How Much House Can I Afford

May 12, 2019 Posted By: growth-rapidly Tag: Buying a house

Unless you expect to rent all of your life, you’re going to need to buy a house of your own. You will need to figure out in what neighborhood to live in.

You’ll need to figure out how long you expect to live in the house. However, this is only one piece to the puzzle.

The main thing you will need to determine is how much house you can afford.

After all, and as any financial advisor will tell you, taking a 30-year home loan for a house is a major financial. And it should not be taken lightly. The worst thing you can do is to get a loan that is too expensive for your budget.

So knowing how much house you can afford can help you determine whether or not you’re ready to buy a house.

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Here are some strategies that can help you determine how much house you can afford.

Related topics:

5 Signs You’re Not Ready to Buy a House

10 First Tome Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

1. Do a Budget.

First up, do you have a budget? As any financial planner would say, buying a home is perhaps the biggest expense you will ever make in your life. When you are a homeowner, not only will you have to account for basic expenses like food, transportation, entertainment, etc, you will also have to account for monthly mortgage payments, home repairs, etc…

So, having a budget is an important step in determining how much home you can afford.

2. Increase your Credit Score.

How much house you can afford also depends on your credit score. In fact, mortgage lenders aren’t likely to offer you a mortgage loan if you have a bad credit score.

Although you can get an FHA loan with a 580 minimum score, but there are things to consider when taking an FHA loan, like paying for a private mortgage insurance (PMI).

So, a good credit score will not only help you get qualified for a loan, but it will also help you get the best terms and rates possible. So the higher your credit score, the better.

Get a copy of your credit report for FREE and address any mistakes immediately. You can call the 3 credit bureaus (equifax, equinox, and transunion) to report any inaccuracies. Once you do that, the next step is to try to raise your credit score.

One of the ways to improve your credit score is to pay all of your bills on time. Payment history accounts 35% of your total credit score. So, it’s crucial not to have late payments.

Another way to raise your credit score is to keep your credit balance under 30%. For more information, read: How To Raise Your Credit Score to 850.

Feeling Overwhelmed With Your Finances?, You have options and there are steps you can take yourself. But if you feel you need a bit more guidance, simply speak with a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with fiduciary advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you are ready to meet your goals, get started with Smart Asset today.

3. Down Payment.

Your down payment is crucial in figuring out how much house you can afford. It is so because the larger the down payment, the less financing you will need, which also means the lower your monthly mortgage payment will be.

So although you can put a down payment as low as 3.5%, the rule of thumb is to put 20%.

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4. Beware of Closing Costs.

In addition to coming up with a sizable down payment to purchase your home, you will also need to think about the closing costs. Closing costs typically cover the home inspection fees, attorney’s fees, appraisal fees, etc.

Closing costs can range from 2 to 4% of the home purchase price. Depending on the home, closing costs can cost you a lot of money.

5. Get Pre-approved for a Morgage.

One way to know if you can afford a house is to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Mortgage lenders will gather your financial information like your salary, debt, employment history, and credit score, before they decide to give you a loan. Getting pre-approved is important, because at least you know you’re shopping for a house within your budget.

One word of caution though, a mortgage lender can give you a bigger loan. So make sure you can afford it. In other words, just because you’re qualified for a specific amount of money, does not necessarily mean you can afford it. So, review your budget before making a decision.

Related: Apply for a Mortgage Loan Today

Not All Mortgage Lenders Are Created Equally

When it comes to getting a mortgage, rates and fees vary. LendingTree allows you to view and compare multiple mortgage rates from multiple mortgage lenders all in one place and at the same time, so you can choose the best rates for your needs. LendingTree makes getting a loan faster, simpler, and better. Get started today >>>

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16 Questions To Ask a Home Inspector Before, During, and After a Home Inspection

If you’re buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it’s in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!

But when you ask those home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. To ensure you get the most out of your home inspection, here’s a timeline of queries to hit before the inspection even starts, during the actual home inspection, and well after it’s over.

Questions to ask a home inspector before the inspection begins

So, how do you separate a great home contractor from a merely good one? It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they’ll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask.

Bonus: This’ll also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.

1. ‘What do you check?’

“A lot of people don’t know exactly what a home inspector is going to do,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Wondering what does a home inspector look for? A whole lot—1,600 features on a home, to be exact.

“We inspect everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between,” Lesh says.

Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can’t do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.

2. ‘What don’t you check?’

There are limits. For instance, “we’re restricted to a visual inspection,” says Lesh. “We can’t cut a hole in somebody’s wall.”

As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert—a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber—to come back and do a more detailed examination.

“Understand that we’re looking at what exists in the house today,” says home inspector Randy Sipe, of Spring Hill, KS. “I can’t see into the future any more than anybody else.”

3. ‘What do you charge for a home inspection?’

A home inspection costs around $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally you’ll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you’ll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.

Lesh cautions against going with an inspector who quotes you a very low price.

“That’s often a sign they’re having trouble getting customers,” he says.

Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.

4. ‘How long have you been doing this?’

Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you’re considering an older home or something with unusual features.

5. ‘Can I come along during the inspection?’

The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house’s systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!

6. ‘How long will the inspection take?’

Inspections often take place during the workweek, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you’ll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You’ll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn’t know what he’s doing, says Lesh.

7. ‘Can I see a sample report?’

If you’re buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else’s report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren’t that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It’s another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.

Questions to ask a home inspector during a home inspection

Ideally, you should attend your home inspection—in person or by video—and ask your home inspector anything that comes up right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your home inspector’s (very technical) report, it’s much easier for this pro to actually show you what’s going on with the house.

To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few important questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.

1. ‘What does that mean?’

During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem. He’ll point out things to you that aren’t as they should be, or may need repairs.

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, if the inspector says something like, “Looks like you’ve got some rotten boards here,” it’s smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.

Just keep in mind that your inspector can’t tell you whether or not to become the buyer of the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).

2. ‘Is this a big deal or a minor issue?’

For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. It’s normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn’t up to code.

Don’t freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You’ll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they’re not deal breakers, even if the fixes or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that’s why you’re having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.

3. ‘What’s that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair?’

Don’t be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they’re OK, real estate–wise. Odds are, if there’s something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there’s a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it’s an issue.

Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there’s anything you’re specifically concerned about before he starts the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you’re worried about the house’s age, or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.

4. ‘I’ve never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?’

Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.

“Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it,” Lesh says. “Don’t expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to answer and explain how things work.”

5. ‘What are your biggest concerns about the property?’

At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you, in broad strokes, a summary of what he found. You’ll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house’s biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.

Often, it’s a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged.

You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there’s a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.

Your official home inspection report will have more detail, but you should know what’s on it by the time you leave the home that day.

Questions to ask a home inspector after the inspection is done

What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he’s finished the inspection? Because, let’s face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!

Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.

1. ‘I don’t understand [such and such], can you clarify?’

Just so you know what to expect, here’s how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector’s report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.

Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there’s anything major you don’t remember from the inspection in the report, don’t be afraid to ask about it.

2. ‘Is there any problem in this house that concerns you, and about how much would it cost to fix?’

Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you’ll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

Keep in mind that ultimately it’s up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.

“The inspector can’t tell you, ‘Make sure the seller pays for this,’ so be sure you understand what needs to be done,” says Lesh.

3. ‘Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?’

Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.

Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can’t give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it’s necessary to call somebody in.

4. ‘Is there anything I’ll need to do once I move in?’

Wait, you’re still not done! It’s easy to forget the inspector’s report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.

Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they’ve moved in. Although he’d noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.

“I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement,” Lesh says. “I pulled up their report and asked if they’d reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there’s your problem!”

Everything you didn’t ask the seller to fix? That’s your to-do list. Isn’t owning a home fun?


The Best Home Warranties Available and What You Should Know

A home warranty can make “good financial cents” especially if you are buying an older home. The best warranties include most of your home’s components including a HVAC system, plumbing, and more.

The right home warranty can help you save money if your air conditioning goes out or your dishwasher breaks, but it’s important to note that not all home warranties are created equal. With that in mind, we compared the top 20 home warranty companies to find ones that stand by their promises and come with a generous list of inclusions. 

Select Home Warranty made our ranking due to the flexibility of their plans, but we can also recommend American Home Shield and other companies that offer quality home warranty products.

Table of Contents

The home warranty industry has a few shortcomings, so we’ve also included a guide on how to avoid landing in a bad situation with a home warranty company. Keep reading to learn more about the best home warranties on the market today and how they compare. You can also enter your zip code in the sidebar to see what’s available to you in your area.

The Best Home Warranties of 2021

The Most Important Factors When Selecting a Home Warranty

  • Plan Limitations: Many home warranties come with plan limitations that can diminish their value. For example, certain components of your home (like your HVAC system) may not have any coverage at all with lower tier plans from the top companies. Make sure you know what each plan covers and includes before you decide on a home warranty.
  • Depreciated Values: Some home warranties promise to replace items that cannot be repaired. However, they may only offer a depreciated value for the item, which leaves the homeowner and warranty customer paying the difference out of pocket.
  • Annual Limits: Watch out for annual limits on home warranties since they may drastically reduce the value of your plan in years when you have more than one claim.
  • Included Providers: Also check whether you are limited to certain repair companies with your home warranty plan. Many force you to use a list of providers to provide quotes for service, repairs, or replacements for your home warranty coverage to apply.

Best Home Warranty Reviews

While each company on our list offers high-quality home warranties, it’s possible the specifics of each company and their plans could make one work better for your needs. The following home warranty reviews can help you decide which home warranty plan will provide the coverage you need the most.

Select Home Warranty: Best Comprehensive Plans

Why it Made the List: Select Home Warranty offers three different plans that can provide coverage for your home and save you from unexpected repair bills, but we believe their top tier plan is one of the most comprehensive on the market today.

With their Platinum Care plan, you can get all major components of your home as well as all your major appliances covered for one low monthly cost. This includes your air conditioner, healing, plumbing, electrical, water heater, plumbing stoppage, and all major appliances down to your ceiling fans. You can also add on additional coverage for pools, central vacuums, sump pumps, well pumps, standalone freezers, sprinkler systems and more.

Other plans you can choose from include:

  • A Bronze Care plan that includes major household appliances
  • A Gold Care plan that includes most major systems in your home like your HVAC system and your electrical and ductwork

At the end of the day, Select Home Warranty provides a range of plans you can choose from to cover the components of your home you worry most about. They also make it incredibly easy to get a free quote online.

What Holds It Back: Like a few other providers on our list, Select Home Warranty only lets you use their team of repair technicians. This means you do not have the option to decide who works on your home.

Liberty Home Guard: Best for Online Claims

Why It Made the List: Liberty Home Guard aims to simplify the home-warranty process through its online purchase and claims process. You can apply for coverage online and set up your plan in a matter of minutes. If you don’t want to get on the phone, you can seamlessly submit claims online. 

Once you file a claim and pay your service fee, Liberty Home Guard also promises to have a technician out to you within 24 hours. At that point, your home issue will be investigated and your technician will inform you of the repair process you can expect. 

Liberty Home Guard offers three main plans for consumers:

  • An Appliance Guard plan provides protection for your major home appliances.
  • A Systems Guard plan provides coverage for the major systems of your home, like your heating and air conditioning.
  • A Total Home Guard plan covers both appliances and major systems in your home.

Although Liberty Guard offers these three main plans to choose from, you can also customize your coverage with select add-ons. For example, you can buy warranty coverage for a pool and spa, a sump pump, your lawn’s sprinkler system, or a central vacuum system. 

What Holds It Back: Although you might be able to choose your own technician in some cases, Liberty Home Guard says it normally chooses a licensed and certified professional to conduct repairs in your home. Also, be aware that an upfront service fee is required each time you file a claim, and that you can’t buy a plan from Liberty Home Guard if you live in California, Washington, Wyoming, Wisconsin, or Illinois. 

American Home Shield: Best for Flexibility

Why it Made the List: American Home Shield made our ranking as one of the best home warranty companies based on the sheer number of plans they offer and the fact you can tailor your plan to your needs. The company has also been in business for over 45 years, which means it is one of the most established in the industry.

Standard home warranty plans they offer include:

  • A Systems Plan that covers the main components of your home, such as your HVAC system, electrical, smoke detectors and more
  • An Appliances Plan that provides coverage for your household appliances only
  • A Combo Plan that provides broad coverage for 21 components of your home, including all the major ones

You can also opt to build your own plan, which allows you to pay for only the coverage you want and need. American Home Shield also makes it easy to get a free quote for any of their policies whether you’re already a homeowner or you’re currently a buyer or a seller.

As an added bonus, this company will repair or replace items covered in your warranty regardless of their condition and age. Neither a home inspection or maintenance records are required, either.

What Holds It Back: The major downside of this company is the relatively high service charge you’ll need to pay if you need to use your warranty coverage. Service calls range from $75 to $125 depending on the plan you select.

Read our full American Home Shield Review

AFC Home Club: Best for Established Homeowners

Why it Made the List: We chose AFC Home Club as the best option for established homeowners based on the fact you can use any licensed and insured technician for your home repairs. This can be important for homeowners who have a long history of working with certain technicians and repair companies and don’t want to be tied down to using a repair company the warranty provider selects.

AFC Home Club also offers a selection of plans that include different components of your home. You can choose from:

  • A Silver Plan that includes most major home appliances
  • A Gold Plan that includes most major appliances and components of your home
  • A Platinum Plan that includes all major systems, components, and appliances
  • A Systems Plan that includes major systems of your home such as air conditioning, water heating, plumbing, and more

We also like the fact that AFC Home Club allows you to add on specific coverage for sump pumps, hot water dispensers, pools and spas, and more. When it comes to cost, you’ll need to apply for a free quote to find out how much you’ll pay.

What Holds It Back: One factor we don’t like about AFC Home Club is the fact they don’t let you build your own plan. You can only choose from prepackaged plans they offer, although you can customize your coverage with select add-ons.

Read our full AFC Home Club Review

First American Home Warranty: Best Budget Option

Why it Made the List: First American Home Warranty made our pick as the best budget option based on the simplicity of their plans, and the fact they start at $28 per month. With First American, you can choose from a budget plan that covers major appliances only, but you can also opt for a Premier Plan that includes all major appliances and systems in your home.

First American Home Warranty also offers flexible payment options and a network of pre-screened professionals who can perform needed repairs. You can also request service 24 hours a day and 365 days per year.

What Holds It Back: When you buy a home warranty from First American, you have to use their network of service providers for all repairs.

Read our full First American Home Warranty Review

How We Found the Best Home Warranties

The best home warranties have the potential to save you considerable sums of money if major components of your home break down or need replacing. With that being said, some companies are more reputable than others. Here are the main factors we considered when preparing this ranking.

  • Transparency: We gave preference to home warranty companies that highlight all the major inclusions in their plans on their website. This includes willingness to include plan limitations and service fees, as well as common claim denials and other factors consumers should be aware of.
  • Plan Options: We also looked for companies that offer more than a few plans consumers can choose from. Companies that let homeowners build their own plans, like American Home Shield, were also given high marks due to the convenience of this arrangement.
  • Flexibility: We looked for companies with flexible home warranty plans, but we also compared options in terms of the add-ons available. We gave more points to companies that let you add on more coverage for discretionary household items like pools, spas, and sprinkler systems.
  • Customer Service: Finally, we considered companies that offer 24/7 customer service. We also gave more points to home warranty providers that let customers choose their own service technicians, although very few do.

What You Need to Know About Home Warranties

While the home warranty companies that made our ranking are the best of the best, you should know that, by and large, home warranty companies don’t have a great reputation. If you read home warranty company reviews or check their profiles with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), you’ll find that all major companies that offer home warranties receive poor marks across the board.

Numerous government agencies have even issued bulletins regarding home warranty scams. Here are a few ways to avoid getting in a bad situation. 

Take a Look the Complaints

“Home warranties often do not deliver everything that those selling them may promise,” writes Attorney General Karl A. Racine of the District of Columbia.

“Every year, one of the most frequent complaints consumers make is about home warranty companies. These companies often promise a lot, but deliver very little,” the bulletin reads.

Common consumer complaints about home warranties include:

  • The fact that even comprehensive home warranties exclude items like your roof and the structural integrity of your home
  • You typically need to use service technicians from the home warranty company, and you cannot choose your own
  • The cost of the warranty is often more than paying for repairs out of pocket
  • Many companies offer a depreciated amount for older items that need to be replaced, meaning you’re stuck paying the difference
  • Numerous exclusions can apply to your policy, and they’re often buried in the fine print
  • The warranty company may not guarantee work performed by their own prescreened contractors
  • You may be forced into arbitration if you have a complaint based on the contract you sign

While the above complaints are very common among home warranty customers, you can save yourself some heartache by comparing plans thoroughly and knowing exactly what is included ahead of time. Also stick with reputable companies on this list since they are the most likely to stand by their promises when it comes to paying out claims.

Read the Contract Before Making it Official

Once you’ve narrowed down some companies to consider, ask for some detailed information from each company on your list. A company should be willing to give you a copy of the contract with all its fine print so you’ll know exactly what you’re agreeing to.

If you have trouble getting details from a company, move along to someone else. A company that won’t cooperate with potential customers may be even less helpful once you’ve signed up.

Be sure you find out:

  • Whether the company has a wide network of technicians in your area capable of making repairs quickly.
  • How you can go about getting reimbursed for a repair if ever necessary.
  • Whether the company has 24-hour customer service or if help will be unavailable after hours or on holidays and weekends.
  • If specific components of any covered systems are excluded from protection.
  • If there’s a waiting period after signing the contract before you can file a claim. If so, how long? (Hopefully not more than 30 days.)
  • What are the annual or lifetime caps on your warranty’s payouts? If they’re too low, the warranty will more likely be a waste of money.
  • Will the warranty company want to do its own inspection?
  • Will the contract require you to pay for regular maintenance in order to maintain compliance?

Become an Expert on Your Home and Your Contract

Since you’re the expert on your home, you’ll know what systems or appliances need the most support. (If you’re just moving in, check that home inspector’s report.)

Before signing your contract, read it thoroughly. Become an expert on it as well. Take note of what the contract requires of you as the homeowner.

If you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, or if you’ve exceeded the plan’s spending caps, the warranty won’t help when you’re facing a huge repair bill. This is the source of some, but not all, of the frustration which customers have with home warranties.

If you already know you won’t do what the contract requires, such as annual check-ups on all the covered systems and appliances, don’t sign it. You’d be better off saving those premiums toward repairs or finding a warranty with fewer requirements. More importantly, though, when you become an expert on the contract, you can use it to your advantage.

If a customer service rep thinks the repair you need isn’t covered, you’ll know better. You’ll know what questions to ask and what answers to expect.

At that point, you’ll know you have a home warranty in place as a line of defense against out-of-control and unexpected home repair costs.

Summary: Best Home Warranty Companies

About the Author

Jeff Rose, CFP®

Jeff Rose, CFP® is a Certified Financial Planner™, founder of Good Financial Cents, and author of the personal finance book Soldier of Finance. Jeff is an Iraqi combat veteran and served 9 years in the Army National Guard. His work is regularly featured in Forbes, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur.

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