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Five Smart Uses for Your Tax Refund - April 1, 2015

First Bank & Trust offers consumer tips for putting tax refunds to good use.

Nearly eight out of 10 U.S. tax filers will receive a federal tax refund this year.  As millions of Americans await reimbursement from Uncle Sam, First Bankhas highlighted five tips for making the most of their tax refund.

“Smart use of your tax refund can start you on the path to long-term financial security,” said Gwen Easter, President and CEO.  “Rather than spending your funds immediately, take a moment to evaluate your financial situation and decide on where those dollars will make the most difference.” 

First Bank recommends the following tips for consumers looking to put their tax refund to good use:

  • Save for emergencies.  Open or add to a savings account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold about three-to-six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships like losing your job or having to replace an appliance or your car.
  • Save for retirement. Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA.  Where can you get one?  Your bank can help set up an IRA, while a 401(k) is employer-sponsored.
  • Put it toward a down payment.  The biggest challenge that many home buyers face is coming up with enough money for a down payment. If you intend to buy a new home in the near future, putting your tax refund toward the down payment is a smart move.
  • Pay off debt.  Pay down existing balances by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
  • Invest in your current home.  Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home.  This can include small, cost-effective upgrades like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term. If you have more substantial renovations in mind, your bank can help with a home equity loan.

For more tips and resources on a variety of personal finance topics such as mortgages, credit cards, protecting your money and saving for college, visit aba.com/consumers.


FB&T Offers 7 Tips to Frustrate a Fraudster During Tax Season - March 25, 2015

The weeks leading up to April 15 – tax deadline day – are often vulnerable ones for consumers, as W-2s and tax returns containing their personal information circulate over the internet and through the mail.

According to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, 12.7 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2014. Though down from 2013, it remains the Federal Trade Commission’s number-one consumer complaint.

“Identity thieves look for every opportunity to steal your information, especially during tax season,” said Shirley Scott, Sr.VP. “Consumers should be on high alert and take every step they can to protect their personal and financial information.”

To help consumers do that, First Bank & Trust Company is offering the following tips:

  • Don't share your secrets. Don’t provide your Social Security number or bank account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Neither your bank nor the IRS will contact you requesting this information.
  • Beware of phishing emails. Phishing attacks occur when criminals use ‘spoofed’ emails and fake websites of trusted organizations to coerce consumers into sharing personal information. During tax season, fraudsters often pose as the IRS. Don’t be fooled. The IRS will never initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email to request personal or financial data.
  • Shred sensitive papers. Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away. For papers you must keep, like tax documents, keep them in a secure place.  
  • Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly credit card statements, W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing your financial information. If you don’t receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they’ve been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.   
  • Protect your computer. Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date, particularly if you plan to file your taxes online. 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.
  • 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.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. Additionally, if the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, alert theIRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.


First Bank & Trust Co. Celebrates National Ag Day with Financial Tips for Farmers - March 17, 2015

First Bank & Trust Company is celebrating National Ag Day on March 18 by providing financial tips to the next generation of America’s farmers and ranchers. Unlike established farmers, young and beginning farmers may need to learn the basics of creating business relationships and what goes into making financial decisions.

“There are a number of challenges facing today’s young producers. We’re here to help navigate the financial ones,” said Jon Q. Alexander, Senior Vice President. “We want to make financial decisions easier so farmers can focus on the farm.  Through the years First Bank & Trust has found assisting the younger generation to develop and grow their farm and ranch operations to be a one of the most mutually rewarding experiences.”

When speaking to a banker, young and beginning farmers should keep the following in mind:

1. Sweat the small stuff. Keeping accurate and detailed records encourages both short-term and long-term financial planning. Not only does it help you stay organized and make better management decisions, it makes it easier for your lender to assess your financial situation.                                     

2. Develop a business and marketing plan. You will work smarter and improve your odds when you focus and organize your goals.

3. Evaluate your capital investments for profitability and payback. Keeping track of how long it will take to generate enough cash flows from a capital investment to justify the investment will help you make better financial decisions for the future.

4. Know your costs. When you consider your cost of living and expenditures, including depreciation and family living, you’ll have a better understanding of your overall financial situation. Your local banker can provide guidelines to monitor your financial ratios.

5. Decide on what type of operation you want to run. New farmers and ranchers should either be very efficient, low-cost producers or should add value that someone else will pay for.

6. Consider supplementing your operation with off-farm income until your operation is large enough to employ you profitably full-time.

7. Consider renting farm equipment or custom hiring before purchasing.

8. Shop around. Getting price quotes on supplies such as feed, fertilizer and fuel can uncover lower cost sources. Your research might get you a discount from a local, preferred supplier that gives excellent service. Make sure product quality is part of your evaluation.

9. Ask your banker about how to get access to state and federal credit enhancement programs.

10. When in doubt, ask for help and guidance from someone you trust–an experienced farmer or rancher, a trusted adviser or your local banker. You don’t have to make these important financial decisions alone.

National Ag Day, now in its 42nd year, is organized by the Agriculture Council of America.

Jon Q. Alexander is one of twelve members from across the United States serving on the American Bankers Association’s Agriculture and Rural Bankers (Ag) Committee. The Ag committee pro­vides information, programs and policy recommenda­tions that offer an opportunity for improvement and profitable management of banks providing financial products and services to agricultural and rural Amer­ica. It champions causes on relevant issues and provides banks with a perspective on industry events and issues that will influence agricultural and rural banking.  First Bank & Trust Co. is a community owned bank with locations in Perry, Billings, and Covington.      


Support for Windows XP Ends April 8, 2014

What is Windows XP end of support?

Microsoft has provided support for Windows XP for the past 12 years, but that support is coming to an end on April 8, 2014. This means there will no longer be technical support for Windows XP, and PCs running XP will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be protected.

Support for Office 2003 also ends on April 8, 2014.


What happens to PCs on Windows XP after April 8, 2014?

They will continue to work as normal and there will not be any kind of limitations imposed on the OS crippling its usage. But it’s the unknown that users should be concerned about. Microsoft has publicly stated that no new patches will be released for the OS after April 2014. Drivers for new hardware that comes out will not be available for XP. Users may begin to encounter compatibility issues. Using Windows XP after April 2014 will be an "at your own risk" situation.


How do I stay protected?

To stay protected after support ends, you can upgrade your current PC to a newer version of Windows. Windows 8 is the latest, but Windows 7 is a very capable and user-friendly operating system. Windows 7 also has a more traditional Windows user interface, as Windows 8 introduced many design changes.

For more information, visit Microsoft Support.