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Funding STEM Education as a First-Generation College Student



Going to college is a milestone decision in many people’s lives. For students whose parents and grandparents didn’t attend college, being the first in your family to go to college is even more significant.

The decision to attend a university can provide a bright future for first-generation college students. There’s often more earning potential, the ability to secure a job in your dream profession and the opportunity to obtain a fulfilling education that can serve you for a lifetime.

But for first-generation college students, there are also unique challenges. These include not having an example to look to for guidance and the sometimes difficult decision to leave family and loved ones for school.

If you’re a first-gen college student who has to work to pay for school, balancing studying with a part-time or full-time job can also be demanding. If you’re the first in your family with college in your future, you may be wondering how to handle the complexities as you go after your goals.

Know that if you want to pursue higher education, the value is often worth the price. According to a 2018 report by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates and median usual weekly earnings vary according to educational attainment for full-time workers ages 25 and older.

  • High school diploma: 4.1% unemployment rate, $730 median usual weekly earnings
  • Bachelor’s degree: 2.2% unemployment rate, $1,198 median usual weekly earnings

Using these figures, over 40 years of work, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree will make $973,440 more than a worker with a high school diploma. 

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average annual cost at an in-state public college for the 2019-2020 year was $10,116. This can be hard to pay upfront, but you can lessen costs with grants and scholarships. If that still isn’t enough, you can also take out personal loans to pay for school.

Students who study for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degree may be able to earn higher-than-average starting salaries depending on their career. Most of the top 2019 college majors with the best starting salaries, according to PayScale, are STEM majors. These include:

  • Petroleum engineering
  • Electrical engineering and computer science
  • Actuarial mathematics
  • Electrical power engineering
  • Aeronautics and astronautics
  • Systems engineering

Other STEM majors include astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, health sciences, information technology and physics.

Pursuing a STEM degree may make financial sense. A 2018 report by Pew Research Center found STEM training in college is associated with higher earnings, even when a graduate is not working in a STEM occupation.

If you’re a first-gen college student and you’re wondering what to major in, a STEM education can be personally and financially fulfilling. But there are unique challenges you may face as a first-generation college student. Here’s what first-gen college students who are considering studying STEM majors should know.

First: what’s it like to be a first-generation college student?

As the first generation in a family to enroll in college, you need to master how to succeed in school without the aid of an example from your family. A 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Education found one-third of first-generation students dropped out of college after three years. Some issues first-gen students face include:

  • Challenges in succeeding academically after enrollment and in completing a degree
  • A lack of college-going experience from parents who can help students navigate the higher education system
  • Demographic and enrollment characteristics, such as low socioeconomic status, that are associated with dropping out

“Most first-generation students are faced with complete unfamiliarity with the demands of a university education,” STEM student Ralph Wiser, studying mechanical engineering at University of Texas at Austin, told “The Daily Texan.”

“Having parents who know the answers to questions such as how to handle financial aid and how student loans work would have been helpful,” Wiser said.

EAB reports 90% of low-income, first-generation college students don’t graduate within six years. Navigating school, implementing solid study habits and having to work to pay for school can all contribute to challenges with graduating on time.

Another unique challenge that first-generation college students may face is “breakaway guilt,” according to former first-generation college student, college professor and researcher Linda Banks-Santilli.

“While their families often view them as their savior, delegate or a way out of poverty and less desirable living conditions, many first-generation students struggle with what has been described as ‘breakaway guilt,’” Banks-Santilli said. “A student’s decision to pursue higher education comes with the price of leaving their family behind.”

You may feel like you’re abandoning your parents or siblings by going away to school, while your family may feel like they’re being rejected.

This guide walks first-generation college students through the options for funding a college education in a STEM subject.

What is a STEM degree?

As mentioned, STEM degrees fall into science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors. According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, while enrollment overall in college has decreased, enrollment in STEM programs has increased.

STEM degrees are important because some of the world’s most in-demand professions fall into these categories. This includes application software developers and medical technologists.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook:

STEM degrees are challenging to pursue, but the skills learned are in demand in a variety of industries. As technology evolves, big data use increases and scientific developments enhance lifestyles, STEM skills will continue to be valuable in a wide variety of professions.

How much does a STEM degree cost?

Base tuition prices for STEM degrees may be the same as other majors, but some STEM students end up paying more for books and equipment. One report found seven of the top 10 most expensive textbooks majors are used in STEM-related majors.

Also, some schools may apply a surcharge to students enrolled in certain majors, or charge upper-level students more per credit hour, according to a report by the Delta Cost Project.

Sometimes STEM degrees cost students more because it costs more for schools to provide them an education. There’s equipment, the cost of instructors, the cost for lab space, etc.

A 2017 research paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found STEM majors, like physical sciences and engineering, cost schools twice as much to fund as the least expensive majors, like library sciences and business. Computer science is the only STEM-related field that is below average in cost.

If you’re interested in how much a particular major will affect you financially,  the Department of Education expanded the College Scorecard in May 2019 to include data about the level of debt students take on to study a certain major at a specific college. You should contact the schools you’re considering to find out about average costs beyond tuition for STEM majors.

The encouraging news is that although a STEM major education may cost more, those costs are likely going to be recovered in the professional world. A report on the value of majors by the Center on Education and the Workforce found graduates with STEM degrees make more at entry-level and mid-career levels compared to those with health, business, arts, humanities, liberal arts, teaching and serving majors.

How to finance a STEM degree

Studying for a STEM degree can be rewarding while in college and throughout your professional life. Though you may face challenges working your way through the college admissions and enrollment process, there is help available every step of the way.

You should research the STEM program you’re interested in to get an idea of the financial expectations for the four years it takes to complete the degree program. Attending an in-state public school will likely be considerably less expensive than attending a private school or an out of state university, but it will depend on the financial aid packages offered to you by the schools you apply to.

Once you have an idea of how much you’ll need to pay, you and your family can start planning using the funding options below.

529 plan

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged college savings plan. Money can be invested in a 529 plan on behalf of a beneficiary, which means that a parent can set up a 529 plan for a child, or the person can name themselves as the beneficiary.

Students who plan on going to college can start a 529 plan while they’re in high school. Families can create one for them at any point, too.

The 529 plan allows the plan holder to invest in a range of mutual funds, similar to an IRA, which means that students and plan holders have the potential to grow their savings more meaningfully than they would using a basic bank savings account. Earnings are exempt from federal income taxes as long as withdrawals are used for educational expenses.

This college savings option  includes prepaid tuition plans, which are similar to prepaying for a semester or more at a certain college. This means that even if inflation increases college costs in the future, the student will have already paid for part of school at the lower tuition rate, which saves them the extra money they’d have to shell out for the increased tuition rate. This could work for students who are working in high school or whose parents can contribute to paying for college now.

Financial aid

The Federal Student Aid office gives aspiring college students the opportunity to apply for grants and scholarships, which is free money to help cover college costs. Grants are usually awarded based on need, while thousands of different scholarships are available depending on unique criteria, including high performance in high school.

College scholarship sites usually list scholarship options that are specifically granted to first-generation college students. You can find some options for first-generation students on these sites.

To apply for grants and scholarships, you will need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.


There are also a number of types of loans you can use to pay for college. A loan is money that must be paid back with interest. Loans for college can come from the federal government, a bank or other financial institutions and organizations, and can be taken out by the student or their parents, who can cosign on loans if need be.

The federal student loan program provides four types of loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans, which are based on students demonstrating financial need. The school determines the amount that can be borrowed, which can’t exceed a student’s financial need.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans, where eligibility is not based on financial need. The school determines the amount borrowed, which is based on the cost to attend and other financial aid the student receives.
  • Direct PLUS Loans, which may be made available to parents of dependent undergraduate students and require a credit check. A maximum amount is determined based on the cost to attend school, minus any other financial aid a student receives.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans, which enable loan holders to combine all eligible federal students loans into a single loan. This means that instead of having to make multiple student loan payments, there’s only a single monthly payment.

You may also consider taking out a personal loan. A personal loan typically doesn’t require collateral to qualify. This type of loan is usually based on credit scores and may feature fixed interest rates and fixed monthly payments.

Resources for females and minorities

Considerations for certain subsets in first-generation STEM students are unique. Pew Research Center found that while 75% of employed adults in health-related positions are female, women are underrepresented in other STEM fields.

Here’s the percentage of women working in each related field.

  • Math: 46%.
  • Life science: 47%.
  • Physical science: 39%.
  • Computer: 25%.
  • Engineering: 14%.

According to iD Tech, women make up only 18% of computer science undergraduates.

Black and Hispanic people are also underrepresented in the STEM workforce. In all occupations, African American workers represent 11% of the industry and Hispanics represent 16% of the industry. But in STEM jobs, African American workers represent 9% of the industry and Hispanics represent 7% of the industry.

Female and minority students can tap into the resources that are designed specifically for first-generation students. The Center for First-Generation Student Success has programs, services, research and policy updates, news and blogs available to help educate readers.

There are also thousands of scholarships for women and scholarships for minorities that students can apply for. There is no limit to how many scholarships you can apply for, and many students have paid for school entirely through grants and scholarships.

Go for your dream as a first-generation STEM student

STEM fields have some of the biggest professional potential for aspiring college students. If you’re the first in your family to attend college, there will be some hurdles to navigate, but the rewards you’ll reap when you graduate can set you up for a lifetime of success.

You have financing options available to you, including free money in the form of grants and scholarships. Make sure to fill out the FAFSA and research and apply for scholarships that can help you pay for school.

If you need more financial assistance, personal loans are a solid option. You can get set up on a payment plan and know what you’ll need to pay. When you enter the workforce as a STEM graduate, you can start earning more and pay off your loans.

The post Funding STEM Education as a First-Generation College Student appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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The Cheapest Renters Insurance Companies in Florida 2019



Hurricane Irma held the world transfixed as Florida’s beautiful beaches were battered by relentless rain, whipping winds and tons of flooding. The category-4 hurricane created over $50 billion worth of destruction that is still in repair today, and it is an event that remains fresh in the minds of renters and homeowners alike.

Hail, hurricanes, flooding and high winds are all widespread in Florida. That creates a need for a different kind of renters insurance with specialized features that cover things like sinkholes, lightning and hurricanes. Florida has a weather system all its own, so renters must be diligent in ensuring maximum coverage for all types of events.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporate reports in a new study that the number of renter households in 2017 exceeded 2.5 million. With so many renters and so many potential natural disasters, renters insurance is a necessity to protect your home and all of your belongings inside.
Best renters insurance companies in Florida

As tourism continues to rise, visitors are more common. It is essential to ensure your belongings are covered, as well as theirs. Renters insurance will protect your home, your belongings and any guests on the property.

The cheapest renters insurance companies in Florida

There are many excellent insurance options for Florida residents, and here we have the best renters insurance companies in the state for 2019:

  • Castle Key
  • Citizens
  • Peoples Trust
  • Security First
  • State Farm

To assess each company, we examined their ratings. Both J.D. Power and the Better Business Bureau judge customer satisfaction on price, claims processing and overall customer service. AM Best uses a grading system to judge a company’s financial strength.

J.D. Power and AM Best ratings are not available for all Florida insurance companies, but we include Demotech financial ratings where possible.

These companies are not only the cheapest renters insurance companies but also come highly recommended by their customers.

Rankings for cheapest renters insurance companies: Florida

Company J.D. Power AM Best BBB Demotech
State Farm 3 out of 5 A++ (Superior) A+ A (Exceptional)
Security First N/A N/A A+ A (Exceptional)
Citizens N/A A (Excellent) A+ A (Unsurpassed)
Peoples Trust N/A N/A N/A A (Exceptional)
Castle Key 2 out of 5 B (Fair) C A (Unsurpassed)

Best Florida renters insurance for best claims service: Castle Key

Castle Key is a specialized division of Allstate that provides renters insurance to Floridians. Allstate is already a well-respected renters insurance company, with excellent claims service and extra protections that will come in handy with Florida’s unpredictable weather. Allstate has 5 out of 5 rating from J.D. Power for how it handles claims.

Best Florida renters insurance company for discounts: State Farm

State Farm offers good insurance coverage in a variety of areas, which means you can save on your renters insurance by bundling it with your auto insurance and get more discounts for both kinds of insurance. State Farm helps you save if you have safety features like smoke alarms or a security system.

Best Florida renters insurance company for private coverage: Citizens

Citizens is available exclusively to Florida residents as a not-for-profit government organization. It is a popular solution for those who cannot find private coverage, and Citizens offers exclusive savings like discounts for homes with storm windows and shutters and homes in compliance with Florida Building Codes.

Cheapest Florida renters insurance company: Security First

Security First is also a Florida-based renters insurance company with unique coverage and affordable pricing. While most companies feature discounts for adults 65 and older, Security First offers discounts for those 55 and older. It also offers discounts for wind-resistant homes, similar to Citizens renter insurance. While your rates will be unique to you, Security First often offers the lowest insurance rate.

Florida is on par with the national average cost of renters insurance, costing about $185 per year, while the national average is $181 annually.

These are the average rates for the best Florida renters insurance companies:

  • Security First: $142
  • Citizens: $160
  • Peoples Trust: $170
  • Castle Key: $175
  • State Farm: $181

Given the specific needs of Florida renters, companies have worked to adapt their policies for better coverage. With several services exclusive to Florida only, it helps to ensure better customer service, fast claims processing and, most importantly, greater affordability for better coverage.

Frequently asked questions

How much renters insurance do I need in Florida?

Renters insurance is especially prevalent in Florida, given its propensity for damaging storms. Consider extra protections based upon where you live. Areas closer to shore will need flood insurance more than someone living near Disney. Florida also experiences strong winds from frequent storms, and areas closer to shore could require more coverage than other areas. Some companies provide wind coverage, but not all. Determine how much risk you have and how much coverage you’d need to replace your belongings to find out how much insurance you need.

What is the best renters insurance company in Florida?

Unlike other states, there are many Florida renters insurance companies that specifically cater to the changing Florida landscape. Where you live will significantly determine the kind of coverage that you need, and that, in turn, will help determine which company is right for you.

Why do I need Florida renters insurance?

Florida has more lawsuits than other states, so renters insurance will provide the extra protection you need. Renters insurance can also protect your belongings from the storms Florida tends to get. Also, many landlords require renters insurance, so check your lease. While your landlord’s policy covers the building, your belongings inside are not covered unless you pay for an insurance policy.

Will renters insurance cover roommates?

Renters insurance only covers the individuals listed on the policy. If your roommate is not on your policy, he or she is not included. If they have coverage and you are not listed on their policy, you are not covered. Roommates should provide their own coverage.

The post The Cheapest Renters Insurance Companies in Florida 2019 appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Spend One Minute Doing This to Earn 5 Cents/Gallon in Points to Save on Gas



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There are a lot of ways to save money on gas. You can drive across town to find the cheapest gas station. You can obsess over finding the quickest route. Or you can spend one minute downloading an app that automatically earns you points to save money when you fill up your tank.

Sound easier? We think so, too. With the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app, you automatically earn points to save money every time you fill up at Exxon or Mobil stations. Until February 2020, you can earn 5 cents per gallon, compared to the app’s usual offer of 3 cents.

It also lets you pay easily and securely through the app — without swiping a card. 

Watch Your Savings Pile Up With the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ App

If you’re consistent about it, that nickel discount really adds up. 

Consider this: The average American driver goes through roughly 650 gallons of gas per year.

At a current average price of about $2.30 per gallon, that means your typical American spends about $1,500 a year on gas.

At that rate, this app could save you $32.50 per year — free money that you could pocket or that you could spend on whatever you want.

Oh, you’re a two-car family? That’s $65 in the bank.

If you drive a lot, you’ll save even more.

You’re a VIP at 11,500 Stations

It’s easy to be consistent about using the app whenever you get gas, too.

That’s because Exxon and Mobil have about 11,500 gas stations scattered across the North American landscape. Seriously, they’re everywhere. You can earn points to automatically get discounts at all of those stations.

Even if you’re not the kind of driver who actively hunts for a particular kind of gas station, the odds are good that, wherever you are, you’ll find an Exxon or Mobil station nearby. Just Google it. There’s probably a station, like, one minute from you.

The Easiest Way to Save on Gas

It takes just a minute to download the app on Apple or Android and connect your payment information (credit, debit or Apple Pay). Once you’re parked next to a gas pump, you just press a button in the app, and the app turns the pump on. Plus, doing everything through the app means you won’t risk subjecting your credit card to illegal skimmers attempting to steal your credit card information. 

Here are some nitty-gritty details about the app:

  • When you buy gas with the app, you earn rewards points.
  • Once you have 100 rewards points, you can start redeeming your points on gas purchases.
  • Until February 2020, you can earn points to save 5 cents per gallon on gas this way. That’s a temporary increase from the typical 3 cents per gallon with this app. So if you’re thinking about signing up, the sooner the better.
  • If you’re filling your tank with premium gas, you can earn points to save 10 cents per gallon through February 2020.  

We can’t think of an easier way to save on gas. If you’re ready to start earning and saving at the pump, download the app and get started. 

Mike Brassfield ( is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He drives a lot and would love to save on gas.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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What is a Credit Score and How Can You Improve Yours In 2020?



Whether you’ve seen it on discussed on TV or heard your friends discuss it over dinner, you may have just realized that you have something called a credit score, and the bigger your credit score is, the better. 

Still, with advancements in digital technology soon, it became more widely available quickly, becoming another critical metric for people to work. Now, credit scores can be accessed in just a few minutes online. With this transparency, individuals themselves can see how small changes to their lifestyles can have a positive or negative effect on their scores.

Credit score websites, such as Credit Karma, and credit checker Apps have gamified credit checking in an attempt to drive traffic to their sites, and what used to be a straightforward measure of a lender’s trust is now displayed with bright, eye-catching colors and dynamic wheels to capture and retain a persons attention.

Regardless of the change in the way in which your credit score is now displayed, the end goal is still the same – to increase your credit score. So here’s how you can improve yours in 2020. 

What is a Credit Score?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a quick step back to ensure that we all understand what a credit score is, because amongst all the bright colors and dynamic graphs hides some critical information. A credit score sometimes referred to as a credit rating, is a measure of the likelihood of you paying a loan or credit back>

Lenders use credit scores to assess whether they feel they can trust you to make the necessary repayments. Aside from the obvious, getting a credit card, your credit score can affect you getting a mortgage, being able to finance a car, your insurance policies, and even your mobile phone contract.

To make things even more complicated, your credit rating is calculated differently by different credit bureaus.

How You Can You Find Your Credit Score?

It’s now easier than ever to find out an estimation of your credit score through credit checker websites in which you fill out a short form detailing information about you. Remember, although these websites are a good indication of your credit rating, they often aren’t exact, and their results can vary quite significantly over time and from site to site.

Most websites use a scoring model that starts at 300 and ends at 850 though some others such as Experion score out of 999, so it’s best to check how you rank on each scoring system separately. Typically a credit score of 700 or higher is considered good however they are generally classified as follows:

  • 750 – 850 is deemed to be excellent 
  • 700 – 749 is considered to be good
  • 650 – 699 is considered to be fair* 
  • 600 – 649 is considered to be poor 
  • 300 – 599 is considered to be bad 

*If your score is in the 650-699 range, read what you can do to boost your credit here

What Can Affect Your Credit Rating? 

Believe it or not, a good salary and a steady borrowing history don’t always amount to a good credit rating, and there are many factors at play which affect the final number. Here are a few things that can affect your credit rating. 

Your History with Credit
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first, good history with confidence, and demonstrating your ability to make timely repayments reflect well on your credit rating, whereas having no history of credit or missing repayments can reflect very poorly.

Whether You Have Registered to Vote (UK)
Although registering to vote is essential for many other reasons, it can also impact your credit rating as lenders use it to verify your name and address as a precaution against fraud. Failing to register or registering at an old address can reduce your score by as much as 50 points, which may not seem like a lot but can be the difference between your application being accepted or rejected.

Missing Your Repayments
A late or missing payment can stay on your credit record for up to 3 years, impacting your score, so remember to make payments on time. Believe it or not, this also includes your mobile phone payments and your utility bill payments, with half of the big six energy providers now sharing data about the customers with credit agencies.

Applying for Too Much Credit 
Submitting credit applications in quick succession can be seen as a sign of financial stress and may appear on your credit report. Lenders may see this and decide not to lend on you in case you are in financial difficulties, notably if any of your other applications were declined. 

Your Partner’s Rating
If you apply for a financial product with your partner, then your financial histories become linked, which means that their score can influence yours. You may even have business ties with ex-partners who you no longer are in a relationship with.

The Amount You Spend on Your Credit Cards
The amount you spend on your credit card can be used by lenders to determine whether you rely on them. 

So, How Can You Improve Your Credit Score for 2020?

Now that you know what impacts your credit rating, you can work on improving it. Improving your credit rating will increase your chance of being accepted for loans, credit cards, and mortgages and will stand you in good stead for future financial decisions. So here’s what to do. 

1. Find Your Score

If you haven’t already, create an account with one of the credit check companies and find out your current score as this will give you a good benchmark to work off. Remember that your score can vary between credit agency and that their scales can vary too.

2. Register to Vote (UK)

This piece of advice may seem odd to readers in the U.S. However, if you live in the UK, registering to vote may improve your credit score.

If you aren’t currently on the electoral register, then register to vote. Be sure to use your exact name and address and to keep this up to date should you move even if you don’t plan on voting, being registered to vote matters and can affect your rating.

3. Make Sure to Meet Your Current Repayments

If you are currently using credit them be sure to set yourself reminders for your repayments and make at least the minimum payment amount each month. Prioritize the repayment of your current loans over everything else and be consistent. Just one missed payment can stay on your record for three years.

4. Don’t Pay Off Your Loans All at Once!

If you have a credit card or loan, then you may think that by racing to make early repayments, you are increasing your credit score, but this isn’t always the best strategy. The speed at which you pay off your loan doesn’t matter to the credit agencies so long as you make the minimum repayments, and in fact, lenders can make more money off you in interest if you don’t pay off your loans early.

So weigh up whether you need to pay it off early or whether you can continue to plug along with the regular repayments as this could reflect better on you as a consistent and reliable user of credit in the long run.

5. Dissolve Ties Between Ex-Partners

Your ex-partners will continue to haunt you if you don’t cut ties with their credit ratings. You can ask to have your credit ties cut by contacting the main credit agencies and merely explaining the change in your circumstances.

6. Don’t Take Out Joint Credit with Someone Who Has a Poor Rating

If you have a higher credit rating than your partner, then purchasing credit with them will bring your credit rating down. Carefully consider whether it would be better to take out credit on your own to protect your rating or work with your partner to improve their before you take out the loan. 

7. Take Out One Credit Product at a Time

Although you may need more than one credit product, try to take them out one at a time over several months to not cause alarm with credit agencies who may think you are in financial distress.

8. Use Under 25% of Your Credit Limit

Maxing out your credit cards can make it look like you rely on them. To build your credit rating, try to keep your credit spending to below 25% of your overall credit maximum and remember to make the repayments on time. The lower the percentage of credit you spend on your cards, the better.

Be Patient

We live in a world of instant gratification, but building your credit score will likely take time. Remember that missed repayments can sit on your score for several months, and proving your reliability with money will require regular payment over the year.

So sit back and play the long game, check your score periodically throughout the year and be patient; it will grow with time.

The post What is a Credit Score and How Can You Improve Yours In 2020? appeared first on Your Money Geek.

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