  Most fraud is perpetrated by enticing you into clicking upon something then willingly giving out your personal information.  If you receive an email promising something that is too good to be true (like money or a free gift) then it probably is too good to be true.  There are good resources on the Internet – like www.snopes.com or simply searching Google – to help you discover false information. 

4. Have a resource you can call upon for help.  Your bank is a good starting point because they are already good at protecting your information and ultimately your money.  It is also good to have someone who can help you learn and troubleshoot your computer.

By: Jason Wieland, IT Manager

Adopt a Soldier

A little bit of peace.  Citizens Bank Minnesota has teamed up with Operation Minnesota Nice, adopting Soldiers/Marines who are overseas and sending them care packages from “home”.  Currently our employees are sending 12 Military personal packages every month.  This is not a matter of whether you believe we are overseas for the right reasons, but a matter of supporting our military who have no choice but to be there.  Many of the men and women we have adopted haven’t received as much as a letter from home, so for them to know that someone back here cares about them makes a difference in their lives and gives them some peace of mind. There are days these men/women go without a meal from their Mess Hall. The snacks sent help provide a little nutrition or help tide them over. They wear holes in their socks in a matter of days.  We send them new socks, as they don’t have a retail store to purchase new ones.  They may go for weeks without a shower.  Sending wet wipes and Q-Tips helps them stay somewhat clean. Many of our Military are overseas for the holidays.  We send them Christmas in a box. If you would like to make a difference in a Soldier/Marine’s life, donations are being accepted at any of our Citizens Bank Minnesota locations. One soldier who had received a package said, “In the darkness shines the light of an angel.”  Be an angel today!

For more information go to: http://www.operationminnesotanice.com/.  

By Jill Derksen, Loan Processor/Secretary

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