Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Taxes, Uncategorized

Ditching Debt in the New Year

skTo learn Biblical answers to your financial questions, you can #AskChuck @AskCrown your questions by clicking here.

 

[column type=”two-thirds” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]Dear Chuck:

I know that getting out of debt is a great New Year’s resolution (I’m willing to try that one again!) but do you have any advice on something else that I should prioritize?

Looking for a New Idea.

Dear New Idea,

First, Happy New Year! This is a great question since most resolutions involve getting in better shape physically or fiscally (financially — may be a better word here)!

My encouragement is to keep this as your top priority as it is likely the best financial move you can make. You should also work to establish an Emergency Savings account.[/column]

 

[column type=”one-third” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]chuck-bentley[/column]

 

I have an idea that could kill two birds with one proverbial stone — this year get your taxes organized as quickly as possible so that you can file in January and put that money to work for you. The fact is, most of us are giving the government an interest free loan by having our withholding too high. We don’t realize that when we get that refund check, that money — which could have been working for you — has been sitting with Uncle Sam waiting for you to ask him to mail it back to you.

The average tax refund is more than $3,100, a good start on debt reduction in the New Years. You can file your taxes by mid-January, and if you file on-line, a refund won’t be far behind.

To get started, gather your tax records, and look through your finances for potential deductions. You can find some great tax tips from Crown here. One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you are a Do-It-Yourself tax preparers, whether you want to hire an accountant, or, like a good friend of mine in personal finance, do all of the above. You can save a little money by preparing your own taxes first and then having a professional take a look for a smaller fee. Your legwork can lead to savings.

With the help of tax filing software, filing your own taxes is a good idea if you keep good records and don’t have a complicated return. There are a number of good firms that help you to file on-line. We prefer 1040.com since we share the same values. But there are a number of others such as TurboTax, H&R Block or even an easy file process at IRS.gov.

Be aware that you will likely need to file a long form tax return if you’ve experienced a major life event, such as whether you got divorced or married, received an inheritance, came into some unexpected money, adopted a child or moved for work. File the long form if you own a business, have unusual deductions, or need to manage assets, especially if they are in multiple states.

Once you get your taxes filed and your refund is in your hand, if you have not previously tithed on this income, I recommend that you do so off your refund check. Then be sure to fully fund an emergency savings account, if you haven’t already. At Crown, we counsel people to first have an emergency fund of at least $1,000. If you need help in learning how to create a budget that includes tithing, click here, to see how to organize one.

But next, take that refund and get started on your resolution to get out debt. Try the debt snowball method and start by paying off the most expensive debt first. That is usually the credit card charging you the highest interest rate. Then work your way to the next debt using the money you are now saving by paying off the first debt completely. This will allow you to develop a snowball effect! Crown has many free resources to help you on your journey to becoming debt free, but if you need a debt management counselor to help you one-on-one, you can contact our friends at Christian Credit Counselors a non-profit organization that helps individuals consolidate and develop a plan to pay off your debt.

You’ll start your New Year better able to financially handle what comes next. It is certainly a guaranteed method to reduce stress!

 

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/new-year-money-finances-debt-free-tax-refund-154178/#27TgH38iwppMJpKj.99

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Tackling the Fear of Filing Taxes

Tackling the Fear of Filing Taxes

The holidays are over, a new year has begun, and now we are rolling into February: a month that brings Valentine’s Day to mind. Some people look forward to receiving candy hearts while others dread spending Valentine’s Day alone. However, getting snubbed by Cupid isn’t the only thing people dread in February. They also are very apprehensive about filing their taxes. How do you get started? How much money will you get back? How much will you owe? It’s enough to cause your stress level to skyrocket. Luckily, there are some things you can do to take the sting out of filing your taxes:

 

[column type=”one-fourth” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” ]dreadingtaxes[/column]

[column type=”three-fourths” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” last=”true”]

  • File your taxes as soon as you can. The due date for filing this year is April 18th. It is usually April 15th but that falls on a federal holiday and a Friday, thus, the due date is moved to the next normal business day on Monday the 18th which gives you a few extra days to file. Now that January is over, you should have received most of your information, such as your W-2s, in the mail. If you absolutely cannot file by the due date, you may want to go to the IRS website to see if you can file for an extension.[/column]

 

  • Look at all of your preparation options. It’s not a bad idea to research national organizations with locations near you that may offer free tax preparation for individuals with certain income limits. For example, United Way Worldwide has a program available during tax season called  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) that is sponsored by the IRS. Volunteers (such as retired CPAs) help families with a household income of under $53,000 prepare taxes for free, while another program helps you prepare your own taxes if your income is below $60,000 per year.
  • Research credits and deductions. There are some that could save you money which you may not know existed. For example, if you are eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit you would be able to claim a credit for expenses that you paid for child care so that you could work or look for work.
  • Make a plan for your tax refund or payment by creating/using a budget. Planning can drastically decrease stress and eliminate the temptation of unnecessary spending. If you get a refund, budget your money so you can tithe and achieve the priority of paying down debt. If you do not get a refund and you owe money, it is even more crucial to create a budget plan to pay the IRS. You have payment options. The best option, of course, is to budget and pay before the due date. If you cannot pay by the due date, there are options for payment plans. You may be eligible for an online payment agreement with the IRS. If not, you can still pay in installments by filing for an installment agreement (Form 9465). It is important to note that you must file all tax returns before applying for any payment agreement with the IRS. Also, keep in mind that if you do not pay by the due date you will be subject to penalties and interest. For more information on this and other payment options, visit www.irs.gov or contact the IRS directly.

 

Learning helpful tips like these, researching your options, and making a plan will help reduce the fear of filing your taxes, thus, allowing you to focus more on positivity, tranquility and love, no matter what month of the year it is.

 

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14 Money-Saving Valentine’s Day Ideas!

Debt Free Valentine’s

Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Think fun.

Some of the best gifts involve sharing time, along with a little thoughtfulness. And the memories last far longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Here are 14 ways to express your love on the 14th — or any other day for that matter.

For a spouse or significant other:

1. Time in a bottle:

Give your hardworking spouse a full day to do whatever he or she wants — or just to relax — no interruptions allowed. For him, that mean he gets to engage in his hobby, watch the game, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might mean you feed and entertain the kids while she indulges in a good book, a bubble bath or a manicure. Announce your gift — along with your most heartfelt message of love and appreciation — in your best handwriting or play with various fonts on your home computer. Clean up an old wine bottle and insert the rolled-up message tied with a red bow.

2. Dining out:

Sure, you can take your loved one out to dinner, but that can get expensive. Instead, eat out — as in outdoors. A picnic in a park or at the beach will fill the bill. In frostier climes, set up a picnic blanket and basket at the dining room table, on the living room floor or in the middle of that king-size bed. Add a rose or two (rather than a dozen) for atmosphere.

3. New adventures:

Do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, or “someplace you haven’t been in a while that’s special,” says John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routine, “that’s what creates the memory,” he says.

4. Surprise, surprise:

For guys that don’t normally cook, Gray says, your best attempt at a home-cooked meal can be a huge treat and doesn’t have to cost anything. Or hide a note under her pillow the night before or little notes around the house on the day, telling her what she means to you. Look at the little things. “What men don’t realize about Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot,” says Gray. “Little things make the difference. The surprise factor is nice, whenever possible,” Gray says.

5. Culture up:

Does your significant other delight in museums, foreign films or rare books? In most metro areas, you can find high-culture, low-dollar activities if you know where to look. (Start with the local paper, check online and you can even call the local library or cultural organizations for suggestions.) Many museums have free days. Movie houses have special times when tickets are heavily discounted. For the book lover, plan a trip to a rare book shop, and splurge for cappuccino and biscotti at a nearby coffee house.

For the parents:

6. Creature comforts:

For mom or dad it’s always a good idea to focus on the creature comforts. Let her sleep late and bring her coffee or orange juice and a simple breakfast in bed. “Some of the best stuff is free,” says Melina Bellows, author of “The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family,” and editor in chief of National Geographic Kids. Give dad or mom — especially if you have a single parent — the gift of an hour of “me-time” when they get home from work just to decompress, says Eric Stromer, author of “Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together,” and host of HGTV’s “Over Your Head” and AOL’s “Do-It-Yourself with Eric Stromer.” “Try it Friday or Monday,” he says. If you know dad will retreat to his man-cave, post some kind of thank you note or affirmation there, just to let him know how much you appreciate his hard work.

7. Get techy wid it:

The perfect gift for parents from teens and college kids. “Offer to be mom’s tech concierge,” says Bellows. Teach her to text, or show her how to download music or movies. If she’s wanted to investigate social networking, introduce her to Facebook, and create (with her permission) a page for her, so that she can catch up with her high school and college friends. Or, if you have a few bucks, do the old mixed tape one better and load up her MP3 player with a playlist of music you know she’ll like.

8. Child labor:

Sure, you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time making sure your parents know you love them. Make a book of coupons for your parents filled with jobs you promise to do for the week, month or year: things like shining dad’s shoes, washing mom’s car, watering the plants or even taking out the trash.

For the kids:

9. Cooking up some love:

Kids will remember the Valentine’s Day they baked cookies with mom or dad. With little kids, opt for something simple, like heart-shaped cookies. With older children, consider cupcakes with more elaborate Valentine’s Day decorations. Then turn off the TV one night and have family game time or story time. Get out the old favorites or create a few new ones.

10. Treasure of love:

Kathy Peel, author of “The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home,” suggests hosting a treasure hunt. “Post clues (pictures, rhymes or words) to direct family members from one location to another until they find their treasure: a small Valentine’s Day gift,” she says.

11. Get crafty:

Try a family craft project, says Stromer. “Nothing spells love more than a heart made out of balsa wood and hung on the front door,” he says. Balsa is inexpensive, easy to work with (you can often use tools that you already have), and available at local craft stores. Paint it, let it dry and display it prominently, says Stromer.

12. Start the day with love:

Celebrate with a Valentine’s Day breakfast, says Bellows. For a lot of families, the morning routine is hectic. So take some time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast. Go for something traditional with a twist, like their favorite pancakes in heart shapes. Keep with the Valentine’s theme by using lots of strawberry or cherry syrup and whipped cream. And focus on the foods they really love.

13. Work together:

Take a few hours on Saturday to work together as a family on a project geared to the abilities of the kids. Build — or even just hang — a bird house. You can find kits in craft stores or if you’re not handy, take the children to pick out a seed ball. Then, together, select a spot where it can be seen from indoors and hang it. Not only do you help foster local wildlife (and help creatures during the cold winter months), you and your family get to enjoy a little bit of nature in your own backyard. Another thought: Make your own kite. A little newspaper (or other heavy paper or light cloth), some balsa wood (available at craft stores), string and poster paints can add up to a pretty fantastic kite. (Check Internet sites or children’s craft books at the library if you need examples or instructions.) See who can design the prettiest, fastest, most colorful or most unusual kite. You can display them in the kids’ rooms or around the house. Then on the first sunny, windy day, try them out.

For any situation:

14. Be a friend:

Know someone who’s alone? Set aside some time to share a meal, go on an outing, or swap recipes or gossip. It can cost virtually nothing, and you’ll likely gain a lot more than you give.

By: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/14-loving-but-inexpensive-valentine-gifts-1.aspx#ixzz3ywr2cEQv

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Credit Card – Avoiding the Debt Trap this Holiday Season

Gift Giving on Credit

Staying out of debt can be almost as difficult as paying it off especially when our emotions take over. After all, buying gifts for our loved ones during the holiday season is a very emotional purchase.

Preparing for gifting should begin way before the holiday season. In a survey conducted by The American Research Group, Inc., 2014 Christmas gift spending was up 8% over 2013 with an average of $861 spent per adult consumer. So what is the most efficient and painless way to save money for the holidays each year?

Budgeting for Gift Giving

Creating a management budget at the beginning of each year will ensure you achieve your financial goals, establish a savings, and have funds set aside for gifts and holidays throughout the year. First, calculate how much money you spend on the holidays annually and divide that by 12 months. This is how much money you will need to set aside in your monthly budget for holiday spending. There are many spending trackers and saving tools out there but sometimes its easiest to just create an envelope labeled holidays and put cash in it each month. This might seem like a tedious task, however when the time comes to buy gifts and holiday items throughout the year it will be nice to already have the cash available and not have to worry about denting your budget.

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    Your Spending Habits and Your Holiday Spirit

    The Average American’s Holiday Spending Habits

    Already thinking about everything you have to do for the holiday season? Does the thought of holiday preparation stress you out? According to the National Retail Federation, it was estimated that the average American spent $77.52 on candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween in 2014. According to a CNBC report, the average American planned to spend $765 on Christmas for the holiday season as well. Is this how much you will spend this year? To avoid answering yes to this question, start planning ways to save money now.

    Holiday Money Saving Tips

    Shop with a Gratitude Attitude

    The first, and possibly greatest, thing that you can do to save money this season is to adjust the way you THINK about the holidays. Rather than getting caught up in the commercials, products, and social pressures, concentrate on the things you already have in your life that you can use or recycle and the people you already have in your life to whom you can show love and appreciation. Concentrate more on the FEELING that you can give someone else rather than the MATERIALS you can give them. For Halloween, get creative and make your own costumes during a Family Craft Night. Change your spending habits by making it about the experience rather than shopping. Can’t afford to make or host a big dinner? Plan a family movie night, rent scary movies, and gorge on popcorn and pizza.

    Make Random Acts of Kindness a Holiday Norm

    Instead of buying gifts, clean the car or house for your spouse, make a collage of old photos for a friend or family member, call a distant friend or relative and leave a Christmas Carol voicemail to spread cheer over the phone, make a list of reasons why you love someone or appreciate someone, write a song or poem for them, and make decorations using household items such as a string of popcorn. Use this new mentality to set the tone for your entire family. For any other holiday necessities, you can financially prepare to save money by creating a budget and setting aside a small amount every week or paycheck. Just remember though, gratitude, love, and the right mentality can save you and your family A ton of money this holiday season, especially if you are all on the same page.

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      Fall Money Saving Tips

      Cutting Costs at Home

      There are many ways you can save money and have fun doing it this holiday season. Falling leaves and decomposing Jack-o-Lanterns are the perfect way to start a compost pile this fall. Starting now means you’ll be one step ahead when spring arrives.

      Make sure your roof is free of holes, destruction and critters; if it isn’t, repair the damage or shoo the animals away. Assess the gutters as well as the chimney. Nothing is worse than a cold, rainy winter inside the home without a fireplace. Repairing now helps ensure you don’t have any last minute problems during the winter.

      It’s also very important to weatherproof your home. Chances are, you’ll be using your heater this winter. Rather than lose all of that precious heat, weatherproof your windows, doors and anything else you can think of.

      Restock on winter essentials before they’re all snatched up. Coats, food, gloves and boots are some important winter items that disappear as it gets closer to December.

      Shopping on a Budget

      The holidays are almost upon us, and that means holiday shopping is close at hand. If you start shopping around in October and November, it will be a lot easier to pick up the perfect present than if you were to wait closer to Christmas time.

      So many fruits and vegetables come into season in the fall, so don’t forget to stock up. Not only will you get cheaper produce, but it will be nice and fresh. And as always, use coupons to save even more.

      Look out for fall and holiday deals and coupons. There’s something about the festive, fall season that puts stores in such a great mood. So many places are offering seasonal items for super cheap; it’d be a shame if you didn’t partake.

      Lowering Travel Expenses

      If you’ll be flying at some point during fall, purchase tickets in the middle of the week. Most sales occur Tuesday through Thursday, so when planning a trip buy on the less busy days.

      Compare round-trip flights to one-way flights. Sometimes flying round-trip isn’t necessarily the best deal. If you can save more on two tickets, take that deal.

      Luggage and travel accessories are going on sale during this time of the year. If you’re in need of a new suitcase, now’s the time to buy one for that vacation coming up.

      Your Entertainment Costs

      Bike riding is a great way to let off steam in the cool air, while also getting where you want to go! Exercising and saving money never felt so good.

      Take a walk with the family. Play board games with your kids and significant other by the fireplace instead of sitting in front of the TV. Find new and fun ways to spend time with those you love. Parks are also a great place to go; they’re usually free and offer many great family-friendly amusements.

      Harvest festivals, farmers markets, and city events are a super fun and cheap way to get outside as well. Pumpkin patches offer a great time for you and your kids, and spending time together is always a beautiful fall activity.

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        Student Loan Info You Need to Know

        Learning Student Loans: Understand and Prepare for the Cost of Your Education

        Looking for more information about student loans, their features, and repayment options? Christian Credit Counselors, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) with a mission to provide free financial education to individuals and families both locally and nationwide, is now offering a free, online webinar entitled Learning Student Loans: Understand and Prepare for the Cost of Your Education. Christian Credit Counselors is committed not just to helping people get out of debt, but providing them with free resources and education to STAY out of debt and live a life of financial freedom.

        The Learning Student Loans webinar is designed to give you an overview of the types and features of student loans so that you can make the best, most informed decision on your journey to obtain the education you need for your career and life. The webinar will discuss free financial aid options, loan types, repayment plans, loan consolidation, forbearance, deferment, loan forgiveness, what to do if your loan is in default, and useful resources that will help you stay in control of your loan and payments. Whether you already have a student loan or you are thinking about getting one in the near or distant future, this webinar will help inform you of your loan and repayment options so that you are best prepared to pay back your loan successfully.

        Click on the video below to view the webinar.

         

        Click here to download the free handout:

        When you are done with the webinar video you can also take a quick survey by using the button below:

        If you have questions or would like more information, email education@christiancreditcounselors.org or call 1-800-557-1985 ext. 131.

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          Budget Boss

          Budget Boss: Command Your Finances by Creating and Monitoring a Budget

          Looking for a way to improve your financial situation and set yourself up for financial success in the future? Christian Credit Counselors, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) with a mission to provide free financial education to individuals and families both locally and nationwide, is now offering a free, online webinar entitled Budget Boss: Command Your Finances by Creating and Monitoring a Budget. Christian Credit Counselors is committed not just to helping people get out of debt, but providing them with free resources and education to STAY out of debt and live a life of financial freedom.

          The Budget Boss webinar will teach you the importance and benefits of a budget. It will walk you through the steps of the budgeting process including setting goals, evaluating assets and expenses, creating a budget, and monitoring a budget. In addition, it will show you how to use a budget to create wealth by decreasing spending and increasing income. Finally, it will give you suggestions on how to avoid common roadblocks as well as helpful budgeting resources. Whether you feel like you are drowning in debt and don’t know where to start in finding a solution or you simply want to set up a budget to save for your first car out of college, this webinar will serve as a great tool in creating and monitoring a budget so you have the knowledge and skills to make the best financial decisions for your future.

          Click on the video below to view the webinar.

          Click here to download the free handout:

          When you are done with the webinar video you can also take a quick survey by clicking the button below:

          If you have questions or would like more information, email education@christiancreditcounselors.org or call 1-800-557-1985 ext. 131.

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            Student Loans: Preparation and Planning

            Applying for Student Loans

            News Flash: the most important part of your student loan occurs before you even get the loan.   What you do before taking out the loan can have the greatest impact on your life. It can mean the difference between paying back the loan in full to live a financially free life and being in default with mounting anxiety, stress and depression. This immense impact comes down to three main components:

            1. Your attempt to get as much free financial aid as possible before taking out a loan
            2. Your extent of knowledge and research on student loans
            3. Your creation of a repayment plan before you even apply for the loan

            Before you borrow money, research and apply for as much free financial aid as possible. Grants and Scholarships are the main categories of free aid. Scholarships are often based on merit, meaning it depends on your academic worthiness or other accomplishments. Grants are often awarded based on financial need. Visit the financial aid website at your prospective university or college, local institutions (such as your credit union), the Federal Student Aid website at www.studentaid.ed.gov , and contact family, friends, and mentors to learn about other free aid opportunities. It is never too early to start researching. Always be aware and keep your grades up because many scholarships are offered based on GPA and performance throughout high school! Also look into a Work Study program, which allows students to work part-time to earn money for their education expenses.

            Researching Student Loans

            After this, if you find that you still are in need you can research student loans to cover the rest of your cost of attendance. There are multiple federal loan options including Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Federal Perkins Loans. Research the qualifications and decide the best option. For instance, if you can demonstrate enough financial need, you may qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan where the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest. Also before acquiring the loan, study the repayment plans that are available. For more information, take the Student Loan Webinar that will soon be offered by Christian Credit Counselors at www.christiancreditcounselors.org or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov. If you decide on a private loan, research it thoroughly as well because they may have less repayment options and different terms.

            Repaying Your Loan

            Finally, make sure that YOU have a vision and plan of how you will repay your loan beforehand. Decide on a repayment plan offered by the loan servicer then calculate your monthly payment and the income you will need to start paying now or after the grace period (depending on the loan). Perhaps you need a part-time job on or off campus to help make payments during school. Even if you do not have to make payments until after graduation, a repayment and income plan could help you make decisions about your academic program and career choice.

            In short, applying for as much free financial aid as possible, researching loan options, and creating a repayment plan before acquiring a student loan gives you the best chance to repay it in full and live a student loan-free and stress-free life!

             

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              Debt Counseling Firms – Signs to Look For

              Drowning in Debt

              When you are drowning in debt and can’t seem to make a dent, it may feel as if there is no answer. Many individuals want to avoid filing for bankruptcy if possible because of the long-term negative effects. However, few know about the alternatives that are available. Debt counseling can help you get back on track financially, as long as you choose the right firm.

              A Non-Profit Organization

              There are many for-profit companies that claim to help you get out of debt more quickly. However, these businesses are looking to make money themselves. This means they aren’t likely to find you the lowest interest rates and may even turn debtors away because they don’t think it is worth the effort. A non-profit organization is typically only involved to help people. Money isn’t a factor.

              Accessibility

              Debt counseling isn’t something that can often be completed in one session. You may need to talk to a representative multiple times to complete the tasks. Because of this fact, it is essential to choose a firm that can be accessed through email or phone for the best response times. Look for a company that offers extended hours and a toll-free number to make communication easier.

              Experience and Qualifications

              Debt consolidation is a sensitive matter. You need to be certain you are working with a firm that can give you the results you are looking for. As you evaluate each firm, check into the amount of experience they have, how many creditors they work with and what qualifications their counselors must go through. This will ensure you make the right choice to eliminate your debt more quickly.

              If you are interested in debt counseling, it is time to learn what to look for. When you understand what a good firm will offer, you can increase the chances of making the right choice and decrease your risks of getting scammed. After all, the end goal is to eliminate your debt, not find yourself in deeper financial problems.

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