Are Your Assets Protected?

Asset protection is more important than ever before. Today, you have risks at every turn. Lawsuits, high cost of long-term care, auto and home accidents, or years of Probate. All too often, we settle and fail to consider the importance of comprehensive protection. In other cases, all we need is the best legal document to protect what we own. It is not worth rolling the dice and sacrificing your savings or your hard-earned assets. And it is next to impossible to keep up with what you need for protection. Many changes you need come without warning.

Homestead Real Estate

Suppose you are married and currently working as the police. In that case, your principal place of residence should be titled in Tenants by Entirety. This form of legal title protects your marital property from the creditors of one spouse.

Firearms

With the growing availability of concealed carry laws, more citizens are choosing to carry firearms and to keep them accessible for defense in their homes.

However, even for justifiable acts of self-defense, a claim for monetary damages can be made against you by your assailant or innocent bystanders. You can also be held liable for gun-related incidents while hunting, in gun clubs, or while shooting at commercial or private ranges.

Check out the Benefits Plan website for more information.

Asset Protection with Automobile Insurance

The most common auto policy written today is the same as it was 25 years ago – $100,000/$300,000.  It means you have $100,000 in individual protection for damages caused by you or a covered driver on your policy. Similarly, you have $300,000 total coverage for all injured parties. 

Consequently, you are personally responsible for damages that exceed these amounts. Even a minor accident can result in hospitalization, extended medical care, or death. However, Umbrella Insurance only costs an average of $250 per year. The policy provides an additional $1 million in liability protection for each covered vehicle and your residence.

Investment Real Estate

If you own commercial property, your renters can sue you for various reasons. For example, claims made for injuries resulting from property defects inside and outside of the residence. First, be sure you have the right coverage and are not overpaying. Secondly, eliminate any personal liability concern for excess claims by holding title to any investment property in either a Corporation or an LLC.  Moreover, a Series LLC allows you to separate liabilities from each property if you own more than one investment property.

Long Term Health Care

Will you need it?  For those who live longer than age 65, 70% will need some long-term health care. To clarify, only 40% of people will require inpatient nursing care. However, all long-term health care is expensive. Fortunately, there is a hybrid insurance policy that is offered exclusively to Benefits Plan members. This policy provides long-term care insurance and, if not accessed, it can be converted to life insurance at your death.

Living Trusts and Asset Protection

At the end of your life, or if you become incapacitated, property or bank accounts in your name, are at risk of Probate.

  • A Will must be probated. The rule is no one can legally sign your name. Therefore, all assets in your name are subject to the complete probate process at your death or incapacity. This court process averages 18 months and is costly.
  • A Living Trust completely avoids Probate.
  • A Living Trust estate plan includes both Health Care and Financial Power of Attorney documents and a Last Will and Testament for guardianship of minor children and to “pour over”  any assets still in your name at your death, out of Probate.

A Revocable Living Trust is a written, legal document that allows you to privately pass your assets to your family, friends, or charities after your death. Assets in a properly funded Trust are not subject to Probate. These include real estate, bank accounts, stocks, and minor beneficiary policies and accounts. Your life insurance policies and deferred compensation accounts can name your Living Trust as beneficiary, subject to essential tax considerations. However, often it is recommended that adult beneficiaries, without legal or other restrictions, be named as beneficiaries.

Comprehensive Benefits of America

For an expanded presentation of asset protection and financial wellness strategies and to receive regular updates on strategies to protect what you have earned, visit and register with CBAPlan on the link below. Registration is free.

Visit www.cbaplan.com or call 1-312-559-8444 for assistance with registering.

Tom Tuohy is the founder and CEO of Comprehensive Benefits of America, LLC, and Tuohy Law Offices.

RS provides cafeteria plan relief for the pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enacted temporary special rules for health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) and dependent care assistance programs under Sec. 125 cafeteria plans.

The new rules were put in place as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CCA), P.L. 116-260, enacted in December 2020. The IRS has now provided these plans with more discretion in 2021 and 2022 to make adjustments to help employees meet the unanticipated consequences of the public health emergency (Notice 2021-15). The IRS anticipates that, because of the pandemic, employees are more likely to have unused health FSA amounts or dependent care assistance program amounts at the end of 2020 and 2021.

The changes enacted in the CCA allow flexibility for carryovers of unused amounts from the 2020 and 2021 plan years; extend the permissible grace period for plan years ending in 2020 and 2021; provide a special rule regarding post-termination reimbursements from health FSAs; provide a special carryover rule for dependent care assistance programs when a dependent ages out during the pandemic; and allow certain midyear election changes for health FSAs and dependent care assistance programs for plan years ending in 2021.

Notice 2021-15 permits employees who are eligible to make salary reduction contributions under a cafeteria plan to make a new election prospectively if the employee initially declined to elect employer-sponsored health coverage; revoke an existing election and make a new election to enroll in different health coverage sponsored by the same employer prospectively; and revoke an existing election prospectively, as long as the employee attests in writing that he or she is enrolled, or immediately will enroll, in other health coverage not sponsored by the employer.

The notice also provides relief for the effective date of amendments to Sec. 125 cafeteria plans to implement the expansion under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, P.L. 116-136, which allowed expenses for health FSAs and health reimbursement arrangements to include over-the-counter drugs without prescriptions and menstrual care products. The rules allow those expenses to be reimbursed for any period beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020, without disqualifying the plans.

— Sally P. Schreiber, J.D., (Sally.Schreiber@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA senior editor.

Financial Planning: 10 Opportunities for 2021

How can you optimize your financial plans for 2021? Financial experts think these 10 ideas have potential for success—if you get started soon.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Have you set specific financial, investment, estate and philanthropic goals for 2021 and beyond? If not, these ideas can get you started. If so, fantastic—these 10 opportunities can enhance your plans.

1. Rebalance Your Portfolio

A volatile 2020 that favored specific industries over others, along with the potential buildup of cash at year-end from investments, means portfolios are likely in need of review. Now is a good time to compare current portfolio exposure to strategic targets and determine if changes are warranted. Be attentive not just to bond and stock mix, but also to underlying asset classes (for example, growth versus value).

2. Evaluate Your Cash Management Strategy

With yields close to zero (and likely to remain at that level for the foreseeable future), it’s important to maintain a prudent cash-management strategy. Evaluate balances relative to short- and intermediate-term needs to determine appropriate levels. Ensure cash balances respect FDIC/NCUA limits, and seek alternatives where warranted to provide protections.

3. Consider RMD/QCD Planning

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are back after the CARES Act waived them last year. Evaluate the role RMDs will play in cash flow and tax planning. Consider the use of year-end RMD withholding as a replacement for quarterly estimates if RMD will be in excess of required tax payments. Remember that qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) remain a viable option for the charitably inclined to partially or fully offset RMDs. For those considering QCDs, it may be wise to wait for clarity on tax policy and the resulting impact on itemized deductions.

4. Review Insurance Policies

With record-low yields, dividend crediting rates on whole life policies may be negatively impacted. Without proper management, this trend could place certain policies at risk of lapse over time. Reviewing your policies now and developing a plan to protect your coverage allows time to make appropriate changes. It’s important to assess whether the current structure remains appropriate for your situation as well.

5. Develop Your Family Education Plan

Now is a great time to refocus on your family’s financial future. Developing a proper plan to bring the next generations into the fold isn’t only a good complement to sound financial planning, but actually critical to its execution. Developing the next generation to operate as sound stewards of your legacy is a high-impact activity that magnifies the benefits of prudent wealth planning.RELATEDReputation Management: Why Is It Important for Financial Services?

6. Use Low Rates to Your Advantage for Wealth Transfer

This environment is still extremely conducive for intrafamily wealth transfer. Utilizing notes between families or entities, selling assets to grantor trusts, or using grantor-retained annuity trusts (GRATs) all remain attractive strategies. For existing debt in place, consider refinancing given the current low interest rate environment.

7. Consider Freezing GRATs

After strong performance since the March 2020 lows, many GRATs hold significant appreciation. Consider the merits of locking in that appreciation via asset substitution with lower-risk, less volatile assets. New GRATs can be restarted to continue transferring upside if the markets cooperate, while the frozen GRATs can preserve value for intended beneficiaries.

8. Review Your Estate Plan

2020 highlighted the importance of planning for the unexpected, and that lesson extends to your estate plan. Review the key tenets of your plan and confirm that they still align with your wishes. This includes trustees, personal representatives, financial and health care powers of attorney, guardians, distribution provisions, among others.RELATEDWhy Financial Literacy Will Unite Americans

9. Don’t Forget the Estate Planning “Freebies”

While this remains a favorable environment for advanced wealth transfer strategies, keep in mind the simpler options. The annual exclusion gift limit remains at $15,000 per person. You have the ability to pay for medical expenses, with no limit, as long as you pay the medical provider directly. And you can still pay for education expenses, also with no limit, and again, as long as you issue payment to the institution, not the individual.

10. Plan for Philanthropic Giving

Donor-advised funds and family foundation balances have swelled in recent years, due to both accelerated gifting for tax purposes and market performance. This is a great time to take a step back and develop or confirm your strategic plan for the funds available for grants moving forward.

As with many financial topics, these planning concepts shouldn’t be viewed in a silo. Your advisory team can work with you to tie those pertinent to you to your broader plan. Feel free to contact your financial advisor to discuss further.

Jim Baird, David Stahl, Dawn Jinsky, Mike Lopus Published on February 16, 2021

Past performance does not guarantee future results. All investments include risk and have the potential for loss as well as gain.
Data sources for peer group comparisons, returns, and standard statistical data are provided by the sources referenced and are based on data obtained from recognized statistical services or other sources believed to be reliable. However, some or all information has not been verified prior to the analysis, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Benchmarks or indices are included for information purposes only to reflect the current market environment; no index is a directly tradable investment.
CBA Ppla publishes this update to convey general information about market conditions and not for the purpose of providing investment advice. Any analysis non-factual in nature constitutes only current opinions, which are subject to change at any time. Investment in any of the companies or sectors mentioned herein may not be appropriate for you. You should consult a representative from CBA for investment advice regarding your own situation.

5 Must Haves in Your 2021 Financial Plan

Start the new year with a plan, but don't leave out these important considerations.

A new year offers everyone an opportunity to revisit their financial priorities and to document them in a written financial plan. In an effort to keep your own financial life simple and manageable, it's advisable to have a list of core tenets that comprise its foundation. The list should be short but effective -- the hope is that it will remain relevant regardless of how the market performs in 2021. Below you'll find five must-haves in your 2021 financial plan. 

1. Commit to low -- or no -- fees

It's 2021 -- access to financial markets has never been easier or more convenient. As a result, investing is now free or very close to it. It's difficult to think of many valid reasons to hold high expense ratio funds or to pay commissions to a broker when free alternatives exist. Try to build a portfolio of high-quality stocks at zero cost by using a discount broker, or consider the time-saving approach of holding only broad market index funds

2. Open a Roth IRA

A Roth IRA -- assuming you're within the income limits to contribute -- allows you to deposit up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you're over 50) of after-tax money every year and invest it tax-free, forever. You won't pay tax on any dividends or growth going forward, even when you finally withdraw the money in retirement. If you are above the income limits to contribute directly to a Roth IRA -- a good problem to have -- you can investigate a backdoor Roth IRA contribution

Given the perils facing Social Security and the uncertain future existence of defined benefit pension plans, you should plan to take full responsibility for the cost of retirement. The Roth IRA is at the core of taking such responsibility. Also important to mention is that tax rates in the future are not likely to remain as low as they are now, providing further reason to pay tax today and allow money to grow tax-free into the future. 

3. Adequate insurance

What has the potential to go wrong almost certainly will, sooner or later. The beginning of the year is an ideal time to revisit all of your insurance coverage -- health, auto, home, and pet, among others -- and determine if you are receiving the right amount of coverage at appropriate value. Generally speaking, you have insurance to protect against catastrophe. This means that relatively small out-of-pocket amounts are acceptable if you have high-deductible insurance coverage. Just make sure you'll be covered in worst-case-scenario events.

4. An asset allocation

In the most basic terms, an asset allocation is another way of saying "division of assets." For example, a 90/10 asset allocation generally refers to a portfolio containing 90% stocks and 10% bonds. Your asset allocation is a guiding benchmark that helps you manage financial risk. An 80/20 portfolio, for instance, will have greater risk than a 30/70 portfolio. Finding the appropriate ratio of stocks to bonds (and/or other assets such as real estate) is one of the keys to creating a sound financial plan but understandably might take a bit of time to refine.

5. A general sense of your tax situation

Without spending the month of January with your head buried in federal income taxation books, it's at least useful to know some of the basics of your tax situation. Do you know approximately what bracket you'll be in once the year is over? Do you know if you use the standard deduction or itemize? Knowing the answers to these questions, among others, is undoubtedly useful in interpreting your broader financial picture. Furthermore, your actions within your investment portfolio will ultimately affect your tax return the following year, so it's helpful to know and understand the consequences of your investing actions before you take them. 

Know the basics

It stands to reason that those who will lead financially successful lives in 2021 do not need to know every last detail about financial planning. But they will know the basics and get them mostly right. This means having a written plan covering the above steps and mostly sticking to them -- perfection isn't the point here. Financial planning is also as much art as it is science, and being a little bit wrong is fine. At the same time, having some direction and knowing the fundamentals will go a long way in making your financial life a successful one. 

Sam Swenson, CFA, CPA Jan 10, 2021 at 7:32AM

The Young Person’s Guide to Investing

Narrowing down all the options and figuring out where to turn can be paralyzing. We’ve got you covered.

Credit...Jocelyn Tsaih

Investing doesn’t have to be that complicated.

But when you’re just starting out, it can be hard to knock it off your to-do list because you have so many competing demands — a budding career, rent and student debt, to name just a few. You also need at least some basic knowledge, which probably wasn’t covered in any of your classes in high school or college.

The good news: There are more attractive options for entry-level investors than ever before. Many mutual funds cost just fractions of pennies for every dollar you invest, and some firms are dangling them for free. Even getting advice from professionals is easier than it was for previous generations. And after you go through the motions once, you can set your plan on autopilot for a while.

But narrowing down all the alternatives and figuring out where to turn? That can be paralyzing.

This guide can help — consider it your road map to investing.

There are a couple of items you want to deal with first: preparing for a financial emergency and creating a plan to attack any high-cost debt you might have.

Building a financial cushion will help soften the blow should your money situation change, whether that’s because of the loss of a job or because of a giant unexpected expense. Most financial planners suggest keeping at least three to six months of living expenses in cash — to cover the basics like rent, food, utilities, loan payments, student loans, etc. — in a traditional bank account that’s backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. That means your savings are insured by the federal government, up to certain limits, if the bank fails.

You can find the best interest rates at online banks, and the easiest way to get started is to set up regular, automatic transfers from your checking account. (Capital One 360, for example, lets you set up different savings accounts, which you can label for different purposes — emergency fund, annual vacation and so on).

If you have really high-cost debt — like credit card debt — you want to deal with that before investing significant amounts of money. If you’re earning 7 or 8 percent over the long term in the stock market but paying 15 percent on a card, you’re better off tackling the debt first.

That logic doesn’t necessarily apply to your student loans. Depending on the type of person you are — maybe you detest debt or like to tackle one big task at a time — it might feel better to pay down your loans first. But there’s a strong case to be made to both invest and pay down your loans simultaneously, if you can. (People with piles of high-cost student debt should seek help.)

Investing early and often puts you at a huge advantage, thanks to the magic of compounding numbers, which is illustrated below. Need we say more?

So you have some money to invest or are working and want to set up a plan for your long-term goals. Many financial experts recommend saving at least 12 to 15 percent of your salary to achieve a secure retirement, and others suggest even more.

But even 10 percent might seem like a laughable notion at this stage. There are ways to inch closer to that goal, however, without doing all of the savings on your own.

Much of how you get there will depend on whether you have access to a retirement plan through your employer, typically a 401(k) at for-profit organizations and often 403(b) plans at nonprofits.SMARTER LIVING: A weekly roundup of the best advice from The Times on living a better, smarter, more fulfilling life.Sign Up

If you do, then much of the hard work is done for you. Employers must vet and assemble the plan’s menu of investment options. On top of that, you contribute money that hasn’t yet been taxed, so it lowers your tax bill. The money then grows tax-free over time, and you pay tax on the money when it’s withdrawn in retirement.

The best part? Some employers will also provide a matching contribution for your savings. They might match every dollar you contribute, say, up to 4 percent of your salary. That matching money is a guaranteed return, regardless of what the stock market is doing. Save as much as you can to grab all of that free money.

Then, each subsequent year, you might crank up your savings by one percentage point (some plans have tools that can automate this), so within a few years you will be closer to that respectable goal of 10 percent of your salary (which includes what your employer kicks in).

Just remember: Not all employer-provided plans are good ones. Some are downright awful, stuffed with high-cost, low-quality investments. How do you know whether your plan is a winner? The costs you pay for the plan are typically a telltale sign — and paying too much can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, over the course of your career.

“If you see a bunch of funds that are charging more than 1 percent a year, that is a red flag,” said Christine Benz, director of personal finance at the investment research firm Morningstar, referring to investments that charge more than 1 percent of your total money invested. You can also ask human resources (or the person coordinating the plan) to see a copy of the summary plan description, which should list any other administrative fees that aren’t immediately obvious. (BrightScope also has a tool that ranks thousands of plans.)

If you’re in a high-cost plan, save enough to get any company match, but consider investing anything extra into another type of account.

For younger people, Roth I.R.A.s are often the preferable choice. That’s because you deposit money that has already been taxed, and you’re probably in a lower tax bracket now than you will be later in life when you’re earning more. In contrast, with a traditional I.R.A., investors get a tax deduction now, but pay taxes when the money is withdrawn. Your Roth I.R.A. balance is what you will actually have to spend; in a traditional I.R.A., it will be reduced by the amount of tax you will owe later.

Another upside to a Roth: In an emergency, you can withdraw contributions — but not any investment earnings — without penalty. (Not that you want to do that!) However, there are income ceilings that determine who can contribute, as well as other rules around withdrawals.

For a more comprehensive look at the various other types of plans, including traditional I.R.A.s, read our retirement guide here.

Resist the temptation to use the latest slick app promoting its ability to invest in single stocks or cryptocurrencies. You want to do the opposite: Own a collection of cheap and boring mutual funds that invest in different kinds of stocks from all over the world, with a helping of safe bond funds to cushion the inevitable swings of the stock market. That way, if anything goes wrong with a particular stock or sector of the market — say, technology or emerging markets — you’ve hedged your bets.

Some mutual funds are run by professional stock pickers who try to beat the broader market’s performance, but very few succeed consistently over long periods of time.

That’s why you’re better off in what’s called an index fund, whose investments simply mirror big sections of the stock market — the S&P 500 Index, for example, tracks the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States.

Investors paid an average cost — known as the expense ratio — of 0.48 percent of their assets, meaning 48 cents for every $100 invested, for mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in 2018, according to a Morningstar study. That’s down from 0.51 percent in 2017. (Exchange-traded funds, or E.T.F.s, are similar to index funds, but trade on an exchange like stocks. For most investors, the difference between a mutual fund and an E.T.F. is negligible. Since many providers have waived trading commissions on E.T.F.s, the ultimate decision on which to invest in might come down to whichever has the lowest expense ratio. But if you’re investing in a regular taxable brokerage account, E.T.F.’s might be preferable because they are more tax efficient, experts said.)

Funds that are actively managed by human pros often cost 1 percent of your assets annually or more — that’s $1 or more for every $100 invested.

That might not seem like a lot, but consider that index funds that track the entire stock market can be had for mere pennies for every $100 invested. Fidelity has gone even further — it offers four index funds that are free and do not require any minimum investment (More on that here.)

Paying rock-bottom prices can add many tens of thousand of dollars, or more, to your balance over the course of your career.

One of the more important decisions you will make — besides how much you pay for investments — is how you decide to divvy up your investments among stock, bond and other funds, something known as your asset allocation.

Younger people can generally afford to take more risks and invest more heavily in stocks — which have the potential to generate more growth over time — because they have many working years ahead of them. If the market tanks, their portfolio has time to recover.

But how much you ultimately decide to dedicate to stocks overall should also depend on the strength of your stomach to tolerate market swings.

One way to figure this out is to ask yourself a question: The stock market tumbled nearly 50 percent during the Great Recession. If you had most of your money in stocks at that point, how would you have reacted?

If the answer is, “I probably would’ve sold more stocks,” well, that means you probably had too much to begin with. Then you’ll need to figure out when to get back into the market — and you will most likely be wrong. You want an allocation that will allow you to stay the course, even if it’s a bumpy ride. But if you’re too conservative, you’ll have to save more because your portfolio probably won’t grow as fast.

Also consider the following: An investment portfolio evenly divided between stocks and bonds would have lost nearly 29 percent of its value in the Great Recession, but it would have taken only about a year to recover, according to an analysis by Vanguard. A portfolio that was 100 percent stocks — and lost about 55 percent — would have taken about three years to recoup its losses.

So how do you figure out what stock-bond mixture will work for your situation? One type of mutual fund, known as a target-date fund, does that job for you.

You pick a fund based on the year you hope to retire — so if you’re 40 years from retirement, you’d chose the 2060 retirement fund. As that date draws closer, its mix of investments slowly becomes more conservative.

A couple of 2060 funds — including Fidelity’s and Vanguard’s — now allocate about 90 percent of their portfolios to stock index funds (with roughly 55 percent in United States stocks and 35 in international) and the remainder in bonds. Schwab’s version is a bit more aggressive: it has 95 percent of assets in stock funds. Be sure to look under the hood so you know what’s inside: When markets plummeted in 2008 to 2009, many target-date funds with the same target date had returns that varied widely.

Another benefit of target-date funds: If you put all of your retirement money into one fund, you won’t have to worry about routine portfolio maintenance known as rebalancing. That’s when investors sell investments that have ballooned beyond their initial target (of, say, 90 percent in stocks) and reinvest the proceeds into the side of the portfolio that has shrunk, relatively speaking.

Other services, known as roboadvisers, can also do much of this work for you. More on those in a minute.

Shorter-term goals — buying a condo or a car or saving for a wedding — generally require a less risky approach.

If you’ll need to use the money in three years or less — say, for an emergency fund or a vacation — the answer is easy: Shuttle your savings into a high-yield savings account each month, one with a competitive interest rate, said Matt Becker, a certified financial planner in Florida. With such a short time frame, the amount of money you save is more important than any return you may earn — and you don’t want to risk losing anything.

If your goal is anywhere from three to 10 years away, you might take more of a hybrid strategy. If you want to buy a home in five years but can be a little flexible on timing, you might invest one half in a savings account and the remainder in a fund balanced between stocks and bonds.

“A good rule of thumb is to expect that in any given year you could lose half of whatever money you have in the stock market,” Mr. Becker said. “Of course, you would also expect to recover that over time, but over shorter time periods that may be harder to do.”

If you want to buy a home in five years from now or longer and know you’ll need at least $60,000, he said you might put half of your monthly savings into a savings account or a certificate of deposit, while the other half goes into a taxable brokerage account that holds something like Vanguard’s LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund, which is 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds. That means you’d have about 30 percent of your money in stocks — in other words, 15 percent of your savings could vaporize in a down market. For absolutely certainty your money will be there by a certain date, use a high-yield savings account.

Outside of a solid employer-sponsored retirement plan, the best place to get started is at one of the brokerages where you can gain access to index funds with ease — FidelitySchwab and Vanguard all provide solid options for entry-level investors, for example, depending on your personal preferences.

You might also consider a so-called roboadviser, which will ask you a series of questions before formulating an automated investment plan for a specific goal. Several of them also offer help from human advisers for an extra fee.

The Robo Report, which tracks and analyzes roboadvisers, ranked Betterment as its top pick for entry-level investors.

“Their platform is intuitive and simple, has a $0 minimum balance and has a high-interest savings account for cash reserves,” said Ken Schapiro, president at Backend Benchmarking, which publishes The Robo Report. “They have strong online features, and a client can easily graduate from their digital-only service to their service with live advisers as their needs grow.”

Many discount brokerages now also offer robo-type services of their own, but they have different strategies; it pays to compare them before you decide on any one.

Professional help can also be found for less money these days, though it will obviously cost more than a robot adviser.

A warm-blooded professional may be worth it, particularly if you’re having trouble getting your debt under control or need more hand-holding with a specific issue.

But you’ll need to find someone who is truly working in your best interest and not lining their pockets at your expense.

To increase your chances of finding someone like that, ask if they are acting as a fiduciary. The pros most likely to be fiduciaries are “certified financial planners” who are also “registered investment advisers.” Then, you probably want to find one of these individuals who charge you an hourly rate for their time or another type of flat fee; you want to avoid financial advisers who only earn money when they sell you a product.

Here’s where to find them: XY Planning NetworkGarrett Planning NetworkThe National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

But most younger investors really don’t need all that much help. If your situation is relatively simple and you’re just looking to become more knowledgeable about money and investing, there are plenty of materials that can provide a solid foundation: “I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Second Edition,” by Ramit Sethi; “If You Can,” by William Bernstein; “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing,” by Erin Lowry; and anything by John Bogle or Helaine Olen.

Tara Siegel Bernard covers personal finance. Before joining The Times in 2008, she was deputy managing editor at FiLife, a personal finance website, and an editor at CNBC. She also worked at Dow Jones and contributed regularly to The Wall Street Journal. @tarasbernard

A Financial Planer Is Important Now

After a pandemic rattles the economy, professional advice can be crucial for investors.
Female accountant or banker making calculations on her laptop

Investors must navigate a global pandemic that resulted in unemployment, market volatility and crushing economic losses.(GETTY IMAGES)

ON A COLD DAY IN Chicago in December 1969, 13 people met to discuss a better way to provide financial advice. They recognized that Americans would benefit from the counsel of a financial planning professional who integrates the knowledge and best practices of an often fragmented financial services industry.

Financial planning has evolved since then and will continue to change, but one constant remains – the need for competent and ethical financial planning advice.

Fifty years after that fateful night, those 13 individuals never could have imagined that the country would face a global pandemic that resulted in unemployment, market volatility and crushing economic losses.[ 

SEE: Is Your Portfolio Too Complex? ]

No matter your net worth, seeking the advice of a financial planning professional will help you navigate COVID-19 fallout and today's mercurial markets, taking into account the dynamic financial planning process.

Financial planning services are more accessible than ever before. A financial planner will take a holistic view and help you feel confident in your financial future, even during times of uncertainty and evolving goals, from paying down student loans, to raising children to funding retirement.

Working with a financial planner is very personal. Knowing how to identify the right person who will be the best fit for you and your financial needs can feel overwhelming. But don't let your search for professional advice intimidate you. As you talk to advisors in your area virtually, here are five areas to focus on to guide your pursuit of a prospective financial planner:

  • Personal financial goals.
  • Financial planner experience and credentials.
  • Commitment to a fiduciary standard.
  • Establishing a relationship.
  • Long-term success.

Personal Financial Goals

Before connecting with prospective financial planners, you need to identify your own personal goals and financial milestones.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor For You

Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with top fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is legally bound to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

While a focus on holistic financial planning is key, financial planners often have specialties. Identifying your own goals will help you narrow your search and work with someone that can help turn your goals into a reality. It will also strengthen your relationship early on as one of your first conversations will focus on your top short- and long-term goals.

Financial Planner Experience and Credentials

There are many credentials that financial professionals can hold, and it often seems like an alphabet soup of designations.

It's important to confirm that the professional you're considering has the verifiable expertise you need and is operating in your best interest. A certified financial planner professional is an individual who has been rigorously trained, has accrued significant experience and is committed to putting clients' interests first under a fiduciary standard.[ 

SEE: 5 Economic Factors That Influence Stocks. ]

You can confirm someone's CFP certification through the CFP Board website's "Verify a CFP Professional" tool. You can also learn more and verify other designations through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority BrokerCheck website or the Securities and Exchange Commission Investment Advisor search feature on its website.

Commitment to a Fiduciary Standard

fiduciary is someone that works in the best interest of their client. When searching for financial planners, working with someone who is a fiduciary is critical, as nonfiduciaries only need to offer advice that is suitable even if it is not the best option for you.

CFP professionals are held to the CFP Board's Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct, a higher standard of competency and ethics. They are required to act in a client's best interest to benefit and protect the public. They are subject to discipline if they do not uphold the Code and Standards.

Establishing a Relationship

The relationship you have with your financial planner is one of the most important relationships in your life. Because their guidance impacts your money, you need to understand what that might look like in practice.https://fe216110efed31ec72551108d888335e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

For example, how often will they communicate with you? Will they communicate mostly through email or phone calls? Or will you work directly with that individual or other members of their team?

Ask for client testimonials or examples of a similar client relationship during your vetting process. Understanding how the financial planner works with other clients will help you better understand what a potential relationship will entail.

Long-Term Success

While it is important to look for a financial planner that will help you navigate COVID-19, also look for financial planners that are focused on holistic financial plans. The creation of a holistic financial plan will take your financial goals and milestones into consideration, creating a long-term road map that looks beyond the coronavirus.

Measuring success through the achievement of your long-term goals will be a stronger indicator of accomplishment than other investment benchmarks.[ 

SEE: 6 Things to Consider Before Investing in IPOs. ]

Financial planning is a relatively new practice. In fact, the first video game "Tennis for Two" is older than the financial planning profession. In your search for financial advice, focus on the above areas to help you narrow your search for a financial planner that exhibits key traits of a good advisor and is also the right match for you.

Kevin Keller, Contributor

COVID-19 Stimulus Payments Round 2: What You Need to Know

Congress has finally reached a bipartisan deal on a $900 billion Coronavirus Relief stimulus package, and the President has signed it into law. This one also includes a stimulus payment, but there are big differences between this one and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March.

focus on money

Who qualifies for this round of stimulus payments?

The requirements are similar to the last round of payments with the upper income limits reduced.

To qualify for the economic impact payments you’ll need to meet each of the following requirements:

  • Have a social security number
  • You are a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Resident Alien
  • Make less than $87,000 filing single or $174,000 as a couple on your most recent tax return
  • You weren’t claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return

How much is the stimulus payment?

This COVID relief bill includes only up to $600 for qualifying adults, which is half of the amount offered by the CARES Act in March. 

If you made under $75,000 on your most recent tax return, you will be eligible for the full $600. Couples that filed together and made under $150,000 on their last return will be eligible for $1,200 combined. 

If you made over the income limit but less than $87,000 filing single or $174,000 as a couple and meet the other requirements, you’re eligible for a reduced payment.

You are also eligible for a flat amount of $600 per child dependent 16 or under.

How will I get my payment?

You will receive your payment through either check or direct deposit using the same method you requested filing your 2019 tax return. 

When will I get my stimulus payment?

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC that the first payments will go out before the end of the year.

While it will be a bit longer before everybody receives payments, they will probably be available much faster than last time since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) already issued similar payments earlier this year.

How can I get my stimulus payment with Varo?

If you requested your 2019 tax refund as a direct deposit to your Varo Money bank account, you’ll receive your payment as soon as it’s issued by the IRS.

What can I do with my stimulus payment?

There is no limitation on how you can spend the money. These stimulus payments were issued by the federal government to help working class and middle class Americans who’ve been impacted negatively by the pandemic. If you need to spend it to cover basic expenses, you should.

If you don’t have immediate expenses to cover, it’s a good idea to save it. Sign up for Varo’s high APY Bank Account here

Will I get another stimulus payment?

Currently, the bill the President signed only allows for the $600 payments, but there is a move in Congress to raise these payments to $2,000.    While this raise in the stimulus payment passed the House, it has not yet come to a vote in the Senate.   Joe Biden has also said he’ll push for another round of checks when he’s in office.  There is no guarantee that the stimulus payment will be raised to $2,000 or that there will be another round of payments.

This COVID relief bill did extend the enhanced $300 a week unemployment benefits for up to 11 weeks, so if you qualify for  unemployment you will likely keep this benefit. Restarting unemployment benefits under the new law may take states 3 weeks or more according to experts. Be patient as states get in gear to provide these benefits. 

Apply for a Varo Bank Account today. No monthly fees or minimum balances.
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By Editors at Varo

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC (“Bank”) or Comprehensive Benefits of America, LLC, (CBA). The bank and CBA are not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC, or by Comprehensive Benefits of America, LLC.

Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Cambridge and CBA are not affiliated.

7 GREAT BENEFITS OF 24-7 TELEMEDICINE

It is 7:00 am on Monday. Your throat is hurting, and you have a bad cough with severe body ache. You are unable to leave the warmth of your bed. But you have kids who need to be dropped for school, and you have an important presentation at work that can’t be delayed— so you have no time to waste sitting in the waiting room of the urgent care center. Luckily you work for a company that acknowledges the employee’s health-worth and provides a health package including a telemedicine program. You make an appointment with a doctor, and in a few minutes, you are getting examined and diagnosed from the comfort of your home. You save your time and money and get relieved from your stress after speaking with the physician.

Research has proved that the patients who access healthcare through telemedicine show lower rates of stress and anxiety than those who go for in-person visits. These patients show 38% lesser hospital admissions.

Here are 7 great benefits of telemedicine.com for the employees:

HEALTHCARE COST CONTAINMENT:

Medical costs are rising with each passing year, making it even more difficult for employers to provide health benefits to their employees. Some employers implemented consumer-driven healthcare plans (CDHPs), which increased out-of-pocket medical expenses for the plan participants. This made both the employers and employees find ways to cut back on overhead costs. Finally, they found telemedicine as the best solution to fight back the increase in medical expenses. Telemedicine reduces the co-pays for employees and cuts down the claim costs of the employer’s healthcare plan. A research study carried on 17000 telemedicine participants concluded that the hospital admissions of those employees dropped by 30%, and their doctor visits reduced by 60%. They also saved 45% of their costs routinely wasted on the unnecessary doctor and emergency room visits.

Telemedicine has been reported to reduce healthcare costs by up to 27% on average. Telemedicine aids in saving transportation costs, expensive office visit fees, emergency room specialist charges, and other facility charges. Employees often lose revenue when they cannot show up to an office visit due to car problems, traffic jams, work obligations, the responsibility of caring for children or older adults, or some other reasons. Telemedicine has largely helped the employees curb missed appointments. It has helped rural workers save approximately 3,431$ in lost wages and 5,718$ in transportation costs each year.

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine researched telemedicine and concluded that the net cost savings per visit ranged from 19$-121$.

The employers align incentives for selecting the best telemedicine solution so that the benefit drives a positive return on investment. Telemedicine helps small businesses outgrow by saving crucial costs across the board, reducing outgoing costs, and preventing valuable resources. It offers the best price and best deal telemedicine and behavioral health benefits to employees by offering non-pareil services at extremely low rates.

THE BEST PRICE TELEMEDICINE OFFER:

The employee is charged for no consultation or deductible fee in the best price telemedicine offer and no co-pay. All he has to pay is one low fee of $13.50 to get registered fora monthly subscription.

Note: The employee might be charged for the prescription. Any pharmacy or RX card can be used to fill the prescription.

THE BEST DEAL TELEMEDICINE OFFER:

The employees get up to 7 additional family members covered for just $13.50 per month in the best deal telemedicine offer.

It can’t be much more affordable than that.

  1. QUICK ACCESS TO QUALITY HEALTHCARE:

Telemedicine allows the employees to avail of the consultation of best doctors, who can not be accessed for months routinely. The employees can access remote physicians and specialists at their home, work, or on vacation and can get unsurpassed and immediate healthcare in no time. This helps in the employee’s early recovery, followed by lower incidents of re-hospitalization and emergency room visits.

For employees who travel a lot, such as sales professionals, or truckers, telemedicine allows access to treatment regardless of location. Also, the employees living in rural areas can get extraordinary care in their homes.

Telemedicine also allows for better management of chronic diseases. Employers or their family members who suffer from chronic conditions are often unable to visit their doctor regularly. Such patients are more likely to get infected by contagious diseases in hospitals. Telemedicine technology allows you to monitor weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels at your home and transmits it to the doctor’s office.

24-7Telemedicine services offer 24/7/365 phone or video consultation service with specialist doctors, who can consult, diagnose, and prescribe medications for common and non-emergency illnesses. An employee can easily take time out of their day and make consultations on a mobile phone, tablet, landline, or computer, and get the required immediate care. They discuss their medical history with specialists, who inquire and hear their ailments by themselves rather than waiting for any information from the nurse or doctor. This helps the specialist make a better diagnosis and provide individualized treatment.

Telemedicine.com also allows access to both English and Spanish speaking doctors for their patients’ convenience and uncompromised care provision.

3.PROTECTION FROM COVID-19:

In this havoc-wreaking outbreak of coronavirus, many employees are juggling health concerns and mounting anxiety alongside their jobs and families, which has left them at grave risk for loneliness, stress, burnout, and depression. In this pandemic, more than half of Americans are getting their health benefits through their place of work.

Telemedicine has lent a helping hand in protecting the employees from both contracting and spreading the disease. The employees having symptoms of the disease, can stay at their homes, get an appropriate diagnosis, and medical care through telemedicine, and are expected to show earlier recovery than if admitted at the hospital as he/she gets the proper care and support of loved ones. Those who are asymptomatic can make a consultation via telemedicine and stay safe from contracting the disease or germs of any other contagious disease from other patients in the hospital.

4.REDUCED ABSENTEEISM:

When an employee is sick, all he wants is to take a leave from the workplace, rest for hours, or visit a doctor immediately. Long absentees from his workplace might result in loss of income, low productivity in the workplace, and missed deadlines that might cause the company a great loss.

Telemedicine offers virtual healthcare to employees. They can access the services from their homes, at work, or even on vacations. They don’t need to take off hours from their work for a visit to the doctor’s office; instead, they can make a convenient call to telemedicine.com and get prompt care, as required.

If an employer is providing health benefits to employees, he is actually boosting his company’s productivity. The healthier are the employees; the better is the workplace productivity. When an employer offers telemedicine benefits to employees, he must expect them to save 700 hours per year that otherwise might be wasted by visiting the doctor’s office, in ER visits, or waiting in the waiting rooms for appointments.

With access to telemedicine, employees and their families get the required care and support quickly and easily. The less time it takes for employees to find the remedy, the faster they can return to the workplace. Employees stay productive and engaged when having no health issues.

5.INCREASED EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION:

Telemedicine can provide physical care to employees and alleviate their anxiety, stress, and paranoia that they are already experiencing. Employers can show their employees how important their health is by providing telemedicine as a part of their health benefits. Employees don’t need to leave work for getting examined; backlogs are not created, timely diagnosis and treatment expedite recovery that makes the employee feel a sense of care from their employer. This also helps the employees in cutting down their out-of-pocket costs. Thus, the employees stay relieved from their stress related to health and increase their company’s productivity.

The best deal and best price telemedicine benefits of telemedicine.com have made the employees heave a sigh of relief by cutting down the extra costs on their medical expenses. Research has proved that healthier employees have increased job satisfaction that is a foremost factor for retaining employees. The happier the employees are with their benefits; the more likely are they to rate their company a great workplace.

6.BEHAVIORAL HEALTH BENEFITS:

It needs to be accepted that mental illness, like any other chronic illness, becomes debilitating if left unaddressed. If we ignore the symptoms, it might lead to self-destructive behavior, and ultimately a downturn in workplace productivity.

A report from Mind Share Partners stated that 80% of workers with behavioral health problems said they don’t seek treatment because of shame and stigma. Telemedicine allows the employees to contact behavioral health specialists from their own homes’ comfort with no privacy issues. WHO estimates that every 1$ invested in treating mental health will return $$ in productivity and improved health.

Telemedicine.com offers promising avenues for treating mental illness. It allows greater accessibility, regular follow-ups, and a multi-disciplinary approach while taking complete care of patients’ privacy.

7.WORK-LIFE BALANCE:

Telemedicine improves the employees’ ability to achieve work-life balance. They can seek healthcare in their off-hours or while traveling. They are not bound to any specific time or region for accessing the telemedicine services. Thus they can achieve a great work-life balance by designing their own schedules as per their convenience.

 

 

by bkwatson; Access a Doctor, Blog, Family, MyTelemedicine, Nationwide access, Pediatrician, Prescription, Senior Living, TELEPHONIC COUNSELING

Everything You Need to Vote

Your Vote Counts!

November 3, 2020 is Election Day and it’s coming up on us quick.

We want to help you prepare. Here’s everything you need to do to make sure your vote counts this year.  

Make sure you’re registered

Don’t wait until late October to get ready to vote. In some states, the deadline to register to vote is 30 days before Election Day. 

Check your voter registration status today. 

To do that, you can head to the Can I Vote? webpage.

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) runs this page, which helps you because each state’s voter registration process is different.

Head to their Voter Registration Page and choose your state. That will redirect you to your state’s voter registration check.

You’ll need to put in some personal information to check your status. Sometimes this includes your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your social security number.

If you find out you’re not registered to vote, don’t panic. As long as you’re 30 days out from the November 3 date, you can still register in every state. 

Check Your State’s Registration Date on This Calendar from When We All Vote

Figure Out How to Cast Your Vote

Once you’re registered, figure out if you’re going to vote in person or via mail-in ballot.

In-person voting

To vote in-person, you show up to a polling place on November 3. 

Pick your state on the NASS Find Your Polling Place. Then you’ll be sent to your state’s website.

Most states have tools that help you find polling places near you. 

On Election Day, you will probably need to bring some form of ID. Check your state’s laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures Voter ID Requirements page. 

You can also usually call your polling place and ask what you need to bring.

Types of documentation vary so make sure you read your state’s specific requirements. 

On November 3, show up to your polling place with your documents. 

The poll worker will guide you through the steps. That’s it.

Mail-in ballots

Most states also offer mail-in (also called absentee) ballots for people who don’t want to vote in-person.

Every state offers absentee ballots, but some states require a reason for needing to vote in this way.

Because of COVID-19, though, many states have loosened restrictions. Some states are even sending absentee ballots to all voters. 

In other states, you’ll need to request an absentee ballot if you want to vote by mail. 

NASS has more tools you can use here. Visit their Absentee & Early Voting page and choose your state.  

That should send you to your state’s webpage where you can access the application for an absentee ballot.

In most states, you need to request your absentee ballot a week or two before Election Day. 

Then, you need to send it in before November 3 in many cases.

To find out your state’s deadlines, you can use this chart from Vote.org.

Once you get your absentee ballot, make sure you fill it out accurately. 

Usually, you’ll need to sign the ballot in a couple of places, including on the outside of the envelope you send it back in. 

Educate yourself before you vote

There’s one more thing you need to do before you vote: research.

Even if you already know how you’re going to vote in the presidential election, remember there are many state and local issues on your ballot.

Ballotpedia has a helpful tool here. Use their Sample Ballot Lookup tool. 

Input your address to pull up your sample ballot.

Your sample ballot will show you what ballot measures you can vote on. 

Plus, you’ll see federal, state, and local government seats that are up for election so you can make your picks. 

Research the measures and people you’ll be voting on so you can make educated decisions on your ballot. 

Your vote counts.

by Kacie Goff Varo Bank

 

Is Taking a Gap Year This Fall a Good Idea?

The reality of COVID-19 has college students across the country planning to skip the upcoming school year, with some citing worry over personal finances and concern over online classes. Many students and their families lost income amid the pandemic, making it tougher to pay tuition and other educational expenses. And while college administrators are planning reboots that reduce the potential health risks of starting school this fall, students aren’t excited about the proposed instructional delivery options. Taking hybrid and online classes are unappealing to those who signed up for a traditional college experience.

But financial roadblocks and less-than-desirable learning environments may not justify putting your education on pause this fall, especially when considering some of the drawbacks. Let’s look at a few problems you might encounter if you take a gap year and skip college enrollment this coming semester.

Problem #1: No One Knows When or If We’ll Get Back to “Normal”

Lively student unions, packed dorm rooms, and full lecture halls are a thing of the past, at least for now. Whether we’ll return to a typical college experience anytime soon is seeming more unlikely. Even the possibility of having millions of students crisscrossing the U.S. to return to campus by spring isn’t guaranteed. Some would describe that scenario as an epidemiological nightmare in the making. But, waiting it out could mean unnecessarily delaying your education, especially when colleges and universities are bolstering their online instruction offerings for new and returning students.

Problem #2: The Typical Gap Year Benefits are Fewer

When students think of a typical gap year experience, it usually includes working a full-time job, traveling abroad, or exploring potential career interests. This year, those options might be off the table. Even though the unemployment rate declined to 11.1% in June 2020, finding full-time work may still be challenging. This is still nearly three times as high as it was in March 2020. Even then, unemployment rates were already creeping higher when compared to the prior year. Don’t forget that COVID-19 travel restrictions are still in place in many parts of the globe, and many in-person internships are being converted into virtual ones.

Problem #3: Re-Admission May Be an Issue

Whether you’re considering taking a semester off or the entire academic year, understand that each college has its policy for approving leaves of absence and re-admission. Some may be more lenient than others due to the coronavirus crisis, but that doesn’t mean returning to school will be easy. With an approved leave of absence, you can stop attending school for a maximum of 180 days within a 12-month time frame. But withdrawing from school or failing to return from your leave could have unwelcome consequences.

Colleges and universities are not required to re-admit students, even if they meet the requirements for re-admission. Each school and program is different, but know that some colleges may require you to:

  • Apply for re-admission and pay a fee
  • Meet updated re-admission requirements
  • Comply with revised graduation requirements due to changes within the program of study
  • Complete additional coursework based on changes to a program’s graduation requirements, thereby increasing the total cost of your education.

Contact your school for details on their specific re-admission requirements.

Problem #4: You Could Be Forced to Start Student Loan Repayments

Most student loan programs allow students a six month grace period before borrowers must make their first principal and interest payment. However, federal and private student loan grace periods differ by loan type and lender. Some student loans have shorter or no grace periods before you must begin repayment. Speak with your loan servicer or school’s financial aid office to confirm how this would apply to your specific situation. The length of time you stay withdrawn or are enrolled less than half-time will influence which loans you must start repaying and when.

Did You Know?

The cost of borrowing money for college is at an all-time low. Federal student loan interest rates for the 2020-21 academic year have dropped to 2.75% for undergraduate borrowers. This historically low-interest rate applies to Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans. Graduate student borrowers can secure Direct Unsubsidized Loans at 4.3%. Parents of undergraduates and graduate students can obtain Direct PLUS Loans at 5.3%.

Add the automatic administrative forbearance that has put student loans at 0% interest and pauses payments thru September 30, 2020, and it seems like taking a gap year right now would be less than ideal from a financial perspective. Even private student loans are setting record lows of 2.99% variable APR or 4.99% fixed APR.

Pausing your education because you feel COVID-19 is undermining your college experience can create more problems than it might solve. However, the emotional and mental health benefits of taking a break from everything might be the best choice for some individuals. Carefully weigh your options and potential consequences before making a final decision. Only you know if taking a gap year is the right thing to do in your particular situation.


Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.

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