Our New Website: Same URL. New Look. Enhanced Features.

We have been working hard to be your full service financial institution offering a wide variety of products and services that go beyond your traditional banking needs. We understand that it’s not always easy to stop into your local branch and therefore, place high importance on the ability to help you manage your finances, wherever you are.

That’s why we’re excited to introduce our newly designed website. It’s the same web address, but now it’s easier than ever to navigate. The site will be live this Wednesday!

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While on our new website, you will notice that the address bar will appear Green on most web browsers. This is a new security feature which makes it easier to validate that you are on the correct website and that your session is secure.

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In addition to managing your personal financials on the website, you can:
Open an account online, enroll in online banking and sign up for paperless eStatements.

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Use our mortgage calculators to estimate your monthly payment, locate a mortgage expert near you and begin your application, all online.

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Visit the online education center for tutorials on mobile banking, personal & business online bill pay, Health Savings Accounts, eStatements and more!

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While we’re excited to announce the conveniences that come along with our new website, we will continue to deliver on our promise to you of providing exceptional service. Our Customer Care Center hours have been recently extended in an effort to help serve you better. Our new hours are:

Monday thru Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (CST)
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (CST)

The Customer Care Center can be reached by dialing 800-359-8092.

We hope the convenience of the new website and extension of the Customer Care Center allow you to worry less, spend more time with family and live first.

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

The mortgage expert’s guide to buying your first home: Getting approved

Number three in a four-part series.

By Justin Walseth, Vice President – Mortgage Department Manager
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Read Part 1: Setting Your Budget and Part 2: Pre-qualification Process

You’ve found a nice three-bedroom in your dream neighborhood. Your pre-qualification letter helped prove to the sellers that you are serious about buying, and they accepted your purchase agreement. Yippee! Next step to buying your first home– the mortgage approval process.

I like to joke that in the past you only needed a pulse to get a mortgage and now you need a blood sample. This is an exaggeration, of course, but the truth is that patience and communication are keys to the home buying process. It is my job to get you to closing, so lean on me for help and reassurance when you need it.

Here’s what you can expect in this part of the home buying process:


First, the paperwork: your lender will provide you with a formal application or contract to complete. You will need to submit your personal financial documents (or update them, depending on the amount of time that has elapsed since pre-qualification), determine which, if any, loan programs you may take advantage of, and sign a variety of disclosures.

Locking in

The mortgage interest rate will be one of the most important variables in this process, and you need to determine during application whether you will lock in the current rate or hold off a while in hopes of a better deal. Interest rates are very volatile, and there is no guarantee waiting will be in your favor, but you can wait until up to seven days prior to closing to lock-in the interest rate.


Four steps to approval

Now, the heavy lifting shifts to the mortgage expert and other service providers. There are four boxes that need to be checked in order for your application to be approved.

  1. Title work. This is basically making sure that the person selling the house actually has the legal authority to do so, without any liens or conditions on their ownership.
  2. Appraisal. Is the house worth what the seller wants for it? If it isn’t, the bank may decrease the amount of money it is willing to loan. At that point, you will need to renegotiate or back out of the offer.
  3. Homeowners insurance. Bottom line: you need it, and we have agents that can help.
  4. Credit approval. The fancy word for this is underwriting. Because the decision-making at First International Bank & Trust is local, I know where your application is every step of the way.

Problems, though rare, may arise in any step of the process, so like I said before – be patient. Expect to supply paperwork a few times and answer some odd questions. It is normal for your lender to come back to you three or four times for clarification or additional information. And don’t forget about our online mortgage resources for additional assistance.

With any luck, your patience will pay off and your mortgage will be approved! Now all that stands between you and your first home is closing. We’ll pick up there next time.

Justin Walseth, Mortgage Expert

Justin Walseth is a mortgage expert in Fargo with more than 10 years of mortgage lending experience. He graduated from MSUM with a degree in Finance and Economics. When he’s away from work he enjoys golf, basketball and tennis as well as spending time with his wife and two children. 

The mortgage expert’s guide to buying your first home: The pre-qualification process

Number two in a four-part series.

By Justin Walseth, Vice President – Mortgage Department Manager
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

After setting your budget, and maybe even before you identify the home of your dreams, the next step for a first-time homebuyer is the pre-qualification process. Pre-qualification is a non-binding agreement from your lender that you can borrow up to a certain limit, and happens before the formal application process.

Getting the big picture

First, you’ll need to provide information that helps us understand your total financial picture. This includes:

  • Personal identification for you and any co-owners, such as a spouse. Things like your full name, date of birth, social security number and previous addresses are standard.
  • Credit score and history (we pull this for you). Credit score is important, but it is one of multiple factors in the pre-qualification process – so if your score isn’t great, don’t panic!
  • Information about your income, debt and other assets.

Because every situation is unique, don’t be surprised or offended if we ask you for some additional information. And if you have any questions, you can always call us or visit our online mortgage resources.


Running the numbers

First International uses a robust electronic underwriting system that requires a minimal amount of information from you and allows us to determine your eligibility and interest rates almost immediately.

Your eligible interest rate is also based on a number of factors:

While your final interest rate will not be determined until after the complete application, verification and final underwriting process – and you have locked it in – this process provides a good benchmark.

A common misperception when it comes to interest rates is that the bigger banks can negotiate lower interest rates for their customers. This is simply not true!

What if I don’t get pre-qualified?

Unfortunately, there are circumstances where an individual gets turned down for a loan. As your lender, we use this opportunity to help you address the issue head-on. Whether you need to establish a credit score, eliminate debt or save more, we can talk to you about strategies that will help.

The letter

The goal of pre-qualification is to walk away with a non-binding pre-qualification letter stating that, barring any significant changes to your financial situation, you can indeed afford the home of your dreams. This letter can give you a leg-up on other homebuyers because it signals to the home owner that you have the means and are serious about buying. So congratulations! You’re one step closer to ditching the apartment.

Justin Walseth, Mortgage Expert

Justin Walseth is a mortgage expert in Fargo with more than 10 years of mortgage lending experience. He graduated from MSUM with a degree in Finance and Economics. When he’s away from work he enjoys golf, basketball and tennis as well as spending time with his wife and two children. 

The mortgage expert’s guide to buying your first home: Setting your budget

Number one in a four-part series.
By Justin Walseth, Vice President – Mortgage Department Manager
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

First time home buyers are some of my favorite people to work with. Taking the leap from renter to owner is a significant event in an individual’s or family’s life, and I am honored to be part of it.

Along the way, I’ve learned things that will help you, too. Check out these considerations about what type of first home you can afford:

1. Prevent payment shock: Know before you look

The first step in buying your first home is setting your budget. Before you even begin looking at homes or engage a realtor, you really need a sense of what kind of home you can afford. Understanding your budget helps prevent what I call “payment shock.” No one wants to experience that.

First Home

2. Set your home budget

The basis of a budget is your income, so take a close look at your take-home pay on a monthly and annual basis. This includes salaries, bonuses, commissions, and if you are entering into a mortgage with a co-owner, his or her income as well.

3. Find your numbers

Then we can talk about the two main components of a housing budget – your monthly payment and the down payment.

When setting a monthly budget, a good place to start is with current expenditures. How much are you paying for rent, on a monthly basis? Then, think about how much you would feel comfortable spending – and remember that there are typically a number of extra expenses associated with owning a home. Utilities, maintenance, insurance and special assessments are all important parts of a homeowner’s monthly budget that may be new to you.  Keep in mind that determining what you are comfortable spending is a very personal decision and may be different than what you can afford on paper. So don’t rush.  For help, check out our Rent vs. Buy calculator.

The second factor – down payment – can really scare people off, but it shouldn’t. It is a common misperception that you need a significant down-payment (think 20 percent) in order to purchase a home, and that is simply not true. In fact, there are a number of programs out there to help individuals secure a home with a minimal down-payment and a fixed interest rate. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Administration (VA) and state agencies like the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency (NDHFA) can be a great resource. Some of these programs have no income limitations and you don’t even need to be a first-time buyer. Your mortgage expert can help you evaluate your options.

After establishing a budget that you’re comfortable with, you’ll need to get pre-approved. We’ll talk about that next time.

In the meantime, visit our mortgage page for more resources to help you determine if you’re ready to buy

Justin Walseth, Mortgage ExpertJustin Walseth is a mortgage expert in Fargo with over 10 years of mortgage lending experience. He graduated from MSUM with a degree in Finance and Economics. When he’s away from work he enjoys golf, basketball and tennis as well as spending time with his wife and two children.