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Behind the curtain: How your insurance premium is determined

July 22, 2019

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Behind the curtain: How your insurance premium is determined

Behind the curtain: How your insurance premium is determined
July 22, 2019

Ever wonder why you’re paying the premium you’re paying?

It’s not arbitrary. Read on to take a peek into some factors that can determine the amount you’ll pay.

An insurance company issues contracts that provide coverage in the form of compensation due to a covered financial loss in exchange for premium payments. Insurance companies use statistics and probability projections to determine how much money someone should pay based on the probability that person will make an insurance claim. Those more likely to make a claim are typically required to pay a higher premium.

How insurance works
The concept itself is relatively simple: bad things happen sometimes and people want to avoid financial ruin that could arise from those bad things. To maintain peace of mind, or sometimes by law, people will obtain insurance to reduce the risk of ruin. People also use insurance to “make themselves whole” again after financial issue, such as a car accident or the loss of income.

All those who want to obtain insurance apply to be part of a pool. The insurance company then calculates how many people are in the pool, how much money they’ll probably need to pay insurance claims, then calculate each individual’s risk to the company.

Which factors affect premiums
Which factors affect premiums vary widely across insurance types. Driving style and vehicle value are obvious determining factors in car insurance. But so are other factors you may not be able to change, like location: those who commute to work spend more time in their cars and thus increase the probability of having an accident, simply for being in the car longer.

Health and life insurance focus on healthy lifestyles. If you’re more likely to live longer and require less medical attention, the lower your premiums. Renters and homeowners insurance consider the value of the property and the contents therein. Insurance plans will also vary based on the amount of coverage they offer. If your fire insurance only covers $2,000 worth of possessions, all things being equal, you’re probably going to pay a lower premium than someone who wants $20,000 of coverage.

Reducing your premiums
To avoid frequently making lower-risk members pay for the claims of higher-risk members, not everyone is thrown together in the same pool. If you can adjust your personal risk factors so that you’re entered into a different pool, you might see substantial reductions in your insurance premium. Your insurance company or agent should be able to help you identify which factors you score high for in riskiness so you can try to reduce your costs.

For example, if you smoke, quitting may greatly reduce your premiums (although you may have a waiting period like 12 months after you quit in order to qualify as a non-smoker). If you have several speeding tickets, ask how much a driving school certificate might help reduce your premiums.

The takeaway here is that your riskiness is based on a quantification of factors and the probability that any one of those factors will trigger a claim. Changes you can make in your lifestyle may add up to significant savings with your premiums, so it’s worth looking into!

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Got debt? Throw a snowball at it!

Got debt? Throw a snowball at it!

Most of us wish we could be debt free, but it seems like a dream reserved for a few financial wizards.

After all, it’s hard to find a family that doesn’t have debt hanging over them. In this day of easy credit and deferred interest, it’s not hard to accumulate sizable financial obligations.

It is possible, however, to become debt free. One method, the so-called “snowball” method, can be an effective way to get on top of those seemingly never-ending payments. When you think about tackling your debt, it might make sense to pay off the obligation you have at the highest interest rate first, when you look at it mathematically. But sometimes the highest interest rate debt may also be the largest amount you have to deal with, which might create frustration if the balance is going down too slowly.

The debt snowball method can seem counterintuitive because it doesn’t always follow the math, since in most cases, the math favors paying down the debt with the highest interest rate first. The snowball method instead focuses on building momentum – the idea that small successes can lead to larger successes. Paying off the smallest balance first can build momentum to plow through the next largest balance, then the next one and so forth – like a snowball gaining size and speed as it rolls down a hill.

To restate, once you’ve paid off the smallest balance, more cash is available to put toward the next smallest amount. After the second smallest amount is paid off, the cash you freed up by paying off the first two debts can now be applied to the third largest balance.

The snowball method of debt repayment is intended to help simplify the process of becoming debt free. Because you’re starting with smaller balances and working your way up, your mortgage (if you have one) would be one of the last balances to tackle. Some financial experts might recommend leaving the mortgage out of your snowball payments altogether, but that’s up to you and how ambitious you are!

Ready to start?
First, remind yourself it may take some time to get your debt to zero, but hang in there. If you stick to your strategy, you can make great strides toward financial freedom!

Second, make a list of your debts and sort them by size from lowest to highest. Then, pay the minimum on all the balances except the smallest one, and put as much as you can towards that one. Let’s say the payment you’re making on the smallest balance is $20. Once that balance is paid off, add that $20 to whatever you were paying toward the next smallest balance. Let’s say that balance has a minimum payment of $30. That means you can now put $50 a month toward it to knock it out faster.

When the second balance is paid off, you’ll have an extra $50 a month you can put towards the third highest balance.

See the snowball? Keep going! Over time, you should have enough momentum and freed up cash available to really make a dent in your debt.

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Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?

Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?
July 15, 2019

Given enough time, even the best planned budgets can start to feel like they’ve sprung a leak somewhere.

Sometimes you’ll notice right away (getting halfway through the month and realizing it’s going to be peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day). Other times it can take a while for imperfections to show (you thought you were going to have more in the vacation fund by now).

When you first start building your budget, a good place to begin is to list all the big expenses – the ones that are impossible to miss. Then it’s time to turn to the little ones that can escape notice – these are the ones that might keep your budget math from working out the way you planned.

Dig out your bank statements. Try to go back at least 6 months, if not a year. Some regular expenses may not occur monthly and can be a surprise if you only used a month or two of bank statements to track spending and build your initial budget. Many times, automatic payments or fees may be charged quarterly or even annually.

Read on for some common expenses that might sneak up on you:

Subscriptions and online services – Many of us have subscriptions for software packages or online services. Remember that deal they offered if you paid for a whole year at once? At renewal time, they may charge you for another year unless you cancel.

Memberships – Gym memberships or dues for clubs may be quarterly or annual charges as well, so they might be missed when building your budget.

Protection plans – From credit monitoring to termite protection plans, there are lots of chances to miss an annual or quarterly expense in this category.

Automatic contributions – Many charities now offer automatic contributions. These can be easy to miss when budgeting.

Things you forgot to cancel – Free trials (that require your payment info) won’t be free forever. It’s easy to miss these as well.

Bank fees – Budgeting mishaps can lead to bank fees if your balance dips. Yet another potential surprise.

Automatic deposits – Saving for your future is a great move. Just be sure to know how much is going to be withdrawn and when, so your budget doesn’t feel the pinch.

Oftentimes, when people first make the commitment to create a budget and stick to it, it can be discouraging if it doesn’t seem to be working as expected right away. Try to keep in mind that your budget is a work in progress that will evolve over time. It probably won’t be perfect from the get-go.

If you hit a speedbump, take a little time to evaluate where the numbers aren’t quite adding up, and then make adjustments as necessary. You can do this!

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Is a personal loan a good idea?

Is a personal loan a good idea?
July 10, 2019

Life is full of surprises – many of which cost money.

If you’ve just used up your emergency fund to cover your last catastrophe, then what if a new surprise arrives before you’ve replenished your savings? Using a credit card can be an expensive option, so you might be leery of adding debt with a high interest rate. However, you can’t let the ship sink either. What can you do?

A personal loan is an alternative in a cash-crunch crisis, but you’ll need to know a bit about how it works before signing on the bottom line.

A personal loan is an unsecured loan. The loan rate and approval are based on your credit history and the amount borrowed. Much like a credit card account, you don’t have to put up a car or house as collateral on the loan. But one area where a personal loan differs from a credit card is that it’s not a revolving line of credit. Your loan is funded in a lump sum and once you pay down the balance you won’t be able to access more credit from that loan. Your loan will be closed once you’ve paid off the balance.

The payment terms for a personal loan can be a short duration. Typically, loan terms range between 12-60 months.[i] If the loan amount is relatively large, this can mean large payments as well, without the flexibility you have with a credit card in regard to choosing your monthly payment amount.

An advantage over using a personal loan instead of a credit card is that interest rates for personal loans can be lower than you might find with credit cards. But many personal loans are plagued by fees, which can range from application fees to closing fees. These can add a significant cost to the loan even if the interest rate looks attractive. It’s important to shop around to compare the full cost of the loan if you choose to use a personal loan to navigate a cash crunch. You also might find that some fees (but not all) can be negotiated. (Hint: This may be true with certain credit cards as well.)

Before you borrow, make sure you understand the interest rate for the loan. Personal loans can be fixed rate or the rate might be variable. In that case, low rates can turn into high rates if interest rates continue to rise. It’s also important to know the difference between a personal loan and a payday loan. Consider yourself warned – payday loans are a different type of loan, and may be an extremely expensive way to borrow. The Federal Trade Commission recommends you explore alternatives.[ii]

So if you need a personal loan to cover an emergency, your bank or credit union might be a good place to start your search.

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[i] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/personal-loan-calculator/
[ii] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0097-payday-loans

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When should you start planning for retirement?

When should you start planning for retirement?
July 8, 2019

Depending on where you are in life’s journey, retirement may seem like a far away dream or it may be closing in faster than expected.

You might think that deciding when to start planning for retirement requires complicated algorithms. Yes, there may be some math involved – but the simple answer is – if you haven’t started planning yet, the time to start is right now!

The 80% rule
Many financial planners recommend saving enough to provide 80% of your pre-retirement income in your retirement years so you can maintain your standard of living. Following this rule isn’t an exact science though, because expense structures for each household can differ greatly. It is, however, a good place to start. How do we get to 80%? Living expenses typically decrease in retirement because costly commutes, investing in business clothing, and eating lunch out 5 days a week are reduced or eliminated. The other big expense that often changes is housing. At retirement, it’s common to trade in your 3, 4, or 5-bedroom home for something smaller, easier, and less expensive to maintain.

Retirement planning when you’re young
When you’re younger, planning for retirement may be a fairly simple process. Two considerations are life insurance and savings. This can’t be overstated: Now is the time to buy life insurance. If you’re young and healthy, life insurance rates are much more likely to be low. This also can’t be overstated: Now is the time to start saving. Every penny you put away now can get you closer to your goal. As anyone who’s older can tell you, life is full of surprises that end up costing money, and these instances have the potential to interfere with your savings strategy.

Longevity considerations
Another consideration is that we’re living longer. In the U.S. in 1960, life expectancy for men was 67 years. By 2016, life expectancy had increased to over 76 – with even longer life expectancy likely in following years – as medicine advances and as we become more aware of behaviors that affect our health.[i] Women tend to live even longer, with an average life expectancy of about 81 years by 2016.[ii] Life expectancy rates are essentially averages, with low and high numbers in the mix. If you’re fortunate enough to beat the average life expectancy, your retirement savings may become slim pickings in your later years, a time when you might not be able to generate supplementary income.

Manage your expenses
Whether you’re young or getting on in years, the time to start saving is now. But if you’re nearing retirement age, it’s also time to take an honest look at your expenses. Part of the trick to stretching retirement savings is to eliminate unnecessary costs. If you’re considering moving to a smaller home to cut costs – and you’re feeling adventurous – you might want to consider moving to a different state with a lower tax rate to enjoy your golden years. If you’re younger, it’s still a great time to assess your budget and eliminate any and all unnecessary spending that you can.

For younger people, time is your ally when it comes to saving for retirement, but waiting to start saving might leave you with less than you’d hoped for later in life. If you’re closer to retirement age, there’s still time to build your nest egg and examine your projected expenses. Talk to your financial professional today about options that may be available for you!

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[i] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.MA.IN?locations=US
[ii] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.FE.IN?locations=US

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The Closest Without Going Over Wins

The Closest Without Going Over Wins
July 1, 2019

“How many jellybeans are in the jar?” This is one of life’s serious questions.

You know how it works. If your guess is the closest without going over, you win the prize. And whether it’s a cash pot, a season pass for your hometown’s team – or even just the jellybeans themselves, it’s a situation with a lot at stake. You’ve been presented with a ripe opportunity to prove your keen intellect, not to mention maybe winning some free candy!

You may start pulling out your old high school algebra equations. You may laboriously count the visible jellybeans so you can extrapolate the total. You may even pick the jar up and hold it to the light – shaking it and assessing any gaps in area coverage.

Take your time. It’s a big decision.

Unfortunately for many people, it seems not as much thought goes into estimating how much a life insurance policy may cost. Can you guess how much a policy might cost?

LIMRA’s 2017 Insurance Barometer study shed a little light on just how off these guesses can be: When those surveyed were asked how much they thought a healthy 30-year-old would pay for a $250,000 policy, their median guess was $500 – more than 3 times the actual cost!

That stat is pretty revealing: odds are that the number you have in mind may be a lot higher than what you might actually end up paying for your policy. As a result, it may feel like you’re saving money by not having life insurance. But in the case of the passing of a breadwinner or an unexpected loss of income, not having (what is potentially affordable) protection for your loved ones feels as silly as writing down a guess of 1,000,000 jellybeans next to the mathematician’s answer of 1,086.

The bottom line: Have you overestimated how much a well-tailored life insurance policy could cost you? Not sure? Reconsider your guesstimate with a financial professional who can help you with the ins and outs of your needs and what coverage may be available that fits your budget. (It’s like knowing how many jellybeans are in the jar before you have to guess!)

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Should you buy or lease your next vehicle?

Should you buy or lease your next vehicle?
June 26, 2019

Behind housing costs, transportation costs are often one of the top expenses in most households.

Auto leasing has been popular for several decades, but many people still aren’t sure about the sensibility of leasing vs. buying a car, how the math works, and which is really the better value.

Should you lease a car?
In many cases, you can lease a car for less than the monthly payment for financing the exact same car. This is because with leasing, you never build any equity in the vehicle. Essentially, you are renting the vehicle for a predetermined number of miles per year with a promise that you’ll take good care of it and won’t let your kids spill ice cream on the seats. (After all, it’s not really your car.)

At the end of the lease – most often 2 or 3 years – you’ll have the option to buy the car. At this point, in many cases you would be able to find a comparable car for a few thousand less than the residual value on the car you leased. After the lease has expired, most people choose to lease another newer car, rather than buy the car they leased.

If you don’t drive many miles, there may be some advantages to leasing over buying, particularly if you prefer to drive something newer or if you need a late-model car for business reasons. As a bonus, for short-term or standard leases, the car is usually under warranty for the duration of the lease and maintenance costs are typically only for minor service items.

Should you buy a car?
If you’re like most people, when you buy a car, you’ll probably need to finance it rather than plunk down a lump sum in cash. Rates are relatively low, but you can still expect to pay a few thousand dollars in interest costs over the course of the loan. Longer loans have higher rates and more expensive vehicles can make the interest costs add up quickly. Still, at the end of the loan, you own the car.

Older cars usually have higher maintenance costs, but it may be less expensive to keep a car with under 150,000 miles and pay for any repairs, rather than make payments on a new car. Cars are also running reliably much longer now. The average age of cars and light trucks on the roads currently is almost 12 years, which means if you had a 5-year loan, you could be driving for 7 years (or more) without having to make a car payment.[i]

So a big part of the savings in buying a car vs. leasing can occur if you keep the car for several years after it’s paid off. Cars depreciate most rapidly during the first 5 years of ownership, meaning you could take a big hit on the trade-in value during that time. Keeping the car for a bit longer puts you into a period where the car is depreciating less rapidly and you can benefit financially from not having a car payment. But if you think you might be tempted to trade the car in after 5 years (and you typically drive under 15,000 miles per year), you may want to take a closer look at leasing.

Keeping your car for 10 years
How would you like to “make” an extra $25,000 over the next 10 years? That’s enough to buy another car! Assuming you make the same down payment on a leased car as a financed car, and assuming the same APR for your financed vehicle as the lease rate percentage, you can save nearly $25,000 in a decade by buying and keeping your car for 10 years instead of leasing a car every 3 years. And that savings applies to each car you own.[ii]

Your savings will vary based on the type of car and its price of course, but buying a car and keeping it for a while after it’s paid off can “yield” handsome dividends.

Getting behind the wheel
It’s really up to your personal preference whether you buy or lease. If you like to rotate your vehicles so you can enjoy a new car every few years and not have to worry so much about maintenance, then leasing may be a better option. However, if you like the idea of not having to make a car payment for a good portion of the life of your car, then buying may be the right choice.

Either way, before you take the keys and drive off the lot, make sure to ask your dealer any questions you have, so you can fully understand all the terms and any underlying costs for your situation.

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[i] https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/articles/fact-997-october-2-2017-average-age-cars-and-light-trucks-was-almost-12-years
[ii] https://www.moneyunder30.com/buy-vs-lease-calculator

Matters of Age

Matters of Age
June 24, 2019

The younger you are, the less expensive your life insurance may be.

Life insurance companies are more likely to offer lower premium life insurance policies to young, healthy people who will likely not need the death benefit payout of their policy for a while. (Keep in mind that exceptions for pre-existing medical conditions or certain careers exist – think “skydiving instructor”. But in many cases, the odds are more in your favor for lower premiums than you might guess.)

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, I am young and healthy, so why do I need to add another expense into my budget for something I might not need for a long time?”

Unlike a financial goal of saving up for a downpayment on your first house, waiting for “the right moment” to get life insurance – perhaps when you feel like you’re prepared enough – is less beneficial. A huge part of that is due to getting older. As your body ages, things can start to go wrong – unexpectedly and occasionally chronically. Ask any 35-year-old who just threw out their back for the first time and is now Googling every posture-perfecting stretch and cushy mattress to prevent it from happening again.

Don’t worry: you’re probably not going to go to pieces like fine china hitting a cement floor on your 30th birthday. But your mortality is certainly something to keep in mind. The human body breaks down with time, making it more susceptible to illness or injury. Combine that with an issue like the sudden chronic back problems from throwing your back out that one time (one time!), and your premium may reflect both the age increase and a pre-existing condition.

If you experience certain types of illness or injury prior to getting life insurance, it would often be considered a pre-existing condition, which may cause a premium to go up. Possible scenarios like the recurrence of cancer or a sudden inability to work due to re-injury are red flags for insurance companies because it increases the likelihood that a policyholder will need their policy’s payout.

A person’s age, unique medical history, financial goals, along with other factors, will all be taken into consideration during the process of finding the right insurance coverage and determining the rate. So taking advantage of your youth and good health now without bringing an age-borne illness or injury to the table could be beneficial for your journey to purchasing life insurance.

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To
June 19, 2019

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.

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Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Do you have a recipient in mind for the proceeds of your life insurance policy?

Many people have someone in mind before they purchase their policy. This person or entity can be named as your beneficiary. Naming your life insurance beneficiary helps to ensure that the party you choose gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, even if your will leaves your estate to someone else. If you’ve decided that you want to provide for a special person or organization through your life insurance policy, it’s important that the beneficiary section will do what you expect.

Here are some simple tips that can help point you in the right direction:

Choosing Your Life Insurance Beneficiary
Who you name as your beneficiary is a deeply personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Family: Spouses, children, siblings, and parents: These are all very common choices as life insurance beneficiaries. However, children under the age of 18 are a special case. Life insurance companies won’t pay a death benefit to a minor, so you may want to set up a trust for the child’s benefit or choose a responsible adult whom you trust with the welfare of your child. This adult would be named as their guardian.
  • Legal guardian: If your life insurance policy does name a minor as your beneficiary, it may be a good idea to name a legal guardian for the child.
  • Trusts: You can name a trust as your life insurance beneficiary, and trusts are helpful, for instance, when naming a minor, pet, or someone who may not be great with handling their finances as a beneficiary.
  • Friends, etc: You can also name a friend as a beneficiary – assuming your friend isn’t a minor, in which case you can name a legal guardian or trust for the minor.

Note: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t name a pet as your beneficiary — but you can name a trust on behalf of your pet. (Sorry, Fluffy.)

Multiple Beneficiaries and Contingent Beneficiaries
You can name multiple beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, but when doing this, it may be beneficial to use percentages rather than fixed dollar amounts. For permanent life insurance policies, like whole life insurance and universal life insurance, the death benefit payout amount can change over time, making percentages a better strategy for multiple beneficiaries.

You can also name contingent beneficiaries. Think of a contingent beneficiary as a back-up beneficiary. In the event that your primary beneficiary passes before you do (or at the same time), the proceeds of your policy would then go to the contingent beneficiary.

Final Thoughts
Avoid using general designations, such as “spouse” or “children” as your beneficiary. Spouses can change, as divorce statistics remind us, and you never know which long-lost “children” might appear if there’s a chance of a payday from your life insurance policy. In the very best case, general designations will cause delays in payment to your intended beneficiaries.

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You Can't Take It With You

You Can't Take It With You
June 12, 2019

If you’re feeling the itch to leave your current job and head out for a new adventure in the workforce, the experience you’ve gained along the way will go with you.

You may have made some great business connections too, and gotten some fabulous on-the-job-training. All of these things will travel well to a new job.

But there’s one thing you can’t take with you: An employer-supplied life insurance policy. While the price is right at “free” for many of these policies, there are several drawbacks that may deter you from relying on them solely for coverage.

1. An employer-provided policy turns in its two weeks notice when you do. Since your employer owns the policy – not you – your coverage will end when you leave that job. And unless you’re walking right into another employment opportunity where you’re offered the same type and amount of coverage, you might experience gaps or a total loss of coverage in an area where you had it before. When you’re not depending on an employer to provide your only life insurance coverage, you can change jobs as often as you please without the worry of the rug being pulled out from under you.

2. The employer policy is touted as ‘one size fits most.’ But it’s not likely that a group policy offered through an employer will be tailored to you and your unique needs. There may be no room for you to chime in and request certain features or a rider you’re interested in. However, when you build your own policy around your individual needs, you can get the right coverage that suits who you are and where you’d like to go on your financial journey.

3. An employer policy may not offer enough to cover your family. What amount of coverage is your employer offering? When you’re first starting out in your career, a $50,000 or even a $25,000 employer-provided policy might sound like a lot. But how far would that benefit really go to protect your family, cover funeral costs, or help with daily expenses if something were to happen to you?

Whether or not your 5-year plan includes 5 different jobs (or 5 entirely unrelated career paths), with a well-tailored policy that you own independent of your employment situation – you have the potential for a little more freedom and security in your financial strategy. And you won’t be starting from square one just because you’re starting a new opportunity.

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5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business

5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business
May 29, 2019

Does anything sound better than being your own boss?

Well, maybe a brand new sports car or free ice cream for life. But even a state-of-the-art fully-decked-out sports car will eventually need routine maintenance, and the taste of mint chocolate chip can get old after a while.

The same kinds of things can happen when you start your own business. There are many details to consider and seemingly endless tasks to keep organized after the initial excitement of being your own boss and keeping your own hours has faded. Circumstances are bound to arise that no one ever prepared you for!

Although this list is not exhaustive, here are 5 things to get you started when creating a business of your own:

1. Startup cost

The startup cost of your business depends heavily on the type of business you want to have. To estimate the startup cost, make a list of anything and everything you’ll need to finance in the first 6 months. Then take each expense and ask:

  • Is this cost fixed or variable?
  • Essential or optional?
  • One-time or recurring?

Once you’ve determined the frequency and necessity of each cost for the first 6 months, add it all together. Then you’ll have a ballpark idea of what your startup costs might be.

(Hint: Don’t forget to add a line item for those unplanned, miscellaneous expenses!)

2. Competitors

“Find a need, and fill it” is general advice for starting a successful business. But if the need is apparent, how many other businesses will be going after the same space to fill? And how do you create a business that can compete? After all, keeping your doors open and your business frequented is priority #1.

The simplest and most effective solution? Be great at what you do. Take the time to learn your business and the need you’re trying to fill – inside and out. Take a step back and think like a customer. Try to imagine how your competitors are failing at meeting customers’ needs. What can you do to solve those issues? Overcoming these hurdles can’t guarantee that your doors will stay open, but your knowledge, talent, and work ethic can set you apart from competitors from the start. This is what builds life-long relationships with customers – the kind of customers that will follow you wherever your business goes.

(Hint: The cost of your product or service should not be the main differentiator from your competition.)

3. Customer acquisition

The key to acquiring customers goes back to the need you’re trying to fill by running your business. If the demand for your product is high, customer acquisition may be easier. And there are always methods to bring in more. First and foremost, be aware of your brand and what your business offers. This will make identifying your target audience more accurate. Then market to them with a varied strategy on multiple fronts: content, email, and social media; search engine optimization; effective copywriting; and the use of analytics.

(Hint: The amount of money you spend on marketing – e.g., Google & Facebook ads – is not as important as who you are targeting.)

4. Building product inventory

This step points directly back to your startup cost. At the beginning, do as much research as you can, then stock your literal (or virtual) shelves with a bit of everything feasible you think your target audience may want or need. Track which products (or services) customers are gravitating towards – what items in your inventory disappear the most quickly? What services in your repertoire are the most requested? After a few weeks or months you’ll have real data to analyze. Then always keep the bestsellers on hand, followed closely by seasonal offerings. And don’t forget to consider making a couple of out-of-the-ordinary offerings available, just in case. Don’t underestimate the power of trying new things from time to time; you never know what could turn into a success!

(Hint: Try to let go of what your favorite items or services might be, if customers are not biting.)

5. Compliance with legal standards

Depending on what type of business you’re in, there may be standards and regulations that you must adhere to. For example, hiring employees falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Federal Employment Laws. There are also State Labor Laws to consider.

(Hint: Be absolutely sure to do your research on the legal matters that can arise when beginning your own business. Not many judges are very accepting of “But, Your Honor, I didn’t know that was illegal!”)

Starting your own business is not an impossible task, especially when you’re prepared.

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Creating Healthy Financial Habits

Creating Healthy Financial Habits

When it comes to building wealth and managing finances well enough to live comfortably, it’s up to your participation in a long-term financial strategy, which – more often than not – depends on creating healthy financial habits NOW.

Check out these ideas on how you can do it!

Automate It
Fortunately for us, we live in the electronic age, which can make streamlining financial goals a lot easier than in decades past. Whether building savings, investing for the future, paying down debt, or any other goals, take advantage of the apps and information available online. Savings can be put on autopilot, taking a fixed amount from your bank account each month or each pay period. The same can be done for IRAs or other investment accounts. Many mobile apps offer to automatically round up purchases and invest the spare change. (Hint: Compare your options and any associated fees for each app.)

Be Mindful of Small Purchases
It can be much easier to be aware of making a large purchase (physically large, financially large, or both). Take a physically large purchase, for instance: it’s difficult to go into a store and come out with a washing machine and not have any memory of it. And for large financial purchases like a laptop or television, some thought usually goes into it – up to and including how it’s going to get paid for. But small, everyday purchases can add up right under your nose. Ever gone into a big box store to grab a couple of items then left having spent over $100 on those items… plus some throw pillows and a couple of lamps you just had to snag? What about that pricey cup of artisan coffee? Odds are pretty good that the coffee shop has some delicious pastries, too, which may fuel that “And your total is…” fire. $100 here, $8.50 there, another $1.75 shelled out for a bottle of water – the small expenses can add up quickly and dip right into the money that could go toward your financial strategy.

Paying with plastic has a tendency to make the tiny expenses forgettable… until you get that credit card bill. One easy way to cut down on the mindless purchases is to pay in cash or with a debit card. The total owed automatically leaves your wallet or you account, perhaps making the dwindling amount you have to set aside for your financial future a little more tangible.

Do What Wealthy People Do
CNBC uncovered several habits and traits that are common among wealthy individuals. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all hard work. They found that wealthy people tend to read – a lot – and continue learning through reading. Your schedule may not allow for as much reading time as the average billionaire – maybe just 30 minutes a day is a good short-term goal – but getting in more reading can help you improve in any area of life!

Another thing wealthy people do? Wake up early. This may help you find that extra 30 minutes for reading. You’ll get more done in general if you get up a little earlier. A 5-year study of self-made millionaires revealed that nearly 50% of this industrious group woke up at least 3 hours before their work day started.

Making these healthy financial habits a part of your regular routine might take some time and effort, but hang in there. Often, success is about the mindset we choose to have. If you stay the course and learn from those who’ve been where you are, you can experience the difference that good habits can make as you keep moving toward financial independence!

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Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges, too.

In fact, money matters are the leading cause of arguments in modern relationships.* The age-old adage that love trumps wealth may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.

These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.

1. Set a goal for debt-free living.
Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.

2. Talk about money matters.
Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.

3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account.
As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.

With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)

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Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

How do you handle job stress?

Sticking to a solid workflow? Meditation? A stress ball in each hand?

Whichever way you choose to lessen the stress (that 80% of American workers experience), there’s another stress-relieving tactic that could make a huge difference:

Relieving financial stress.

Studies have found that money woes can cost workers over 2 weeks in productivity a year! And this time can be lost even when you’re still showing up for work.

This phenomenon is called ‘presenteeism’: you’re physically present at a job, but you’re working while ill or mentally disengaged from tasks. Presenteeism can be caused by stress, worry, or other issues – which, as you can imagine, may deal a significant blow to work productivity.

So what’s the good news?

If you’re constantly worried and stressed about how your family would cope if the income you bring in suddenly stopped due to an untimely passing, there’s a life insurance policy that could help you. Financing unexpected life events, saving for retirement for your spouse, or funding a college education for your children – these are just a few ways the death benefit of a well-tailored life insurance policy could be used to help provide for your loved ones in the event of a sudden tragedy.

A life insurance policy that’s tailored for you can provide coverage for those unknowns that keep you stressed and unproductive. Most people don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. Think of a well-thought out insurance strategy as a stress ball for your bank account!

Contact me today, and together we’ll work on an insurance strategy that fits you and your dreams – and can help you get back to work with significantly less financial stress.

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Savings Rates Need Some Serious Saving

Savings Rates Need Some Serious Saving
May 8, 2019

Ever hear the old story of the 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine?

In the years when there was an abundance of crops, it was wise to store up as much as possible in preparation for the years of famine. However, if instead of saving you ate it all up during the 7 years of abundance, the result would be starvation for you and your family during the 7 lean years. This might be an extreme example in our modern, First World society, but are you “eating it all up” now and not storing enough away for your retirement?

The definition of retirement we’ll be using is: “An indefinite period in which one is no longer actively producing income but rather relies on income generated from pensions and/or personal savings.”

According to this definition, the “years of plenty” would be the years that you are still working and generating income. While you still have regular income, you can set aside a portion of it to save for retirement. This amount is called the “Personal Savings Rate.”

In 2017, the personal savings rate for Americans was approximately 2.4% annually. If you compare that with the average during the 1970’s of a 12.9% annual savings rate, you’ll see it has decreased significantly. This should set off some alarms concerning the impact on your retirement savings.

Suppose you want to retire at 65. Looking at the 10-year window from age 65 to 75, even if you’re planning to live on only half of the income that you were making prior to retirement, you would need to save up 5 years worth of income to last for the full 10 years – not to mention what you’d need after that. But if you’re currently saving only 2.5% of your income per year, it would take 200 years to save up 5 years of income replacement!

So unless someone discovers the elixir of everlasting life, we’re all going to need to do some serious “saving” of the personal savings rate.

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Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest
May 6, 2019

First of all, what is insurable interest?

It’s simply the stake you have in something that is being insured – and that the amount of insurance coverage for whatever is being insured is not more than your potential loss.

To say things could become a bit awkward might be an understatement if your insurable interest isn’t considered before you’re deep into the planning phase of a project or before you’ve signed some papers, like a title or a loan.

It’s better for your sanity to understand insurable interest beforehand. Where the issue of insurable interest often arises is in auto insurance. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have a car that’s worth $5,000. $5,000 is the maximum amount of money you would lose if the car is stolen or damaged – and $5,000 would be the most you could insure the car for. $5,000 is your insurable interest.

In the above example, you own the car, so you have an insurable interest in it. By the same token, you can’t insure your neighbor’s car. If your neighbor’s car was stolen or damaged, you wouldn’t suffer any financial loss because it wasn’t your car.

Here’s where it might get a little tricky and why it’s important to understand insurable interest. Let’s say you have a young driver in the house, a teenager, and it’s time for him to get mobile. He’s been saving up his lawn-mowing money for two years and finally bought the (used) car of his dreams.

You might have considered adding your son’s car to your auto policy to save money – you’ve heard how much it can cost for a teen driver to buy their own policy. Sounds like a good plan, right? However, the problem with this strategy is that you don’t have an insurable interest in your son’s car. He bought it, and it’s registered to him.

You might find an insurance sales rep who will write the policy. But there’s a risk the policy won’t make it through underwriting and – more importantly – if there’s a claim with that car, the claim might not be covered because you didn’t have an insurable interest in it. If you want to put that car on your auto insurance policy, the car needs to be registered to the named insured on the policy – you.

Insurable Interest And Lenders
If you have a mortgage or an auto loan, your lender is probably listed on your policy. Both you and the lender have an insurable interest in the house or the car. Over time, as the loan is paid down, you’ll have a greater insurable interest and the lender’s insurable interest will become smaller. (Hint: When your loan is paid off, ask your agent to remove the lender from the policy to avoid any confusion or delays if you have a claim someday.)

Does Ownership Create Insurable Interest?
Good question. It might seem like ownership and insurable interest are equivalent – they often occur simultaneously. But there are times when you can have an insurable interest in something without being an owner.

Life insurance is a great example of having an insurable interest without ownership. You can’t own a person – but if a person dies, you may experience a financial loss. However, just as you can’t insure your neighbor’s car, you can’t purchase a life insurance policy on your neighbor, either. You’d have to be able to demonstrate your potential loss if your neighbor passed away. And no it doesn’t count if they never returned those hedge clippers they borrowed from you last spring.

So now you know all about insurable interest. While insurable interest requirements may seem inconvenient at times, the rules are there to protect you and to help keep rates lower for everyone. Without insurable interest requirements, the door is open to fraud, speculation, or even malicious behavior. A little inconvenience seems like a much better option.

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Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?
May 1, 2019

A survivorship life insurance policy is a type of joint insurance policy (a policy built for two).

You may not have thought much about that type of insurance before, or even knew it existed. But joint policies, especially survivorship policies, are important to consider because they can provide for heirs, settle estates, and pay for final expenses after both spouses have passed.

Most joint life insurance policies are what’s known as “first to die” policies. As the unambiguous nickname suggests, a first to die policy is designed to provide for the remaining spouse after the first passes.

A joint life insurance policy is a time-tested way of providing for a remaining spouse. But without careful planning, a typical joint life policy might leave a burden for surviving children or other family members.

A survivorship life insurance policy works differently than a first to die policy. Also called a “last to die” policy, a survivorship policy provides a death benefit only when both insured spouses have passed. A survivorship policy doesn’t pay a death benefit to either spouse but rather to a separate named beneficiary.

You’ll find survivorship life insurance referred to as:

  • Joint Survivor Life Insurance
  • Second-to-Die Life Insurance
  • Variable Survivorship Insurance

Survivorship life insurance policies are sometimes referred to by different names, but the structure is the same in that the policy only pays a benefit after both people insured by the policy have died.

Reasons to Buy Survivorship Life Insurance
We all have our reasons for buying a life insurance policy, and often have someone in mind who we want to protect and provide for. Those reasons often dictate the best type of policy – or the best combination of policies – that can meet our goals.

A survivorship policy is well-suited to any of the following considerations, perhaps in combination with other policies:

  • Final expenses
  • Estate taxes
  • Lingering medical expenses
  • Payment of debt
  • Transfer of wealth

It’s also most common for a survivorship life insurance policy to be a permanent life insurance policy. This is because the reasons for using a survivorship policy, including transfer of wealth, are usually better served by a permanent life policy than by a term insurance policy. (A term life insurance policy is only in force for a limited time and doesn’t build any cash value.)

Benefits of Survivorship Life Insurance

  • A survivorship life policy can be an effective way to transfer wealth as part of a financial strategy.
  • Life insurance can be difficult to purchase for individuals with certain health conditions. Because a survivorship life insurance policy is underwriting coverage based on two individuals, it may be possible to purchase coverage for someone who couldn’t easily be insured otherwise.
  • As a permanent life insurance policy, a survivorship life policy builds cash value that can be accessed if needed in certain situations.
  • Costs can be lower for a survivorship life policy than insuring two spouses individually.

The good news is that life insurance rates are more affordable now than in the past. That’s great! But keep in mind, your life insurance policy – of any type – will probably cost less now than if you wait for another birthday to pass for either spouse insured by the policy.

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What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?
April 29, 2019

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.

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Don't Panic: Helpful Hints for the Life Insurance Medical Exam

Don't Panic: Helpful Hints for the Life Insurance Medical Exam
April 22, 2019

It seems like most people don’t like exams – either taking one or having one done to them.

But there’s no need to panic over your life insurance medical exam (yes, you’re probably going to have one). I’ve got some steps you can take before the “big day” to help prevent readings which may skew your test results or create unnecessary confusion.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the exam’s purpose isn’t to pass or fail you based on your health. Your insurer just needs to understand the big picture so they can assign an accurate rating. Oftentimes, the news can be better than expected, and generally good health is rewarded with a lower rate. Alternatively, the exam might uncover something that needs attention, like high cholesterol. That might be something good to know so you can make necessary lifestyle changes.

Think of your exam as a big-picture view. Your insurer will measure several key aspects of your health. These areas help determine your life insurance class, which is simply a group of people with similar overall health characteristics.

Your insurer will most likely look at:

  • Height and weight
  • Pulse/blood pressure tests
  • Blood test
  • Urine test

Tests can indicate glucose levels, blood pressure levels, and the presence of nicotine or other substances. Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement of overall fitness in regard to weight – may also be measured as part of your life insurance exam.

The most obvious cause that could affect your results is medications you’ve taken recently. These will probably show up in your blood tests. Bring a list of any prescription medications you’re taking so your insurer can match those to the blood analysis.

Over the counter meds can interfere with test results and create inaccurate readings too, so it might be best to avoid them for 24 hours prior to your medical exam if possible. Caffeine can elevate blood pressure as well.

Alcohol has a similar temporary effect on blood pressure. However, if you’re a regular or heavy drinker and you stop cold-turkey a day or two before your exam, you might be unpleasantly surprised to find that your blood pressure readings are still high! Slowly lower alcohol comsumption over the course of 1-2 weeks prior to your exam for the most favorable reading.

Some types of exercise, but the amount of time it takes is slightly different for everyone; the healthier you are, the faster it will return to normal. To be on the safe side, avoid working out right before your medical exam.

Some types of foods can create false readings or temporarily raise cholesterol levels. It’s best to avoid eating for 9-12 hours prior to your exam, giving your body time to clear temporary effects. Scheduling your exam for the morning makes this easier.

Stress can affect blood pressure readings. (Surprise, surprise.) Try to schedule your life insurance medical exam for a time when you’ll be less stressed. After work might not be the best time; after a good night’s rest would be better.

If you put these steps into practice before your medical exam, you have the potential to shield yourself from unattractive, false readings about your personal health – which has the potential to shield you from higher premiums! So don’t panic; just prepare.

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