Have a merry little (affordable) Christmas

By: Chelsea Marcyes, Fraud Specialist, Staples, MN, First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Notice that summer holidays are more relaxed? We focus on making great memories—in the back yard, on the water, at the park, with great food and simple fun like sparklers. Even travel seems less stressful.
Why can’t Christmas be more like that?
It can, with a little planning that starts now.
Like you, every holiday season, my husband and I balance the demands of gifts, travel and party hosting. Each year, those costs increase—both in terms of time and finances. Yet the last few years, planning has made our winter holidays more enjoyable.

Family at Christmas

Here are four tips to help make Christmas and winter holidays less stressful:

1.  Set Your Budget
Early on, about six months before the holiday season, we look at our discretionary income. Discretionary income is the amount of money that a household has left for spending, investing or saving after taxes and needs (such as food, shelter and clothing) have been paid. From this, we determine how much we can feasibly spend on gifts, travel and hosting in November and December.

2.  Make a List
Create a shopping plan and be a savvy consumer. This is a way to maximize your spending power and overall spend less. For instance, when hosting holiday meals, take a headcount of actual attending guests. This way you don’t overbuy and waste money on uneaten food.

3.  Get Creative
Consider making homemade gifts instead of buying. This is especially helpful for tackling the ever-growing list of people on your Christmas gift list. My kids and I love to make brownie recipe jars for their teachers. My neighbors always get a batch of my famous cookies tucked in a Christmas tin from the dollar store. This year, I found a festive ‘tea bag’ wreath I want to create for my girlfriends.

Tea Wreath

(Photo credit: http://redredcompletelyred.blogspot.com/2010/12/tea-wreaths.html)

4.  Start Saving Now
Saving early (now!) prevents scrambling to find funds when you realize there are only two months left until Christmas. When I started at the bank, I opened up a ‘Christmas Club Savings Account.’ It’s an account from First International Bank & Trust that helps you save for the holiday season.

Here are the nitty-gritty details: There is no minimum deposit required to open the account. You can make as many deposits as you like for as much or as little as you wish. Here’s the catch (and the part that helps you save), withdrawals are not allowed until maturity, which is November 15 of each year so the term can vary depending on when you open the account. At maturity, the balance in your account must be transferred to another account within First International Bank & Trust. Check out the full details and disclosures here.

It’s an easy way to save for that perfect Christmas! Want to make it even easier? Set up automatic transfers from your paycheck or checking account so that it saves money without you having to remember. Open one at your local branch or visit us online to open a ‘Christmas Club Savings Account.’

With an action plan in mind for taking on the holiday season, you’ll have more time to worry less, live first and spend time making great winter holiday memories, too. Sparklers optional!

Chelsea M.Chelsea is a Fraud Specialist at our Staples location. She enjoys working with the community to educate them about fraud prevention and education. Her family includes her husband Lonnie, their two children Jackson (7) and Bentley (3), two dogs Carly and Hailey, and two horses Elsa and Woody. In the summer, they enjoy gardening, canning and riding horse. As a family, they love to watch football games … especially when the Broncos are playing!

Apply for our $3,000 Live First Community Grant!

Every day we work to help our customers Live First. We strive to provide convenient services that meet all of your banking needs so that you have more time to focus on the things that matter, like family and community.

We value the communities in which we live and work and know you do too! That’s why we’re inviting you to apply for our Live First Community Grant, which awards $3,000 to a project or cause that makes a difference in your community!

Click here to apply for the Live First Community Grant!

Many of our customers and community members are already actively involved with great causes that could qualify for the Live First Community Grant:

Community GivingHow Winners are Chosen
Our team at First International Bank & Trust will choose one project that we feel makes the biggest impact on their community. Even if your project isn’t awarded the $3,000 grant, you still have another chance to win. We’re awarding three runner-up grants for $500 each to the projects that get the most votes from our Facebook fans!

How to Apply
Here’s what you’ll need to apply: An idea for a project or event! How would you use a $3,000 grant to benefit your community? You’ll need to tell us:

  • A name for your project. This is the part people will see when they vote, so make sure it’s catchy and descriptive.
  • How the project will help your community. Be specific!
  • Who will benefit.
  • Organizations that would be part of your project (for example, a 4H chapter, a high school club or your local animal shelter).
  • Budget breakdown of how you would use the $3,000 (and how you would pay for any costs beyond $3,000).
  • The date(s) and location of where your project would take place.
  • A photo that represents your project. This can be anything that captures the spirit of your idea. People will see the photo when they go to vote.

Group Community Giving

Once you’re ready to apply, visit our Facebook page. You can also view the official rules and who’s eligible.

Then, share the entry on your Facebook page so you can ask your friends to vote for you! Just click the “Share” button on your entry.

Share Entry

Come back to the page and share your entry any time you want to remind your friends to vote. Just click View entries, find your own entry, and then “Share.”

Complete Form

Write a quick note telling your friends to vote, and click share!


Don’t forget to spread the word in other ways, too. You can put up posters, send emails and ask your friends to do the same!

Good Luck!
Best of luck to all applicants – we can’t wait to see your ideas! Applications and voting close at 12:00 p.m. CST on July 31, 2014 – so get started now!

First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC, EHL

Top Budget Tips for New Grads

A mother embraces her daughter on her graduation  day.

Are you a recent graduate? Do you know someone who is? Maybe it’s your daughter, nephew, cousin, friend; whoever it is – we have put together helpful advice for the next stage in their life. Graduation is an important celebration that marks a milestone in your life. It’s a transition from a period of education into a new stage of personal growth. Make the most of this experience by looking towards the future and considering your finances.

No matter what stage of life you are in, there are important elements to keep in mind.

Graduating High School – and Heading to College

Here you are – a high school graduate. You have worked hard for this and your big day has finally come and passed. Now what? If you are like 65.9% of high school graduates in America, you are headed to an institution of higher education. Whether that’s a state college, private university, technical school or other place of education, you have chosen to continue your education. If this is your path, consider this when thinking of your finances:

  • Cost of Attendance

We all hear about how expensive college is, but do you know what elements contribute to the cost of attendance? While tuition may be the bulk of your expenses, additional costs for books, meals and more add up! Here is a breakdown of common costs to budget for and how to potentially lower your out of pocket expense:

      • Tuition – The cost of taking courses varies by school. Seek out scholarship opportunities in your community and through the school.
      • Room and board – Lodging and food costs vary by school. Consider living off-campus your second year to save on living expenses.
      • Books and school supplies – Books and school supplies can be expensive and depend on which course of study you are pursuing. Look into purchasing used books or renting books for the semester.
      • Fees – These vary by school, but can include activity fees and parking fees. Fees are hard to avoid, but look at lowering the cost of these by purchasing a parking pass that is a little further away from campus.
      • Equipment and room materials – This category can include a computer, printer, furniture, microwave, fridge, sheets, towels, etc. Save money by asking your school if they provide printing to you as a student or if they have fridges that you can rent for the year.
      • Travel and miscellaneous expenses – This includes daily commuting to class and travel during holiday breaks. This also can include clothing, mobile and other general living costs. If you travel home over break, one way to save is to see if there are other students who would be willing to carpool with you.

Graduating High School – and Joining the Workforce

You’ve done it – graduated high school. Feeling both relieved and eager, you are ready to prove yourself in the workplace. You are not alone – about 34% of high school graduates in America decide to join the workforce or pursue other non-educational opportunities after completing high school. Don’t let your hard earned money go to waste, keep this financial tip in mind:

  • Emergency Savings

In case of an emergency, or another instance in which you may not be receiving your usual paycheck, it is recommended to keep an emergency savings fund. The general guideline is to have three months’ pay so that you can cover your living expenses until you are back on your feet. To calculate your monthly expenses, use this list of common items:

      • Mortgage/Rent Payment
      • Loans: Car, Student, Credit Card
      • Insurance: Auto, Health, Life, Home/Renter’s
      • Utilities: Gas, Electric, Water, Garbage
      • Food
      • Gas
      • Child Care
      • Cell Phone
      • Cable/Satellite TV
      • Internet Provider
      • Wellness Membership

Graduating College – as a Young Adult

First high school, now college. Congratulations! You have joined the ranks of the over 30% of Americans who hold college degrees. Now it’s time to put that degree to work and begin your career. Before you hit the ground running, take a couple minutes to think through your finances:

  • Student Loan Debt

After you graduate from school, it is important to take a look at the amount of student loan debt you have acquired. It can be overwhelming if your loans are with different lenders, who will all be contacting you to get your payments started. Looking at the amount as a whole can be a daunting task as well. Coming to terms with the thought of paying off your student loan debt doesn’t need to be a painful experience. There is no need to fear, as you have plenty of options. First, see if your lenders offer income-based payments. These are designed to reduce monthly payments based on your annual income. Another option is to consolidate your student loans. Through consolidating, you have one automatic payment amortized over a longer period that usually has a lower interest rate. For more information on repaying your student loan debt, visit the Federal Student Aid website. Keep in mind that once you get going in your career, hitting student loan debit hard will become easier.

  • If you are a North Dakota resident: The Bank of North Dakota recently announced a new loan consolidation program open to residents of North Dakota, entitled ‘DEAL One Loan’. To find out more, visit BND’s website. They offer options for non-North Dakota residents as well.

Graduating College – Later in Life

It takes dedication to return to college and graduate – your passion is what has taken you this far. With work experience under your belt, and now a college degree, the world is yours to take. Keep your traction going, with this financial plan:

  • Retirement Plan

On average, college graduates make about $17,500 more annually than those with high school diplomas only. By leveraging your new-found degree to increase your earnings, you can then begin investing towards your retirement.

To get an idea of how much you need to be investing, first estimate roughly how much money you’ll need to live on in retirement. Once you have this, calculate what will be available to you from other sources, other than your savings. This can include Social Security, pensions and 401(k) earnings. This will give you a realistic idea of what you still have left to save. After this, make goals to reach the amount you’ll need to make up the difference.

If you choose to invest in an IRA, contribute the maximum amount. For contribution limits, visit the IRS website here.

If you choose to invest in employer-sponsored plans, such as a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k). For contribution limits, visit the IRS website here.

Time to Shine

We know that these aren’t the only options after graduation; maybe you are joining the army, traveling with the peace corps or going to graduate school. Whatever path you choose to take or wherever life leads you – remember to consider your finances.

First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC, EHL

5 Minute Estate Planning: 5 Things to Think About Now

By: John Stibbe, Wealth Manager, Fargo, First International Bank & Trust

You may be surprised to hear that estate planning is not just for the wealthy.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I own a home?
  • What about a car?
  • Life insurance?
  • Furniture?
  • A checking and/or savings account?
  • Investments?

You most likely answered yes to more than one of the above and therefore, are the owner of an estate.

The reality is that no matter your net worth, it’s important to have a basic estate plan in place to ensure your estate and financial goals are met and carried out as you wish after you die.

Estate planning involves much more than the distribution of your personal possessions. Instructions for your care if you become disabled, providing for family members with special needs, the transfer of your business at retirement, disability or death and the minimization of taxes, court costs and legal fees are all elements and benefits of estate planning.

Estate planning is an on-going process. So whether you already have a plan in place or are just getting started, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. The difference between a living will and living trust.
A living will and a living trust are both important pieces of estate planning that serve a similar purpose, yet are quite different from each other.

A living will is a legal document that becomes effective if you become incapacitated and are unable to make responsible health-care decisions for yourself. With a living will, you are able to outline in the documents what type of medical services you want to receive or not receive if you are terminal and cannot speak for yourself.

A living trust is a revocable trust that can be used to manage assets during your lifetime as well as at and after your death. It is one of the most flexible tools available in estate planning and provides a tool for people to manage their assets during life, have the trustee continue to manage the assets in the event of incapacity, as well as effectively distribute or manage assets after death.

2. The importance of Power of Attorney.
When you create and sign a durable power of attorney, you are giving another person legal authority to act on your behalf. An important part of power of attorney is designating an agent to carry out your wishes. A family member or trusted friend usually acts as agent, but you can choose anyone.

3. If you don’t have a plan, your state has one for you.
If you do not have an estate plan and become incapacitated, the court will have control of how your assets are allocated depending on the laws and regulations of your residing state:

North Dakota

4. Where to seek help.
Professional wealth management advisors are available to help you with your estate planning needs. Our team has expertise in the areas of personal trusts, revocable living trusts, conservatorships, estates and probates, accounts for minors and irrevocable trusts. For questions or help with your estate planning needs, please call 701.298.4100 to set-up an appointment or visit our website to learn more.

Wealth Management Team

5. Plan now and have peace of mind.
Being proactive and creating a plan now can help give you and your family peace of mind. As you adapt to life changing events throughout your life, so too can your will. Keep in mind that changes can be made to your estate plan at any time.

Trust and wealth management products offered by First International Bank & Trust are not FDIC insured.

John has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry and specializes in personal trust and investment management. John holds degrees from both North Dakota State University and William Mitchell College of Law.

In his spare time, John enjoys spending time with his family, water sports, snow skiing and Bison football.


Our money saving expert (and mom of four) shares how to get your kids saving

By: Julie Standlee, Deposit Operations Officer, Assistant Vice President, Arizona, First International Bank & Trust

It’s a question we hear so often in all our locations: How to get kids saving money now? As a deposits officer and a parent, here are some guidelines that have helped our customers—and our own family of four kids, two boys and two girls, ages 2 – 10, including one who would prefer to spend every nickel, and one who would proudly save every penny.

Start early
Growing up, my mom was a bank teller, and she took care of the billing for my dad’s business. He’d started a small business after he served in the military. From a very young age, my mom took my sister and me along for weekly trips to the bank. My parents also helped us set up our own savings accounts.

We encourage parents to bring their kids in to the bank. Meet with a banker to open their accounts. Teach them how to fill out deposit slips. (You would be amazed at the young adults we see who have no idea how to do this!)

Standlee Kids

Julie and her husband have four kids, who they are helping learn to save money.

Get in the Kid’s Club
Open a savings account for each of your children, such as what we call a Kid’s Club Account. It has no minimum balance, no fees and the individual can keep it open until they reach age 24. That’s a great time for us to meet with young adults, too, since they’ve likely started a career and all that includes—and they are getting lots of credit card applications in the mail. We like to guide them through this new level of financial responsibilities and opportunities.

Rewards now—and later
Teach kids to save by saving. I know that sounds simple, but it also is simple. For example, when our kids get money (birthday gifts, allowance, money for chores), they deposit 75 percent into their savings accounts; they keep 25 percent.

Cash in
Kids are literal. We encourage parents to bring checks and other money in to the bank. Fill out a deposit slip, have the teller cash out the entire amount and have the kids count out the actual bills to deposit some and pocket some. This gets them accustomed to interacting with bankers—and real cash. We don’t use ATMs or online systems; once they know the basic principles, they will understand what is happening via technology as they use those tools to manage their finances later in life.

Growing up green
As kids’ financial needs change, keep them involved in the decisions. We don’t recommend debit cards until age 16. If kids do need a larger amount of money, such as for a school trip, we recommend gift cards like our Visa gift cards. They are re-loadable, and safer than carrying cash or good old traveler’s checks.

Beyond savings
Besides these guidelines, we encourage parents to involve kids in other family financial matters, as age appropriate. For instance, when they need to do a fundraiser for school, sports or activities, have them help keep track of the details. Show them the costs involved in participating in sports and activities so they understand the value of money.

Above all, teach kids to enjoy the rewards of money now—and the rewards of saving. Enjoy the moment, yet plan and look ahead, too. That seems like a good parenting principle for other issues, as well!

All our bankers are well-versed in Kid’s Club Accounts and other options for youngsters—and we love seeing your kids in the bank. Bring them in for a visit, a treat and a lesson on filling out a deposit slip!.

Julie StandleeJulie grew up in Burbank, Calif., and started her career at Warner Brothers there. Julie relocated to Arizona 15 years ago, and after time at a few other companies, she wanted to get back to working for a community bank and joined First International Bank & Trust, where she has now been for more than six years. Julie and her husband, who also works in financial services, cheer on their four kids in various sports and activities, while teaching them how to save money.

Singing for your supper and other Season to Share traditions

By: Gretchen Stenehjem, Marketing Manager, First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Like you, our family has many, and in this season of sharing, we invite you to share yours. Comment here, or on our Facebook page.

Meanwhile, here are a few Stenehjem family holiday traditions:

On the first day of Christmas…
My mother gave me two sets of “12 Days of Christmas” glasses. There is one day or verse of the song depicted on each glass. So on Christmas Day, we sing the entire song: You sing what is on your glass! We have many friends who are like family, and they spend Christmas with us—including singing their verses. Also, as our kids have grown up and we’ve added family members, I hear there has been a bit of panic on which verse a new spouse may get. We all have fun memories of that tradition.

Stenehjem family

Cookies, of course
The neighbors tell me they love the homemade sugar cookies I bake, decorate and deliver to them. If you’d like to try it, here’s the recipe:

Sugar cookies

1 c. butter

1 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 c flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter, white sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix together.  Dough will be stiff.  Roll out the dough on the countertop or board.  Use Christmas or holiday cookie cutters to cut the dough into shapes.  Bake for 8 minutes on parchment paper.


2 c. powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Whipping cream (I never measure)

Mix all ingredients together until the frosting is stiff and easy to spread on the cookies.

Oh, Christmas tree
When our four kids were younger, we all slept under our Christmas tree: sleeping bags all over the living room floor. A lit, decorated tree looks so magical to kids, and we all have fond memories of those nights.

Luke and lutefisk
Christmas Eve always includes a traditional Norwegian dinner, with oyster stew, lefse, meatballs, scalloped corn and of course lutefisk. I’m in charge of that! Before we serve dinner, the head of the family reads Luke’s version of the Christmas Story from the family bible. Steve does that now, just as his father did before him.

Winter picnics in the Park
Speaking of Steve, he grew up with the tradition of a family picnic in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park sometime in December. We’ve tried to continue that. We put a tarp over the shelter, build a roaring fire in the shelter fireplace and, as Steve’s dad used to say, “enjoy some libations.” That keeps the -20 degree temperatures bearable! Of course we bring most foods already prepared, but we do try to grill steaks on the grill. The Park is a very different place in winter, and it’s wonderful to enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife.

This year, we leave right after Christmas to celebrate a wedding in Arizona. But like you, I’m hoping we can fit in most of our most treasured holiday traditions. Please, share yours!

Ease your home buying process through our mortgage relationships

By: Patti J. Helm, Assistant Vice President Mortgage Lending Southwest, Fargo, First International Bank & Trust

You’re hearing it from every angle these days: Now is a great time to buy or build a new home.

It is.

But here’s something else we’d like you to know, especially if you’re buying your first home: Our bank can get you through the home buying process much more smoothly and quickly. That’s because we have our own processing and underwriting staff members in-house, which reduces turn-around and wait times for home loans.

We relate well.
Our Mortgage Officers have the right experience & resources to keep current regarding loan programs, and pricing options that will be best suited for your situation, as well as  programs that offer special grants to assist qualifying homebuyers.. We have loan officers whose focus in Mortgage Lending has been driven by customer service through the last several years. That’s impressive, since it was the most tumultuous time in the industry in decades—if not longer. Our loan officers clearly have the right expertise to guide your home buying process.

Buying your first home?
Unfortunately there are not many existing homes for sale in the Fargo – Moorhead area, so New Construction & Construction lending is a popular option. I’ve also built several new homes myself, and I love helping others through that experience.


Step by step to your new front steps
Here’s the general guide for buying your first home:

1. Complete our online home mortgage application
This is more user-friendly than ever. And it’s free! The application links right to our system so we get an email when you submit it; we can fine-tune or complete your application together if necessary (either in-person or by phone) and submit it for pre-qualification right away.

2. Come in to one of our locations and we’ll find you a home loan expert who fits your style, since we have mortgage officers of every age, personality, and communication style.  We’ll be talking to each other often, so we need to get just the right fit.

3. We may work with you to fine-tune your application. We’ll discuss the types of loans, loan programs, grant programs, and pricing options, to find the one that best fits your situation.

4. We will coordinate all the details from gathering any other financial information that may be necessary to the final closing.

These steps are similar for purchasing your second, third, tenth or any other home. Even if you have purchased a home before, we urge you to balance information from trusted, experienced mortgage professionals with information from realtors, neighbors and quick Internet searches.

It’s exciting that most young people who come in for a home loan these days have a nice level of education about credit scores, banking and lending in general. We just need to guide them through the details.

We love closing day.
Our favorite times are helping those with the final home buying process step: closing day. We’re right there, explaining all the forms, answering every question (there are simply NO dumb questions, especially when it comes to home mortgages! That’s exactly why we are here.) and making sure you have a trusty pen for all the signatures.

If you’re considering buying your first home (or building your 10th home!), please come talk with us. Things are changing every day, and our timely knowledge can really make a difference for you.

Patti_Helm_FIBTPatti grew up in the Bismarck – Mandan area, where her father built homes and her parents paid up to 23 percent in home mortgage rates! She started her career at The Title Company. She has lived & worked in Fargo – Moorhead for 22 years. These days, she focuses on Construction Lending & Residential Home Lending. She has even built several homes herself, working through a contractor. Patti and her team are eager to make your new home dreams come true. Patti’s NMLS #: 629513EHLlogo

Benefits of GAP and Credit Life

By: Trevor Keney, Assistant Vice President, Consumer Lending Manager, Fargo, First International Bank & Trust

Do you really need Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) and Credit Life and Disability Insurance? Customers ask me this all the time, and the best answer is to explain how these products can help protect customers’ finances.

Protection that pays: Credit Life and Disability Insurance
This coverage is one of our insurance products that can help protect you and your loan from unexpected death or disabling injuries that could result in financial hardship. People take out loans for vehicles, special vacations, home renovations and other enhancements for their lives. Credit Life and Disability Insurance helps protect these loans.

If your income is suddenly reduced or gone, due to an unexpected death or disabling injury, your family’s financial picture can change dramatically. Your family will already be grappling with emotional stress, and may be struggling to make loan payments and trying to avoid damaging their credit history. They could be digging into savings to meet daily living expenses and the standard of living you’ve worked so hard for might be in jeopardy.

What will happen to your family if your income is reduced or eliminated due to a disabling injury, illness or your unexpected death? Do you have a plan?  It’s a smart idea to add credit life and disability insurance to your loans to help your family maintain their standard of living in the event of a personal disaster.

If you’re disabled due to injury or sickness, your monthly loan payments will be paid until you’re no longer disabled, your loan is paid, or you reach the policy’s maximum benefit. If you pass away and your claim is payable, your eligible loan balance is reduced or paid off. This helps conserve your family’s savings and allows them to use other insurance funds to meet day-to-day living expenses, preserving the standard of living you worked so hard to achieve.

Other features of Credit Life and Disability Insurance that our customers appreciate: It does not require a full physical for “proof of insurability,” you simply have to answer a few questions related to your general health history;  we will finance it for you by adding it to your loan amount; the premiums are included in your monthly loan payment, making the cost affordable. We explain all of the details and costs when we discuss the loan.

We encourage people to think of Credit Life and Disability Insurance as peace of mind. Unfortunately, we all know someone who has unexpectedly passed away or had a debilitating injury. This insurance protects your standard of living by not making an already tragic time even worse. Ask us about this important insurance for your new and existing loans.

Covering the auto insurance gap
Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP), covers your vehicle if it is accidentally damaged beyond repair, stolen or declared a total loss. Here’s how it works: GAP pays the difference between your primary insurance settlement, which is typically the actual cash value of the vehicle, and the loan balance (if it’s higher).

For example, let’s say you bought a new car for $20,000. You made a $2,000 down payment, so you financed $18,000. A couple of months later, you get into an accident. Thank goodness, no one was hurt—but your car is totaled. Now, your car is valued by your insurance company at only $15,000. In those two months, you’ve made two car payments of $450 each—and you haven’t made much of a dent in your principal. Now, you owe a lot of money on a car that doesn’t exist anymore. That’s where GAP coverage would kick in, helping you to avoid paying out of pocket for a car that’s been destroyed.

Other features of GAP that our customers appreciate: It has a 60-day “free look” period so if you decide it is not for you, you can cancel it for a full refund; we offer rates that are generally more competitive than most protection products sold by auto dealerships; we will finance it for you by adding it to your loan amount; the cost is included in your monthly loan payment (sometimes for as little as $5.00 per month), making it affordable;  it can cover multiple pieces of collateral, so if you have four vehicles, GAP can cover all four.

See why my colleagues and I think GAP and Credit Life and Disability Insurance are important products to consider? Call or stop by to visit with us about peace of mind for your loans.

Trevor Keney


Trevor grew up in Bismarck, N.D., earned his Business Management degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) in Moorhead, MN and has worked in financial services ever since, including mortgage refinancing, debt consolidation, and now the last eight years focused on consumer lending for our Fargo customers. Trevor’s NMLS  #:  766448


Administering a Special Needs Trust and Its Impact on SSI

By: Bridget O’Brien Swartz, Esq., Vice President and Sr. Trust Officer, Camelback, Ariz. branch, First International Bank & Trust

Prior posts have defined a special needs trust (SNT) and who can benefit from one and explained the difference between first and third party in SNTs.

This post focuses on what most interests people: how a SNT can be used to benefit the individual with special needs.

SNTs fill the gap
What often comes to mind is that SNTs are intended to supplement and not reduce or supplant the public benefits for which a beneficiary is eligible.

The trust itself is hopefully crafted in such a way that the assets held in the trust are not treated as available to the beneficiary for purposes of his or her financial eligibility for public benefits.  The Settlor (the person who establishes the trust) hopes that the beneficiary will remain eligible for public benefits and that the trust will provide for those items and services that public benefits do not cover; in other words, that the trust will fill the gap to help improve the beneficiary’s quality of life.

Deciphering SSI, SNT, Medicaid
The two primary public benefits for which an individual who is disabled may qualify are cash assistance through the Social Security Administration, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and medical assistance through Medicaid.  This post will focus on SSI benefits.

The federal maximum benefit rate for SSI is $710 per month in 2013 and $721 per month in 2014.  This benefit is intended to provide for a disabled individual’s support needs.  It is often insufficient to cover such needs, considering rent or mortgage, maintaining real property the individual may own (which is an excluded or exempt asset for SSI and Medicaid eligibility purposes), utilities, food, and other incidentals.

Many who create a special needs trust are under the misimpression that a disabled individual’s support and maintenance are not “special needs” and, therefore, may not be provided for by a special needs trust.  If a special needs trust is drafted in such a way so as not to prohibit or disallow distributions to provide for such needs, then it certainly can be used to do so.

Guiding principle: Don’t say you can’t and don’t say you can
If a special needs trust, or any third party for that matter such as a parent, provides for an SSI-eligible individual’s support and maintenance needs, then the SSI benefit will be reduced, likely by one-third (1/3) as long as the distributions or payments are being made directly to the vendor or provider rather than cash being given directly to the beneficiary to pay such expenses.

Is this permissible?

Yes, as long as the language of the trust does not restrict the ability to use trust funds to provide for maintenance and support, and does not admonish the trustee from making distributions that may “reduce or supplant” benefits.

Should these distributions be made?

In many cases, yes, since SSI is typically insufficient to cover an individual’s support expenses.

Learn by example
By way of example, let’s say an SSI-eligible individual’s rent and utility expenses are $750 per month and food expenses are $250 per month. SSI of $710 per month will obviously not meet the expenses. If the individual were a beneficiary of a special needs trust, the trust could pay the rent and utilities directly, which would result in a reduction of the individual’s SSI from $710 to $473 per month. The individual need not pay his or her rent or utility expense with the remaining SSI benefit, and has sufficient funds to provide for his or her food needs, and then some. He or she also has the opportunity to improve his or her living arrangement as the additional expense could be paid directly by the special needs trust.

Two key points on administration
We’re always happy to guide you through SNTs. Meanwhile, here are two key points on administering SNTs:

-        Make sure your special needs trust is not overly restrictive and is drafted so the trustee can make distributions to provide for the beneficiary’s support. This may reduce benefits, if that is in the beneficiary’s best interest.

-        Don’t assume that SSI on its own will support the individual. Use the special needs trust to improve upon his or her living circumstances and free up the SSI benefit (even though it may be reduced) for the beneficiary to spend in his or her discretion.

Bridget O’Brien SwartzBridget is originally from Duluth, Minnesota, earned her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame, then and her law degree as well as a Masters in Public Administration from ASU.  She has been a specialist in Estate & Trust Law certified by the State Bar of Arizona and a Certified Elder Law Attorney certified by the National Elder Law Foundation.  She remains actively involved in national attorney organizations such as National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the Special Needs Alliance.

How to start and build college savings plans

By: Kristi Krebs, Deposit Operations Manager/Officer, Fargo branches
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Whether you’re bringing your newborn home from the hospital or sending your teenager to high school, it’s never too late to start and build college savings plans for your kids. Very few young people will receive full college scholarships (even those who do have additional school-related expenses), so help your star athletes and arts protégés, but also be realistic and start college savings plans.

Saving for college is like parenting. It can seem overwhelming, yet three guiding principles and reliable plans can help.

Consistency and Discipline

When you start a college savings plan, keep contributing funds, even a little at a time. Just as consistent rules help in raising kids, steady additions to any bank account can really add up to success. Even as the expenses of your family increase, use discipline to keep the college savings plans growing.


Most college savings plans don’t offer high interest rates, but they also don’t offer high risks. Start contributing early, and your patience will be rewarded as you see the balance grow, slowly but surely.


Have a plan, but be open to new options. This serves parents well every step of the way, and it’s a good guide for college savings plans, too. One of our bankers would be happy to help you look for the best options to start, continue and expand accounts that will help your future college students. Meanwhile, here are a few tips:

When to start

Again, as with other parenting principles, start early! A child with a social security number can have a savings account.

How to start

Our most popular college savings plans account is our Higher Learning Fund, which is basically a certificate of deposit (CD) designed especially for the student(s) in your family. It is an excellent way to save for college or other higher learning expenses.

You can start a higher learning fund account at any time, and can contribute any amount at any time. Many people use direct deposit and some even mention it to grandparents, godparents and others who are looking to help a youngster with his or her college expenses. A deposit from grandma on each birthday will really add up.

This account matures in July after the young person turns age 18. That’s typically right after he or she graduates from high school, so it’s ideal timing to use the funds—in whole or in part—for higher learning expenses. Since this account runs under the child’s social security number, there can also be some tax advantages – although you should always discuss your tax planning with a tax professional.

How else to start

Our Trust and Wealth Management experts can also help you start, grow and manage accounts such as an Educational ROTH or IRA to save and invest for your kids’ higher learning.


Good tools

At any stage, detailed information and a student loan calculator can give you personalized direction on college savings plans, based on how much time you have to save, what you can contribute, and what type of higher learning you anticipate for your future students.

We recommend this Bank of North Dakota college planning center and student loan calculator.

Kristi KrebsKristi grew up in the Fargo area and earned her degrees in business administration and marketing from Minnesota State University Moorhead.  She and her husband, a native of New England, N.D., are building a home in West Fargo, so they plan to be active members of the community for some time to come.