Friday, November 18, 2016

The Retirement Plan-Success of Failure

When one reads about retirement planning, the writer usually focuses on planning for retirement. An equally important part of that plan needs to focus on what to do after retirement. A spending plan normally covers the adequacy of income over expenses during retirement and whether or not that income is sufficient over a long period of time. A well-developed spending plan is much more than that. Increasing life spans (and the corresponding lengthening of retirement years) has some interesting consequences.

A symposium at the recent Financial Advisors “Inside Retirement” conference (May 5-6, 2016 in Dallas, Texas) included a discussion on why people “fail” at retirement. Failure is not defined as “bankruptcy,” or inability to retire; , only a failure to live retirement as originally planned. Some of the items discussed for such failure include the following:

  1. Health Care—Health care costs are increasing, even if one has health insurance. A retired couple could easily face medical costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over their life spans. A USA Today article (March 14, 2015, “How much will health care cost in retirement?”) quoted a study indicating that a man will spend $116,000 on health care in retirement; a woman will spend $131,000. Fidelity Investments has projected that a 65 year old couple retiring in 2015 will spend $245,000 on health care during their retirement.
  2. Divorce—Surprisingly, an increase in divorces in the 50 plus age group has appeared. The reduction in assets from such a separation means a potentially lower standard of living for both parties. Multiple marriages (through divorce or death) may also bring the necessity of planning for a subsequent re-marriage. Pre-nuptial agreements, especially where a disparity of assets exists between the couple, can prevent many future problems and are a definite item to consider.
  3. Overspending—Prior to retirement, a couple may spend more (especially on week-ends when they are not working) than they do in the normal course of living with a five day a week job. At retirement, every day is Saturday! Spending patterns may need to be adjusted significantly (i.e. reduced).
  4. Children-Parenting never stops. Many children return home after college to save money until they “get established.” Helping a child with bills, a substance abuse problem, or even a special needs child can add significantly to retirement outflows.
  5. Second Home-A second home purchased prior to retirement might be easily maintained financially while working. In retirement, property maintenance, insurance, property taxes, etc. may become more of a financial burden.
  6. Business-Starting a business in retirement may sound appealing, especially if another family member (see “Children” above) is involved. Some basic rules apply: a) It will cost more than you think, and b) revenues will come in more slowly than you plan. Always have a good business plan and, if other parties are involved, have a written agreement spelling out what is to be done. Allocate a set dollar amount (the maximum which you can afford to lose in entirety) to prevent “throwing good money after bad.”
  7. Identity-Many individual’s identity and self-worth are associated with their professional, work life. Retirement can change that significantly. Prepare for that transition. Retire to something, not from something.
Most individuals work long and hard during their active career; they look forward to a retirement period that matches their expectations. We at Paragon Financial Advisors assist our clients in developing plans for and during retirement. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

“It’s the Life Insurance Guy Again”


How much should I own?

How do I know how much death benefit is appropriate for my family? This is where working with a Financial Planner can help you accurately assess how much exactly your family would need today if you were to pass. How much of your current debts, future college costs and retirement would you like covered if your family were to have to cover these costs without your income? Many times life insurance agents will try to sell more insurance coverage than is needed to earn more commission on a higher annual premium. We always recommend consulting with Paragon Financial Advisors before buying a policy.

What type of life insurance should I own?

Term Insurance- this is the most affordable way to purchase a death benefit; you can lock in your premium for a set amount of years or “Term”. Many term policies allow you to convert the policy from term or temporary coverage to a permanent policy at the same risk class you were approved on for your term policy years prior. But why would you want to do that? Let’s say that Bob was approved at Select Preferred for a 20 year term policy and a $500,000 death benefit. At year 10 of the policy being in effect, Bob gets a rare disease that could potentially cause him to die prematurely in the next 10-20 years. With the conversion option, Bob has the ability within the life of the 20 year term policy to convert it to a permanent life policy at his select preferred rating without going through medical underwriting again. Otherwise, it’s very likely he would be uninsurable and denied life insurance coverage.

Universal Life Insurance- this is a form of permanent life insurance that allows for flexibility on the premium payment each year. Universal life is generally a less expensive means to a permanent life insurance policy offering the same death benefit compared to other forms of permanent insurance. Additionally, VUL (Variable Universal Life) or IUL (Indexed Universal Life) contracts offer higher potential returns than some other fixed insurance contracts. With a VUL or IUL contract the insurance and administrative expenses are not fixed and could increase as the insured nears mortality age. As interest rates continue to fall since 2008, many Universal Life policy holders from pre 2008 have received notice that their premiums are going up. The flexibility that these life insurance companies offer comes with flexibility on their end as well. Another disadvantage to Universal Life policies are surrender charges to cash values, which can vary from company to company, but many times are 10 years or more. This limits your ability to access the full portion of the cash values until the surrender schedule has been met. Let’s quickly explain some of the different types of Universal Life contracts.

  • Guaranteed Universal Life: a “GUL” contract accrues little cash value, maintains a level death benefit and a level premium guaranteed to a certain age (Most are to age 100 or for life). This looks and acts very similar to term insurance, except it is for the insured’s lifetime.
  • Variable Universal Life: a “VUL” contract does accrue cash values and has a potentially increasing death benefit with a minimum guaranteed face value that stays in force as long as the premiums are paid. The accrual of cash values and the death benefit is tied to the performance of “separate accounts” which for all intents and purposes are mutual funds. These contracts offer the policy owner market participation via these separate accounts. If the policy underperforms than it could require the policy owner to dump more money into the contract to keep it in force.
  • Indexed Universal Life: “IUL” contracts are the most popular universal life policies currently sold. Unlike a VUL contract, they are actually a fixed interest rate product that offers a crediting rate tied to an index, mostly the S&P 500. Insurance companies generally offer several crediting methods: monthly sum, monthly average, a trigger method, or the most popular point to point. These policies many times offer a “floor” or minimum crediting rate to the policy of say +.5% even though the S&P 500 Index return for the year was negative. However, they also “cap” the upside potential of the return of the index and it’s important to note that the insurance companies do have the ability to lower the cap rate and the participation rate on inforce policies. Many IUL policies offer 100% participation up to 12.5%. One final note, the crediting rate applied based on the return of the S&P 500 does not include dividends, a sizeable portion of the total return over 10, 20 and 30 year time periods.

Whole Life Insurance- this is a permanent form of life insurance that accrues cash value and has a guaranteed “face” value or death benefit. Most whole life policies have a contractual guarantee on the return of cash values, many of the large mutual insurers offer 4% currently. It is important to note that this is not a 4% return on your total premium paid but a guarantee return on the net amount applied to cash value after all expenses have been taken out of your premium for the cost of insurance and operational expense. In addition, whole life policies may pay “dividends” into the policy, though these are not guaranteed. This term is not to be confused with the dividend that you receive from some of your stocks in your investment portfolio. Dividends from a mutual company are a return of surplus profits from their investment earnings, mortality experience (death benefits paid) and expenses over that time period and returned to their policy holders, hence the name participating life insurance. When contemplating a whole life policy, generally a well-designed one should reveal positive net cash values at the end of year 5 or 6 under the Current Assumptions Illustration.

What is the purpose of life insurance?

Risk Management: depending on how long your debts and future expenses extend, will help you determine the appropriate length of time you need coverage and what amount of coverage is needed. Many times term insurance will suffice for this need.

Estate Tax: the goal of this policy is to get the highest return of your premium on the death benefit. Many times a husband and wife will get a joint, last survivor policy that pays on the death of the second insured’s passing. This usually allows the insureds to get more death benefit for the same amount of premium. Also, when dealing with estate tax issues, it’s important to note that life insurance does offer an income tax free death benefit, but this amount is included in the value of the estate. In order to exclude the death benefit from the inclusion into the estate value for estate tax purposes, an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust or “ILIT” is often used.

Creditor Protection & Cash Accumulation: life insurance is a creditor protected asset in the state of Texas and allows the policy holder to enjoy creditor protection on their life insurance values. Once you have maximized your retirement vehicles, life insurance if designed appropriately, may be a good place to put some excess cash.

Tax deferral & Tax Free Distributions: life insurance cash values do enjoy tax deferred growth as the policy values accumulate. In addition, after all premiums have been withdrawn, policy holders can take out cash via loans as a tax free distribution assuming the policy is not a Modified Endowment Contract

What is a Modified Endowment Contract?

A ‘MEC’ is essentially a policy that’s cash value has been “overfunded” based on the limits under the Internal Revenue Code. When a policy is classified as a MEC, any distributions from cash values of the policy are received on a taxable basis first or Last In First Out “LIFO” accounting method. The interest received on premiums is taxed at ordinary income rates and then the premium portion is returned tax free. A ‘MEC’ still benefits from a tax free death benefit, tax deferred growth and creditor protection. To determine if a contract is a MEC, a premium limit is set. This limit (referred to as a seven-pay limit or MEC limit) is based on the annual premium that would pay up the policy after the payment of seven level annual premiums. This limit is based upon rules established by the Internal Revenue Code, and it sets the maximum amount of premium that can be paid into the contract during the first seven years from the date of issue in order to avoid MEC status. Under what is known as the MEC test, the cumulative amount paid at any time in the first seven years cannot exceed the cumulative MEC limit applicable in that policy year.

What company should I use?

First, it’s important to make sure the life insurance company you’re considering is a stable and functioning company able to pay claims to its policy holders with enough reserves set aside to meet these obligations. You never want to purchase a policy from a company that is more sick than you are when you need them! Finding one with a Comdex score above 90 or a minimum Moody’s Investors Service rating of AA or higher is strongly recommended.

Secondly, we recommend using a broker to shop your life insurance need out to many different carriers. Career Agents or those working for a specific life insurance company, have strong incentives tied to their personal benefits to sell their company’s policies even though it may not be the very best one for your situation.

Please contact the Paragon Financial Advisors to review your life insurance policy(s) or help you review the available options to meet your life insurance needs. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.
 
 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Longevity of Retirement Income

In early May, we attended an “Inside Retirement” conference sponsored by Financial Advisors magazine; the topics were centered on “income and longevity.” Various nationally known speakers discussed pertinent items related to those themes. We found some presentations worthy of discussion here. Some presentations were individual speakers; some presentations, panel discussions. Various concepts were presented for discussion; we don’t necessarily agree with all ideas presented but did find most of them thought provoking.
 
The World Today
 
Interest rates today are at historic lows. The 10-year US Treasury note yields approximately 1.8%, and some overseas developed countries have negative interest rates for their sovereign bonds. Low interest rates mean lower earnings available from an investor’s bond portfolio to supplement retirement income. Also, since bond prices relate inversely to currently low interest rates (as interest rates increase, bond prices decrease), bond prices are currently high.  The Federal Reserve Governors have continuing discussion about when (not if) to raise interest rates.
 
The stock market also poses some interesting challenges. Volatility in the market is significant, and some market analysts feel that stocks may be overvalued. Low interest rates have made some investors move into dividend yielding stocks in search of return—taking increased risk in the stock market in exchange for a higher current yield. Note that this higher current yield could be offset by loss in value if the stock prices decrease.
 
Other sources of retirement income have come into question. Social Security, a major source of retirement income for many Americans, faces funding shortages in the not too distant future. Changes are needed; however, the nature of those changes is still to be decided.
 
Finally, retirement life spans appear to be increasing. As life expectancies increase (and people are not working significantly longer), the length of time spent in retirement increases. Couple that increased longevity with potentially higher health care costs, and we face increasing pressure for financial longevity.
 
What to Do?
 
Much has been written and discussed about retirement planning (or the lack thereof) of Americans. We believe that retirement should also have a defined plan. Such planning should include planning for contingencies, structuring an investment portfolio, and a distribution strategy from any qualified plans. Since our major discussion above was related to investments, that’s what we will discuss here.
 
Market volatility is a fact of life. Stock market downturns will occur: the questions are when and how much. A retiree needs a stock component in a retirement portfolio. Stocks provide the long term growth necessary to preserve buying power over the long term—especially given the longevity previously discussed. Consequently, an investment portfolio should be structured to provide several characteristics.
 
  1. Liquidity--enough liquidity to cover necessary expenses over years when the stock market is down. This structure implies cash equivalents and bonds to cover 4-5 years of needed income without having to sell stock in a down market. Liquidity also means the ability to readily convert a portfolio holding into cash. In the 2008 downturn, some securities (auction rates) could not be readily sold at a fair market price.
  2. Total Return—low interest rates practically guarantee that an investor cannot meet all income needs from interest income only. Therefore, consider an investment plan that encompasses interest/dividend income with harvesting some of the investment gain in the portfolio. That’s “total return” investing where the income needs from the portfolio are met from a combination of dividends, interest, and gain from appreciated securities.
  3. Diversification—much has been made of the need to diversify assets. That diversification should include asset classes that may not have been utilized in the past. Use of alternative investing strategies (hedging techniques, conservative option strategies, etc.) and asset classes (commodities, etc.) may be warranted in selected portfolios. Note that alternative investing may be used to reduce risk, not just as a yield enhancement.
 
Investing for long term income in the current environment poses special challenges. Not all items mentioned here are necessarily advisable for all investors. We at Paragon Financial Advisors assist our clients in building portfolios that match that particular client’s goals and objectives. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas. We offer financial planning and investment management.
 
 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Retirement-The Big Picture

In early May, we attended an “Inside Retirement” conference sponsored by Financial Advisors magazine; the topics were centered on “income and longevity.” Various nationally known speakers discussed pertinent items related to those themes. We found some of the presentations worthy of discussing here.

 Alicia H Munnell (Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences at Boston College, and director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College) gave a presentation with the title of this blog: The Big Picture. She has written extensively on income in retirement. Some of her major points include the following:

  • More than one-half of today’s workers will not be able to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. Why not?
    • People will live longer.
    • In spite of this increasing life span, people will work only a “little” longer before retiring—thus increasing their retirement life span.
    • Health care costs are increasing. The increasing cost of care will be coupled with increased cost of health insurance—both private insurance through the Affordable Health Care Act and through Medicare Part B increases. In 1980, Part B Medicare premium was 6.8% of the Social Security benefit; in 2030 it is estimated to be 19.4%.
    • Interest rates are at historic lows; lower rates reduce the amount of income generated from personal savings.\
  • Retirement income has historically come from a combination of a) Social Security benefits, b) pension plans (either defined benefit or defined contribution), and c) individual savings. Let’s examine each separately.
    • In 1985, Social Security benefits represented 42% of pre-retirement earnings. After Part B Medicare costs, the proportion decreased to 40%. Benefits were not taxable at that time so there was no further erosion due to income taxes. By 2030, those proportions are estimated to be 36% replacement before Medicare and income taxes; 32% after Part B Medicare expense, and 30% after Medicare and income taxes. Note that these percentages represent current replacement rates and do not include any potential changes to remedy the Medicare shortages currently under discussion.
    • We live in a DC (defined contribution) or 401(k) world. The older DB (defined benefit) or pension plan is fast disappearing.  401(k)s limit the employer obligation only to offer contribution of funds to a retirement plan. The acceptance—and performance—of the plan is shifted to the employee from the employer. Here’s where we stand:
      • Employees who don’t join the plan—21%
      • Employees who contribute less than 6% of their pay—53%
      • Plans with high asset fees—54%
      • Plans losing assets through “leakage” (i.e. cash outs, hardship withdrawals, post 59 ½ penalty free withdrawals, loans, etc.)—25%Note: This leakage impact over the life of the plan can reduce the ending amount at retirement by as much as 25%.
      • Retirees who don’t have a systematic plan for withdrawing assets in retirement—99%  How much (and when) should withdrawals be made from a retirement plan? Too much too soon and the retiree can run out of money; too little too late and IRS required minimum distributions can have significant income tax and Medicare Part B premium impact.
  • Individual savings (or the lack thereof) are a topic for a separate writing; they warrant a much greater discussion which we will examine later.
  • So what should a pre-retiree do?
    • Work longer. A longer working career has the dual advantage of allowing retirement savings to grow and reducing the time during which retirement assets are needed.
    • Save more. Savings should be increased preferably through a systematic plan (such as a 401(k)) or a periodic contribution to a savings account.
    • Consider non-traditional sources of retirement income. There are two primary assets for most employees today: their 401(k), and their home. Tapping the home asset is a complex topic—another one that will be addressed in a separate writing. Home assets should be used only after careful analysis and with a full understanding of all their ramifications.
We at Paragon Financial Advisors strive to assist our clients in formulating a “big picture” for retirement. Please call us and we can discuss your individual circumstances.   Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas. We offer financial planning and investment management.


Monday, April 18, 2016

"Robo" Retirement??

There is much discussion today about “robo” or “robot” advisors (i.e. advice given by computer based on your input). Just answer a few questions, press a button, and you have the asset allocation you need for investments or you will know if you can retire.  The Saturday/Sunday February 20-21, 2016, Wall Street Journal (p. B11) also published online HERE reported an academic study of retirement calculators that warrant consideration.


Researchers at Texas Tech University and Utah Valley University evaluated 36 of the most prominent retirement planning calculators (both free and low cost). A hypothetical couple earning $50,000 each and in their early to mid-60s were used and their retirement was planned using the calculators. More than two thirds of the retirement calculators said the couple could retire with a significant degree of confidence. That significant degree of confidence was 70% or greater probability that the couple had enough money for retirement. Eleven of the 36 calculators correctly identified that the couple was in a precarious retirement position—those 11 calculators were not specifically identified. The calculators used did include ones from companies such as Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, AARP, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and MarketWatch. MoneyGuidePro software was used by the researchers to make their own analysis.


A tradeoff exists between simplicity of input and quality of output. The more questions asked in the input phase (and the quality of those questions), the more rigorous the retirement plan output. For example, what is a reasonable life expectancy for the individual given family history? Will there be any inheritances from parents/relatives? Are there expected Social Security benefits? Will the individual have pension plan income; if so, is there a survivor benefit? A question frequently omitted is the smoking background of the individual (a factor that has significant impact on life expectancy).


In addition, there are numerous assumptions underlying each planning model. Does the model consider inflation? What rate of return is assumed on investment assets? How are those returns predicted (every year on average or by some other methodology)? These are only a few of the many planning assumptions in most retirement models.


Anyone using such a retirement calculator should look for a model that asks pertinent questions for input. Also, the model assumptions should be available for validation. Ideally, multiple calculators should be compared. Retirement is generally not difficult in the first few years; but those later years, when an individual is no longer able to work, can cause the problem.


We, at Paragon Financial Advisors, assist our clients in their retirement planning. That planning should be done well in advance and, as a process, should not be taken lightly. (By the way, we use MoneyGuidePro to assist in our retirement planning.)  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas. We offer financial planning and investment management.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Medicare in 2016


All Social Security recipients are aware there was no cost of living increase in Social Security benefits for 2016. However, some recipients are facing a reduction in their Social Security check. The reason: the Medicare Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). The amount individuals pay for their Medicare coverage is a function of their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) as reported on their tax return to the IRS. Higher income levels mean increased cost for Medicare for the same level of Medicare benefit. If the MAGI plus any tax exempt interest income exceeds $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple, the cost of Medicare Parts B and D increase. There is an increasing increment paid based on 5 levels of income.

Parts B (Doctors) and D (Drug)

For example, at the highest level, an individual making more than $214,000 ($428,000 for a couple) will pay $389.80 per month instead of the standard $121.80 for Part B benefits. That additional amount is paid by both spouses in the case of a couple receiving Social Security benefits. Those individuals in the highest income bracket would pay an additional $72.90 for their Part D drug benefits. The bottom line: each spouse in a couple receiving Social Security benefits (who are in the maximum tax bracket) will pay an additional $340.90 per month with no increase in benefit.

What to Do?

We will not get into the debate of higher income individuals should have to pay more, even though they have been taxed once on wages subject to the Social Security tax. Our point is that prudent financial management dictates managing one’s affairs to minimize tax payments. To that end, there are some basic things that could be done. By managing MAGI, one can possibly eliminate stepping into a higher Medicare bracket. Type of account (taxable or tax qualified) holding various investments, tax loss harvesting on securities held, and required minimum distributions made directly to a church/qualifying charity from an IRA are some examples of actions available.

We at Paragon Financial Advisors will help our clients evaluate possible courses of action the help reduce Medicare (as well as other tax) costs; however, these actions should be verified with your personal tax preparer or CPA to ensure they are appropriate for your circumstances. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas. We offer financial planning and investment management.



Friday, March 18, 2016

Death and Taxes


Two things are inevitable: death and taxes. The occurrence is certain; only the timing is unknown. The tax portion has some implications that may affect future planning. Mr. Obama, in his 2017 budget proposal, included items that would effectively increase the taxes Americans will pay. While these items have not been implemented (yet), it does provide information for guidance in the future. The proposals include the following:

Excess Accumulations

Under Mr. Obama’s proposal, an individual would not be allowed to make tax deferred contributions to an IRA or defined contribution (i.e. 401(k), etc.) plan if the amount in the plan could produce an annual benefit in excess of $210,000. A Treasury Department document explaining the tax proposals in the budget stated “Such accumulations can be…in excess of amounts needed to fund reasonable levels of consumption in retirement…” and thus do not justify tax deferred treatment.

Inherited IRAs

Under current rules, an heir of an IRA can elect to receive distributions from the IRA over the lifetime of that heir, effectively “stretching” the distributions from the IRA over many years. This stretching allows the IRA to continue earning tax deferred for (potentially) many years and limiting tax payments to only taxes required on the amount withdrawn. The White House proposal would require an IRA inherited by anyone other than the surviving spouse to withdraw all proceeds from the IRA over a maximum of 5 years (and pay taxes on the withdrawals, of course).

Mandatory Roth IRA Distributions

Roth IRA contributions are made with after tax dollars; earnings accumulate tax free and there is no required minimum distribution under current rules. Two changes are proposed here: 1) minimum distributions beginning at age 70 ½ would be required (just as with regular IRAs), and 2) no additional contributions would be allowed after age 70 ½.

“Back Door” Roth IRA Contributions

Currently, Roth IRA contributions are not allowed for individuals making more than $132,000 annually for singles ($194,000 for couples) in 2016. However, individuals can open a regular IRA with non-deductible contributions and immediately roll the funds into a Roth IRA. That process effectively allows high income individuals to contribute to a Roth IRA regardless of the income level. The budget proposal effectively prohibits this practice in the future.

Net Unrealized Appreciation on Employer Stock

Retiring employees currently have the option of taking employer stock from a company plan at retirement. Their tax liability (as ordinary income) is based on the original cost of the stock to the employer plan. If the stock is held for a year or longer, the excess of the sale price above the plan cost (the net unrealized appreciation) is taxed at the more favorable long term capital gains rate. The budget proposal eliminates that option for employees under age 50 as of 12-31-16.

Other Items

While not included in the budget plan, there have been other tax measures discussed which affect investors. One is a “transfer fee” on securities transactions i.e. a tax on each security purchase and sale. I imagine the rhetoric will be couched in terms of affecting the only the wealthy and “hedge fund managers,” however; such a tax would also affect mutual funds. Those funds are the investment vehicle of most middle class investors and are the bulk of investments for 401(k), 403(b), etc. plans. It thus appears that such a tax would have a much wider impact on more Americans.

Income taxes have long been a favorite vehicle for raising revenue. Another item has been discussed—a wealth tax. Such a tax would be applied to the assets the investor owns. The amount and the frequency of collection (annually??) have yet to be determined. It will be interesting to see if such a proposal again appears.

In this political climate of “fair share” and “income inequality,” one can anticipate some tax changes will be forthcoming. We, at Paragon Financial Advisors, assist our clients in managing their financial assets in a changing tax world.  Specific actions should be discussed with your CPA to ensure appropriateness in your individual circumstances, but let’s try to delay both death and taxes. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas. We offer financial planning and investment management.
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