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Profile: Melrose Credit Union

Melrose Credit Union consistently offers some of the top nationally available CD rates.

Click here to see its latest rate sheet.

Melrose can do that because it’s developed a lucrative business putting those deposits to work financing New York cabs.

Not the actual cars, but the municipal licenses that those taxis must have to pick passengers up on city streets.

Those licenses are the 6-inch aluminum medallions that are permanently attached to the hood of all 13,200 legal taxis.

They can be bought and sold through city-approved brokers and currently cost about $575,000 for an individually owned cab and $750,000 for a fleet cab.

Melrose finances more of those purchases than anyone else.
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Profile: Bank of Internet USA

Bank of Internet USA is a fully insured, publicly traded online bank.

It offers a full line of consumer products, including checking and savings accounts, exclusively over the Internet.Bank of Internet USA offers a full line of consumer products.

It has no bricks-and-mortar branches and fewer than 100 employees working out of a single office in San Diego.

Bank of Internet USA says that by keeping its operating costs down, it can pay customers higher-than-average returns on their savings.

Indeed, it consistently offers some of the best nationally available CD rates. Click here to see Bank of Internet USA’s latest rate sheet.

It uses most of those deposits to make home loans and to finance the purchase of multifamily housing through its Apartment Bank division.

Bank of Internet USA was founded in 1999 by Gary Lewis Evans – one of the true pioneers in online banking.
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IRA CDs Offer Protection, Complications

I’ve been dealing with IRA CDs for about two years now, learning as I go along.

IRA CDs offer the risk-averse a chance to preserve accumulated retirement nest eggs.

No doubt these accounts represent a good way for the risk-averse, like me, to preserve accumulated retirement nest eggs while realizing a modest return. FDIC insurance, up to $250,000, is available, separate from other personal accounts.

Opening certificates of deposit with existing tax-deferred retirement assets, however, can present complications, primarily because of the paperwork and processing required to transfer funds and to ensure IRS compliance.

When, early in 2009, I scrambled to move my individual retirement account assets from a single T. Rowe Price account to multiple bank IRA CDs, the process proved excruciatingly slow, taking two to three weeks to complete per CD.

I suffered angst over locking in a rate while all the t’s and i’s were duly crossed and dotted.

Some banks, like Bank of America, guarantee a rate for a specified period on IRA transfers; others, like Nationwide Bank, give “soft” assurances to do their best. But many banks make no promises at all.

Now my CDs are maturing, and I’m encountering new complications.
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Not Your Debt: How To End Collection Calls

This blog post is in response to a question from one of our readers, who apparently lost the phone number lottery after she moved to Virginia.

Put complaint in writing if collectors won't stop calling you for someone else's debt problem

The phone company assigned her a new home telephone number that once belonged to someone on multiple debt collectors’ lists. She and her family received calls from collection agencies all day, every day.

You don’t have to put up with it.

“The one company did call, and I was home to answer the phone,” our reader says. “I explained to the person that the phone number was recycled as of this summer and told her to call Cox (her cable/phone company) if she needed to verify. She was sorry about the mass callings and said she would take care of it.”

Her conversation helped end one company’s calls. Our reader still gets calls from other firms, only she’s usually not home to explain them away.

But she can still clear up her phone line.

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CD Rates Drop 25% to 40% During 2010

CD rates ended an abysmal year by falling for the 26th straight month in December.

The average return on 3-, 6-, 12- and 24-month CDs declined by about 40% during 2010. The average return on 60-month CDs fell by about 25% over the course of the year.

All five of the certificates of deposit we track reached record lows during December, and four of the five average CD rates were down for the month.

The one exception was for 5-year certificates of deposit, whose average return actually ticked up from 1.51% at the end of November to 1.56% at the end of December.

But we’ve seen blips like this before, and they have not signaled a change in the overall downward trend for all CD rates.

That’s because the Federal Reserve seems determined to hold interest rates at unprecedented lows for the foreseeable future.
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The Smart Way To Give Stuff Away

A few Saturdays ago, my boyfriend and I did what a lot of people do at the end of the year: pulled a bunch of dusty stuff out of his basement and drove it to Goodwill.

Not only would this keep stuff out of a landfill, but he would take the tax deduction for his 2010 taxes.

Except we didn’t anticipate something: Goodwill won’t take everything, which is how we ended up driving around with an exercise bike and weight bench in the back of my mom’s truck for three hours.

Here’s how to be a little smarter than we were when giving stuff away:

Match your donation with an appropriate charity. Church thrift shops are often a good place to take used clothing. But save furniture or large appliances for charities that make regular swings through your neighborhood with trucks.
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Warren Lays Out Her Very Good Plans

We didn’t need another reason to love Elizabeth Warren.

But check out this Q&A the White House special adviser for consumer affairs did with Kiplinger Personal Finance. It appears in the magazine’s January 2011 issue.

In it, she lays out her very rational and reasonable goals for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she’s helping to establish and which should open for business in July.

As usual, Warren doesn’t mince words when discussing the shady tactics of credit card and mortgage companies.

It’s no wonder all of those Republican lawmakers who are in the pocket of the banking industry tried to block creation of the new consumer protection bureau, which was Warren’s idea, and have vowed to fight any effort to make Warren its first director.

She’s a woman who can speak truth to power — and power doesn’t like it.
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CD Rates Enter 3rd Year Of Steady Decline

CD rates fell for the 25th straight month in November, with no end in sight for the decline.

The average return on four of the five certificates of deposit we track fell and ended the month at record lows.

The one exception was for 3-month CDs, whose average return actually ticked up from 0.21% at the end of October to 0.23% at the end of November.

But we’ve seen blips like this before and they have not signaled a change in the overall downward trend for all CD rates.

With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke continuing to say the economy isn’t growing fast enough there’s no reason to expect he’ll allow interest rates to rise anytime during 2011 – and maybe not even in 2012.

Bankrate’s final November survey of large banks and thrifts found the average annual yield for a:
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What If I Don’t Voluntarily Go Away?

A few years ago, Third Federal Savings & Loan in Cleveland was offering one of the best rates in the country on home equity lines of credit – just 3.25% for up to $30,000.

There weren’t a lot of fees, so I signed up.

Since then, I’ve only had to tap the line once, and I paid off the balance in just a few months.

Now I’m receiving letters from the thrift’s Chairman and CEO Marc Stefanski, asking me to “consider closing this line of credit” because I’m not using it.

The letters are very nice and say that “Third Federal is not requiring you to close your home equity line of credit.”

But they seem to be coming every month, in lieu of a statement.

If I don’t heed Third Federal’s request to voluntarily close the account, I have to wonder if the thrift will decide I’m just too dim to get it and cancel my line of credit.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners have certainly had their home equity lines reduced or canceled over the past few years.

I have to wonder if I’ll be joining them.

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Kardashian Sisters Try To Ditch Debit Card

Confession time.

I have, on occasion, stepped into the lives of the Kardashian sisters.

Famous for doing absolutely nothing except being born into money, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney have devoted their lives to exposing their overspending, bratty drama-filled lives to a series of reality shows on E!.

They’re like one giant, untalented, stiletto-ed train wreck. It’s hard to turn away.

Now TMZ says the girls are trying to wiggle out of one of the worst ideas they’ve ever foisted on their fans – their pre-paid debit MasterCard.

The “Kardashian Kard” charges so many fees that the Connecticut Attorney General is trying to figure out if it violates consumer protection laws and Consumers Union (the publishers of Consumers Report) has issued a special warning about it.

We can certainly see why.
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Another ‘Real Housewife’ Goes Bankrupt

Surprise, surprise. Another “real housewife” is flat broke.

Teresa Guidice from “Real Housewives of New Jersey” was the first of Bravo’s reality stars to file for bankruptcy.

Now Sonja Morgan, who appears on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York City,” is seeking Chapter 11 protection from her $19.8 million in debt.

We could blame Morgan’s outrageous spending habits for her bankruptcy — and that’s certainly a factor — but we see two bigger problems as the root of her fall.

First, she made one of the classic mistakes of investing: She sunk a ton of money into something she didn’t understand.

In this case it was a movie called “Fast Flash to Bang Time” that was supposed to be a star vehicle for John Travolta.
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Pay More To Pay With Plastic? I Think Not.

I recently had dinner with a few friends at a Turkish restaurant in Philadelphia.

While trying to decipher what exactly what kebab I was ordering, I noticed an odd statement on the menu:

“Credit card processing fees that we have to pay, will be your discount when you pay by CASH! , therefore the prices that we have posted here are reduced CASH prices. (10% will be added to your bill, if you prefer to pay by VISA or MasterCard.)”

I’ve been waiting to see merchants start offering cash discounts, but surcharges?

While retailers can cut your bill for paying in cash, they can’t add to it if you use plastic.

Stores and restaurants pay credit cards an “interchange fee” every time customers charge a purchase, which usually costs the retailer about 2% of every transaction.

“The merchant can offer an incentive for the consumer to pay with cash– thus avoiding the interchange fee — but is not allowed to pass that fee along to the customer,” says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
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FDIC Offers Unlimited Coverage For Non-Interest Bearing Accounts In 2011

The FDIC is tweaking its insurance rules to give savers a little extra protection in 2011.

It will provide unlimited deposit insurance coverage to noninterest-bearing transaction accounts.

This means that no matter how much you have in a traditional checking account, or demand deposits accounts that earn no interest, that money is insured should the bank go under.

And banks still are going under – 146 so far this year and counting.

That also means all deposits in non-interest bearing accounts will no longer be counted towards the insurance limit for interest-bearing accounts.

But this change is temporary, running from Dec. 31, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2011.
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Pirates Of The Caribbean – The Sequel

Have we found the latest in a long line of off-shore bank scams?

A Web site that claims to be a Panama-based “Internet brokerage service” has begun to gain traction with the serach engines, and it’s promising the most eye-popping CD rates we’ve ever seen.

Comexonline says: “We offer online risk-free investment solutions with fixed interest rates from 19.5% to 35.5% APY.”

A photo shows a ritzy office building with Comexonline’s name on it, and there’s supposed to be “representation in the United States,” too.

But that’s just a post office box in Los Angeles and there’s no phone number for customers to call Comexonline’s “investment advisers” in Panama City or California. It can only be reached by email or fax.

Puh-leeze.

I have a terrible feeling that we’ve seen this movie before.
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Unscrupulous Spam Follows Pay Day Loan

Here’s another way the payday loan industry preys on unsuspecting customers.

It sells their email addresses to unscrupulous scams trying to make a buck off of their financial woes.

We found this out through Heather, an attorney from Philadelphia.

It seems that Harold, a man Heather doesn’t know but who has a similar last name, applied for a payday loan.

But instead of putting his email address on the form, he put Heather’s. (Honest mistake? Deliberate deception? She doesn’t know.)

Not only did she receive a copy of his loan documents, but she’s being inundated with up to 20 emails per day offering to help the cash-strapped Harold.

A surprising number claim they want to loan him even more money.
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The Secret To Melrose’s Great Rates: Taxis

Who’d have thought Melrose Credit Union could offer some of the best CD rates in the country because it’s developed a lucrative business putting those deposits to work financing New York cabs?

Not the actual cars, but the municipal licenses that those taxis must have to pick passengers up on city streets.

Those licenses are the 6-inch aluminum medallions that are permanently attached to the hood of all 13,200 legal taxis.

They can be bought and sold through city-approved brokers and currently cost about $575,000 for an individually-owned cab and $750,000 for a fleet cab.

Melrose finances more of those purchases than anyone else, marketing director Robert Nemeroff told us when we sat down with him at the credit union’s office in Queens last week.

Here’s how he says Melrose works, why it can offer savers some of the best nationally available CD rates, and what it has planned for the future.
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Yes Virginia, There Really Is A Melrose Credit Union (And We Went There)

Many of the nation’s biggest banks are based in the glistening skyscrapers of Manhattan.

But to find the little New York credit union that’s offering many of the best CD rates in the country, we had to hop on the E train and venture out to Queens.

There, in the Briarwood neighborhood about 12 miles from Citigroup’s Park Avenue headquarters, we found Melrose Credit Union’s single office.

We’ve written so much about Melrose over the past few months that we felt like we just had to go there to assure ourselves – and you – that it really existed.

We wanted to see what the credit union with the unusual charter that allows anyone in the country to join, regardless of where they live or work, is really like, and find out how it can keep offering such great returns month after month after month.

Melrose holds three of the six spots on our most recent CD Rates Leaderboard. At one point last summer it claimed four of the six, best nationally available CD rates in the country.
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CD Rates Kept Falling In October

Savers have been taking it on the chin for two years now, as CD rates fell for the 24th straight month in October.

The average return on all five of the certificates of deposit we track fell and ended the month at record lows.

The biggest declines were on longer-term CDs, with the average yield on 5-year CDs falling more than a tenth of a point.

With the Federal Reserve determined to push interest rates even lower, we certainly expect the decline to continue into a third year this month.

Bankrate’s weekly survey of large banks and thrifts taken Oct. 27, found the average annual yield for a:
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Fed Pushing Interest Rates Down Again

The QE2 has been christened and set sail.

The Federal Reserve announced a second round of what’s called “quantitative easing” today, in a misguided effort to boost the economy by driving interest rates even lower.

The government-controlled bank will buy another $600 billion in long-term Treasuries — 2 ½ to 10-year bonds — over the next eight months.

That’s on top of the $1.725 trillion in government bonds and mortgage securities it bought in 2008 and 2009.

Oh, and it will use the $250 billion to $300 billion it expects to earn from that investment to buy more Treasuries, as well, for a total of as much as $900 billion in new purchases.

While flooding the bond market with money will undoubtedly push interest rates lower, no one believes it will have a significant effect on economic growth or job creation, as the New York Times and Financial Times have already pointed out.

But the Fed’s action will devastate savers, who are already suffering from record low returns on bank deposits and government bonds.
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Why Does Jim Cramer Back The Fed?


I was listening to Jim Cramer on CNBC’s “Mad Money” last night, and for a guy who constantly extols the value of free markets he has sure bought into the Federal Reserve’s radical, market distorting policies.

Why?

Maybe it’s because the Fed’s campaign to drive interest rates down is intended to force savers out of safer investments such as CDs and Treasuries, and into the riskier investments such as the stocks Cramer sells on his show.

Indeed, the former hedge fund manager began last night’s show by saying “I’m going to dispel one of the myths that is keeping you out of the market or in CDs, and that’s the myth of the ‘fragile economy.’

“I swear, if I’ve got to read one more article about the ‘fragile recovery’ I will tear out all my remaining hair.”

Cramer argues that economic growth in most of the world “is very real.”

The recovery is just lagging in the United States because President Barack Obama was pursuing the wrong policies — health care reform and reregulating the financial industry — instead of stimulating economic growth as other countries did.

Ok, fair enough.

But then this champion of free markets goes on to support the Federal Reserve’s relentless, radical intervention in the economy?
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Can’t Anyone Stop The Fed’s Rate Cutting?

The Federal Reserve seems determined to drive interest rates lower by purchasing another big chunk of government debt.

It hopes to make the already rock-bottom rates on Treasury bills and other long-term loans even lower on the questionable assumption that the lure of cheap money will make corporate America more likely to borrow, expand and hire.

The tactic is called “quantitative easing,” and this round of Treasury purchases is being referred to as QE2 since the Fed has been to this well once before.

It bought $1.725 trillion in assets in 2008 and 2009, and is expected to approve buying another $500 billion over the next six months when its key rate-setting committee meets next week.

Today’s edition of the Financial Times has one of the best explanations I’ve seen about how all of this is all supposed to work.

But I think the Fed is kidding itself and this won’t turn our sputtering recovery into a roaring, job-creating machine.
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The Rich Are Even Richer Than We Think

A new study shows the rich control a much larger portion of the nation’s wealth than we think they do – or should.

Two psychologists, Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael Norton of Harvard University, asked thousands of Americans how they think wealth in this country is distributed.

Respondents estimated that the wealthiest 20% of all Americans control 59% of the nation’s wealth.

In reality, they own around 84%.

Then Ariely and Norton then asked respondents what they consider to be an ideal distribution of wealth for America.

In a perfect world, they said, the wealthiest 20% of all Americans would control just 32% of the wealth.

The obvious conclusion is that Americans think the nation’s wealth is far more evenly distributed than actually it is, and want it to be shared even more equitably than they (wrongly) believe it to be.
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Savers Suffer From New Mortgage Scandal

The banking industry continues to cover itself in glory.

Last year I pointed out that efforts to modify unaffordable mortgages were failing because lenders refused to hire enough people to deal with all of their reckless loans.

Now it appears they also didn’t hire enough people to legally process all of the foreclosures created by their refusal to modify those mortgages.

Depositions suggest that the few employees who were hired to push foreclosures through the system were hair stylists, retail clerks and factory workers who were woefully unprepared to do their jobs.

They were derisively known as “Burger King kids” at JPMorgan Chase & Co., according to the New York Times.
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It Could Be Worse. Like In India.

In our endless search for the best returns we stumbled across a story that said banks are offering about 7.90% to 8.10% on 1-year CDs – in India.

That sounded pretty good since the average 12-month certificate of deposit is paying 0.56% in the United States.

But are the higher rates Indian savers earn being eaten up by inflation?

Unfortunately it appears they are.

We found reports from India that says consumer prices are rising at an annualized rate of more than 10%.

So the typical 1-year CD in India is paying a couple of points less than the inflation rate.
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Stewart Torches The Mortgage Bankers

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mortgage Bankers Association Strategic Default
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Ah, there’s nothing like hypocrisy among the rich and powerful.

And the Mortgage Bankers Association provided an easy target for a segment about strategic default on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last week.

The MBA preaches that it’s morally and ethically wrong for homeowners to deliberately stop paying their mortgage just because they owe more than their homes are worth.

Yet every indication is that the Mortgage Bankers did exactly that last February.

The association appears to have forced a short sale of its Washington headquarters after the value of the office building plummeted.

The MBA bought the building for $79 million, using $75 million in borrowed money. It sold the building for $41 million.

Someone took a haircut. The Mortgage Bankers won’t say who.

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Rates Cuts Come Quickly At Failed Bank

It used to take new owners at least a couple of months to decide whether they would honor the CDs they acquired from failed banks.

Now it’s only taking a couple of weeks.

A recent story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells the story of Tom and Carol Spidell, who were customers of Maritime Savings Bank, which failed on Sept. 17.

Before the month was over they “received five letters – one for each certificate of deposit they had with Maritime — informing them that the interest rates on their CDs had been slashed.

“For the Spidells, that meant the interest on a CD that doesn’t mature until next spring will be paying about a half-percent instead of the 3.05% they signed up for a couple of years ago. Other Maritime CDs with interest rates ranging from 1.5% to 1.95% also were pared to 0.45% or 0.55%, all of them with roughly a year to go before they mature.”
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Banks Need A Little Skin In The Game

Banks are still whining about the so-called “skin-in-the-game” requirement that was part of the financial reform bill Congress passed last summer.

And I’ve got to say that those complaints are soooooo unattractive.

What the law does is require banks to maintain at least a 5% interest in the mortgages, credit card debt and auto loans they bundle and sell to investors.

The idea is that they’ll vet borrowers more closely if they can’t pass all of the risk along to someone else.

Some loans Congress considers safe, such as traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with at least a 20% down payment, are even exempted from the 5% requirement.

So what we’re really talking about is trying to make the banks act more responsibly when they agree to more risky loans such as interest-only or adjustable rate mortgages.

In my view, this is the absolute least we can ask of the banking industry.
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The NYT Says Savers Are Hurting — Finally!

There’s a breakthrough story on the front of today’s New York Times that finally acknowledges two big problems with the economy that we’ve been writing about for months.

First, I’ve been complaining about big companies hoarding cash since last summer.

Just last week Jen Stryker touched on the same theme, explaining why consumers can’t rescue this recovery, but cash-rich companies can.

In a story headlined “Easy Borrowing By Corporations Spurs Few Jobs”, the Times explains how companies are using ultra-low interest rates created by the Federal Reserve to borrow billions of dollars they’re just stuffing into the mattress.

Few “of them are actually spending money on new factories, equipment or jobs. Instead, they are stockpiling the cash until the economy improves,” the Times says.
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Washington, Florida Banks Closed Oct. 1

Two more banks in Florida and Washington were seized by regulators yesterday, pushing the total number of failed banks to 129 for the year.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. immediately sold their deposits and branches to new owners, which should have those offices reopened no later than Monday.

The failed banks are:

Wakulla Bank, of Crawfordville, Fla., which was sold to Centennial Bank based in Conway, Ark.

Shoreline Bank, of Shoreline, Wash., which was sold to GBC International Bank based in Los Angeles.

Click on the name of each failed bank to see the FDIC closure report.

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‘Stimulus’ Is Not A Four-Letter Word

After Jen mentioned the economic stimulus bill in Tuesday’s post I thought it might be worthwhile to set the record straight about this unpopular effort to pull the country out of the recession.

The $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February 2009 divided that money in roughly equal thirds among:

  • Tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
  • Aid to states and cities.
  • Programs that President Obama had campaigned for, such as computerizing medical records, providing grants to innovative schools, and investing in clean energy sources.

Many Americans have decided it was a failure because the unemployment rate still soared and has remained stubbornly high since peaking at just over 10%.

Yet most reasonable economists, including those in the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, credit the stimulus bill with shortening the recession and reducing the unemployment rate by about 2 percentage points.
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