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Heartbleed Bug Discovered


Written by: Katherine Jaeger, ACB Senior Retail Banking Officer

Written on: April 10, 2014


Heartbleed is a computer vulnerability that has existed for quite some time, but was just recently discovered. There has been quite a bit of news coverage about it in the past two days, mostly balanced and, as always, some sensational. In an effort to help you weed through the information coming at you, the American Bankers Association has released an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) document about Heartbleed and bank accounts. We’ve published it just below this post.

The internal Information Technology team at Americana Community Bank (ACB) jumped into action as soon as they were made aware of the discovery of this computer vulnerability and they want to assure you that your banking information is, and has been, secure, despite the existence of Heartbleed.

That said, it is always a good idea for you to be vigilant about changing passwords periodically on all of your accounts, but especially your online banking accounts. Be careful not to use the same passwords for different accounts and never share your passwords with others.

In addition, report any unauthorized activity on your ACB accounts to your ACB banker. If you do find something amiss, we will work with you to find the source of the problem and/or help you close your account and open a new, secure account.

If you have any questions about your ACB accounts and Heartbleed, please contact your ACB banker. We’re always happy to hear from you and ready to help.

FAQ: Heartbleed Bug


Written by: American Bankers Association Release

Written on: April 10, 2014

What is the Heartbleed Bug?
Heartbleed is a flaw in the programming on secure websites that could put your personal information at risk, including passwords, credit card information and e-mails. The Heartbleed Bug is a defect in encryption technology – called Open SSL – used by most Web servers to secure users’ personal or financial information. It is behind many “https” sites that collect personal or financial information. Basically, it provides a secure connection when you are conducting a transaction or sending an e-mail online. Experts discovered the bug recently and warned that cybercriminals could exploit it to access visitors' personal data or to impersonate a website and collect even more information.

Am I affected?
Most active users of the Internet have likely been exposed, since a majority of websites – including Facebook, retail and even government sites – use the Open SSL software. But it is unknown whether any criminals have actually exploited the bug, and several major sites, like Amazon, have already installed patches. Most sites with an address beginning with “https” are vulnerable until the website operator fixes the bug and users change their passwords.

Is my bank account safe?
Yes, consumers are always protected from any unauthorized transactions. Let the bank know immediately if you suspect any unusual activity.

Banks are monitoring your accounts. They use many different systems to protect customers’ information including rigorous security standards, encryption, and fraud detection software

What can I do?
As always, it is a good idea to update your bank password every few months. Also, monitor your account regularly and report suspicious transactions to the bank immediately. Beware of phishing scams – or e-mails with malicious links – that will attempt to get additional sensitive information from you.

What are banks doing?
Banks are researching the possible impact of the Heartbleed Bug and are taking appropriate actions to ensure that it has no impact on their customers. Most Internet banking applications are not impacted by this bug. Most financial institutions have a special layer of security that prevents this type of exploit and some don’t use Open SSL at all.

Overstepping Their Mission: It’s Time Credit Unions Start Paying Their Fair Share


Written on: March 4, 2014


In the 1930’s, credit unions were established with the good of people of middle to lower incomes in mind. Each credit union was to serve a small, select group of people and the credit unions would be exempted from paying federal income taxes to allow them to better serve their mission.

But time has passed and many of the credit unions of today have lost track of that mission, although they are still exempted from paying federal income taxes. And that exemption comes at the expense of today’s tax payers, including the nation’s community banks and individuals like you and me.

Click here to find out more about this situation.

Tips for Small Businesses to Combat Fraud


Written on: October 18, 2013


Cybercriminals are targeting small businesses with increasingly sophisticated attacks. Criminals use spoofed emails, malicious software and online social networks to obtain login credentials to businesses’ accounts, transfer funds from the accounts and steal private information, a fraud referred to as “corporate account takeover.”

“Small businesses remain in the crosshairs of cybercriminals,” said Natasha Schroeder, Americana Community Bank Information Security Officer. “You can shield your company from attack through a strong partnership with your financial institution.”

Combating account takeover is a shared responsibility between businesses and financial institutions. Bankers can explain the safeguards small businesses need and the numerous programs available that help ensure fund transfers, payroll requests and withdrawals are legitimate and accurate. Companies should train employees about safe internet use and the warning signs of this fraud because they are the first line of defense.

“We’re far more effective at combating account takeover when we combine resources than if you try to go it alone. We can teach you about the tools your business can use to minimize this threat,” said Schroeder.

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Americana Community Bank offers small businesses these tips to help prevent account takeover:

  • Protect your online environment. It is important to protect your cyber environment just as you would your physical location. Do not use unprotected internet connections. Encrypt sensitive data and keep updated anti-virus and anti-spyware protection on your computers. Change passwords from the default to something complex, including at point-of-sale terminals.

  • Partner with your bank for payment authentication. Talk to your banker about services that offer call backs, device authentication, multi-person approval processes, batch limits and other tools that help protect you from unauthorized transactions.

  • Pay attention to suspicious activity and react quickly. Put your employees on alert. Look out for strange network activity, do not open suspicious emails and never share account information. If you suspect a problem, disconnect the compromised computer from your network and contact your banker. Keep records of what happened.

  • Understand your responsibilities and liabilities. The account agreement with your financial institution will detail what commercially reasonable security measures are required in your business. It is critical that you understand and implement the security safeguards in the agreement. If you don’t, you could be liable for losses resulting from a takeover. Talk to your banker if you have any questions about your responsibilities.


To learn more, see ABA’s Small Business Guide to Corporate Account Takeover.

Tips to Protect Your Identity


Written on: October 1, 2013


According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has topped its list of consumer complaints every year for the last 12 years. Identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains and misuses someone’s personal information without permission, typically for economic gain. For many victims, it can result in drained bank accounts, poor credit, and a damaged reputation.

“Americana Community Bank recognizes the devastating effects identity theft can have on an individual,” says Adam Dittrich, Americana Community Bank President and CEO. “Our goal is to work together with our customers to make sure every precaution is taken to safeguard their personal data.”

In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Americana Community Bank offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Don’t share your secrets.
    Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.

  • Shred sensitive papers.
    Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.

  • Keep an eye out for missing mail.
    Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.

  • Use online banking to protect yourself.
    Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.

  • Monitor your credit report.
    Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.

  • Protect your computer.
    Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.

  • Protect your mobile device.
    Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.

  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.


Tips For Saving Money During Summer Travel


Written by: Nico Leyva

Written on: May 1, 2013


Nico Leyva writes for Nerdwallet, a consumer finance blog that promotes financial literacy and looks for the best ways to save you money.

Spring is in the air! The sun is shining and birds are singing, and you’re starting to feel that summer itch to get out of the office and see the world. Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway to an island paradise, a mountain escapade or a family trip to Disneyworld, we’ve got a few handy tips to help you hold on to your savings during your summer vacation.

  • Estimate total expenses – Make a checklist of everything you need for the trip. Plan for meals, transport, snacks, clothes, medical supplies, or any other item that might need to be purchased. Allow room for gifts and personal items. Refine the list until it’s acceptable to your budget.
  • Pack light – Pack as light as you can. Checked baggage fees are very common, and you can be assigned a fee for having too many checked bags or for having baggage that is too heavy, or too large. If possible, try to pack everything in a carry-on, or limit yourself to one checked bag. If you are a big vacation reader, think about getting a tablet instead of stuffing a bunch of heavy books in your bag.
  • Know when to travel – Holidays are usually jam-packed with travelers. Airline ticket prices tend to be highest around holidays and weekends, and gas prices rise when heavy road traffic is expected. Try leaving and returning in the middle of the week, and far from holidays, when traffic is lighter.
  • Use public transportation – Before you arrive at your destination, scope out the transportation opportunities. If you’re staying somewhere remote, you may need to rent a car, but check for bus schedules anyway. Big cities will most likely have plenty of options, including subways, trains, buses and taxi services. Rent a bike for a cheap way to get around and sightsee. Walking is also a great way to get exercise and see things from ground level.
  • Eat on a budget – They’re not always available, but many vacation rentals have kitchens, and you can save money by buying groceries and dining in. If you need to eat out, don’t treat yourself to a fancy dinner each night. Ask the locals for cheap dining options, and stock up on snacks to eat during the day. Also, look for street food vendors—they are a great way to eat on the cheap and learn about new foods.
  • Set aside money – Set up a savings account specifically for your trip. You should open the account at least a few months in advance, and try to add to it each week or month. This will allow you some freedom to pay for extra expenses on your trip and provide a safety net in case of emergency.
  • Avoid racking up ATM or debit/credit card fees – If you’re traveling in the US, Americana Community Bank allows free access to MoneyPass and SUM network ATMs with several of their checking accounts. But if you’re traveling abroad, it can be cheaper to pay in cash or use traveler’s checks. Make limited ATM withdrawals and find a safe place to store extra cash. Most credit and debit cards have international fees for each purchase or withdrawal, so try to limit their use, or find a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Be prepared – Don’t get caught unawares and end up paying for it. Make sure you arrive on time for your flight, and if you drive, have your vehicle inspected before you leave. If you’re traveling abroad, apply for a passport far in advance. And remember to check up on travel warnings before you go. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed your trip will be.


A brief history of U.S. paper currency


Written on: April 10, 2013


The history of paper currency in the U.S. is closely intertwined with the growth of our nation. As we prepare for the Federal Reserve’s Centennial this year, we are reminded of the Fed’s critical role in maintaining confidence in U.S. currency. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was the foundation for the independent central bank, but the history of currency in the U.S. has a long and colorful past.

Paper currency introduced

In 1690, early Americans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were the first to issue paper money in the colonies to meet the high demand for trade and as a response to the shortage of coins, which were the primary form of money at that time. Other colonies followed suit and, although this early money was supposed to be backed by gold or silver, some colonists found that they could not redeem the paper currency as promised, and it rapidly depreciated.

It was not until 85 years later, in 1775, that the Continental Congress authorized the limited issuance of paper currency, called “Continentals,” with the primary purpose to help finance the Revolutionary War. The Continentals were denominated in dollars and backed by the "anticipation" of future tax revenues once the colonies achieved their independence. Without solid backing in silver or gold, and with rising inflation, the Continentals soon became worthless. Following the Declaration of Independence, the new country needed a way to fund the ensuing war effort. Distrust in paper money notwithstanding, the Continental Congress issued the first notes bearing the words, “The United States” in 1777 and sought to give them credibility with well-known revolutionary figures as signatories.

First bank chartered by Congress

The First Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791 and operated until 1811. It was succeeded by the Second Bank of the United States, which operated from 1816 to 1836. Although privately owned, these banks were chartered by Congress and performed several central bank functions, including the authorization to issue paper bank notes. President Andrew Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank, and for the next 25 years the “Free Banking Era” reigned. During this time, American banking consisted of state-chartered banks with no federal regulation or uniformity. These banks issued State Bank notes in various sizes, shapes and designs. By 1860, an estimated 8,000 different state banks were circulating bank notes in denominations from ½ cent to $20,000.

In 1861, to finance the Civil War, Congress authorized Demand Notes, which were the first issue of paper money by the government since the Continentals. In 1862, Congress discontinued Demand Notes and issued Legal Tender Notes, also known as United States Notes, which were the first national currency notes used as legal tender for most public and private debts. These notes, and all paper money issued since 1861, are still valid and redeemable in current cash at face value.

National Banking Act passed

Congress passed the National Banking Act in 1863 to establish a national banking system and uniform national currency. The national banks were required to purchase U.S. government securities as backing for their National Bank Notes.

The Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) began printing all United States currency in 1877. August 29, 2012, marked the BEP's 150th anniversary

President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act in December 1913, which created the Federal Reserve System as the nation's central bank. In 1914, Federal Reserve Notes, issued in denominations ranging from $1 to $10,000, replaced National Bank Notes. The first major change to affect the appearance of U.S. paper money occurred in 1929, when currency size was reduced and standardized designs were instituted for each denomination. This standardization made it easier for the public to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit currency notes. Beginning in 1990, new series notes were issued with advanced features, such as a security thread and micro printing, to deter counterfeiting.

In our world of rapidly advancing technology and payment alternatives, the Federal Reserve, the BEP and the U.S. Secret Service continually strive to ensure that the public remains confident in U.S. currency, and that it evolves to meet changing societal needs.

Original article "A brief history of U.S. paper currency" published by the Federal Reserve Banks in the April 2013 FedFocus issue.


Five Tips to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Small Business Bank Loan


Written on: March 25, 2013


In honor of National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day on March 29, 2013, the American Bankers Association releases the following tips to help small business owners best position themselves to obtain small business bank loans. “Five Tips to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Small Business Bank Loan,” the first in a series of tips to be released throughout the year, provides a rare glimpse into how bankers think and is intended to help small business owners develop a mutually beneficial relationship with a bank, prepare to get loans and evaluate offers.

1) Get to know bankers at several financial institutions in your community.

Before requesting a loan, find out which financial institutions in your market make loans to firms like yours. Not all banks specialize in business loans. Some specialize in lending only to firms in certain industries. Others lend only to those in certain stages of the business life cycle (no startups, for example). Work with bankers who understand your industry and find out how the current financial crisis has affected credit availability in your community. Not all banks have been equally affected by today’s financial crisis.

Another reason to deal with banks experienced in your industry relates to the financial advice they can offer. Because these bankers work with firms facing the same industry-related problems that may challenge you, they’re in a better position to provide helpful advice and financial products tailored to your firm’s needs. Many times the advice a banker gives is far more important than the product or service they sell. Seek a banker who can give financial advice that will help you survive and thrive in today’s economy. In turn, you should reward that banker with your business and your loyalty.

2) Be able to articulate your firm’s “value proposition” to its target markets and your business plan to reach them.

If you can’t clearly articulate why other companies or customers should do business with you and how you’ll effectively compete in your chosen target market segments, the chances of getting a loan are slim.

Develop a business plan that has three different scenarios: best case, most likely case, and worst case. You want the banker to understand all three since you’re asking for support through good times and bad. Also, be prepared to discuss in detail the assumptions that underlie each of these scenarios.

3) Think like a banker.

Understand the risks of operating in your industry. Have a plan to mitigate those risks and share it with your banker. Bankers are going to do a risk analysis anyway, so it’s important to help them. Most likely, you can provide a perspective that the banker hasn’t considered. It’s important for the banker to see that you recognize the risks of operating in your industry and that you have a plan for dealing with them.

4) Develop at least two ways to repay the loan.

Bankers look for primary and secondary loan repayment sources. For the sake of your business, you should, too. You are in the best position to determine possible repayment alternatives. Be sure to discuss these options with your banker before the loan is made. Secondary repayment resources could include the pledging of business or personal collateral as well as the addition of a loan guarantee by the firm’s owners, suppliers or customers.

The more certainty that the banker has that the loan will be paid “as agreed,” the more likely it will be that you not only receive a favorable loan decision, but also the best interest rate. Smart business owners understand that now is the time to think about alternative repayment sources, not when their business gets into trouble.

5) Don’t ask for loans that should be funded with equity injections. Bankers aren’t paid to take equity risks; they get paid to make loans that will be repaid on time.

The amount of equity you need to operate your business will depend on several factors. One of the most important relates to your industry and what role your business plays in that industry. The amount of equity required for a manufacturer will be different from that required to run a wholesale distribution business. Retailers in the same industry will also have different equity requirements.

The stability of the industry is also an important factor influencing the amount of equity needed. Firms in stable industries need less equity than firms operating in industries undergoing rapid change. The reason is that firms in stable industries can carry a higher level of debt due to the greater certainty of their revenue streams.

Another factor that determines the amount of equity required for your business relates to your firm’s business model. Some firms offer easy credit terms to build market share and increase sales. Other firms operate on a cash-only basis. The sales terms your firm offers its customer base has an important impact on the amount of equity that your business will need to operate.

If your product or service is in great demand, consider asking your customers for upfront deposits on pending orders or extending favorable pricing terms to customers who pay their invoices within 10 days of receipt.

Another option is to ask suppliers for favorable terms of sale. Ask if they’ll let you pay invoices later with no interest or give you discounts for paying invoices early. Any additional customer or supplier financing reduces the amount of permanent working capital that needs to be funded with equity contributions from your firm’s shareholders.

The American Bankers Association represents banks of all sizes and charters and is the voice for the nation’s $14 trillion banking industry and its two million employees. Learn more at aba.com.

Source: ABA Press Release. March 25, 2013. [online]. http://www.aba.com/Press/Pages/032513TipsForSmallBankLoan.aspx


Consumer Tips to Improve Credit Reports


Written on: March 13, 2013


With a new government report recently released on the accuracy of credit reports, the American Bankers Association provides the following tips on how consumers can better manage their credit reports and credit scores.

  1. Obtain your credit report for free from all three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion) once per year online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get the reports instantly after providing your personal identifying information.

  2. Carefully examine “negative” items for accuracy.

  3. Dispute errors immediately. All bureaus allow consumers to dispute items online by simply “checking” a box.

  4. Request that accurate negative items older than seven years be removed.

  5. Once you have thoroughly reviewed each report and disputed inaccuracies, here’s how to improve your credit score:
    • Make sure you pay your bills on time.
    • Use less than 30 percent of your available credit (best case scenario).
    • Do not close old, unused accounts (the longer your credit history, the better).
    • Refrain from applying for multiple loans in a short period of time.
    • Pay off any items in collection immediately.

“Obtaining your free credit report from all three agencies is easy, and all consumers should do so at least once a year,” said Nessa Feddis, ABA senior vice president and deputy chief counsel for consumer protection and payments. “Disputing errors is also easier than many people think with today’s online features,” she added.

Vicki Franzen, ACB Consumer Loan Officer, agrees. “It’s important to examine your credit report annually to monitor the information being reported to the bureau. Pulling the report only takes a few moments of your time, but could prevent hours of problems in the future!”

The credit reporting agencies have 30 days to confirm the accuracy of a negative item or they must remove it.

All You Need Is Love – And Financial Intimacy

Americana Community Bank offers financial tips for newlyweds
Written on: February 14, 2013


It's the season of love, but before couples take the next step in their relationship, they should shape their financial plan. Americana Community Bank reminds customers that the next step is not only a marriage of hearts but also a marriage of finances.

“It's no secret that people can become blinded by love, but if you stick to a plan, your financial situation doesn't have to be impaired,” said Katherine Jaeger, Americana Community Bank Senior Retail Banking Officer.

An important component of any romantic relationship is a solid financial footing. Americana Community Bank suggests couples use the following tips to achieve financial intimacy:

  • Be mine, or yours? Will you and your spouse-to-be keep finances separated or combine them? Consider individual money styles, will you have one joint savings account and/or separate accounts that you can use how you’d like. Making these financial decisions together will help you find a system that works for you.

  • Love’s Cost. Couples that tackle money problems together, and take mutual responsibility for solving them, will inevitably find that their overall relationships are better for it, so calculate your monthly costs and discuss how bills will be paid. Both may contribute to the bill payment, but who will physically write the check to pay the bills, monitor the investments and take care of the taxes? Consider setting a date every month to review and discuss finances.

  • Sharing Credit. It’s important that spouses are aware of the other’s credit situation. Marrying a person with bad credit will not drag down your stellar record. However, your other half’s credit will be factored in when applying for joint financing. Knowing ahead of time will help you to plan more strategically.

  • Cupid's Arrow. Couples should develop a plan to shoot down existing debt, starting with the balances that carry the highest interest rates. Whether or not the pair works as a team or alone, debt must be tackled. Think twice before every purchase and ask yourself if it’s worth not putting that money in your savings. You’ll be able to eliminate frivolous spending this way, while keeping your priorities top of mind.

  • Sweet Savings. Saving as a couple fosters teamwork and is essential in times of financial hardship. Decide how much you want to save as a couple and do it automatically from your paychecks. It’s important to be realistic when budgeting your monthly savings goal. Try using your Americana Community Bank online banking website or other free online tools that segment your spending into different categories.


A+ Checking Account Selected as a Top Checking Account

January 4, 2013


Americana Community Bank’s A+ Checking Account was chosen as a top checking account in a nationwide search by NerdWallet.com. Click here to read about all the accounts that made the cut.

ACB Donates More Than $2500 to Help Hurricane Victims

Written on: December 3, 2012



Americana Community Bank (ACB) has a strong history of supporting the communities in which they’re located, both financially and with employee volunteers. With the Hurricane Sandy disaster on the east coast of the US, their generosity, along with that of their customers and employees, expanded its borders.

On Nov 28, ACB President, Adam Dittrich, and ACB Sleepy Eye Senior Vice President, Brad Mathiowetz, presented Sandy Radloff, of the New Ulm Chapter of the American Red Cross, with a check in the amount of $2534.33.

ACB had challenged the public, customers, and employees to donate as they were able, pledging to match up to $1000 in donations to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. ACB employees and customers exceeded expectations and donated a total of $1534.33 to the cause.

ACB management and employees would like to extend their thanks to the customers and members of our communities who contributed to the fund.



When is a Check “Good”?

Posted on: October 22, 2012

With the increased use of the Internet and e-mail, there are a growing number of ways in which good, well-known bank customers are being scammed. These scams vary in size from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from a single customer. There are many stories used in these scams; they are too numerous to list. The scams all have two things in common.

First, the scams involve convincing the good bank customer that the stranger is "trusting" the victim with his funds. The crook wants the victim to be in a position to "prove" he can be trusted. Second, a check of some sort is sent to be deposited to the victim's account. The check names the good bank customer as the payee. When the victim is a longtime, well-known customer of the bank, it is not likely that the bank will refuse to accept deposit of the check. The check may be drawn on an account of a large, well-known company; it may appear to be a U.S. government check; it may appear to be a cashier's check. However, in every case, the check is not valid. It may be a completely fictitious check drawn on a nonexistent entity at a nonexistent bank. It may be a fictitiously created check drawn on an actual company's account. It may be a check drawn on a Canadian bank. It may be a properly issued check which was stolen from the mail, chemically washed to remove the original payee and altered to show the victim as payee.

How does the crook get the money?
The crook convinces the victim to send part of the check proceeds to an accomplice as soon as the bank will allow the customer to withdraw the funds. The reason given for sending the money varies. It could be a percentage was agreed to be paid as part of the "deal". Funds may need to be paid to release additional funds. Funds may need to be paid for alleged taxes, licenses, fees or attorney fees for the deal. The amount of the check may be more than what was owed so a portion of the funds need to be returned. The customer may be told that a foreign company needs an agent to cash a check in the U.S. and then wire the funds. The stories are sometimes very believable.

How long should I wait to know the check is "good"?
It is almost impossible to tell when you have waited long enough. It is possible to be liable for the check for several years. Just because an account is credited and the bank releases any holds on the funds does not mean that the check is good. It is possible under normal circumstances for a check drawn on another U.S. bank to be returned for a forged maker's signature two weeks after the deposit is made. If the check is drawn on a Canadian bank, the check can be returned several months later. If it is a fictitious check drawn on the U.S. Treasury, the credit can be reversed many months after the check was deposited. However, waiting weeks or even months is not always safe. If a legitimate check was stolen from the mail and then altered, the check can be returned for three years, or more, after it was deposited. When the check can be returned to the depository bank, the depository customer will be liable for the check.

How can I verify that a check is "good"?
It is almost impossible to tell if a check is "good". It is often possible, however, to verify that the check is definitely invalid. If the check is drawn on a phony account or is a phony cashier's check, contacting the bank it is alleged to be drawn on may help determine that it is worthless. However, if you contact the bank, they cannot tell you whether or not the check was stolen from the mail and altered. Only the maker of the check can provide that information. You may be able to contact the maker of the check directly; however you should never use a phone number listed on the check. You will need to independently locate the phone number of the maker. However, even if you do all the verification possible, there is still a possibility that the check could be returned years later, and you will be stuck.

Too Good to be True?
Most of these scams fall into the "too good to be true" category. If it seems to be too good to be true, it is. The crooks take advantage of the fact that even their skeptical victims often can't figure out how they are being scammed. Whenever you negotiate a check, you have the potential for long-term liability. If you are being asked to cash a check for a stranger and send someone part of the money, you are being scammed. Don't do it.

The Bottom Line When a check is cashed, your bank often allows the funds to be withdrawn within a few days. However, if the check is not valid, the depositor can be liable for the check for a very long period of time. You need to be skeptical of any check received from a stranger. If you are asked to deposit a check and send some of the funds to others, simply refuse. It could save you from a long-term financial mess.

Towle, Charles M. “When is a Check “Good”? – What Every Bank Customer Should Know.” The Kansas Bankers Surety Company

Adam Dittrich Named 2012 Rising Star in Banking

Written on: July 31, 2012

Adam Dittrich, President/CEO of Americana Community Bank (ACB) has been named one of eight Rising Stars in Banking for 2012 by banking publication, North-Western Financial Review. Dittrich, a native of New Ulm, MN and currently a Victoria, MN resident, oversees all functions for the four-branch community bank and serves on their Board of Directors.

Highlighting the problems facing bankers due to our current economic times, Dittrich was lauded for being “…the leader his bank needed as it defied the odds against its survival…” in an article about the award. David Saber, senior manager at Wipfli, an accounting and consulting firm, was quoted as asserting, “For someone to step up to the plate like Adam has done is tremendous. CEOs with 40-plus years of experience are pulling their hair out over challenges like this. But Adam has seen his way through.”

Americana Community Bank, chartered in Sleepy Eye, MN, serves both commercial and consumer customers in southern Minnesota and the western suburbs of Minneapolis. The bank’s commercial portfolio was heavily weighted with real estate and housing development loans in 2008, when the economy faltered. Dittrich was named bank president in 2008. “We had to transition from a time when things were good – with no delinquencies and a ramped up sales team – to a time of protecting the base and looking at the risk,” said Dittrich.

Dittrich credits his father, Bob Dittrich, New Ulm native, entrepreneur and bank owner, for inspiring him to forge on through the difficulties. “Dad was taught in the school of hard knocks; it’s not the cheapest education, but it is a good education. Not many bank lenders have had the experience of meeting payroll and making hard business decisions like my dad has,” continued Dittrich. He also had praise for the bank employees, “There are many people in the bank who have more knowledge than I have. I have been able to contribute by bringing about collaboration.”

The article states that the bank is now headed in the right direction. Dittrich told the magazine, “Everything is improving. It has been a ton of hard work, just to see a turn. We’re starting to spend some time in “normal” again.”

The North-Western Financial Review is a twice-monthly print magazine, covering the issues, products, meetings, legislation, regulations, trends and technology that affect the community banking industry in the Upper Midwest. For deeper coverage, they also offer on-line banking information through their blog. The Rising Star designation honors mid-career bankers who are making a difference in their bank and in their community.

Tips to Use During Low-Interest-Rate Periods

Written on: July 26, 2012

With interest rates at record lows, consumers face a number of choices for managing their money. Whether they want to save, spend or invest, consumers are encouraged to consider their options and choose the strategies that best suit their particular financial circumstances.

Americana Community Bank (ACB) offers the following tips for low-interest-rate periods:

  • Take advantage of the low rates. With interest rates at historic lows, it makes sense to begin larger home improvement or other projects now. If you qualify, it may be a good time to apply for a home equity line of credit to make an improvement to your home.
  • Shop around for credit cards with the best interest rates. You may be able to get one with better terms than the one you are currently using. Or, ask your credit card issuer to lower your interest rate to make it more competitive.
  • Make large purchases now. If you’ve been thinking of making a major purchase like a house or a car, today’s low interest rates make it a good time to finance big-ticket items. However, make sure you have a good credit record and can pay off the loan before applying.
  • Know your credit score. Before you apply for any loan or credit card, check your credit report and learn your credit score. Make sure your score is higher than about 680 to qualify for the very best rates. If your score is lower than that, pay down your balances, remove errors from your credit report, and pay bills on time to raise your score.
  • Keep saving. Just because standard savings accounts aren’t paying a lot of interest now doesn’t mean you should stop saving for your future. Your savings will still accrue, you’ll be less likely to spend it, and you know it will be safe. If you can afford to lock up your money for a while, longer-term Certificates of Deposit (CDs) pay the highest interest rates.


“Low-interest-rate periods offer a variety of opportunities and challenges for customers deciding how to manage their money,” said Jon Cira, ACB Senior Vice President. “Customers should never take on more debt than they can afford to repay, but this could be a good time to refinance to make payments easier, or make a home improvement you’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he added.

Customers who are unsure of how to take advantage of the current low-interest-rate environment are encouraged to speak with their local bank representative.

FDIC Reports Strong First Quarter Performance for Banks

Written on: June 14, 2012

Banks and savings institutions earned $35.3 billion in the year’s first quarter, $6.6 billion more than the industry’s $28.8 billion profit a year ago, the FDIC announced in its Quarterly Banking Profile.

The report shows the “banking industry continues to steadily march forward, with solid increases in business lending, strong capital levels and a continued decline in problem loans,” American Bankers Association Chief Economist Jim Chessen said. “At the same time, uncertainty surrounding the pace of economic growth is keeping risk higher than normal and may make businesses less inclined to borrow going forward.”

Business loans continue to be in high demand, showing a year-over-year, double-digit increase. Total lending volumes continue to suffer solely because of weakness in the housing sector. “The overall lending volume for banks will continue to grow at a gradual pace until the housing market improves,” Chessen said.

He noted that the industry’s asset quality continues to improve as banks put losses behind them, with problem loans falling to levels not seen since early 2009. The number of problem banks dropped below 800 for the first time since December 2009, and bank failures continue to fall. Failure costs are running about one-third below what the FDIC expected for this year. Banks, not taxpayers, are solely responsible for all of the FDIC’s expenses, paying about $13.7 billion in premiums over the last year.

The industry’s capital ratios are at or near record levels, the latest indicator that banks are well prepared for any challenging economic circumstances that could arise. Banks have added almost $300 billion in capital since 2008 when the financial crisis took hold. Total industry capital is now almost $1.6 trillion. Banks also have set aside more than $183 billion in reserves to cover possible loan losses. Capital plus reserves gives a total buffer protecting the industry of more than $1.77 trillion.

Mortgage refinancing and capital markets, along with a gradually improving economy, have led to a steady growth in bank earnings. The pace of the economy will determine how quickly banks’ core lending business will return. “In addition,” Chessen said, “the European crisis and continued concerns over U.S. debt will have a significant impact on whether businesses decide to expand operations. Banks remain focused on controlling costs as a means of sustaining earnings in today’s environment.”

Deposits continue to flow into U.S. banks as depositors around the world seek the safety of U.S. institutions. “U.S. banks remain the most secure place to keep your money, and this steady increase in deposits reflects continued confidence in our nation’s banking system,” Chessen said.

Source: ABA News to Use: May/June 2012. [online]. http://www.aba.com/Members/Comm-Tools/Mem/Pages/ct_newstouse.aspx

Loans to Start and Grow a Small Business: Finding What's Right for You

Written on: June 7, 2012

Small business owners typically need to borrow money to buy equipment, pay suppliers and employees, and otherwise finance their operations. “Although the media continues to paint a bleak picture about Community Bank lending, there is a good supply of money available to qualified borrowers and Community Banks are aggressively pursuing those opportunities,” said Dave Wagner, Americana Community Bank Executive Vice President. “As the economy continues to improve, we expect Community Banks will play an integral part in our economic recovery.” To help you get a loan that fits your needs, here are some basics to consider:

Comparison shop for government-guaranteed loans that may be offered by your bank. The U.S. Small Business Administration backs a certain portion of loans to help borrowers qualify for attractive financing terms. If you need a loan for less than the lender’s minimum amount, ask your bank for a referral to a lender participating in the SBA’s microloan program, which combines business coaching and technical assistance with access to loans up to $50,000 (although the average loan amount is about $13,000). Also be aware that certain borrowers, such as veterans or victims of disasters, may be eligible for special loan programs.

Understand the different types of financing. For most small businesses, there are three key ways to finance operations (not including investments or loans from family and friends):

  • Personal lines of credit, such as credit cards (either an owner’s personal card or a business card guaranteed by the owner) or home equity lines of credit (the small business owner’s home serves as the collateral) are commonly used, but there are risks.

    “Small business owners willing to put their personal credit record on the line may find a credit card convenient, but it can be an expensive financing tool,” said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC’s Outreach and Program Development Section. “Owners using a credit card also can quickly find themselves taking on debt that cannot reasonably be supported by projected revenues from the business.”

    He added that one problem with home equity lines is “the potential to lose your home if you are unable to repay funds as agreed.” (Also see concerns about “frozen” or reduced home equity lines in Common Questions to the FDIC from Small Businesses.)

  • Business lines of credit, which provide a convenient way for a business to borrow up to a certain dollar amount and repay it in installments with interest over several years, also present risks. “Business owners should think carefully before borrowing on a line of credit,” said Mary Bass, a Senior Community Affairs Specialist with the FDIC. “Consider how and when the business will generate revenue to repay the loan, and make sure you aren’t using a short-term financing tool to finance costly, long-term investments.”

  • Business term loans, which establish a set dollar amount to be repaid in installments over three or more years, are commonly recommended for purposes such as financing the purchase of equipment or a vehicle. These loans often are secured by the asset that is purchased. “Term loans mean predictable payments for businesses, but unlike lines of credit, a business may have to make a new application if it needs to borrow additional funds,” explained Emerson Hall, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist.


You can improve your chances of getting a good loan. Start by having a well-prepared business plan showing how money will be earned, which can reassure lenders that a loan will be repaid.

For more tips, see the Winter 2010/2011 FDIC Consumer News (online at www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1011/smallbusiness.html). Also check out additional resources from the SBA, the FDIC and other organizations in More Help for Small Businesses.

Source: FDIC Consumer News: Winter 2011/2012. [online].
http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1112/smallbusinessloans.html

Your Deposits: Options for Small Businesses

Written on: May 7, 2012

Obtain unlimited insurance coverage on certain deposits through the end of 2012. Martin Becker, an FDIC Senior Deposit Insurance Specialist, advises that if a small business has significantly more cash on hand than $250,000 and it wants to have 100 percent of the funds fully insured by the FDIC, it can open a “noninterest-bearing transaction account” (a checking account that cannot pay interest) and have unlimited insurance protection on that account through December 31, 2012. This temporary, unlimited deposit insurance coverage is based on a provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010. (While these transaction accounts are primarily used by businesses with large balances in their checking accounts, any depositor qualifies.)

Save for retirement. There are a variety of options for the personal funds of a small business owner — from IRAs and SEPs to 401(k)s — that can be used to save for retirement and save on taxes. The Fall 2011 FDIC Consumer News featured an article on the different ways a small business owner can save for retirement (online at www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnfall11/retirementaccounts.html).

To learn more about the deposit insurance coverage of business and personal accounts, see More Help for Small Businesses.

Contact an ACB banker for information about FDIC insurance coverage, IRAs and HSA accounts. They’d be happy to sit down and direct you to the best account for your needs.

Source: FDIC Consumer News: Winter 2011/2012. [online]. http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1112/smallbusinessdeposits.html

FDIC Consumer News: Frauds Target Small Businesses

Written on: February 22, 2012

While large firms may have sophisticated technology and staff dedicated to thwarting crime, many small businesses don’t — and scammers know this. Here are ways to protect yourself:

Be on guard against inside jobs. This includes employee theft or misuse of cash, merchandise or equipment as well as fraud. “Minimize risks through steps such as pre-employment background checks, automated inventory tracking systems, audits, and clearly outlined policies for personal use of computers and other business equipment,” said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC’s Outreach and Program Development Section. “Also, carefully select who handles revenue from customers, pays the bills and reviews account statements. And, ensure that there are procedures in place to detect and deter fraud.”

Watch out for fraudulent transactions and bills. Scams can range from consumer payments with a worthless check or a fake credit or debit card to fraudulent returns of merchandise. Be sure you have insurance to protect against risks. Also ignore offers to buy lists of federal grant programs. To learn more about protecting your business, consult your local Small Business Administration District Office.

Electronic frauds by third parties can be very costly to businesses, so take them seriously. The FDIC has seen an increase in reports of unauthorized electronic transfers made from bank accounts held by small businesses. “The most common and dangerous scam for small businesses is account takeover,” said Michael Benardo, Chief of the FDIC’s Cyber-Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. “By sending fake e-mails and using fake Web sites to deliver malicious software, such as keystroke loggers, fraudsters may be able to obtain the IDs and passwords for online bank accounts and then make withdrawals from accounts.”

Because businesses are generally not covered by federal consumer protections against unauthorized electronic fund transfers, a bank likely will not be responsible for reimbursing losses associated with the theft from the account if it says that negligence on the part of the business, such as falling for a common scam, was a factor.

Also equip your computers with up-to-date anti-virus software and firewalls (to block unwanted access). Make backup copies of critical business data on every computer. Also monitor account balances regularly, perhaps daily, to look for suspicious or unauthorized activity.

Don’t click on links in or attachments to an unsolicited e-mail that asks for confidential information, even if it appears to be from a company you do business with or the government. Legitimate organizations won’t request that kind of information in an e-mail. When in doubt, go to another source to find the organization’s contact information so you can independently confirm the validity of the request.

"Americana Community Bank will never ask you to supply personal information through email", adds Sam Bauman, Americana Community Bank IT Director. "While "secure" email is available through some email providers, regular email can be intercepted by internet predators. And when you are sending an email to the bank requesting information, never include your account number or other personal information. Communicate that information via telephone, fax, or secure email. A best practice for small businesses is to have a computer dedicated to internet banking. This is the most effective method to prevent against cyber fraud."

To check out a variety of frauds targeting small businesses and what you can do to stop them, visit the scam alert page at www.usa.gov/topics/consumer/scams-fraud/business/small-business-scams.shtml.

Source: FDIC Consumer News: Winter 2011/2012. [online]. http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1112/smallbusinessfraud.html

BEGIN THE NEW YEAR WITH A BUDGET

Written on: February 3, 2012

In these tough economic times, it is more important than ever for families to develop a budget and stick to it. Rainy-day funds, savings for college, or just making your rent payment can all be made easier with a budget. Americana Community Bank supports its customer’s efforts to budget and save by offering expert guidance.

“A financial goal can be very motivating,” said Jon Cira, Senior Vice President, Commercial and Retail Banking. “Whether you are saving for a family vacation, a down payment for a house or a new pair of shoes, if you stick to a plan, you’re likely to achieve your goal.”

Putting together a household budget requires time and effort. ACB offers the following steps to create a budget:

  • Be a Spending Sleuth. Track every penny you spend for a month. Keep receipts and write everything down. This will be an eye-opening experience and will help you see where you can cut back.

  • Count Your Money. Determine the total amount of money coming in. Include only your take home pay (your salary minus taxes and deductions). Your income may also include tips, child support, investment income, etc.

  • Itemize, Categorize, Organize. Review the records and receipts you’ve been collecting over the last month. Categorize your spending using a budget sheet like the one offered by the American Bankers Association Education Foundation (also available in Spanish).

  • Aim for the Goal. Set a realistic financial goal and develop your budget to achieve that goal. Subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly income. Find ways to cut spending and set limits on things like entertainment expenses..

  • Save, Save, Save. Make one of your financial goals to save a certain dollar amount each month. Start an emergency fund if you don’t already have one. You never know when you may need it.

  • Stick to it. Keep track of your spending every month. Update your budget as expenses or incomes change. Once you achieve your financial goal, set another.


ACB ENCOURAGES CUSTOMERS TO ‘GET SMART ABOUT CREDIT’

Written on: September 6, 2011

In recognition of National Get Smart About Credit Day on Oct. 20, Americana Community Bank is urging customers to educate themselves on responsible credit habits. “No matter your age or financial stance, it’s never too early to get smart about credit,” said James Swiontek, Senior Credit Officer. “Learning the basic fundamentals of credit provides customers with a foundation that will prove invaluable throughout their lives.”

     ACB encourages customers to follow these Dos and Don’ts of Credit:

  • DO pay at least the minimum due and contact your creditor if you have trouble making payments. This will help you to avoid late fees and a rising APR. To pay off your balance quicker, pay more than the minimum due. If you are unable to make the minimum monthly payments, let your creditor know so they can work with you to create a more manageable payment plan.

  • DO be wary of anyone who claims they can "fix" your credit report. No one can legally remove negative accurate information from your credit history. The only thing that can fix a credit report is time and a positive payment history.

  • DO read the fine print on the credit application. The application is a contract, so read it carefully before signing. Credit card companies are very competitive so interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms and conditions may vary.

  • DON'T feel pressure to get a credit card. If you don't want one, you have the right to say "no." Under the new CARD Act 2009 consumers aged 18-21 cannot be solicited for credit. If you no longer wish to receive prescreened offers, opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

  • DON'T ignore the warning signs of credit trouble. If you pay only the minimum balance, pay late, use cash-advances to fund daily living expenses or transfer a lot of balances you might be in the credit danger zone. Talk to a financial counseling organization to regain control of your finances.

  • DON'T share your credit card number. Never give out credit card or personal information if you have not initiated the transaction. Be aware of identity theft and phishing scams that ask for credit card numbers. If you suspect that your identity has been compromised, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338), or visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft


Fraudulent FDIC Emails

Written on: July 19, 2011
Written by: Sandra L. Thompson, Director, FDIC Division of Risk Management Supervision

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has received numerous reports of fraudulent e-mails that have the appearance of being from the FDIC.

The e-mails appear to be sent from various “@fdic.gov” e-mail addresses, such as: “protection@fdic.gov,” “admin@administration.fdic.gov,” or “service@admin.fdic.gov.”

The fraudulent messages state:

“Dear clients,
Your account ACH and Wire transactions have been temporarily suspended for your security, due to the expiration of your security version. To download and install the newest updates, follow this link. As soon as it is set up, your transaction abilities will be fully restored. Best regards, Online security department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.”

These e-mails and links are fraudulent and were not sent by the FDIC. Recipients should consider these e-mails an attempt to collect personal or confidential information, or to load malicious software onto end users’ computers. Recipients should NOT access the link provided within the body of the e-mails and should NOT install any related files or software updates.

If an e-mail is unexpected, unfamiliar or appears to be spam, do not open attachments or download information from that e-mail.

Financial institutions and consumers should be aware that these fraudulent e-mails may be modified over time with other subject lines, sender names, and narratives. The FDIC does not directly contact bank customers, nor does the FDIC request bank customers to install software upgrades.

Information about counterfeit items, cyber-fraud incidents, and other fraudulent activity may be forwarded to the FDIC’s Cyber-Fraud and Financial Crimes Section, 3501 North Fairfax Drive, CH-11034, Arlington, Virginia 22226, or transmitted electronically to alert@fdic.gov.

Questions related to federal deposit insurance or consumer issues should be submitted to the FDIC using an online form that can be accessed at: http://www2.fdic.gov/starsmail/index.asp

For your reference, FDIC Special Alerts may be accessed from the FDIC’s Web site at www.fdic.gov/news/news/SpecialAlert/2011/index.html

To learn how to automatically receive FDIC Special Alerts through e-mail, please visit www.fdic.gov/about/subscriptions/index.html

Topic A: No Such Thing As Free Checking

Written on July 30, 2010 at 12:47
Written by Jim Chessen, American Bankers Association Chief Economist

TANSTAAFL is not an acronym that rolls off the tongue, but it stands for a well-known phrase and economic principle: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

If my Google search can be trusted, the saying originated as the punch line of an economics joke printed in the El Paso Herald-Post back in 1938. The joke involved a king who asked his advisers for a succinct summation of economics but instead got several-hundred-page volumes. Each adviser was executed for his lack of brevity, prompting the last one to come up with something really short and sweet.

We economists may still suffer occasionally from a lack of brevity, so the TANSTAAFL truism remains a handy paraphrase. It’s essentially how you might boil down a three-page backgrounder I wrote recently on what’s happening to “free” checking accounts.

Recent legislative and regulatory events, including impending restrictions on interchange fees and new overdraft protection rules, have prompted media stories in recent months suggesting the end of free checking accounts is near.

The truth is, checking never has been free. Sure, banks have been able to offer such accounts at little or no cost to customers, but only because banks had other revenue streams that helped to absorb the true costs of providing the service. If those revenue streams are reduced to a trickle, banks will inevitably need to reexamine the features and pricing of their customer accounts. This is especially necessary since at least half of all checking accounts are considered unprofitable in a good year.

This is no easy task. Once “zero” is established as a price point, it’s hard to climb back without suffering a spate of criticism -- hence the backgrounder, which is aimed at explaining, to reporters and policymakers, the true costs of transaction accounts. These costs range from the tangible prices of ATMs, bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, software and equipment, to the less tangible costs associated with compliance and fraud.

In a feat of dis-ingenuity, retailers this year convinced Congress that if interchange fees were lowered, consumers would pay less -- as if the costs of interchange would evaporate. Retailers certainly price their products to reflect their costs, including interchange, utilities and staffing, to name a few. So, consumers theoretically could save pennies on a frappucinno, or a few bucks on a flat-screen -- if you believe retailers will actually lower their prices to reflect their lower interchange rates. But no one believes they will and Congress didn’t require retailers to do so.

The real expenses of the debit card system will need to be made up elsewhere -- possibly through the loss of “free” checking for consumers or the restoration of minimum balance and direct deposit requirements.

Consumers ultimately end up paying the costs for the many benefits of using their debit card and will still pay higher prices at the retailers. That’s not giving consumers a break.

The Great Recession has policymakers and pundits debating free-market principles and the shortcomings of capitalism. The invisible hand theory -- that public welfare is ultimately served when parties act in their self-interest -- is understandably out of vogue at the moment. But the wisdom of the fabled king’s adviser -- TANSTAAFL -- still stands and should be remembered next time policymakers want to give consumers something for nothing.

On-line Security Alert!

Written on June 23, 2010 at 8:15
Written by Natasha Schroeder, EVP, Compliance and Security Officer, Americana Community Bank

Dear Valued ACB Customer,

We’ve received information that a major e-mail campaign has been launched, deploying the infamous ZeuS Trojan e-mail, which sends spam messages in disguise. Some of the items that can appear to be legitimate, but are attempts to fraudulently gain access to your information are:

Fraud Alerts from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)
Twitter Account Hijack Warnings
Suggestive Youtube.com Videos

The fraudulent IRS e-mail often uses “Notice of Underreported Income” as the subject line and encourages the recipient to click on a hyperlink to review a tax statement.

If an e-mail is unexpected, unfamiliar or appears to be spam, do not open attachments or download information from that e-mail.

If you experience any telephone or email requests for this type of information, please inform your ACB branch and call the Minnesota Fraud Enforcement Partnership (MFEP). Your information will help the partnership work to shut down the scammer’s main form of communication with victims: a phone number or email address. To contact MFEP go to www.mnscams.org or call 866-347-0911. Please leave a message with your name, call back number and the type of fraud and someone will return your call.

Interest Rates to Remain Low

Written on February 26, 2010
Written by ABA Washington Perspective

Interest rates will remain at exceptionally low levels despite signs the economy is recovering, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee yesterday. Bernanke explained that the economy is still struggling in the wake of the financial crisis, with high unemployment and a troubled housing market. He added that inflationary pressure, the main driver of a tighter monetary policy, is likely to remain subdued.

“The Federal Open Market Committee continues to anticipate that economic conditions -- including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations -- are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period,” he said.

Check to Check

Written on February 18, 2010
Written by Banc Investment Daily

A new study finds more than 50% of people have difficulty covering monthly expenses. In addition, 9% said they have taken a loan against their retirement account during the past year and 12% had household expenses that exceeded income. Almost 50% of people surveyed don’t have enough savings set aside to cover expenses for 3 months if they became sick, lost their job or had some other emergency.

Minnesota Bankers to Visit Legislators

Written on February 8, 2010
Minnesota Bankers Association Press Release

The Minnesota Bankers Association (MBA) will welcome banking professionals from around the state to St. Paul on Tuesday, February 16, for the MBA Bank Day at the Capitol. The MBA holds the event annually to provide bankers an opportunity to hear legislative leaders speak about current industry and state issues, and meet with their elected officials. Natasha Schroeder, Executive Vice President, Compliance, Security and BSA Officer for Americana Community Bank will represent ACB at the 2010 Bank Day at the Minnesota State Capitol.

The day will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn with remarks from state political leaders. The tentative list of those scheduled to appear includes Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, Minnesota House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee Chair Linda Scheid, Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee Chair Joe Atkins, and Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee Vice Chair Dan Sparks.

After a break for lunch, Dr. Narayana Kocherlakota, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, will deliver the keynote address. This will be Dr. Kocherlakota's first public speech in his current role with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Following the keynote address, bankers will move to the Capitol for afternoon meetings with their local legislators and to attend various committee hearings.

The Minnesota Bankers Association is the state's largest trade association devoted exclusively to the representation of commercial banks. The MBA was founded in 1889 and represents 95% of Minnesota's chartered banks. The MBA is proud to support our member banks as they work to ensure vital communities throughout the state. For more information, please visit our Web site at www.minnbankers.com.

Greetings from the President

Written on August 24, 2009 at 10:35
Written by Adam Dittrich, President and CEO

Dear Clients, Partners, Friends, and Associates,

Hello. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and my plan for Americana Community Bank. First though, I would like to say thank you for the many well-wishes and congratulatory comments I received regarding my recent promotion. “Thank You!”

Americana Community Bank is a family owned and locally run community bank. I am proud to say that I am a member of the family. I am the son of the owner, Bob Dittrich. As many of you know from your own businesses, when you are part of a family run business the entire staff become extended family. However, actual blood relatives that serve in the bank with me are my wife of 10 years, Jody; my sister, Katherine; my nephew, Sam; and as Bank Directors, my parents, Bob and Pat. It is likely you will hear from these folks and others in the “extended” family in future editions of this letter.

I have worked for ACB for 13 years as of this past June. I am excited, happy, proud, and ready to be given the honor of serving as President and CEO for this organization. During the recent MLB All-Star Game, one of baseball’s current top players, Albert Pujols, was asked if a player of his caliber still gets nervous on the grand stage of an All-Star game. Albert responded, “My father told me, if you ain’t nervous, you ain’t ready.” As soon as I heard this, it resonated with me. I think he was talking about how being nervous gives you a heightened sense of awareness. It gives you a competitive edge, while being over-comfortable or over-confident can be a bad thing in sports. I think this is true for business as well. I think he was also referring to the fact that being nervous means you care, about how you perform, about the results of your efforts, and about how you present yourself in the given situation. So…I guess I’m ready!

As you are all aware, this economy has given our communities challenges the likes of which most of us have not seen in our professional lives. But with the team I have to work with here at ACB, despite the nerves (or maybe because of them), I feel confident and ready to meet the challenges presented to us and our communities.

Americana Community Bank is proud to be a part of the communities we serve. It’s fun for me to be a part of the community banking world, even in these turbulent times, because I know that what we are doing in our communities helps them grow, prosper, and even fulfill dreams. It is truly an honor to work with clients who make a real difference in their communities. Employees of Americana Community Bank have been key fabric of their communities for 126 years and I am honored to carry the torch for a time as we strive to continue for generations more. Please come in, work with our community bankers, and let us show you what old fashioned service with modern technology and conveniences is all about. If you like what we’re doing, let us know. If not, share with us how we can serve you and our community better. Feel free to contact me or any of our bankers to let us know what you are thinking.

ACB Announces Adam Dittrich New President, CEO

Posted on June 2, 2009 at 12:00

Chanhassen, MN—Americana Community Bank (ACB) has announced the promotion of Adam Dittrich to the position of President/CEO. Dittrich, a native of New Ulm, MN and currently a Victoria, MN resident, will oversee all functions for the five branch community bank and serve on their Board of Directors.

“Adam's promotion is an integral part of the bank's plan to remain independent and family-owned for generations to come,” said Robert Dittrich, Americana Community Bank Chairman of the Board. “His business instinct and natural leadership ability are a valuable asset to our organization and the communities we serve as he helps us manage the connections between the financial resources provided by the ACB team and our customers.”

Most recently the Chief Financial Officer for the bank, Adam Dittrich has 13 years of experience in the financial services industry. Dittrich has also served in bank positions ranging from teller to Senior Information Technology manager.

A relationship-oriented banking professional, Dittrich remains committed to ensuring that Americana Community Bank continues its long-standing history of excellent service and putting the customer first. According to Adam Dittrich, “Americana Community Bank will continue to be the local bank business owners and individuals can count on for the best in financial services. It is our intent to maintain involvement in our communities and dedication to the customers served by all five of our full service locations.”

Typosquatters Lurking on the Internet

Posted on April 8, 2009 at 4:10pm
Courtesy of Scambusters (www.scambusters.org/typosquatting.html)

Typosquatting is a little known danger lurking on the internet. Typosquatting (which is illegal) is simply giving a website a name that closely resembles an actual website. People become victims of typosquatting by misspelling a word, transposing letters, forgetting to put a dot after the www or before the com part of an internet address, or guessing at what a website name may be (example: using .com, when the real site is .net.) Typosquatting can be obvious – you find yourself on a website that is not where you wanted to be. This can be relatively harmless if the site is used to generate revenue for the scammer (who gets per click advertising when links are clicked.) However, this can be dangerous, if the site links to an adult or unsafe website. Typosquatting can also be hard to detect. Scammers do design sites to closely resemble real websites. The purpose can be identity theft or to upload viruses and other malware onto your computer. Typosquatters can target anyone, from businesses to children’s websites. The best way to protect yourself from typosquatting is doing a search if you don’t know the address for a website you are looking for, don’t guess. And always remember, if something doesn’t seem right on a website, don’t enter any personal information, click on any links, or download anything.

Commercial vs. Investment Banking

Written on October 14, 2008 at 10:14 am
Written by Allen W. Obernolte, President and CEO

We, as a financial industry and as a country and world economy, are experiencing some tumultuous times. The failure of Lehman Brothers (one of the nation's largest investment banks), the failure of Washington Mutual (the nation's largest savings bank), the government's take-over of AIG (the nation's largest insurance company), and the $700 billion rescue plan to buy up troubled mortgage debt are but only some of the shocking events to rock the financial world recently. While the headlines are startling, I want to inform you about one of the less attention-getting events that we will be dealing with over the next several months and years.

That event is the blurring of the separation between investment banking and commercial banking as we've known them for over 80 years. Back in 1933 during the Great Depression, the Glass Steagle Act was enacted. One of its provisions was to separate commercial banking (makes commercial loans and accepts demand deposits) from investment banking. (Another provision was the creation of the FDIC which insures your deposit accounts, now up to $250,000.)

Americana Community Bank is a commercial bank (CB), as are several thousand other banks in the nation. We are part of a highly regulated industry with state and federal charters and regulatory oversight provided by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and state banking departments. We are subject to volumes of laws and regulations, we make quarterly reports to the regulators (these reports are public information), and we are examined regularly by examiners who determine our safety and soundness and our compliance with rules and regulations.

Investment banks (IB), on the other hand, are where capital formation takes place in the form of both debt and equity securities. Some regulation is present in this part of the financial industry, primarily from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but it is much less rigorous, and there is much less oversight than commercial banks experience.

During the current credit crisis, huge changes have affected five of the largest investment banks (IBs) in the nation. Bear Stearns (IB) was acquired by JP Morgan Chase (CB); Merrill Lynch (IB) was acquired by Citigroup (CB); Lehmann Brothers (IB) declared bankruptcy; and Goldman Sachs (IB) and Morgan Stanley (IB) were both granted bank holding company status (CBs) by the Federal Reserve. In effect, a large portion of the screen that previously existed between investment banks and commercial banks has tumbled down.

In the months ahead, the financial industry is sure to have additional regulation and oversight placed on it so that the quagmire we are in won't be repeated. Certainly corporate governance and transparency will be addressed, as will mortgage underwriting criteria. Mortgage derivatives and credit swaps will also likely be regulated. These and other changes, as they affect the previous separation between investment banks and commercial banks, will be interesting to follow.

In an Uncertain Economy, Hold Your Advisors Close

Written on October 10, 2008 at 4:46pm

Written by: Jade Prins, Senior Banking Officer


For a small business owner, today’s economy is about as uncertain as it gets. Markets are in turmoil. Customers are skittish and afraid to commit. Vendors are wary and preoccupied. Financing is tight. Everyone around you, it seems, is cutting back or pulling in until things sort themselves out.

As a precaution when times are uncertain, cutting back in many arenas may, in fact, be the prudent thing to do. But a mistake many small business owners will make is to cut back on their use of outside professional advisors. They’ll do so because:

  • Outside advisors are seen as an “extra,” a nice thing to have when business is looking to grow or change, but an expensive “luxury” when the immediate future looks uncertain.
  • Outside advisors are seen as expensive, so cutting back on them will significantly help the bottom line. Even where there’s no specific fee for calling on them, the fear is that these advisors will try to sell the business something they can’t afford just now.
  • Outside advisors are seen as “easy” to cut back on – most other cuts probably feel more painful, whether they are or not.

Unfortunately, this logic can lead them (and you) into the same kind of trap businesses fall into when they decide to cut back on their marketing budget because sales are down, usually for the same reasons listed above. The truth is, when sales are down, that’s typically when a small business needs to ramp up its marketing.

To put the situation differently: you can afford broad-brush marketing when times are good, but when sales falter, your marketing programs need to become laser-focused. The same is true of legal decisions, purchasing decisions, accounting decisions, benefits decisions and financial decisions. It’s when times are good that you can probably afford to muddle through without the benefit of advice. When times are uncertain, your decisions need to be dead on target.

The reality is that the value of trustworthy professional advice goes up precisely when your company’s economic circumstances go down. Because very often, the best thing they can do for you is say, “Relax. Don’t panic. This too shall pass.”

With that and the current economic turmoil in mind, here are some specific suggestions on how you might particularly benefit from conferring with your trusted advisors in these uncertain times.

 

Start with the big picture

You’ve got a business plan in place. As a first step, call in your business consultant and/or financial planner and review the plan – chances are good that the plan itself is still good, and that there‘s no need to panic or start over. Most likely, all that’s necessary is to adopt a few “getting through it” tactics while leaving the overall strategy in place.

It is possible, however, that the current uncertainty will uncover some ways in which your original list of priorities and objectives was off base. In this case, your business advisor can help you retool the plan in a logical and unhurried way.

It’s also possible that the economic uncertainties may present opportunities for growth or expansion that weren’t there when the plan was developed. Your business consultant and financial planner can point out these opportunities to you, evaluate them objectively so you don’t get into fire-sale frenzy, and help you incorporate the right ones into the overall plan smoothly and intelligently.

The big picture key: don’t let the uncertainties in the economy scare you into short-term remedies that will undermine your long-term prosperity, or tempt you into short-term profits that will put your enterprise at risk down the road.

Review your external finances

Uncertain economies are also a good time to sit down with your banker and review your portfolio of banking services with an eye to restructuring where you can reduce or defer costs. Perhaps your circumstances have changed anyway since many of your cash-management and loan arrangements were originally made, and now would be a good time to see if restructuring can help you reduce or defer costs while business is declining or uncertain. Can loans be consolidated, or are other loan types more appropriate at your current stage of growth? Has your relationship grown to the point where you are entitled to a higher level of services and/or reduced fees for your services? Are there cash-management products that would reduce or eliminate short-term debt?

Review your internal finances

Similarly, your accounting system might yield a few diamonds in the rough under the watchful eye of your CPA – opportunities that were hidden during the hustle of good times but that now might be (painfully) clear. Are there costs that are redundant or off-kilter? How is your debt structured, and can you reduce or restructure it in a way that smoothes out or reduces your cash flow? How are your payables and receivables being managed, and how does their performance measure up to other firms in your line of work? Are your budgets and their assumptions leading you to make decisions that are more costly than they need to be?

Review your internal operations

Depending on your type of business, tough and uncertain times might well be a golden opportunity for you to call in your business advisor to examine your company’s operations. Similar to the financial side, there may be operational efficiencies that are unnoticed when business is humming, but that become more obvious when the pace of operations slows down. Among other things, your advisor can help you look hard at work flows and scheduling, workforce management and performance, and whether sales and production cycles are in sync.

Review your legal situation

If your type of business makes you vulnerable to lawsuits, you’ll want to keep your legal advisors closely involved in your decisions when times are uncertain. You truly want no surprises here. And if major company changes are underway – such as an ownership transition and/or a sale of assets – you want to be especially sure you are protecting yourself from being taken advantage of. The other side may put too much emphasis on the uncertainty resulting from current economic circumstances and not enough on the long-term value of the assets in play, and your legal advisors can help even out the balance of the discussion.

Review your advisors

Finally, take advantage of the uncertain economy to review your team of advisors. As you were going through the list above, did you hesitate when thinking about calling in your lawyer or accountant or financial planner or business planner? Were you worried that their advice would be more oriented toward maximizing their fees rather than your best interests? The old adage that “you find out who your true friends are when times are toughest” applies to business advisors as well.

Looking forward

The best way to prepare for the next round of economic uncertainty – and there is always a next round – is to gather a team of advisors you can trust, and stay in touch with them on a regular basis so they’re always current with your business strategy and your business health. That way, when the next boomlet busts, you won’t hesitate to hold those advisors close.

 

Securing Your Retirement

Written on October 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Are you worried about your financial future? With the recent events on Wall Street, consumers everywhere are looking for secure alternatives for their personal retirement savings. When you open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at Americana Community Bank, you can roll your funds over from an employer sponsored retirement plan, tax free, and know that your future is safe and secure.

To set up your IRA, simply stop into any ACB branch and talk to your banker. We'll help you get started. Once your account is open, find out how easy it is to move (rollover) your existing retirement account. With an IRA, you wont have to worry about the ups and downs of the stock market, and your funds will always stay protected, thanks to the FDIC.

Recent legislation has temporarily increased FDIC insurance on deposit accounts (for instance, checking and savings) to $250,000 from $100,000 per individual. Bank held retirement accounts (IRAs)are also insured up to $250,000. Did you know that since the FDIC was created 75 years ago, not a single penny of insured money has been lost? Rest assured that once your account is opened, your investment will never be in jeopardy again.

To learn more about FDIC insurance, call your branch and find out how your accounts are protected, or visit http://www.fdic.gov/.

ACB: Safe and Secure

Written on August 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm
Written by Allen W. Obernolte, President and CEO

With the recent failure of some banks, including the IndyMac Bank in California, chances are that you have seen, heard or read in the media about the stability of banks, particularly small banks. We understand that the economic challenges may be a source of confusion and uncertainty. However, if there's one thing that you don't need to worry about, it's your banking.

Please rest assured that Americana Community Bank is a safe and secure choice. As community bankers, we seek to be common sense lenders, avoid high-risk activities, remain true to the longstanding fundamentals of responsible banking, serve the long-term interests of our customers, and actively participate in the communities we serve.

Did you know that since the FDIC was founded 75 years ago that no individual has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds? State or federal examiners inspect Americana Community Bank each year, helping to ensure that our bank is safe, strong and secure. As an Americana Community Bank customer, your savings, checking and CD deposits are insured by the FDIC for at least $100,000. You may qualify for more than $100,000 in coverage at one insured bank if you own deposit accounts in different ownership categories. These categories include Single Accounts, Joint Accounts, certain Retirement Accounts and Revocable Trust Accounts. Revocable Trust Accounts include Payable Upon Death Accounts and Living Trusts. Examples of how accounts can be named and to what extent they may be insured can be found in FDIC brochures available at your ACB branch or at www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/insuringdeposits.

Please call your local ACB branch or stop in and we'll be glad to answer any questions you have.




Bank Security and FDIC Insurance

Written on August 19, 2008 at 10:21 am
Written by Allen W. Obernolte, President and CEO

Recently, because of the failure of IndyMac Bank in California and a few other banks (including a bank in Staples, MN), there have been some articles in the press regarding the stability of banks, particularly small banks.

I'd like to assure our valued customers that Americana Community Bank (ACB) is a safe and sound institution. We are examined every year by either state or federal examiners. As with all banks, the ratings that we receive for the different types of examinations they perform are confidential, except for our CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) rating, so we can't disclose our safety & soundness rating to the public. In fact, there are bank rating services that claim to have enough knowledge to rank banks for the public. However, those services base their rankings on inadequate data, as they cannot have access to information actually gathered by the FDIC during their examinations. I want to assure you, based on my 27 years of being an FDIC examiner before I was named President and CEO of ACB, that we are in sound condition.

All banks are currently going through a slump due to the decline in the real estate market, in general, and the housing market, in particular. We are not, however, involved in the real estate markets in California, Florida, Nevada, Michigan and other places where huge drops in real estate values have occurred. We did not stretch ourselves, as other banks have, by going into previously fast-growing markets that were far flung from the markets we know or the expertise we have.

Much press has been given to "sub-prime" lending, which has caused huge losses for many banks. In this arena, many mortgage brokers approved and sold loans that were underwritten without verification of income or without qualification of the borrowers' ability to make payments on their ARMs (adjustable rate mortgages) after the term of the "teaser" rate expired. These brokers, who are mostly paid on a commission basis, were only interested in the transaction--not in establishing a lasting relationship. We, on the other hand, are a "community bank" that strives to develop long-lasting relationships with our customers by helping them to make the financial choices that will benefit them in the long run. We did not and do not engage in "sub-prime" lending.

You may wonder about making sure that all of your deposits are FDIC insured. I'm sure that you are aware of the basics of FDIC insurance (e.g. $100,000 insurance for each depositor, $250,000 insurance for IRAs, etc.), but there are also ways to increase the amount of insurance by using joint ownership accounts, payable-on-death (POD) accounts, and others. I'd like to refer you to the employees in your ACB branch for more information regarding FDIC insured deposits. In addition, each of our branches would be happy to share FDIC issued brochures explaining how your deposits can be insured to greater levels. Also, http://www.fdic.gov/edie/ is a link on the FDIC website that can be used to calculate the amount of your insured deposits.

In closing, Americana Community Bank is a place where your deposits are safe. If you'd like to speak with an ACB banker, feel free to call your local branch or just stop by. We're ready and happy to help you!




Fair Competition?

Written on June 18, 2008 at 09:22 am
Written by Allen W. Obernolte, President and CEO

Once upon a time, there were three butcher shops that all operated and competed in the same community. Butcher Shop A had quality products, provided excellent customer service, supported the community, and paid its fair share of income taxes. Butcher Shop B also provided good products and served the community, but it paid no income taxes. Butcher Shop C was sanctioned by the government, bought its meat at a discount, paid only a fraction of the income taxes paid by Butcher Shop A, and was supported by the government in the event of loss.

Now I ask you, is this fair competition?

While the scenario described above is only an analogy, this type of unfair competition actually exists in the financial institution industry.

Like Butcher Shop A, community banks provide high quality products and excellent customer service, support the communities they serve, and pay their fair share of income taxes. Credit unions, on the other hand, pay no income taxes on the profits they generate. The Farm Credit Services (known locally as AgStar) is a government sponsored enterprise (GSE) that receives its funds at a discount (through U.S. Government bonds) and pays income tax on only a portion of the net income that it generates. Losses they incurred in the 1980s were only recently repaid in 2006.

Now I ask you again, is this fair competition?

I just wanted to share something with you about which I thought you should be aware.




Mortgage Brokers vs. Bankers

Written on February 20, 2008 at 05:02 am


The recent rise in mortgage foreclosures has created confusion and concern among consumers, and we want to clarify a couple things. First, many risky, nontraditional loans were made by non-bank mortgage companies and brokers who aren't held to strict regulations and who set unrealistic borrower terms and conditions. Second, many of these loans were made in the "subprime" loan market, meaning that the mortgage was designed to assist borrowers who were rebuilding their credit history, resulting in interest rates higher than the overall market rates.

You don't need perfect credit to borrow from a bank, but a loan that's beyond your ability to repay or that subjects you or a bank to undue risk isn't in anyone's best interest. Please contact your bank representative with mortgage lending questions or for more information.




Health Savings Accounts

Written on February 12, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Health savings accounts (HSAs), are tax-advantaged savings accounts that work in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan. HSAs provide numerous benefits, including:

Ownership Your HSA is yours to take with you, wherever you go--even if you leave your current employer.
Control You are empowered to decide which qualified medical expenses you want to use your HSA for and when.
Flexibility HSA dollars can pay for items identified on health insurance plans, as well as other items identified by the IRS, such as dental, vision, orthodontia and over the counter medicine--items individuals are currently and routinely paying for with post-tax dollars.
Tax Savings All HSA contributions are tax deductible. Interest or other earnings on the assets are tax-free and your money accrues tax deferred.
Savings and Investments Unused HSA dollars carry over, year to year. And, rather than spending your HSA funds, you may choose to continue investing for future expenses. At age 65, any unused HSA funds may be withdrawn from the account for non-medical expenses, without penalty.