Don’t Choke in Retirement:

Five Retirement Killing Mistakes that You Need to Avoid

If you had a chance to read my introduction, I talk a little bit about the five or six most common retirement mistakes that I’ve seen over the decades.  In most cases, these are what I call retirement portfolio killing mistakes and there is no coming back from these mistakes.  

 Big Mistake #1

You can make a big mistake with a small amount of money and not even miss a beat.  However, if you make a big mistake on a big amount, it’s like taking a head wound as a zombie on the TV series The Walking Dead.  There’s probably no getting up from that.  And if you wonder what I mean, let me tell you about a big investing mistake I made.

When I was 17 years old I was extremely curious about investing.  In the summer, I would work two jobs, and unlike most of my friends, who spent all their money on beer, girls, and partying, I scraped together $150 and I bought 3 ounces of silver and they just happened to be coins. You may wonder why I did that. 
The news kept talking about how there were these two rich guys out in Texas by the last name of the Hunt. They were known as the Hunt brothers. And they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars.  They were cornering the silver market and they were buying everything they could get their hands on.  Silver had actually gone up 10-fold from $5 to $50 an ounce, but they were predicting it was going to go up 10-to-1,000-fold. I thought it was a can't-miss investment. My rationality was not only is silver used in jewelry, but it was needed in an industrial application for all electronics or even for teeth filling. There was only so much silver out there at the time.  So after I scraped together $150, I bought 3 ounces for about $50 an ounce.

That was all I had and all I had to do was sit on it!  I thought I was going to be a millionaire by the time I turned 20!  If it was good enough for the billionaire Hunt brothers, it was good enough for me.  Well, thankfully, I made that big mistake with a small sum of money, but the only silver lining (no pun intended) was I did it when I was young. I had committed all my investment dollars at $50 an ounce.  It was a can't-miss – even though I definitely did not know what I was doing.  How could I?

Fast forward to today; let’s see how much silver investments have done.  I purchased it at $50 an ounce, and guess what:  Here in 2018, it’s worth about $16 an ounce.  It’s down about 60% or 70% since my original investment.  And this proved to me two things: if you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing and if the price of silver has not gone up in over 40 years, then buying and holding does not work! 

Again, my saving grace was that I made a big mistake on a small sum of money.  But if you’re retired or soon to be retired, you can't afford to make this kind of big mistake. Investing is different in retirement because if it is gone, it is going to probably stay gone. By the way, I kept those silver coins and I’m still waiting for them to go back to the original purchase price!  I still have them to this day as a reminder. If you don’t know what you are doing, then, really, you don’t know what you’re doing!



Most retirees are concerned today about outliving their income.

Very few have a written income plan.  Most realize we are the tail

end of a great bull market, but all good things come to an end.

This may be a good time to stress-test your retirement plan.

Maybe I can help.  Send me an email or schedule a phone time. 

I will get back with you within one business day.


Big Mistake #2

Do not buy an investment that has limited or no liquidity

Not a month goes by that I don’t either talk to somebody on the phone, Skype, or have an interview in my office where someone whom I just met says, “John I don’t know what to do and I don’t understand why I can’t access my money”.  As an example, a couple named Bob and Sue were in the office last month and they said, “You know we’ve reached the end of our rope here and we probably have made the biggest mistake that you have ever seen”.  Their story went like this: They were conservative type investors who were scared of the stock market. They really just wanted to get a decent return on their money and wanted to live off the interest, like people used to do decades ago with certificates of deposits.

Bob said “Sue and I played by the rules our entire lives. We’ve saved money and sacrificed invested money to build up our nest egg. We are conservative investors, but then the interest rates dived down on us in 2010.  You know the rates went down so low, and we kept hearing that the market was very volatile. Also, we saw some of our friends get battered in the market and they lost half of their retirement. So, we wanted to stick with things that were just paying yields. CD rates weren’t good and had dropped to 0.5% or 1%.  We saw an ad in the paper, and we responded to it. They promised these fairly high returns around 8% or 9%.  And they even said we were backed by real property… And so, we originally started with just some of our money. Yet, after we saw the interest coming in after six months to a year, we ended up putting all of our life savings in there. The problem is we keep trying to talk to the people who sold this to us and we just keep getting the ring around.  And quite frankly, we really did not understand what we bought”.

Now folks, I’m going to give you a heads up, this story did not end well. I explained to them that a lot of the time you will see these ads in the local paper promising these high returns, or even worse, they’re all over the internet today as well.  It’s always this vision of high returns and somebody promises you 8%, 9%, 10%, 11%, 12% or even higher, sometimes that just draws you in. And in a lot of cases, people start with small sums of money, and the interest seems to be coming in, and they continue to commit more and more. 

If you’re over 50, you can most likely remember the heydays of CD’s in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s when people were getting 14%, 15%, 16%.  Boy, it was hard to beat that!  No risk, high rates, and they were FDIC protected. Unfortunately, as you know, interest rates did nothing from 1981 to 2017, but go down. Many of the traditional CD investors saw the rates go down from 8%, 9%, 10 % down to 0.5%, what were they going to do?

A lot of investors were leery of the stock market because of the volatility. So they purchased the type of above mentioned investments and I say that very loosely. The problem was you had to get down to the fine print.  The bigger problem was even if you could read the fine print, people did not understand it.

For example, check the prospectus of any fund or any stock today and you will never see any of them promise you anything.  In reality, it is stamped all over saying past performance does not guarantee future returns.  Let me say that again, “Past performance does not guarantee future returns.” It’s ultimately all right there in print.  All of a sudden the consumer is now seeing an investment that promised these high yields. And if they would have thought about it some, they would have seen that all other investments have these disclaimers on them. So where were the disclaimers? They were not there and that should have been their first warning.

The real problem was not that the returns went down, which in many cases they did, but that there was no liquidity!  What do I mean no liquidity?  I mean you couldn’t get your money out or touch it.  As an example, let’s say that you own XYZ stock right now today, and the stock trades somewhere, if you decide to sell that stock at today’s price and you execute that order, that’s what you’re getting.  So, you know exactly what that investment is worth from a liquidity standpoint, and you know you can get out.  Well, in many of these types of prior mentioned investments we talked about, there is no secondary market. Its normally stated somewhere in their brochures.

Many retirees get attracted by high returns and end up sinking part of their nest egg and then continually put more and more in.  But they can’t get the money out. 

Sometimes,  if you really read into it, they’ll have a liquidity schedule of 8, 10, 15 years and when you think about it, it seems kind of ridiculous for a retiree to buy something with a liquidity schedule 10, 15 years out in the future.  Many of these types of loosely said investments are functioning around real estate, commercial buildings, auto loans and deeds. 

I remember when investors were buying into pay phones.  I don’t exactly remember the investment pitch, but it was something like every time somebody makes a call, it is like putting money in your pocket… Have you even seen a pay phone lately?  Can you imagine explaining to your grand kids today what a pay phone was? Can you imagine the people, who put their life savings in owning a bunch of different pay phones, then all of a sudden technology takes this leap and everybody now has a cell phone?

Now back to Bob and Sue’s situation. They needed this money and the income, but even more importantly, they couldn’t afford to lose their nest egg.  Have you ever seen one of those snake charmers?  They’re sitting there on the ground in a yoga position with this flute and they’re doing this flute thing and the poisonous viper snake is swaying with him and they’re swaying while the charmer is playing the flute.  It’s like this swaying motion that has hypnotized the snake into not striking and killing the snake charmer.

Well, just like the snake is being hypnotized by the charmer playing the flute, people get hypnotized by returns because somebody says 8%, 9%, 10% and you think oh my goodness I’m only at 0.5%. 

John’s rule:

If you can’t find the daily price of your investment and liquidate it at today’s value, don’t buy it.  And really who cares if it’s paying 8% if you can’t get out of it? Who says it is really going to be paying 8% next month? And unfortunately, there’s very little that can be done once the money’s invested. 

So, what can be done?  The best thing to do is to not invest until you know what you are investing.  If you are getting an investment pitch of high interest rates and really don’t understand 100% how it works, here’s what I’m willing to do; even if you’re not a client of mine, just run it by me. Due to the availability of the internet and emails and Skype and things like that you can reach out to me.  Just hit me up, but if I can’t find where you can liquidate at a market value, I’m going to at least warn you.



Big Mistake #3

The Death Star Normally Wins Every Time

If you are a Star Wars fan then you know there were two main movies that feature the Death Star: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and the original 1977 film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The Death Star was the ultimate weapon. They didn’t really worry about strategies on how to conquer planets; they just blew the whole planet.  In both Star Wars movies they took out the Death Star both times and the good guys won.

The Death Star in retirement planning is when investors set up a schedule to sell principal to provide income without knowing how the payouts are generated.

The worst part is that many investors don’t understand that their portfolio is under attack.  Today, many investors, at some point, want to access their retirement. So, they call up their provider, broker, a fund, insurance company and they say, “I have $1 million with you guys and it took me my whole life to get that. I’ve heard that it’s pretty reasonable to expect to take out 4% or 5%.  So what I’d like you to do is send me a check every month.”  Then within a few seconds, there is a response from the rep of the institution saying, “Sure, no problem.”

Well, really, it is no problem to them because it’s very easy for them to generate that money by selling your principal/your shares and to guarantee that monthly check.

And they’re liquidating the principal.  That’s the easiest way to do it!  Month after month, year after year, it’s like termites nibbling away at your house.  Except that you’re actually nibbling away at your retirement portfolio.  If termites first attack your house today, you probably won’t have a problem for three, four, or five years.  However, in time, if you allow the termite buffet to continue, you’re going to have a problem in probably five, six, seven years.  The same results
can seem similar to your retirement portfolio.

Don’t worry, be happy

I have encountered many retirees who don’t understand how it really works.  I have literally asked hundreds of people over the past 20-30 years, whether it be at workshops, seminars, online seminars, personal meetings, over the phone one main big question.
“Where, exactly, is the money that they are taking out of their portfolios coming from?”

Now, sometimes at face to face meetings I will get this look, like, “Well that’s a silly question; it’s coming from my portfolio.”  Then, within five or ten seconds, I can see their brain starting to go to work contemplating.  This look comes across their faces, like, “Uh-oh, do I really know where it’s coming from? I do know that a check for $4,000 a month shows up every month and it’s been showing up year after year.”

Do you really get past the first or second page of your broker statement? I’ve heard from most people that they just go to the summary page and look at how much it was worth at the start of the year and how much it’s worth now. Or, how much it was worth at the start of the month and how much it’s worth now at the end of the month.  Then, they set that aside the rest of the statement and don’t bother to read the next 20 pages.

So, what is happening every month is that you’re selling a piece of the principal.  Like the termites, you are nibbling at the principal.  It may not affect you over the first few months, but over a number of years, the reality is you are also shrinking the number of shares you have in your portfolio.

A few retirees have told me, “I’m taking out my quarterly dividends and interest out of my portfolio.  It changes sometimes every quarter, but I do know exactly how much I’m producing in there.  I know what kind of investments I have, I know the income”. So John, no termites here and I don’t even like Star Wars.” In the last 10 years of asking this question, I can count on the fingers of my left hand, not both hands, the number of people that have given me that answer.

As a hypothetical, let’s say you have $1 million in your 401(k), IRA, brokerage account, funds, or wherever it is.  And people either need the money or they’re forced to take it because of RMDs or distributions.  Everybody seems to know the magical number that you can take out of the portfolio.  It’s everywhere.  Type in How much money can I take out of my portfolio, and I can tell you you’ll probably get an answer of 4% to 5%.  So people say, “Hmm, well, I’ve seen that.  I’m going to call them up.  I’ve got $1 million.  I’m going to take out $4,000 a month, not quite 5%.  It should be no problem.”  Because we all know the average return of the markets is historically 8% or 9%. So take out 5% while you make 8% or 9% there shouldn’t be a problem.

From 1982 to 1999, as an advisor I employed this strategy with retirees.  Basically, people would tell me how much money they wanted and it was still somewhere in that range of 4 - 6%. We set up a distribution plan so they would get the same amount every month and it just worked beautifully.  Well, the reason it did work out beautifully was because we were in one of the greatest bull market I’d ever seen! It was a long term secular bull market which averaged over 17% over that period of time.

It doesn’t take Albert Einstein to figure out if you’re selling 5% and you’re going up 17%, it looks real good. 

Well, in due course all good things come to an end.  The year 2000 rolled around and we start with a vicious bear market, so if people were taking out 5% prior to the bear market, since the market took their share values down 50%--they weren’t selling 5% of their shares to get the same amount of income so now they had to sell 10%.

To compound the problem, after a big draw down of 2000-2002, 5-6 years later we got hit with another Bear market which was even worse.  So their portfolio did not have time to recover and it’s like taking 2 punches in the face by Mike Tyson. I think most people would rather have no punches to the face from Mike Tyson.


If you’re selling an increasing percentage of a decreasing portfolio at some point then you will have a problem.  When the market recovers, you’ve had to sell a large percentage of your shares, it means their gone. So, how can your portfolio ever recover?  Sadly, it cannot.

Now, there’s a big problem.  When the market recovers, there’s no way that you can recover because you’re missing part of your capital now and it gets even worse. The market cycles typically run every five or six or seven years, where we have good markets and we have bear markets.  It happens in real estate or it happens in the stock market. Hopefully you participated in the last 10 years of the market return from 2008-2018.  But let’s go forward 10 years and history repeats itself and we have two bad bear markets, what do you do?

If someone tells you might have a bad problem they have and they don’t give you any information to help solve it, then that doesn’t really help.

Find exactly what’s going on and what kind of investments these are. 

Where are these investments held? What kind of income is available?  Whose idea was this? In many cases, in sideways trading or bear markets you have got to be more focused on dividends.  If the market is trading sideways and we set up an investment plan that pulls nothing but dividends and/or interest, and we focus on investments that are paying higher yields, we still have the same number of shares.  

If you have been invested for the last 10 years, you’re in a good position.  Now, if you think the past 10 years are going to be the next 10 years, then don’t do anything.  Just continue along hoping the market goes up for the rest of your life.

Don’t worry, be happy. If you need someone to lead you through the good and bad markets, get in contact with me. We can set up a phone appointment which is real easy and harmless. Or call the office and we can put you on the schedule to come meet with me.


Big Mistake #4

Solve Your Income Deficit

In some cases retirees have an income deficit.  Income deficit is the difference between what you spend (expenses) and your guaranteed income coming in (i.e. pension, Social Security, distributions).  As an example, let’s say you take in $4,000 a month from guaranteed income streams, perhaps both Social Security and a Pension. Your expenses are $7,000 a month.  So your income deficit would be $3,000 a month. Let’s just take a minute and think about it.  You probably know exactly what your income deficit is.  Hold that number in your head.  If you are running into an income deficit now, it probably stands to reason that unless you go back to work or inherit money, the problem is not going to solve itself.  Once we know what your number is, your monthly deficit, it can likely be solved.

Don’t Trade Your Income Deficit for a Principal Reduction:

Most retirees, the majority of the time, don’t really quite understand where their monthly distribution is even coming from.  And they’ve called up whoever their provider of their investments are or if they are with a brokerage firm, fund, or annuity company and just ask for a set amount of dollars for a payout every month.  And this set amount of dollars takes care of their income deficit.  However, there is not a lot of discussion about how this income is generated or where it is these payments are coming from.  It’s true that most people with a brokerage statement don’t really get past the second or third page because it’s that confusing to read. 

As an example, let’s say you need about 3k in monthly income. You call up your provider and say, “Hey, I have $1 million with you.  Can you send me $3,000 a month?”  And oftentimes the provider will say, “Sure”.  And the reason why they say “sure” is because what they're going to do, is take the easy way out and sell the amount of shares needed to free up the needed 3K. They're not going to do the calculations to see how much income and dividends are actually being produced. We have to make sure that in order to get that dollar value, we have to sell a number of shares that they own.

Let’s not forget that during recessions or during bear markets, share prices drop.  In 2008 and 2009, many investors lost anywhere from 30-50% of their value and they were not happy.  If they really paid attention to detail, they would have seen that their share value had dropped.   Look at it this way:  if you’re selling an increasing percentage of a decreasing portfolio in a bad market, it’s not going to really affect you for a number of years, but down the road it will.

If you really are self-liquidating the entire portfolio to solve your income deficit, it may work well in a bull market, but it works really badly in a bear market.  And it only takes one or two bear markets to severely wound the portfolio.

Another way to look at it as is it’s like having termites eating into your home.  If you have termites in your home somewhere, first of all, you’re probably not going to see them.  You’re going to have to have a professional find them.  So, your home’s probably not going to fall down tomorrow, but the foundation’s going to be pretty shaky in six or seven years.  I bet you it’s going to be real shaky especially during hurricane season. 

Don’t trade one problem for another

It is important to not trade your income deficit for a principal reduction.  Let’s say the person who’s selling an increasing percentage of their shares is really determined to get rid of their income deficit, but another problem is created which is even worse.  This is a principal reduction in shares.  For example, let’s say you start with 10,000 shares worth $100 per share, and you sell 300 shares to generate $30,000 of income per year.  Well, obviously, at the end of the year you will have fewer shares.  But if this happens during a bad market where the share price has dropped from $100 down to $50 per share (think about years 2008 and 2009), you’re actually selling 600 shares because you’d have to sell more shares due to  the price of shares having gone down.  This forces you to sell an increasing percentage of a decreasing portfolio. 

Okay, so the best answer on how to solve your income deficit is to very simply create an investment plan that is more focused on dividends and interest so your income deficit is covered by earnings. 

So what’s best to focus on first is income and then secondly, on growth.  Now, this kind of makes a little bit sense here.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re focused on growing your portfolio; right?  You are not concerned about the income and you’re not even going to take the income.  Your income’s coming from work.  So actually, you can withstand the bear markets because the volatility doesn’t bother your income, so hopefully you’re still employed, and that income pays your expenses.  You have a long runway to retirement.  But then once you get to retirement, think about this:  Yeah, you’d like the portfolio to have growth, but you would sacrifice some potential for growth for stability and income so you wouldn’t be selling your shares.  So really the best answer is to create an investment plan that’s more focused on dividends and interest.  I call it a dividend growth portfolio.

Build a Fixed Income Ladder

The second-best answer would be to go ahead and anchor some of your income streams for the next 5-10 years.  You probably don’t want to do more than 20 or 25% of your total portfolio.  You could do this by building a bond CD ladder by purchasing bonds, Treasury bonds, corporate bonds, and CDs.  They would stagger maturity so each year you would have money coming free and you would know that your income deficit is handled for the next 10 years.  The advantage of doing this is that it allows you to keep the majority of your assets 75% in a growth type mode.  Once the Fixed income ladder is gone, hopefully in 10 years you are going to restart the income and growth plan.

Think back when you were 55 years old, and let’s say you retired at 65.  I will probably guarantee you when you were 55 and if we were in a bear market at the time, you weren't as concerned as you would be today because your income was coming from employment.  In the same rationale, you know your income’s set.  So yes, you are in a self-liquidation phase at 25%, but in my book, that’s much better than being in a self-liquidation phase of 100%.

A third answer or option, and most retirees go with this option because the other two really haven't been explained is because it’s kind of based on hope. You are actually self-liquidating the entire portfolio to solve your income deficit.  You are trading your income deficit for a principal reduction.  It works great in long-term bull markets but really bad in bear markets.  And let’s not forget it only takes one or two bear markets to severely wound the portfolio.  This is a case where you end up taking an increasing percentage of a decreasing portfolio, so the termites go into overdrive. 

Now, if somebody has to utilize this strategy, it can be done, but you’re going to need a top-notch advisor who’s able to adapt quickly to market conditions.  This is not a situation where you’re just going to buy and hold. 

Now, how can I help?  Feel free to shoot me an email, phone call, or if you just want to run over to my office and let me know what your scenario is.  It’s possible I could help you by just giving you some direction.  Maybe you’re fine, however, it’s important to understand what strategy is being employed here, and a lot of times there is no strategy.  All I know is every time I see a flying ant, I call my termite people, and they always come out and say, “Oh, that’s not a termite; it’s a flying ant.” 


Big Mistake #5

Loaning Money

Loaning money to kids is usually tough topic to discuss. It is definitely a big mistake that I've seen retirees make.  What usually happens is that they end up supporting one of their grown children's families for years. And I have seen quite a few retirees have to change their standard of living because their grown children wanting more and more money and they just continue to need help.  It just never stops!  Now, folks, I have grown children, and I will be the first person to tell you that I would do anything to help them.  But I would question how much help I'm going to give them if they're able-bodied and they have employable skills, which they do! I paid for my children's college, so they lucked out and got that for free. I think what has really been burning everybody's mind is the recession of 2008/2009, which was just a tough year.  People were destroyed financially, lost their homes, and jobs. In a lot of cases, these were people that were overextended and they were living way beyond their means, just because times were so good. 


Let's just say you took early retirement as an example. The bull market in the last 8, 9, 10 years has pushed your IRA/401(k) up to your number (everybody has the number) to $1 million.  So, that's it – it’s that time. You and your spouse make the decision to retire at age 62; you think that between social security and $45,000 that you'll take out of your $1 million nest egg, that'll get the job done.  Things are going well and then all of a sudden we go into a nasty recession, like 2000 and 2009.  Your son loses his job and his house because he put no money down initially, and his family of four has nowhere to turn to, but you.  You most likely are not going to let your kids and your grandkids starve so of course you help them.  Honestly, I have found that it's not if you help them, but how long do you help them? Unfortunately, sometimes your help becomes part of the expected income of that family. And did I mention that your son lost his job due to a recession?  Well, since we are in a recession, I bet you if you check your portfolio right now you will see your million dollar number's not there anymore. And furthermore, it's probably down at least 20% (the last recession many investors loss 40-50%).  So now really what is happening is that you're no longer taking that 4 or 5% and instead you're taking out probably 8 to 10%. 

So, what I’m certain you're going to help your son and his family, but you've got to help them until they can either retrain themselves, or get out of their bills.  Heck, you know what?  They probably can even declare bankruptcy.  It's possible for it to be better for them to declare bankruptcy, instead of you having financial problems.  It’s been my experience that this kind of help has gone on for years.  So when you finally hit your magic number, nobody took into consideration that it was not enough to support two families! This is a real tough issue and I don't really even like talking about this.  But, every year I have people come to me and say, “well, I've got to get this house and I’ve got to get that house for my grown son or daughter.  And then say “I know I shouldn't be doing this, John.”  So after hearing the same story for over 4-7 years, there's definitely a basic problem here.  They are most likely living way beyond their means, which you CAN control how much money you spend.  You don't have to live in a 3500 square foot home, buy brand new cars, send your kids to private school or take so many vacations.  If your back is to the wall, then you've just got to work like crazy, and the spouse has also got to work as well.  Maybe even the kids can work if possible. 

But what's even worse, in my opinion, is its sad to see a couple of young retirees at the age of 62 retire early, played by the rules, got enough money, just sick of the rat race, come down, go into retirement, start enjoying themselves, and then between their distributions and this other family's needs, the money goes away in 6-9 years.  So now they have to unretire and go back to work!   What is worse is perhaps they don't have today's employable skills, so now they're going to be making minimum type salaries. Unfortunately their retirement green has gone up in smoke.  And now they're going to probably work until they can't. 

That is certainly a bleaker story than a young family that has a temporary 3-5 year setback because they have time and they have the skills to go out and retrain themselves when the economy picks up, which it does, then they can get back to normal.  It will take them a number of years to get back to where they were, but I don't really believe that's their parent's responsibility.  At some point, people need to stand on their own.


John Romano, CFP®

305 Skyline Drive, Suite 3, Lady Lake, FL 32159

Phone: 352-753-8590

Email:  John@RomanoJohn.com


Most retirees are concerned today about outliving their income.

Very few have a written income plan.  Most realize we are the

tail end of a great bull market, but all good things come to an

end.  This may be a good time to stress-test your retirement plan.

Maybe I can help.  Send me an email or schedule a phone time. 

I will get back with you within one business day.


John Romano, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, has over 30 years experience in the financial field. John is a Registered Representative with Securities America, Inc. (member of the FINRA and SIPC), and an Investment Advisor Representative with Securities America Advisors. He has prepared hundreds of reports for retirees to assist in their retirement income planning needs. He is dedicated to providing portfolio analysis, dividend and income information, and investment management services to retirees (and those preparing to retire) in The Villages, Florida, and throughout the United States.

Securities offered through Securities America, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC, John Romano CFP® Registered Representative. Advisory Services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. John Romano Investment Advisor Representative. Romano Income Strategies and Securities America are not affiliated.

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