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Profile: California First National Bank

California First National Bank, more commonly known as CalFirst Bank, is headquartered in Irvine, Calif.

But you won’t find any CalFirst branches there, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s strictly an online bank, with all transactions handled by phone or through its website.

Savers like CalFirst because of the above-average returns it offers on money market accounts and certificates of deposit.

You’ll need at least $5,000 to open a money market account and must maintain a minimum balance of $5,000 in CalFirst accounts to avoid a $20 monthly fee.

CD terms range from 3 months to 3 years. The early-withdrawal penalty is 90 days of interest for terms of one year or less and 180 days of interest for longer CDs. A minimum deposit of $5,000 is required to buy a CD ($2,000 for an IRA CD).

You can open an account from anywhere in the country and fund it through an electronic transfer or by check with a mail-in application.

Deposits of up to $250,000 are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

CalFirst can offer above-average rates because it has a rather unique way of putting your savings to work.

It actually began operations in 1977 as a commercial leasing company called Amplicon.

In 2001, it reorganized into a new holding company, and California First Bank was created to provide a source of money for the leasing business, which was renamed California First Leasing.

Deposits at the bank finance the purchase of everything from computer systems and exercise equipment to school buses and dorm furniture, which are then rented by corporations, local governments and schools.

By almost any measure CalFirst remains a small bank, with a modest $322 million in assets — it requires more than $11 billion in assets to become of the nation’s 100 largest banks.

It earns a solid four out of five stars from Bankrate’s “Safe & Sound” rating system, which evaluates banks on such things as asset quality, profitability and liquidity.

The holding company for the bank and leasing company, California First National Bancorp, is publicly traded on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol CFNB.

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