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How to pay your bills and still save money

Ever get a paycheck and it’s gone faster than you can say direct deposit? Ever have that happen 52 paychecks in a row?

If you’re consistently waiting for your next paycheck to make day-to-day financial moves – like filling up your gas tank or buying groceries – you’re probably living paycheck to paycheck. And if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’re probably not saving.

So how do you fix it? Sure, selling your plasma is an easy and only mildly invasive way to get a quick $20 when you need extra cash between pay days, but we’re talking about long-term solutions. You want to retire someday, or at least take a tropical vacation. Here’s what we recommend:

Put a cap on non-essentials.
If you want to improve your financial situation, you’re going to have to understand your current financial situation. Yes, I’m sorry to say that means actually opening your bank statement. If you really dread looking at it, that probably means you need to.

Figure out how much you spend and how much of that isn’t even defendable (like this writer’s $7/month New York Times crossword subscription, for example) and cut that out first. This doesn’t mean you can’t spend any money on anything fun, just think long and hard about that $25/month gift box subscription for your dog.

Consolidate, or at least snowball, your debt.
If you were lucky enough to graduate college completely debt free, congratulations. If you’re like most grads and left with at least some credit card debt and a lot more student loan debt, these paragraphs are for you.

If you’re paying late fees because you can’t keep track of all your due dates, or all of your interest rates are sky high, consolidation might help. Whether that’s transferring all of your credit card debt to one card or taking a consolidation loan with a better rate, many people find paying their debt is easier when there’s less to keep track of.

If your debt is (at least relatively) reasonable and your finances are otherwise manageable, but you’re struggling to figure out how to actually pay it off quickly, try a debt snowball. Pay only the minimum payment on all of your debt except the one with the lowest balance. Put all of your payment energy and extra payments into that debt until it’s paid off. Once it’s paid off, take whatever you were putting towards that debt plus any extra money and put it towards the next debt. Repeat until debt free.

Don’t use your balance as permission to spend.
So we’ve all done this, right? You want something – to go out to dinner or to buy an expensive new pair of shoes or whatever – but before you can spend the money you have to check your balance to see if you can afford it.

The thing is, if you have to check, you can’t afford it. Don’t even look. Step away from the makeup counter (or video games or whatever you spend your extra money on). Spending money on unnecessary things because you have a little extra cash is perpetuating the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

Don’t base your spending on other people.
We tend to assume that if our friend bought a brand new car with leather and heated seats and all that other stuff your old car doesn’t have, they can probably afford it. And that might make you want to start thinking about buying a new car, because if they can afford it, why can’t you?

Here’s the thing: most people struggle with money, they just don’t talk about it. So maybe your friend can’t afford that car either.

Keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians, if you’re under 30) won’t do anything to improve your financial situation. If you want to believe that everyone you know can afford every lavish purchase they make, that’s fine. Just don’t use it as an excuse to make poor financial decisions for yourself.

Follow a budget that works.
You’ve heard this from us before. If your budget is too strict or too free, it won’t work. We’re big fans of the 50/30/20 method.  You can find more about it here, but it works like this:

50% of your budget goes towards necessary expenses, including your rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities etc. These are things you need to survive.

30% of your budget goes towards things that help you enjoy life – shopping, eating out, going to the movies or whatever else makes you happy. These are wants, and you could live without all of them.

20% of your budget goes towards paying down your debt – credit cards, student loans, what have you, and saving/investing.

This budget works because it includes fun stuff, and the important stuff. Oftentimes when we think of budgets we think of something boring and restrictive. And yeah, budgets are super boring, but they don’t have to be restrictive.

Downgrade.
This is really hard for some people to hear, especially after all that talk about keeping up with the Joneses up there. We like the Joneses. They have nice things.

But if you have too many nice things they’re probably a large part of why you’re living paycheck to paycheck.  That’s why a budget like the 50/30/20 method is so important.

If 50% of your income is going towards just your rent or mortgage, there’s no way you can afford to have fun, pay your bills, get a new car and still save money.

If you’re serious about breaking the cycle and saving money you should consider trading your car in for a reliable, but older and less expensive vehicle, or changing your living situation to something smaller and more affordable.

If you stick with it and actually make some healthy financial changes, you might even find that your friends start making smarter financial choices once they see you succeeding.

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How to stay safe when shopping for holiday gifts online

Want to avoid long lines and large crowds this holiday season? Shopping online lets you zip through your list with just a few clicks.

Before whipping out your plastic, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re shopping on a secure site. Use these tips to keep your data safe.

1. Look for the padlock symbol

Don’t check out at a website unless you see a padlock symbol on the browser bar of whatever device you’re using. This symbol means that the page has extra security to prevent others from viewing your sensitive information.

Another way to tell a website is secure is that it starts with “https” instead of just “http.” The “s” means the site is secure.

2. Be cautious around public Wi-Fi

If you need to check your online banking account while you’re away from home, avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Many retailers provide free Wi-Fi as a convenience to customers, but you can’t be sure who’s able to see the data you send on the network — including private information.

Instead, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, a service that lets you encrypt the information you send over the internet. That way, others won’t be able to access your data even if they can access the network. You can also send data over your personal cellular provider’s network, which bypasses Wi-Fi.

3. Use a credit card instead of a debit card

Credit cards offer better consumer protections than debit cards do. If someone steals your credit card and uses it to make unauthorized purchases, you’ll be liable for $50 at most, depending on how quickly you report the loss.

If your debit card is stolen and you don’t notify your card issuer within two business days of discovering the loss, you can be liable for up to $500 in bogus charges. Even worse, if you don’t inform your card issuer for more than 60 days after receiving your next statement, you’ll be on the hook for all unauthorized charges.

Also, if you’re unhappy with an item you bought on a credit card — say it was damaged when you received it or it was never delivered — you don’t have to pay until the dispute is resolved. But if you’re unhappy with a debit card purchase, you’ll need to file a dispute with the retailer and possibly your bank to try to recover the money after the fact. That’s because debit card purchases automatically withdraw funds from your bank account.

4. Change passwords regularly

Even if you take steps to shop securely, a hacker could steal your user name, password or other sensitive information from a retailer’s database. Protect yourself by changing the passwords of your online accounts every three months or so. That way, if hackers do breach a retailer’s software, there’s a good chance they’ll have access only to an old password.

5. Update anti-virus software

If you shop from a home computer, keep your security software updated. Anti-virus software companies frequently release security updates to address newly discovered security loopholes.

Follow these tips and you can take advantage of the convenience of online shopping while also protecting yourself from online fraud.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Safe holiday shopping: 3 ways to protect your data

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet it’s when many people fall victim to hackers, thieves and scammers. Don’t let that ruin your Black Friday deal hunting, though.  Here’s three easy ways you can keep your money, identity and holiday spirit safely intact:

1. Only carry the cash you need.
Yes, paying in cash can keep you from over spending but it also makes you more vulnerable. If someone steals your wallet full of cash, you’ve lost that money. But your debit or credit card can be frozen and replaced in the event it’s lost or stolen.  If you do prefer shopping with cash, be careful not to allow other people to see how much you’re carrying.

2. Use a chip card.
The magnetic stripe on the back of traditional cards houses unchanging data—like your card number, expiration date and CVV code. If someone accesses that data, they have everything they need to duplicate your card and use it.

Chip cards contain an embedded microchip that creates a unique, one-time use transaction code every time it’s used. If someone accesses information from one specific transaction, they still won’t be able to duplicate the card. Because the chip creates codes that can only be used one time, attempting to reuse a transaction code would likely result in the card being denied.

3. Rely on your mobile wallet.
Mobile payment options, like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, are not only really convenient but they’re also really secure. Mobile payments never share your information with merchants, and use biometric data (like your thumbprint) to authorize transactions. So even if Joe Schmo swipes your phone from your pocket, he can’t go on a spending spree unless he takes your thumb with him.

Now that you know best practices to keep your data safe, you can make your holiday purchases with confidence. Have questions or other security tips? Share them with us in the comments or on Facebook.

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A, MR & PR | date created: 2006:08:30

Easy ways to spend less at the grocery store

Do you ever look at your grocery receipt and cringe? We all need to eat, but that doesn’t mean our wallets should be punished for it every time we visit the store.

While groceries are a never-ending household expense (we’re out of frozen waffles again?), they don’t have to eat away at your paycheck. There are a lot of simple ways to save on groceries, and it all starts at home.

Make a list
Before your regular trip to the store make a list of what you plan to buy. This way you’ll know exactly what you want, decrease your time spent in the store and cut down on any potential impulse buying.

Clip coupons
We know clipping coupons isn’t glamorous or fun, but the extra effort can really pay off. Whether you cut them out from the weekly circulars, download them from your grocery store’s mobile app or print them from sites like coupons.com or SmartSource, using coupons is an excellent way to shave a little off your grocery bill. Although the savings per coupon may be small, they can add up. The trick is waiting for the right time to use them.

Focus on sales
Knowing what’s on sale each week goes a long way. Items tend to go on sale in 6-8 week cycles, so it’s a good idea to stock up on certain foods while you can. You can even build your list around what’s currently on sale and use those coupons you’ve been saving to get even more of a discount. Just remember, just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you need it—stick to your regular purchases when possible to avoid impulse buying things you would normally pass on.

Limit your trips
The more you visit the store, the more you spend. Plan accordingly and shop for groceries only when you have to. Buy your dry goods (canned soup, cereal etc.) in large enough quantities to last you for a couple weeks, and limit your produce purchases to what you can eat before it spoils. You might have to stop by the store to replenish you veggie supply, but you won’t need to make the rounds to every department. That way you save time, and avoid impulse purchases.

Do it yourself
While it’s easier to buy pre-cut, prepackaged or prepared foods, you’re paying for that convenience. It’s more time consuming, but preparing your own meals from whole ingredients is usually much more cost effective. Buying the entire chicken or block of unsliced cheese includes a little extra work, but your wallet will thank you for it.

Buy generic
It may be hard to break out of your brand-loving comfort zone, but you might be pleasantly surprised. The difference between store brand and full-price name brand products is usually hard to detect, and the savings are always real. If you’re looking to save a couple dollars on cereal, food staples (flour, cooking oil, etc.) or cola, buying generic is an easy way to do it.

Shop alone
As anti-social as it sounds, it may be a better idea to leave your kids and spouse at home next time you hit the grocery store. Kids are the ultimate impulse shoppers, and giving in to their requests can really add up. It’s not always easy to say no, but that doesn’t mean you should pay more because of it.

Beware of store tricks
Whether it’s positioning the produce section in the front entrance or playing slower music, stores use a variety of subtle tricks to get you to spend more. Knowing what to watch out for will reduce that risk as well as make you a smarter shopper. (“Not today, 10 for $10 dollar deals!”)

What do you do to save money at the grocery store? Let us know in the comments!

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How to afford a college education

We all know it: college is expensive. According to CollegeBoard, the average cost of one year’s in-state tuition is $9,650. That price can more than triple at an out-of-state or private school, and doesn’t even include additional expenses like books, room and board.

So what can you do, besides hoping to win the lottery? While paying for a college education may seem intimidating, it’s not impossible. There are tons of options to make affording higher education a little easier, like special savings accounts, grants, scholarships, and loans—The key is choosing what works best for your situation.

529 Plans
If you’re hoping to pay for your child’s education, a 529 plan is a good place to start. Designed to help families save for future college costs, these plans allow tax-free growth and withdrawals. The best part? 529 plans can be used to save for qualified colleges nationwide. This means you can invest in whatever plan you want and have your child go to college on the opposite coast if you wish.

529 plans and operating costs differ between states, so be sure to research the different types available before deciding which one to invest in.

Coverdell Education Savings Account
Another option for parents is a Coverdell Education Savings Account. Coverdell ESAs work a lot like 529 plans, but go a step beyond by also offering tax-free treatment for elementary and secondary school expenses. You can only contribute $2000 a year to a Coverdell ESA, however, and generally are only available to families below a certain income level. Like 529 plans, there’s no limit on the number of Coverdell accounts you can have per child.

Scholarships
Scholarships are probably the best resource out there to pay for a college education. They never have to be repaid and, depending on the stipulations of the award, can be used for nearly any college expense (like books or room and board).

There are a lot of different scholarships out there for a bunch of different things, like academic achievement, religious affiliation, athletics, membership in clubs and organizations or community involvement.

Do some research in your community for business and organizations offering scholarships you might be eligible for. In fact we already found one that might interest you—IHMVCU offers $26,000 in scholarships every year to members who are involved in their communities and active in their classrooms.

Grants
Like scholarships, grants don’t need to be repaid, but they’re generally awarded based on financial need. Many federal grants are available, but you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to receive them.

Student Loans
Student loans must be repaid, so it’s really important to make sure you only borrow what you need. There are two types of student loans, federal and private, and your repayment options largely depend on which one you go with.

Federal loans are generally preferred over private loans. They come with more borrower protections, like income-driven payment plans and payment deferral while you’re in school. Private loans don’t follow the same regulations as federal loans and often come with much higher interest rates.

Before you sign anything, you should educate yourself on the differences between federal and private loans, and the different types of federal loans available.

Looking for more info on paying for college? These might be of interest:

College by the numbers: the high cost of higher education

 

 

 

 

How to Save for College     College by the numbers

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5 questions you should ask before accepting a business loan

If your growing business needs some extra capital, taking out a loan might seem like the right idea. But taking out a loan you don’t understand or can’t afford to pay back could end up costing you. Before you sign anything, make sure you have all the details.

1. What’s my interest rate? Is it fixed or variable?
A loan’s interest rate plays a big role in how much you pay back over the life of the loan. Understanding how it’s calculated can help you decide whether accepting the loan makes good financial sense. 

A fixed interest rate remains constant for the term of the loan, while a variable interest rate is subject to change. If your loan has a variable rate, avoid any surprises and make sure you understand what factors cause the rate to rise or fall in the beginning.

2. What’s the term and amortization?
Two of the most important things to understand about your loan are term and amortization.

Term defines when you loan will mature.
Amortization is how payments are spread out over the term of the loan.

If your term and amortization are the same, your loan will be paid off at maturity. But, if your term is shorter than the amortization, you might be stuck making a balloon payment (i.e. the remaining balance) at maturity. That’s not something you want to be surprised by.

3. Is there a penalty for pre-payment?
Some lenders charge a fee if your loan is paid in full before the maturity date. Most financial institutions only charge a pre-payment penalty if the loan is refinanced elsewhere, but it’s always good to find out before it’s too late.

4. What can I expect to pay in closing costs?
Closing costs are fees paid at the closing of a loan, typically in real estate transactions. It’s impossible to give the exact cost, your loan officer should be able to provide an estimate.

5. What documentation is required?
The banking industry is heavily regulated and documentation requirements have a direct impact on consumers. If you’re trying to secure a loan, be prepared to provide tax returns and other miscellaneous financial information. It’s not a walk in the park, but it does ensure that you get the right loan product.

You want to feel confident in your ability to pay back a loan, as well as it’s potential to boost your business in the long run. Every decision you make for your business will involve some amount of risk, make sure that risk is worthwhile.

Ready to learn more about how a loan could help your business? 
Contact our Business Services team today!

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Should small businesses owners offer HSA health plans to employees?

If you’re a business owner, figuring out how to reduce costs associated with employee healthcare benefits is probably a top concern.

One option might be to provide your employees with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) along with a Health Savings Account (HSA).

HSAs are employee-owned savings accounts that can be established by individuals with a qualified employer-sponsored HDHP.  The high deductible limits associated with these plans prevent most medical expenses, with the exception of preventative care, from being reimbursed. HSAs give employees the opportunity to be financially prepared for these expenses, and they offer several additional benefits for both employees and employers.

Employer Benefits:

  • Neither the employer nor the employee pay taxes on contributions made via payroll
  • Employer HSA contributions may be deducted from federal taxes
  • HSAs are easily transferred between qualifying HDHPs, usually without penalty
  • Helps attract and retain employees with concerns about rising healthcare costs

Employee Benefits:

  • Contributions are made pre-tax when deducted directly from payroll
  • Dividends paid on account balances accumulate tax-free
  • Pay no taxes on withdrawals for qualified medical expenses
  • Employees have the freedom to decide contribution amounts up to legal maximums as well as when and how funds are used
  • Contributions never expire

With all the savings opportunities and tax benefits available to both employers and employees, HSAs are pretty much win-win.

If you’re an employer looking to provide HSAs to your employees, IHMVCU can help. We offer competitive rates and a streamlined onboarding process so you don’t have to waste time tracking down employee account information.

 

 

 

 

Lindsey Ramos
VP, Business Development
(309) 793-6200 ext. 72175
lramos@ihmvcu.org

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How to protect yourself from credit card fraud

A major company carrying your sensitive information gets hacked. A scam email or phone call tricks you into giving away your account number. A thief ruffling through the trash finds a discarded billing statement.

Credit card fraud affects millions of Americans every year in a variety of ways, and unfortunately some cases can’t always be prevented. Thankfully, most financial institutions offer services to protect against fraud and safeguard your identity.

While your financial institution is probably always monitoring your account for unauthorized charges, it never hurts to play it safe. Though your chances of encountering credit card fraud are actually pretty low, practicing these six tips will ensure those odds stay in your favor:

1. Monitor your online information.
Many of us do the bulk of our shopping and banking online. With all that personal information floating around it’s a good idea to change your login and password information periodically–especially if you’re not known to use really strong passwords.  That way you only fall victim to amazing Amazon deals, not hackers.

2. Check your bank and credit card statements often.
View your statements and accounts regularly so you’ll know if something looks off—like a storage fee for that private plane you never knew you owned.

3. Review your credit reports.
Fun fact: every year you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. Check them for accuracy and make sure all the accounts are ones you recognize. Information can vary from report to report, so it’s important to check all three agencies’ reports.

4. Shred important documents.
Invest in a shredder and regularly shred any outdated bank or credit card statements, or other personal documents you have. This extra measure keeps your information from falling into the wrong hands.

5. Notify card issuers if your address changes, or if you’re traveling.
Nothing appears more suspicious to a financial institution than if one of their members or customers is making purchases in another state or country. Avoid an awkward situation where your card is suddenly denied at the checkout counter or hotel desk by notifying your bank or credit union if you’ve moved or before you take that much-deserved vacation.

6. Be wary of unexpected emails or senders you don’t know.
Luring you into sharing your information or clicking a link through an email is an excellent way for hackers to gain access to your private information. If anything about an email seems off, whether it arrives at a weird time of day, asks you to do something, or comes from a company or person you don’t know, do yourself a favor and delete it.

Following these tips will go a long way toward keeping your identity and private information safe, but it’s still no guarantee. Call your card company right away if you suspect your private information may be compromised. Most financial institutions have fraud-prevention policies in place and will help you through the process of preventing or clearing responsibility from fraudulent transactions.

Looking for more info on how to protect yourself from scams and hackers? Check out our other blogs in this series:

how to detect a skimming device

How to detect a skimming device

protect yourself from text scams

How to protect yourself from text scams

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How to protect yourself from text scams

By now you probably know about a lot of scams thieves use to steal personal information from their victims. From ATM skimming devices to phishing emails and world-wide data breaches, thieves are finding new ways to get their hands on sensitive data every day.

More recently, police all over the world have seen a rise in cellphone identity theft scams—particularly those that originate through text message. It’s no surprise, considering there are almost as many active cellphone accounts as there are people in the world.

It might sound scary, but like any other identity theft scam, knowledge is your best weapon. So how are hackers using text messages to steal identities and other sensitive data?

Here’s what you should know:
There are a lot of variations, but ultimately you’re sent an unsolicited text message prompting you to call a 1-800 number to provide personal information, like your credit card number, PIN or social security number.. Hackers may pose as your financial institution saying that your account or card has been compromised, or they may claim to be the IRS seeking back taxes.

If you ever receive a bogus text like this, the best way to protect yourself is to remember these 2 things:

1. The IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to contact you about your personal tax issues.

If you receive a text message from someone claiming to be the IRS and demanding payment, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or atwww.tigta.gov.

2. Your financial institution should never ask you to input private information (like your credit card or account numbers) via text, or call you asking for personal information.

If someone ever calls or texts you about your account and it seems suspicious, hang up and call your financial institution’s published phone number. If they’re contacting you, it’s safe to assume they know your account information already; so while it’s reasonable for them to ask you some questions to verify your identity, asking for your full account or card number is a red flag.

If you get a text referring to accounts at an institution you’re not associated with, don’t assume they know something you don’t. Do a quick search on the internet to find that institution’s public phone number and call to verify the information. Don’t call any phone numbers given in the bogus text.

Bottom line? If something seems suspicious or out of place, it probably is. Don’t respond to suspicious texts, and instead call a publicly published phone number for whatever institution or company the texter claims to be associated with.  When it comes to your private information, you’re always better off safe than sorry.

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5 questions to ask before opening a business account

Whether you’re just starting up and only need a simple checking account for your business, or you’ve been in business for several years and are looking for a change, there’s a lot you should consider before opening or moving an account.

The kind of account you choose can make or break your business. Here’s what Evan Muench, a commercial loan officer at IHMVCU, thinks you should know before opening or switching your business accounts.

1. Does the account have a minimum balance requirement?
A minimum balance is one of the most common qualifiers for checking and savings accounts. For some accounts it’s simply the initial amount required to open the account, but others you might be charged a fee if your balance ever falls below that amount.

2. What’s the fee schedule?
Understanding the fees and costs associated with an account is the best way to avoid surprises down the road. A financial institution should provide you with a fee schedule before the account is opened, but it’s always good practice to ask for it just in case. So what should you be looking for when you read the fee schedule?

  • Monthly maintenance fees
    Are you being charged a fee just for having the account?
  • Overdraft fees
    How much will you be charged if your account is overdrawn?
  • Cost of checks
    Some accounts offer free checks when the account is opened, but charge a fee if the order is replenished.

3. What are the minimum transaction amounts? Maximum transfers?
Some checking and savings accounts require a minimum number of transactions to be eligible for the account perks (like earning dividends, ATM fee reimbursement, etc.). Other accounts, like Money Markets, might restrict the number of transactions you can make in a month. Knowing these requirements up front will allow you to make an informed decision based on your business’s needs.

4. Is the account interest bearing? How is interest calculated?
It’s important to know if you’ll be paid dividends on an account and what must be done in order to receive them. Typically, interest is calculated based on the Average Daily Balance of an account. You should confirm how that interest is calculated and if there are any eligibility requirements, like a minimum balance or transaction limit, so you can position your business to take advantage of this perk.

5. Is online banking available? What does it cost?
Online banking is a key platform in today’s culture. Many people prefer the convenience online banking provides over visiting a branch in person. While almost all financial institutions offer some form of online banking, it’s important to make sure it’s available with the account you need and that it offers the features you want—like mobile banking and remote deposit.  You should also find out if there’s a cost associated with having that access.

If you already have a business account, it’s good practice to review the terms at least once a year to make sure the account still fits your needs. If you can’t find the answers to all your questions by looking at your statement, make an appointment with your financial institution to have them walk you through it.

muench_evan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Muench
Commercial Lending Officer
(309) 793-6200 ext. 70110
emuench@ihmvcu.org

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