Student Loans: Community Bank Making Dreams Come True

iHELP_Logo_300Farmers & Merchant State Bank – Scotland, South Dakota

When Dick Behl, President of Farmers & Merchants State Bank in Scotland, SD, makes student loans, he knows that he’s helping young people and their families fund not only their education, but also their future. Additionally, he realizes that helping to finance those individuals’ educations has the potential to serve a much broader role in terms of community development. Says Behl, “We’re here to serve our communities and the people that live here—that’s our primary mission."

 Behl and other community leaders have another mission, which is to see that every post-secondary education graduate who wants to return to the Scotland area will find adequate opportunities.  “You start out with somebody’s dream, even a little dream. When you can help make it happen, that’s really good. We've got a lot of young people that are now wanting to come back home and we haven't had that for generations,” said Behl. Providing student loans is an excellent start to making those dreams come true.


Dick and his family know a lot about banking and community development. Dick’s grandfather, George B. Behl became president of the bank in 1938. His father and mother, Darwin (former bank president) and Marilyn (public and customer relations), have been part of the bank since the 1940s. Dick joined the bank in 1977 and has been president since 1982. Dick’s son, Mike, is a member of the fourth generation in this family business.

 ScotlandSign_200Scotland - Small Town Going Strong
A rural community of about 900 residents, Scotland has a thriving healthcare business environment with a hospital, clinic, pharmacy, and nursing home; all of which provide many jobs for local people. Scotland is also the original site of one of the nation’s leaders in bio-fuels development (Poet). The bank prides itself in assisting in the early financing of Poet’s startup. The last farm bill, favorable market prices and land values have created a lot of success for the areas agricultural producers. All of these are economic drivers in creating a much different future for Scotland. “Growth for the bank means bringing in younger people,” says Behl. “We’ve seen these kids come into the bank since they were babies. You start there and create that relationship that you hope lasts a long time.


Farmers & Merchants State Bank has long helped families with student loan financing.  However, in recent years, the government compliance requirements and complexities made it more difficult for them to do so. “We just didn’t have the staffing to be able to manage student loans, but we still needed to develop a program to get it done," said Behl. Behl’s customers tell him that even with savings, scholarships, grants, and government guaranteed loans, it often wasn’t enough to fund college educations. “I was familiar with Student Loan Finance Corporation out of Aberdeen through paying back my own student loans,” said Behl. “When I heard they had come up with the iHELP Private Student Loan Program to help with the unfunded gap in families’ education financing, that just triggered me.”

What's iHELP?
iHELP is a simple, transparent and low-cost private lending program offered through local community banks to help their customers achieve their higher education goals. In addition, iHELP provides free resources on U.S. college costs, average salaries by career and location, and scholarship links, so students can make informed decisions and reduce their net costs of attending college. “All that education doesn’t do you much good if all you end up with is too big of student loan payments and all the stress that goes with it,” added Behl.

SLFC LikeUsFacebook 350The iHELP Private Student Loan Program is provided through community-minded banks throughout the United States. iHELP and its lending partners are committed to helping students and their families make informed decisions about their plans for higher education, providing current resources on school costs, estimated salaries for various careers, and free access to more than 18,000 available scholarships, totaling over $7.5 billion in free money. Student Loan Finance Corporation administers iHELP for its banks and has more than 30 years of experience in the student loan business.