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.


Special Needs Trust: A critical distinction between first and third party

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

Last month, we defined a special needs trust (SNT) and who can benefit from one.  Read that blog post.

We discussed the various terms of art in referring to such a trust, such as  special needs trust, special treatment trust (in AZ), discretionary supplemental care trust, or supplemental trust.  What a trust is called does not tell you its purpose, and how it is administered or managed.   So, it is very important to read beyond the name of the trust.  A trustee must read and understand a trust’s terms to best administer or manage it; when it comes to SNTs, the source of funding of the SNT should be identified.

What do we mean by “source of funding?”

What we’re trying to get to the bottom of is who funded the trust; in other words, whose assets went into the trust.  It’s often mistakenly assumed, that the grantor or settlor who established the trust  is also the individual who funded the trust.  That is not always the case, and in the case of SNTs (as well as for tax reasons), this is a critical distinction.

First party Special Needs Trust

If a beneficiary’s own assets funded the SNT, then it is a first party or self-settled SNT, regardless of who or how it was established.  In fact, federal law does not permit a beneficiary to establish his or her own SNT.  The law requires that a SNT funded with the assets of an individual who is disabled be established by a parent, grandparent, guardian, or court of law.  If the SNT is funded with the assets of an individual who is disabled and also the beneficiary, then certain requirements must be met under federal law, and in many jurisdictions, also state law, Arizona being one such state.

The requirements within the federal law fall under 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(d)(4)(A) and are as follows:  (1) The beneficiary must be under the age of 65 at the time the trust is established; (2) the beneficiary must be disabled; (3) the trust must be established by a parent, grandparent, guardian or court of law; and (4) the trust must state that at the time the trust is terminated, Medicaid will be reimbursed up to the cost of medical services provided to the beneficiary.  As mentioned above, additional requirements may apply under state law.  In Arizona, the law and regulations set forth what disbursements from the trust are allowable, and which are prohibited.

Special Needs Trust

Third party Special Needs Trust

A third party trust is one that is funded with the assets of someone other than the beneficiary.  This type of trust can be established and funded by anyone.   It’s often established by a parent for the benefit of a child who is disabled, and funded when the parents pass away with assets from their estate.  But the trust can be established by any relative or a friend, and does not need to be primarily funded with the assets of the same individual who established it.  Some states require nominal funding by the individual who established the trust in order to consider it viable.

Third party SNTs are not a creature of federal or state law; although some jurisdictions do have statutes that impose requirements regarding third party SNTs.  Arizona is not one of those states.  Much more flexibility exists in how a third party SNT is drafted and administered than is the case with respect to a first party SNT.  Most importantly, a third party SNT is not required to contain a provision that provides for reimbursement to Medicaid on termination of the trust, which is typically at the time of the beneficiary’s death.  If assets remain at that time, the grantor or settlor can direct to whom those remaining assets are to be distributed.

So, now we’ve covered what is a special needs trust, who needs a SNT or can benefit from it, and the critical distinction between first and third party SNTs.  What else are you interested in hearing about? Leave a comment, please.

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.


Come see our new Phoenix bank home

By: Larry J. Dewhirst, Arizona Regional President
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Our combination of Midwestern values and southwestern style has helped us serve customers well from our three Arizona bank offices. Now, we have a new Phoenix bank location on Camelback Road. We provide all our services from this Phoenix location, from our expertise in Trust and Wealth Management to 24-hour ATMs. Our new location is near the headquarters of several major U.S. companies, so we’re easily accessible to their employees. Interestingly, one of our other neighbors is the Arizona office of U.S. Senator John McCain.


Midwestern roots, southwestern style

This new location reflects our bank’s roots—and future. Here’s what I mean: I grew up in Grassy Butte, N.D., and worked in our Watford City bank location for many years. Those same values are the foundation of our Arizona bank services. Yet we’ve incorporated the needs of our Arizona customers to our locations here. We have ample space for our customers to meet with our bankers about their financial plans, officers with particular expertise in Trust and Wealth Management, Special Needs Trusts (read the recent blog by Bridget about this unique type of trust account), Investments and Insurance. Since summer in Arizona is like winter in North Dakota, where you don’t want to be outside too long, we have convenient parking and easily accessible ATMs.

Celebrate with us

Here are the details of our Grand Opening:

July 25
Open house: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.
2231 East Camelback Road

We’ll serve picnic-style lunch and refreshments, and we’ll have free gifts and tours available. You can also enter to win door prizes and an iPad mini!

Please join us if you can. Or, stop in when you’re in the Camelback area. We’re excited to show you our new space, and especially eager to serve you.

Larry has been in financial services since 1977, when he started his career with Farm Credit Services. He’s helped First International Bank & Trust customers, specially with their loan needs, since 1987. He and his wife of 43 years, Pat, have three adult married children and four grandchildren, who are spread out in Minnesota, Texas and Colorado. Away from the bank, Larry enjoys hiking, exploring old mines, fast cars–and cheering on those grandkids in their sports and other action.


What is a special needs trust? Do I need it?

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

If you have a family member or loved one with special needs and/or a disability, you understand the importance of special care and careful planning. To protect and not jeopardize government benefits, consider setting up a special needs trust. More on special needs trust services.

Defining a special needs trust

First, “special needs trust” is a broad term. This type of trust account may also be called a “supplemental trust,” “discretionary supplemental care trust”, or, in Arizona (if self-settled), “special treatment trust.”

How a supplemental trust account helps

This trust allows you to set aside money or property for the benefit of a beneficiary with disabilities/special needs. Without it, that person could lose his or her eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid benefits. A special needs trust, whether one that stands alone or is incorporated into your will, allows you to avoid some of these potential problems.

How a special needs trust works

Basically, you are leaving property or money to a special needs trust, where it benefits your loved one. The trust is typically managed by an independent third party, which may be a family member, friend or professional trustee. He or she has complete discretion over the trust and is in charge of spending the money on behalf of your loved one.

Benefits for basic care

The primary purpose of establishing a special needs trust is to enable the beneficiary to remain eligible for needs-based public benefits, while having funds available to supplement the benefits that the government is providing and enhancing the beneficiary’s quality of life.

In most instances, public benefits are not enough to provide for an individual’s basic support needs let alone those needs that are not covered or provided for by public benefits.

Since your loved one does not control the money, it is not treated as part of program eligibility according to SSI and Medicaid administrators. The trust ends when it is no longer needed, usually when the beneficiary passes away or when the trust funds have been used.

Critical details

An important distinction in a special needs trust is whether it is a first or third party trust. 

Next up

Our next blog post will be a more in-depth discussion of the distinction between and treatment of first vs. third party special needs trusts.

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.