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Top tips for using an ISA account

Thinking about opening a savings account but unsure where to begin? The following guide brought to you by moneysupermarket.com aims to highlight some of the most important points.

  • Generally ISA accounts protect you from paying any tax on your savings– they act as a way for the government to encourage more people to save money securely.
  • It can be confusing as to how much you can save in your ISA account. Currently most adults save up to £7,200 in ISAs annually. The whole amount can be invested in a stocks and shares ISA or you could split it and put up to £3,600 in a cash ISA. In October 2009 anybody aged 50 or over was allowed a higher annual limit of £10,200, of which up to half can be saved as cash. In order to take advantage of this, you will need to be 50 on or before April 5 this year, to benefit in the current year. On April the 6th 2010, the limit will be increased to the same amount for everybody, regardless of age.
  • Just like regular savings accounts, there are many different types of cash ISA – easy access, fixed rate and regular savings to name a few. Finding one that fills your requirements should not be hard.
  • One point to consider when saving in an ISA account is that when you withdraw the money from the account you will no longer benefit from the build up of interest. People willing to save their money for a fixed period or who can accept other restrictions on their savings could benefit from a notice account or a fixed-rate bond instead.
  • If you have another savings account elsewhere and are only using your ISA to save for the long term then a fixed rate bond account could work best for you, although these accounts tend to require the account holder paying in a lump sum rather than smaller amounts deposited more frequently. Clare Francis from moneysupermarket says, 'Whether you opt for a stocks and shares, cash ISA or both will depend on largely on your investment objectives and time horizon.'
  • If you already have a Cash ISA but have found an account which suits you better and wish to move to another provider, always ensure your account provider arranges the move for you. This will insure that you don’t lose any of the interest you have built up.
  • ISAs differ from standard savings accounts in that interest is tax free meaning that those on the basic rate tax band will see a 20% return on their savings. People in the higher tax bracket could possibly benefit more – by around 40% interest.

Money Decision Problem 2: Solving the Wrong Problem

You can have the greatest system in the world for analyzing and solving your personal or business money problems, but you would be wasting your time if you were solving the wrong problem. This usually happens if you do not think through a problem before you start to solve it. To understand how to approach a particular problem you should understand at least these things about the problem:

  1. What are the limits to problem at hand?
  2. How do you define a good or a bad outcome to the decision?
  3. How should you measure the outcomes?
  4. What do you bring mentally and psychologically to the decision table?
  5. What are other ways to look at the problem?

A Mutual Fund Example
One example of solving the wrong problem is to pursue a high rate of return from a mutual fund investments without first deciding what kind of comparison or benchmark you should use to determine if the return is high enough. For example, index mutual funds that are designed to mirror the results of the Standard and Poor’s 500 index consistently outperform rough 80% of all mutual funds. The original problem may have been how to choose mutual funds with high returns. A better problem to solve would be how choose mutual funds which consistently perform better than the S&P 500.

Final Thoughts
Remember that most problems involving money usually involve something else besides money or mathematics. If you focus on the parts of the problem that are objective and that can be measured or solved with common with equations and spreadsheets, you may miss the most important part of the problem.

Next Lesson: Not Looking at All Sides of a Problem

Break up with Your Money

By Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

As we face an economic downturn unlike most of us have ever seen, what I call “breaking up” with your money can be an important step for your financial well-being, for your relationship, and for your sanity. We never know what the future may hold – things may start to get a lot better, or they may get worse – but creating healthy relationships with your finances and budget is something that will pay off no matter what type of financial situation we face as a nation or you face as an individual or couple.

The first step is to realize the areas in your relationship where money has “intruded” to create what i call a triangle. I discuss these areas in more detail in my book, Financial Infidelity, but here are some possible triangles, and how you can break up these patterns!

1. Family/Money/Relationship: Family legacies of money behaviors are not always contained in our subconscious minds – they can be very real! Demands of extended family members for financial support can be one way in which money can encroach and put a strain on a couples finances AND on their relationship.
2. Children/Money/Relationship: Nearly 70% of couples experience relationship stress after having kids. When a couple becomes contentious over spending on their children, the couple’s relationship can suffer – as can the family’s relationship.
3. Spending (or saving)/Money/Relationship: This can be a case of “opposites attract” in the extreme: the relationship then becomes at risk for damaging power struggles, sneaky “pay back,” and other deceit.

Hiding or denying the role money has in your life and in your relationship – as in any of the scenarios above, or other scenarios – has a toxic affect on a relationship. These types of “triangle” behaviors negatively influences your relationship with your partner. You may not think of it as cheating, but if you continue in this type of lop-sided relationship, it will take a toll. Attachment to your money can often ruin chances for you and your partner to build an intimate relationship.

Learning to prioritize the role of money in your relationship is an important step toward a healthy dynamic between your, your partner, and your money. I’ve come up with several ways to do this – here is one such exercise:

Withdrawals and Deposits:

Day 1: pretend you have suddenly been forced into bankruptcy. You are poor and have nothing – no money, no investments. Take your negative fantasies into the extreme – imagine yourself selling everything you have, being free of all your material goods.

Day 2: Visualize yourself with plenty of money, and all that entails. You are comfortable and able to do the things that are truly important to you.

Day 3 – and forever after: be consciously grateful. Each day, count the things you are grateful for.

Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil has been an internationally acclaimed relationship therapist for thirty years. New York magazine named her one of the city’s top therapists and Psychology Today named her one of America’s best therapists. Her most recent book, Financial Infidelity, is available on Amazon.

Franchising in Response to Unemployment

Several years ago I found myself unemployed for the first time in my 30+ year career. After the initial panic and rearranging of finances so that day to day expenses could be met, my partner and I started talking about options and decided that we would look into franchising. Franchising offered the promise of “being your own boss”, “90% of franchises are successful”, “building for retirement”, and “doing something fun”.

Being my own boss was definitely attractive since I tend to have definite ideas of how things should be run. I was also still on the rebound from the shock of unemployment. Little did I understand at the time, what being your own boss really means. You’ve got it all… the good, bad, and the ugly. There is also the mind switch from working in the business to working on the business. Give this some thought if you are thinking about starting your own business whether it is a franchise or an entrepreneurial venture.

As for the “90% of franchises are successful”, that may be true overall or may have been true in the past, but I would now take this with a grain of salt as opposed to “with statistics like those, how could we possibly be in the bottom 10%?” A franchise is a great way to get a head start on your business, but it is not a sure thing. You must be willing to follow the franchisor’s formula as closely as possible to help ensure your success. Looking at success rates within your prospective market niche is also a must.

As we looked into franchise options the next hurdle was choosing a business. The internet was a logical place to start and we did take a serious look at a fitness offering. Being on a successful fitness program at the time, this seemed a logical fit for the “fun” portion of the equation. It also appeared to be a real growth industry at the time. We met with the regional manager, went over the “Uniform Offering Circular” and met with a couple of franchisees.

At the same time, we got hooked up with a franchise consultant through FranChoice. This was probably one of the best moves we made during the process. The consultant talked to us about our backgrounds, work style, financials, etc. and then presented several options for franchises. He also told us about a program through Guidant Financial whereby I could parlay 401(k) funds into capital for the business venture. Shortly after starting our discussions with the consultant, we found a red flag with the fitness franchise… no “Discovery Day”! This is like a day long interview at the franchise corporate headquarters with the executives of the franchise. If a franchise doesn’t offer “discovery day”, be very suspicious.

We worked with our franchise consultant and went through the process of discussing our lifestyle, what we wanted out of the business, etc. He provided several concepts that may have worked out better than the one we chose, but rather than really look at the business, we looked with our hearts and emotions.

After doing a phone interview and a “Discovery Day” visit, we were off and running with a commitment for one location under our belts and an option for a second location. Little did we know what a ride we were in for.

Franchising can be a viable option when you find yourself unemployed, but several lessons learned need to be remembered:

  • You need to think about working on the business as opposed to working in the business
  • Find out the real success metrics for the business you are considering – not just revenue per day
  • Understand what kind of employees you will have in your chosen business
  • Choose with your reason and not your emotions
  • Think about your investment risk and how your market niche is performing

Money Market Accounts – Safety and Liquidity

With the economy in such poor shape, it is no surprise that people are looking for ways to maximize their return without sacrificing the liquidity or security they desire. Investing in risky stocks is not what a lot of American’s want to do with their money. But letting the money sit in a checking account losing value is not the best choice. Thankfully, online banking offers plenty of opportunities to move your money into accounts that not only offer convenience and security, but also a risk-free way to grow your money.
Money Market accounts are just one way to put your money to use. Money Market accounts are a cross between checking and savings accounts. They allow customers greater access to their money than a savings account while still allowing customers to earn interest on it.
M&T Online Banking has a new e-Money Market Account allows you to do just that. With 1.15% APY, your money can grow without the hassle of a CD. To sweeten the deal, there is no minimum balance and no monthly fees.
Opening an account is easy and can be done securely online. Although you have to open an account online to receive their special APY, you can call and talk to a representative or stop into any one of their over 650 branch locations for service once the account is open.
With the economy in recession and your new Money Market account just a click away, there is no excuse not to maximize your money’s potential!

Revisiting Lows

After enjoying a nice twenty percent rebound from November 20th through the first week of this year, the markets are pulling back aggressively once again and threaten to test their prior lows. The reasons are always difficult to pinpoint, but the fact that we are headed into earnings season probably has as much to do with it as anything else. Many would be buyers are likely on strike, preferring to wait for the news than guess on what has already been discounted. With a scarcity of buyers, prices get marked down to ensure some semblance of liquidity for those who need it.

This back and forth, trading range based action will likely become commonplace for most of 2009. We will likely see one or more nice bear market rallies and then aggressive sell-offs as potential catalysts for uncertainty approach. Our best advice for dealing in this environment is to be realistic with regards to personal, short term needs, tactical and incremental with regards to near term portfolio change, and long term with regards to investment trends and horizons.

So what does this mean?

As we stated in late summer when the bear market rally started to become ugly, every investor’s first responsibility is to themselves and their family. To this end, in an uncertain employment environment, make sure you have access to a year’s worth of liquid savings. If you do not have it now, do not make radical changes all at once, but incrementally over a period of months to build your cash cushion, from whatever sources exist. The ruth of the matter is that if you do not survive the short run, the long run will be hard to reach.

Tactically speaking, we repeat our view that the market will likely remain range bound between its prior lows of 740 on the downside and 1100 on the upside, until the economic fundamentals visibly improve. We seem to be in a down phase towards 740 as we write today’s entry. Of course, we have no idea if this low will actually hold – still about ten percent lower from current levels – but we take some comfort that it marked the low for 2008, a year that had a ton of very bad fundamental news, including several high profile bankruptcies, high stakes corruption, and severe liquidity squeezes.

Our plan of action calls for positioning the portfolio for an eventual long term recovery in the economy, within the constraints of a likely trading range. This means we will likely trim positions more aggressively as we approach the higher end of the range while hopefully maintaining the courage and fortitude to add back to or increase our positions at the lower end of the range. Of course, all of this is much easier said than done, but it remains our intent.

Over the long term, however, we remain primarily interested in investing in companies that are leveraged to longer term, defensible trends. While almost all companies are showing some signs of cyclicality in their business given the dual nature of the credit driven recession, the fact remains that over the long term, innovation will absolutely thrive in this environment as pain makes clearer our most pressing needs as a society.
Times are tough. But as we said in our year end commentary, do not allow the headlines to get you down. Many perfectly happy people around the globe do not even know that the stock market exists.

This is an article from our friends at Broadleaf Partners

Below is a description of their firm.

Broadleaf Partners is a Hudson, Ohio-based asset management firm focused on achieving superior investment returns and providing outstanding client service. We employ a concentrated growth style of investing, holding approximately thirty equity positions from a cross section of industries.

Our sector exposures typically reflect the outcome of our bottoms-up stock selection process, which is influenced by our assessment of the economy and other long-term trends. Innovative new ideas and themes are of particular interest and our all-cap approach provides our clients with the flexibility to invest where those opportunities abound.

At Broadleaf, our clients’ interests always come first. We are passionate about helping our clients achieve their investment goals and welcome the opportunity to help you achieve yours.

How to Improve Your Sense of Security in Uncertain Economy

Sense of Financial SecurityPeople are often being overly reactive when it goes to bad situations.

The recession itself is happening largely due to global public reaction toward financial crisis, that is more often than not, doesn’t actually affect them directly whatsoever.

Negative outlook on financial issues cost the community lost productivity, thus worsening the effect of the financial crisis.

As a major part of your community, you, in whatever way possible, need to feel secure about your financial stature.

Why? Because if you feel secure about your financials and your life in general, you will be able to affect the community surrounding you.

Sense of security

Improving personal sense of security has never been this important in the past decades.

Sense of security is driven by facts and assumptions. The more you assume, the more insecure you will be. The more you identify facts, the more secure you will be.

Sense of security = know more facts and less assumptions.

Assumptions can be ‘altered’ into and identified as facts – no matter they are right or wrong – if you increase your knowledge through learning from reliable sources.

Facts also related to control. If you want to feel secure, you need to gain (and regain) more control on your life based on a set or series of facts.

Financial sense of security

In term of finance, assumptions leave you unguarded.

For example, consider these statements: “Stock A will go up in 10 minutes.” “Real estate B will increase in value.” etc.

The problem in the above example, is due to the fact that nobody can guarantee the above statement. Any guarantees on such would be classified as misleading, even illegal.

On the other hands, facts can secure your personal finance and help you see things from the right perspective.

For example, consider these statements: “I’m getting a 10% rate of return on my investment.” “The foreclosure houses I bought make me $150 positive cashflow per month.”

Warren Buffet, the maestro of investment, do all of his investment based on intrinsic value – the facts – not based on the floating stock value on stock exchanges – the assumptions.

Again, it is all about control. “Sure things” improve control, hence reducing investment risks.

How to improve your financial sense of security these days

You need to get more facts about personal finance. You will eventually find out that there is a certain consensus between personal finance experts about some of the best practices in managing your finances.

Such knowledge you acquire should be enhanced with tools that can help you with a more exact (and measurable) facts. For example, the use of Savings Calculator to learn how much you would receive within a period of time can provide you with a measurable fact that allow you to decide what’s best for your personal finance – finding savings account that yield you more, finding new investment that can increase the speed of your money, and so on.

Nevertheless, your diligence in increasing your financial knowledge will determine how secure you feel about your personal finance, and how well you cope (and thrive) in today’s economic crisis.

Image by bragadocchio.

Faxless Payday Loan: Helping Hand or Quick Sand?

Helping HandWhen we talk about loans in any forms, they are always related to debts.

Taking loans can offer you two things: good debts and bad debts – good debts put money in your pocket, bad debts lose money from your pocket.

Your financial needs, situation and knowledge play important roles in making the loan bad debt or good debt.

Loans come in many flavours – One of the most talk about, in my opinion, is payday loans. Why is that?

Faxless payday loan – offering you financial solution, fast – a bit too fast to handle

Payday loan is a small amount, short-term loan that is intended to cover borrower’s financial need until his/her next paycheck received.

With the advent of the Internet, payday loans are becoming more and more accessible. The term “faxless payday loan” refers to payday loan which application is processed online, thanks to the Internet.

While in essence payday loan aims to help people regardless of their credit score, many accuse payday loan as the culprit that drown many people deeper in debt.

Not quite.

In my opinion, people inherit a common weakness. They want more for less, and they want it fast.

People are always looking for fast and instant remedies for their problems, including financial problems. Just like everything in life, such as fast food, instant means immediate gratification first and quality second.

Payday loan offers fast solution. Faxless payday loan even does things faster, due to online application processing and instant approval. The drawback, as always, is the sky-high interest rate.

Those bring interesting relationship: No matter how negative the reputation of payday loan is, it seems that more and more people need payday loan these days, and payday loan providers are thriving these days. Some sort of love-hate relationship between lenders and borrowers.

Reality check: Stop blaming payday loans – have you ever look things from the eye of payday loan providers?

I am appalled to know people are blaming payday loan. Although I’m not offering any payday loans or similar things and not involving in one either, I think there are too much bad apples thrown at lenders, accusing them as scammers.

Have you ever thought that it is borrower’s responsibility to keep him/her-self well-informed regarding what type of loans he/she is about to take? It is borrower’s responsibility to know what question to ask and when to take payday loans.

Many payday loan providers I know are trying hard to offer a solution. They bear huge risks – they lend to borrowers with no regard of their credit scores. That is why payday loans charge huge interest rate: to supplement the high risks of lending to borrowers with bad credit ratings.

The right borrowers do regard payday loans as the life-savers. do help people – the right one and the well-informed one, that is – getting out of debt.

How to use payday loan to your benefit

First thing first – learn everything you can about payday loan. It is your responsibility to learn about payday loan, about the providers, and about what to expect and when.

Always plan everything – You need to know how much will you get from the lenders, the amount of the interest you owe to the lenders, and most importantly, how the short-term loans can help you getting out of debt, and for how long. You can actually ask the payday loan providers to provide you with a calculation on how much would you pay in the end of the loan period.

If the plan looks positive, go for it. If not, run away from it.

One, last advice: Never, ever take any form of loans without the right knowledge about the loans. That only makes payday loan quick sand, not helping hands.

Image by toolfan.hess.

Where to Invest Your Money during Recession: Real Estate

Real Estate InvestingWhen you heard about real estate investing in today’s recession, the majority would react by saying, “avoid at all cost.”

The sub-prime mortgages, the sky-high interest rates, and the sharp decline in value – all seem against real estate investing.

However, I encourage you to have a surfer’s mindset that I have occasionally mentioned in my previous posts.

The surfer mindset

Surfer loves challenges. In fact, challenges are what make a surfer perform.

For example, in a surfing competition, weak tides can be a huge, single, factor that will fail the surfer to win the competition. The stronger the tides, the more challenging they will become and the better the surfers showcase their surfing skills.

However, take heed – if your surfing skills are somewhat low, strong tides will swallow you; The key is utilising the right skill sets on the right opportunities.

In your personal finance, you need to increase your financial knowledge in order to ride the right waves, with the right skill sets. Playing too safe will hinder you from achieving the financial milestones you have set. Exposing yourself to risks too much will put you into financial difficulties, even personal bankruptcy.

One of the waves in today’s tide of recession: real estate investing

Real estate is one of the hardest hit sector that causes property owners and brokers alike struggling financially.

If you thought about investing in real estate during recession, it wouldn’t be the right decision to invest your money.

Or, is it?

Many real estates are losing their value – how can they be a good place to invest your money?

Robert Kiyosaki, the best seller writer of Rich Dad Poor Dad series, stated controversially that a house is not an asset, because it is not putting money in your pocket.

General public and many experts are slamming him for such controversial statement, but his statement proves true in today’s recession.

Homes are losing value, the interest rates are high, and the demand is low – the dreaded sub-prime mortgage.

However, as everything in life, there is always a good thing in every bad thing.

Today is probably the best time to invest in real estate, for one reason: Higher mortgage interest rate = Lower real estate demand = lower price tag.

As the real estate business crashes, property prices are in decline, too. Foreclosures are everywhere – this means, opportunities are everywhere, at a discounted price tag. Of course, your eyes for real estate values and prospects play an important role.

One last advice: never invest in real estate with an expectation that your property’s value will go up – it’s not always the case. Instead, invest with cash flow comes first in mind – your property as a rental property.

Image by terren in Virginia.

New Year, New Hope: Plan Your Finance to Yield the Best Return

Finance InstitutionForget what some people said about how bleak the year 2009 is. The truth is, all we need right now is financial planning.

The premise – plan your finance well, and it will deliver you from financial woes that hit many who unprepared in 2007 and 2008.

The significance of financial planning in 2009

Financial planning has always been important.

Unfortunately, not all people believe the fact, until they were hit by financial problems. ‘Thanks’ to recession, the financial problems are magnified – due to the recession, financial planning has never been this important in the history of the mankind!

Particularly in 2009, financial planning is probably your most important task to do, either for your business finances or personal finances.

Creating a form of safety net or save haven for your money and finance will not only help you survive the recession, but also triumph over it.

Even better, you need to find a way to utilise all financial knowledge and tools you have to yield the best return for every penny or cent you have.

Here’s several plan ‘items’ you should consider thinking about.

Plan #1: Saving and deposit account – forget about it! Says hello to precious metals

As we know, banking and financial institutions are one of the hardest hit in today’s recession. In the US, the Fed squeezes record-amount of fund to keep those institutions afloat. Why? One of their fear: People rush to close their accounts.

However, in my opinion, that’s what you suppose to do – forget your saving and deposit account.

I’m not suggesting you to close your saving and deposit accounts – they are important parts in diversification. What I’m suggesting you is NOT to put too much money in them.

With the rising inflation in every part of the world, your saving and deposit accounts interest rates are becoming more and more insignificant.

You need to get back to what all the money in the world should base upon – gold and the other precious metals. Although the price of the metals are sky high, they are one of the safest investment forms today.

Plan #2: Utilise your credit cards better

Unlike most financial planners suggest, I suggest you not to cut your credit cards.

Instead, I recommend you to consolidate your credit cards – transfer your existing credit cards to lower APR ones or to credit card issuers that offer the most perks and rewards.

How to know which ones you should transfer balance to or apply for, invest some time to browse the Net for reviews and recommendations on credit cards issuer. Credit card sites offer alternatives you can consider, including which credit cards are good for what purposes.

My favourite credit cards story is that of my colleague’s – he shop for his business needs with his business credit cards. With tens of thousands dollar month after month business spending made on his credit cards, he is enabled to vacationing regularly and staying in luxury hotels, courtesy of his business credit card issuers – a win-win situation for credit card issuers and holders.

Plan #3: Cut bad debts, utilise good debts

When I say ‘utilise your credit card better’ in plan #2 above, I think credit cards as your ‘bridging’ in your financial planning. That being said, avoid using credit cards for loan purposes, as the interest rates are high.

Instead, cut any debts related to credit cards. In fact, cut any debts that are aimed to people with low credit scores, such as payday loan. Not that payday loan is not useful – it does in certain circumstances – but you should consider a lower interest loans that brings positive cash flow to your pocket.

Happy holiday and happy planning!

You need a break somehow, and be prepared for the coming 2009. Remember the butterfly effect I mentioned in my previous articles – what you do and think about your finances will affect your community – being positive is contagious, and it will eventually end the recession somehow.

I wish you have a happy holiday and happy planning!

Image by Zach Alexander.

Your Biggest Asset: Your Mind, Financial Knowledge and Information

Investment GuidePeople often forget that their biggest financial asset is not money, stocks, bonds, real estates or business. Your and my biggest asset is financial knowledge and information.

It is heartbreaking to learn that people work hard for years only to trust their money blindly to the so-called fund managers of mutual funds.

Not that mutual funds and the likes are bad – but it is about time that people start to put their money to what matters most – financial education.

The premise is, if you have the right education, you can control your financial in whatever your personal financial endeavours.

Why you need to invest your money and time to obtain financial education and information

Your mind is your biggest asset – your mindset, what you know, and what you believe can command your decision making.

What many people experience in today credit crunch and financial slumps is mainly due to their lack of financial knowledge and information. Lack of these commands your decision making quality, as people act according to the reality they have in their mind.

Well-informed mind will result in well-thought decision making, and this includes decision making that involves money.

How the lack of financial education affects you

Many personal bankruptcy stories are evolving around people that lost their money due to the stock market crash. The most irritating thing is, they lost their money not because of their bad investment decision, but because of their blind trust to fund managers to manage their fund.

The truth is, it’s not the fault of the fund managers – they do whatever they can, but the money owners themselves, for their lack of financial knowledge and information.

The moral of the stories is that people should regain control of their money – they have to decide where to invest in what, and when.

That is achievable through proper financial education, that can comes in many form – courses, seminars, mentorships, and many more. Unfortunately, those could cost you hundreds to thousands of dollar.

Fortunately, there are large amount of free resources available, thanks to the Internet

The best thing of the Internet is information. You can access finance articles, such as loans articles, personal finance articles, and other finance-related articles.

However, the Internet is so flooded with information, that you can get yourself biased due to the pros and cons, as well as different perspective of a financial issue.

The best way to choose which ones are the right ones for you, you can consult finance forums for recommendations, as well as, of course, visiting financial authority sites, such as Financial Times’ FT.com. Visiting finance section of large networks is also a good start – sites, such as Yahoo! Finance, CNN Finance, and other similar sites can offer you credible information that will help you in your personal finance endeavours.

Conclusion

Every single person should take care of their own financial welfare – The Government can’t do that for you. Your boss can’t do that for you. Your parents can’t do that for you. You have to stand up, take responsibility of your personal finance management.

Learn as many as you can, as knowledge will set you free – literally.

Image by Duncan Rawlinson.

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