A reprint of the June letter that went to our clients with investment accounts…

Our minds are racing these days. The arrival of the coronavirus has added unprecedented health and economic challenges to our everyday lives. Racial tension, cries of injustice, civil unrest, and protests have further challenged the status quo in America. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with such large issues and no easy answers. 
 
We could all use a bit more faith these days. Faith takes our eyes off the here and now and gives us much needed perspective. It is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith gives us hope that science will bring a solution for coronavirus, just like it did for smallpox. Faith also gives us hope that we will triumph over injustice. 
 
You have placed great faith in GuideStream Financial to help guide you financially through uncertain times. You have trusted us to help you make wise long-term decisions regarding how to invest for future needs. We help you steward your resources for decades, or even generations, to fulfill your financial and legacy goals. Keeping this perspective is critical for success. 
 
In the midst of all that is happening today, did you watch the SpaceX/NASA launch? What an amazing display of human creativity and ingenuity! It was an exciting and proud moment for innovation, collaboration, and our nation. Just one small example of this was the way the rockets returned to earth and landed themselves perfectly on a drone ship near Ireland, despite challenging choppy seas. 
 
Creative individuals working together enabled to SpaceX/NASA launch to happen. What was once thought impossible became possible due to a long-term plan and individuals committed to overcome the hardest obstacles they encountered along the way.  
 
Your financial plan has no knowledge of current events; it is oblivious to the “news of the day.” Instead, it thrives on long-term planning and a steady hand. At GuideStream Financial, our counsel is never based on emotion or the “news of the day.”  It is rooted in discipline, patience, faith in the future, and time-tested financial principles. We are here to provide you with wise counsel and the best opportunity for success. Remaining steady in uncertainty is our specialty.
 
We are already seeing glimpses of hope in these unprecedented times. Humans are created in God’s image and are therefore amazingly resourceful. We will get through all of this and come out better on the other side. If you are uncertain of your plan, let’s talk. We want you to have the faith, hope, and confidence that comes through understanding your needs and concerns. We are here for you.
 
With patience and faith in the future,
Your Team at GuideStream Financial

Purpose, Priorities & Return on Life

Purpose, Priorities and Return on Life
by Mark Olson

Throughout our flawed and complex world, there is a consistent downward drift away from the elements in our lives that matter most. Slowly, over time our best intentions often become distorted by a wide range of influences that include the urgent, our culture and our own predispositions.  Most of us yearn for excellence, alignment and fulfilment but often find ourselves being complacent, confused and frustrated because we fall short of all we can be.

One dominant illusion created by our world of finance is that we will be fulfilled and content if we maximize our income, portfolio returns and net worth.  While industries spend massive amounts of time, money and energy promoting those outcomes, deep in our hearts we know those portrayals just aren’t true.

I’m hopeful the following two recommendations will spur you on as you fight against the downward forces in your circumstances and maximize the return on your life . While both may be simple and familiar, they represent missing links in most of our lives.

Clarify your purpose

Author Rick Warren has highlighted that “personal fulfilment, satisfaction and meaning can only be found when we realize that it’s not about us and we discover our purpose by figuring out what on earth we are here for.”

Helping people find hope after loss, loving God and loving others, or teaching and inspiring students to be more than they thought they could be, are some examples of a compelling purpose.

Determine what life priorities matter most to you

It’s amazing how even the most intelligent and gifted individuals often go through life without slowing down long enough to define the life priorities that matter the most to them.  They are not alone as mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal stated, “The last thing one knows is what to put first.”

Honoring God, leading your family and caring for others are examples of meaningful life priorities.

When life priorities that matter most are defined, they provide guidance at every fork in the road, which increases the probability that what matters most is accomplished.  Without those priorities in place, critical decisions are often based upon urgent, shifting, less important factors which can lead to regrets about “what might have been.”

Commit to clarifying your purpose and determining what life priorities matter most. If you do, it will direct your actions, counter the downward drift and maximize the return on your life.

Planning Your Estate

PLANNING YOUR ESTATE
by Scott Blakemore

What is your dream sportscar? Corvette, Mustang, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, McLaren? Now, imagine you own it and decide to give it to your son or daughter … but they don’t know how to drive … because you never taught them. You just hand them the keys and say, “Good Luck!”

I think we can agree this strategy is a little crazy and unwise.  However, when you and your spouse are deceased, and your heirs inherit your estate without understanding how it was managed and for what purpose – it is the equivalent of handing a sportscar to an untrained driver.

I speak with clients daily about retirement cash flows, portfolio allocations, distribution timing, and taxes.  And while those things need to be understood and managed for a successful retirement, planning for the transition of an estate is equally crucial – especially if you’re concerned your heirs may not be ready to manage it or worse, you fear it might destroy them.

I know talking about death can be uncomfortable, and kids rarely want to discuss a future where their parents are gone.  But that day will come whether we like it or not. Talking about death with your children is like talking about sex – always a bit awkward, but the earlier the better.

So how do you prepare to talk to your children about your estate?  Here are several simple ideas to get the conversation started and a few that dig a little deeper.

First, the easier items to implement:

  • Talk about your funeral.  Write down your wishes and share them with your family.
  • Keep your bank, investment account(s) and insurance beneficiaries up to date.
  • Introduce your family to your Financial Advisor, CPA and/or Attorney.
  • Use Estate planning tools.  Let the family know if you have a Will or Trust as well as Durable and Health Care Power of Attorney (POA) documents.  Make sure your designated representative is willing to serve, understands your wishes, and knows where your documents are located.

Second, the more involved items to consider:

  • Have an annual family meeting to discuss any changes you have made to your financial or estate plan.  Be sure to allow time for questions.
  • Bring heirs into the conversation with organizations where you volunteer or provide financial support.
  • Create a family foundation or donor advised fund to give together during your lifetime. This is a great teaching tool.

These items will obviously require some work.  However, with your heirs being part of the discussion, and doing the work alongside you, you can be confident they not only hear and see your values but participate in them as well.  They will experience the legacy you are trying to create while learning valuable lessons about managing the resources that will one day be under their stewardship.

Remember, learning to drive isn’t accomplished through watching a YouTube video, and neither should learning how to manage an inheritance. I encourage you to work through the fear and discomfort and invite your children into the conversation to create a legacy impacting them and our world for good.

Financial Education Basics

by Kirk Hoffman

For many children, basic financial education is not part of their school curriculum.  Many adults didn’t have this offered either and generally learned from their parents or on their own.  Here are some financial education basics that you can share with your children to help them be better prepared.

Clarify your financial experience
Share your own perspective on money, including how you got to where you are now, your views on cash management, debt and liquidity, and how your outlook has changed over the years.  Sometimes the discussion of financial matters is uncomfortable or considered taboo.  Being open about financial issues is a great benefit for your children and can help them avoid mistakes that you might have made.  Let them know if you’ve managed things yourself or if you’ve had a financial advisor.  

Establish and maintain a simple budget
Budgeting in its most basic form is just a plan for spending.  Teach your children to think about how their purchases impact one another and how the budget can help them make better spending decisions.  You can use anything from a simple spreadsheet to an online tool like Mint.com.

Encourage savings and investing
Saving and investing are tools for reaching financial goals.  Explain different saving and investing alternatives.  Share the choices you’ve made in your own plan.

Establish a bank account
Help your children learn what a savings and checking account are.  Show them how to view the accounts, how to make deposits, withdrawals, transfers, and how to write a check.  Explain how to balance their checking account.  Teach them how to read a bank statement.  Get them in the habit of reviewing their account regularly.

Learn about credit
Explain how credit cards work and how you feel they should be used.  Explain how mortgages, car loans, and personal loans work.  Discuss how to build a positive credit history.

Stress the importance of insurance
Encourage your children to establish an emergency fund. Help them understand the importance of homeowners and auto insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and long-term care insurance.  Share how you have used insurance in your own plan.

Encourage retirement planning
The earlier you start planning for retirement, the more funds you will accrue.  Explain how Roth and traditional IRAs work.  Talk to your children about company sponsored retirement plans like Roth and traditional 401(k) plans and how to take advantage of company match offers. 

Develop financial relationships
If you have a financial advisor, give your children the opportunity to meet with him or her on their own. This can give them the opportunity to ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask when you are there.  Use your financial advisor as a resource to help explain any of these issues.

Don’t take for granted that your children know the basics.  Discussing these with them is a good way to see how much they already understand and it allows you to share your values in these important areas.

Keep Reaching For Your Financial Goals

KEEP REACHING FOR YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS.
Few things are able to motivate us like self-improvement. However, despite initial enthusiasm, our personal goals can seem like impossible challenges after just a few days.

Financial goals are particularly difficult to accomplish. Spending money is inherent in modern life, and financial goals can easily get lost in other money issues. What’s worse, the feedback from financial goals is blunt and immediate. As soon as we get started, our finances begin to define our success with clear positives and negatives. Financial goals also remember our mistakes. A one-time slip-up, like a costly purchase, can disrupt progress towards a goal for months or even years.

The success of a goal often comes down to the strategies and tools used to support them. However, valuable techniques are often abandoned as soon as a little bit of progress is made. Use some of these steps to help make your goal a reality:

Be reasonable – It’s always important to be realistic; In regards to financial goals, it is essential. If you make your goals too extreme, you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment. It’s better to have an attainable goal you can more easily reach than an impossible goal that discourages you and could lead to giving up on the goal entirely. Once you have a little success, you can raise your expectations.

Set solid milestones and celebrate them – Milestones are a great way to track progress and boost your morale, but you need to make them an important part of your life. If you’ve made it halfway to your goal, celebrate in some way and give yourself a taste of what success will feel like. Stay positive; milestones are meant to show you how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go.

Find some accountability – Telling someone else about your goals and having them check up on your progress can massively boost your discipline. Even if your confidant only asks for occasional updates, being accountable for your actions can provide a lot of encouragement to stick to your plan.

Automate what you can – Constantly trying to make the right choices can wear down your motivation. Automating your target savings or debt payments can help you avoid the potential mistakes and will allow you to save your energy for other challenges.

Break and build habits – It’s often said that it takes 21 days to break a habit or build a new one. While the psychology isn’t exact, it’s clear that our habits are a lot easier to change than we usually imagine. If you can force yourself to stick to a plan for just three weeks, progress should become much easier.

Limit the number of goals – Reaching goals can be difficult, so don’t try to accomplish several of them simultaneously. Only start one or two financial goals at a time and don’t create new ones until your current efforts have become second nature.

Bend so that you don’t break – Interruptions are inevitable. Much like setting a realistic goal, it’s important to have realistic expectations for your progress. If there is an unavoidable problem, adjust your goal accordingly and keep trying. Don’t give up on a goal just because of an unplanned setback.

Reaching goals is a skill that takes practice and experience. In accomplishing one goal, you learn which strategies work best with your personality. Even when you fail, you’ve learned more about what it takes to reach success. The important thing is being willing to try again.

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

Three Financial Myths and the Straightforward Truth

-by Mark Olson-

A myth is a popular belief that is false or unsupported.  I have observed the following three financial myths and appreciate this opportunity to highlight and counter each one.

Myth #1:   I don’t need a financial plan

The straightforward truth is everyone needs a financial plan.  A financial plan is one of the most powerful yet neglected tools available for managing your resources.

Effective planning defines what matters most.  It answers important questions and provides guidance for decision making.  Appropriate investment allocations naturally roll out of a well-crafted plan.  Byproducts of a thoughtful plan include increased understanding, harmony and a sense of peace.  Who can’t use more of those in their life?

Unfortunately, we all have behavioral tendencies that often keep us from doing what is best.  While most conscientious individuals sincerely intend to focus on the big picture and develop some type of plan in the future, the inertia of the status quo normally prevails.

To increase the probability of acting on your good intentions, get some help.  There is wisdom in listening to and taking good advice.   Identify and contact a qualified, experienced, unconflicted financial planner to begin a conversation and develop a plan.

Myth #2:   A competent investment advisor should have the insight to consistently predict the market

The straightforward truth is the most knowledgeable and sophisticated investment advisors humbly acknowledge market timing is not successful over the long term.  They allocate portfolio holdings across the broad range of asset classes.  Those asset classes include non-US developed equities, emerging market equities, US equities, real estate, fixed income and often hedge strategies plus other alternative investments.  Each of these asset classes provide different sources of return which all help capture returns and mitigate risk.

Despite the steady flow of inputs from the media regarding attention-grabbing, timing related investment tactics, disciplined asset allocation remains the wisest approach over the long term.  Thoughtful asset allocation is like the quote about democracy attributed to Winston Churchill. He stated emphatically, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”  Asset allocation, like democracy, is far from perfect, but over the long term provides an extraordinary way to generate returns and manage risk that surpasses all the other schemes.

Myth #3:   Giving decreases wealth

The straightforward truth is giving increases wealth because true wealth is linked with well-being.

Giving is perhaps the most powerful antidote for the toxic elements of self-indulgence and self-promotion permeating our culture.   Giving is an investment that benefits the giver as much or more than the receiver.  An added dividend for true givers is a dawning awareness of contentment that develops along the way.

Unfortunately, fear and anxiety often restrict openness to giving opportunities and options.  The long-term solution for increasing the level of giving is to develop a financial plan.  The plan will help clarify values, priorities and giving potential.

Conclusion:

To better manage your resources, be a planner, invest in well allocated portfolios that flow out of your plan, and be a giver.  If you embrace those initiatives, you will never regret it and most likely will be surprised by joy along the way.

HOW TO KNOW YOU’RE INVESTED IN THE RIGHT PORTFOLIO

From time to time we come across lists and articles on investing. And we’ve taken a few of the items we’ve seen over the years and written a little commentary based on how we serve you.

A year from now, you plan to own similar investments.

We believe ‘winning’ in the market begins with understanding ‘why’ you are allocated as you are.  Timing and changing strategies rarely produce the long term results investors need to fund their retirements.  Sticking with an allocation that is rebalanced and invested with purpose is the best way to ‘Win’ in retirement.

You’re so well-diversified that you always own at least one disappointing investment.

This is probably one of the hardest lessons in investing and represents the value in diversification.  A properly diversified portfolio is always going to have some asset classes (i.e. investments) out of favor with others being the bright spots.  The key is to own them both since timing them consistently is impossible.

When the stock market is volatile, or even decreasing, you are not uncomfortable.

You realize that the stock market is volatile and the temporary declines of 14% inter-year and greater than 20% every 5 years are normal. That’s precisely why stocks return more over the long term than other less volatile investments.

For every dollar you’ve saved, you have an eventual use in mind — and you are invested accordingly.

Dollars that you have saved, but aren’t needed for many years in the future, should be invested accordingly.  The dollars needed soon should be in less volatile (i.e. lower return) investments.  However, don’t shortchange your resources the ability to outpace inflation when they are needed far into the future.

You can remember the last time you rebalanced.

Well, you might not be able to recall if you have, but the good news is that as a client of GuideStream Financial, you have your portfolio(s) rebalanced at least annually.  We help you stay true to your long term investment and retirement objectives.

You never say to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t expect that.”

This is our goal.  Through preparation and education, you understand that year to year, your portfolio will fluctuate depending on contributions, withdrawals and returns – but that in the end, you have a good working knowledge of how your cash flow will work over time.  We know you don’t like surprises and neither do we.  Some years, things may be fruitful and other years they may not be. What’s most important is that we both know the long term goals and that is where we focus.

We appreciate your continued trust and are honored to assist you on your stewardship journey. 

The Importance of Having A Will

According to a 2014 survey, 51 percent of Americans age 55-64 (and 62 percent of Americans age 45-54) don’t have a will. The reasons for not maintaining a will can range from a lack of urgency to a paralyzing fear of death. Not only is having a will necessary, the effects of dying without having a will—called dying “intestate”—may be worse than you expect.

The Dangers of Dying Intestate
Estate Shrinkage
It is normal for estates to lose some of their value to final costs, such as burial/funeral expenses and outstanding debts. However, lengthy court procedures and legal fees attributed to resolving inheritance disbursement can quickly erode a large part of an estate’s net worth. Wills are created for the benefit of survivors; not having one reduces the amount that passes to the heirs.

Family Disputes and Disagreements
Disagreements regarding an estate can easily cause rifts in families. Arguments over who deserves specific heirlooms or property can be exacerbated when the wishes of the decedent are not directly known. In extreme circumstances, these kinds of disputes can last for decades, making a will essential—especially when families are large or relationships are strained.

Drafting a Will
Inexpensive and Quick Process
Creating a will is not expensive, with some estimates putting the cost at just a few hundred dollars if done through a lawyer. Additionally, there are legal websites that allow individuals to draft their own wills at a fraction of that cost. Whichever method is used, creating a will typically takes less time to complete than most people think.

Benefits of a Will
Control over Assets
The decedent may have specific desires regarding which of their family members get their possessions. Instead of the distribution of assets being decided by another family member or possibly the legal system, having a will allows the decedent to fully control where all assets will be distributed.

Choose Executor of Will
If there is no will, and subsequently no executor named, the individual that is chosen by the probate court may not act according to the decedent’s desires. Choosing the executor of a will ensures that the individual that the decedent thinks will best serve his or her wishes will be in charge of key decisions, handling conflicts and proper care of 
the estate. 

Custody of Children
If the decedent has children, but has not named a new guardian in a will, the courts will decide who gets custody of their children. Although judges consider living situations and familial relations while trying to act in the best interest of children, they can’t possibly know every detail about each family’s unique situation and there is no guarantee that a court-appointed guardian will be the same person the decedent’s would have wanted.

Now is the Time
Peace of Mind
Thinking about death may be frightening, but the thought of leaving confusion, lack of clarity and potential disputes behind can be even more unsettling. Creating a will allows individuals to know that, when they pass away, all of their wishes will be honored and their loved ones will be free from the burden of figuring out the details of an estate.

Keep it Updated
If you already have a will, consider revisiting and, if necessary, updating it. There may have been financial, legal or personal life changes that are not yet reflected by the current version of your will. Not having a will can create confusion, but having an outdated will that gives rights to a former spouse or estranged family members can be disastrous for intended heirs.
 

_________________________

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser. 

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

Financial Planning: Not Just for Men!

Financial Planning: Not Just for Men!

-by Debra Lyon, Caitlin Koppelman, and Lori Pelham-

Lisa is 35. She’s a mother to 2 beautiful children and a recent divorcee. She just returned to part time work last year when her youngest started school. Up until now, she’s largely left the management of family finances to her husband. Now that he’s her ex-husband, she’s faced with limited financial knowledge, heaped on top of an already stressful balance between work and family.

Lisa needs an advisor who knows her needs; someone she can trust completely. Someone who can clearly communicate financial principles to help her not only succeed, but grow in her financial literacy. In short, she needs a coach who can teach her and help her look out for her family’s financial future.

Susan is 72 and recently widowed. Her children are grown, and she’s pleased to say that she devoted her life to raising them well. She hasn’t worked since before the kids were born, and she’s always been thankful for her husband’s careful attention to their family finances. Now that he’s gone, she’s not sure who to turn to. She knows the basics of paying bills – her husband shared that much with her – but what about taxes? Long-term care needs? How does her husband’s death affect their estate plan?

­­­­Susan needs an advisor who recognizes her situation and knows the unique needs that come with it. The ideal advisor for Susan would be able to look at the whole picture of her financial situation – appreciate and honor what her husband has put in place – and help Susan move forward toward the future with confidence.

These are just two examples of women and their unique financial needs. Even if you’re currently married and/or part of a dual-income household, as a woman you have specific financial thoughts and convictions that may be different from your husband’s. While you’re working together toward a shared future, it’s important you continue to take an active role in the management of family finances.

Women are earning more and spending more than ever. They control more dollars in the US economy today than in any other time in history. Any financial advisor worth their fee should recognize this fact and (more importantly!) recognize the unique needs of the women in his/her client base.

Find yourself a financial coach. Maybe you already have one, but you don’t usually go to the annual review meetings with your spouse. We encourage you to go: build a relationship with your advisor. If you have shared finances, that coach should be looking out for you, too.

If you’re on your own, like Lisa or Susan, seek out the counsel of an advisor. If it helps, look for a woman whose professional opinion you trust. Even if her personal situation is different from yours, you still have some major things in common.

Don’t leave your financial future to chance. Find an advisor you can trust, a coach who can help you navigate the twists and turns of life. That relationship will prove fruitful now and in the future.  

 

The Cost of Biases

Behavioral finance—the interaction between human psychology and money—has become a major component of current economic theory. Experts on behavioral finance love to study how greed and fear cause massive swings in the markets.

But behavioral finance doesn’t just exist in academic theory and panicked stock crashes—it’s part of everyday life. The human brain isn’t a calculator and struggles to separate money from emotion. Every time we open our wallets, our financial biases and blind spots threaten to disrupt good decision-making.

Fortunately, biases become much easier fight once we learn to recognize them. Here are a few of the most common financial biases people face:

Bandwagon Effect

One of the strongest biases, the bandwagon effect is the tendency for people to change their opinion or behavior to match that of those around them. Bandwagons often create social pressures and can push people to spend far too much “keeping up with the Joneses.” Always evaluate your financial decisions on what works best for you, not what works best for others.

Familiarity Bias

Familiarity bias is when people show an irrational preference for something that they’ve used in the past. One common effect of this is default brand loyalty, which can hurt the efficiency of a budget or draw you into extra spending.  How many times have you bought a familiar product brand even when there is evidence another option might be better or cheaper? Give something new a try.

Ego Depletion

This bias is a kind of mental lapse. Self-discipline is difficult, and our brains can only do so much of it before taking a break. If we push ourselves too much, we often react strongly in the opposite direction. Ego depletion is what leads to shopping binges after you cut too much discretionary spending from your budget. Remember: rewarding yourself for progress is an investment in your goals.

Recent/Available Information Bias

When it comes to information, people are quick to embrace the new and forget the old. Information biases are responsible for many fads and false fears. For example, if you have two coworkers who were robbed in the past year, you may want to buy an expensive security system. Even if the thieves were caught and local crime rates are extremely low, your judgement is disproportionally affected by the information that is most recent and most available to you.

Survivorship Bias

This bias is the tendency to misinterpret a situation by focusing on the quality examples. It can be paraphrased as, “you only hear about the ones that make it big.” This bias is most dangerous to entrepreneurs or investors because it causes them to underestimate difficulties overestimate success. People should be brutally honest with themselves and consider the possibility of failure before investing their life savings in a business.

Zero-risk Bias

Humans love certainty; it eliminates risks and makes planning for the future much easier. We love it so much we’re often willing to pay more for extra peace of mind, even if it doesn’t make complete sense. For instance, people happily pay a lot of money for the reliability of a new car and then also buy the dealership’s short-term warranty to protect it against a breakdown. We know a new car is highly unlikely to have problems for a few years, but we still feel the need for added certainty.

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