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Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans

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Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans

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Student loan debt differs from other credit products in a few ways. First of all, the most common student loans (federal Direct undergraduate loans) do not require a credit check, so they’re pretty easy to get. Second, and perhaps most important, it’s very difficult to get out of repaying student loans, even if you fall on hard times. Student loans are infrequently discharged in bankruptcy — even if you qualify for loan forgiveness, you have to apply for it. Student loans accrue interest while you’re in school (though the government pays the interest on some borrowers’ loans while they’re in school), so by the time you have to pay them back, you may be surprised to see you owe much more than you initially borrowed.

There’s some good news: You may have several options for repaying your student loans, especially federal student loans, that can make your debt more affordable. It’s crucial you can afford your student loan payments, because if you fall behind, it’s not only difficult to catch up, but you’ll also likely see your credit score drop, as a result.

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    How Much Student Loan Debt Do Americans Have?

    Student loans often help make it possible to earn a college degree, which over time can help you earn more. But sometimes things don’t go as planned. You may have to drop out of school before you finish your studies. You may not land a good-paying job after school. Or you may discover you’ve borrowed more than you can pay back. In fact, seven-in-10 (68%) of college seniors who graduated in 2015 owed money for their educations, with an average student loan debt of $30,100 per borrower, according to the Project on Student Debt. And that’s just borrowers who graduated — some of the people who struggle most with student loan debt took out loans but didn’t earn a degree.

    Besides moving back in with your parents (if that’s even an option), living off PB&J sandwiches and putting every penny you can toward your debt, what are your options?

    Fortunately, there are a variety of student loan repayment programs that may help you whittle down — or even wipe out — debt. They include:

    1. Student Loan Forgiveness

    A number of programs allow you to get some or all of your debt canceled if you qualify. Examples include serving in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps; programs that allow a variety of healthcare professionals from doctors and nurses to dental hygienists and mental health workers to get a significant amount of their debt forgiven if they are willing to serve at least two years in an underserved community.

    Teachers may similarly be able to get some student loan debt forgiven if they work in underserved communities — especially if they teach math or science. Your school or employer may even offer a program to help with student debt, so be sure to research or ask about them. And members of the National Guard and military may be eligible for programs like the National Call to Service program which pays a cash bonus of $5,000 and up to $18,000 in student loan repayment. Finally, those who are totally and permanently disabled may also apply to have their federal loans discharged.

    It may take you a while to find out whether you’re eligible for such a program. And if you do qualify, you may be taxed on the forgiven debt as if it were income. But it can still be worth the time and energy (and taxes) to wipe out these debts, especially when you consider you aren’t just eliminating the debt, but also the interest that would accrue on the balance in the future.

    2. Income-Based Repayment

    What happens if you don’t qualify one of those programs but your monthly payments on your loans are more than you can pay? You may want to look into the Income-based Repayment (IBR) Program. (The newer versions of that program are called Pay As You Earn and Revised Pay As You Earn.) With these programs, you may be eligible for lower monthly payments on your federal loans, based on your income. If there is a balance remaining after you’ve made payments for a certain number of years (10, 20 or 25) it will be forgiven.

    The length of time you’ll be required to make payments before the balance is forgiven depends on the type of work you do. Also helpful: paying back your loan under IBR, PAYE or REPAYE does not hurt your credit scores, as long as you make the reduced payments on time.

    3. Student Loan Consolidation

    It can be frustrating as a student loan borrower to learn that your options for refinancing these loans are limited. Unlike other types of consumer loans, which can be refinanced if interest rates drop (if you qualify), federal student loans are not as flexible. In fact, you generally get only one shot at this.

    Some of the potential benefits of a federal consolidation loan include:

    • One monthly payment instead of many
    • Lower monthly payments, by extending the loan term to up to 30 years
    • Changing from a variable-rate loan to a fixed-rate loan
    • Possible eligibility for other repayment plans such as IBR

    However, there can be drawbacks as well. They include:

    • More interest paid over time if the loan term gets longer
    • Possible loss of valuable benefits such as interest-rate reductions or loan cancellation benefits, depending on which types of loans you consolidate.

    How do you consolidate student loans? The Department of Education offers a helpful checklist for borrowers who are thinking of consolidating. If you decide to move ahead anyway, you will fill out a free application at the Department of Education website.

    Student Loans and Your Credit Scores

    Typically student loans won’t hurt your credit scores if they are paid on time, and they can often help your scores. If you fall behind, however, those late payments can cause your credit scores to drop significantly. For that reason, it is especially important to try to repay your student loans.

    You can see for yourself how student loan debt affects your scores by getting a free credit score on

    This article has been updated. It was originally published November 14, 2013.

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      • Steve

        What about parents who cosigned for these loans where is the relief for them?

        • Brian Bennett

          Why should anyone get financial relief? They signed loan papers willingly; no one forced them to do so. Getting the loan was a choice they all made.

          • alex

            The relief is working to the benefit of the D.O.E . You can’t expect people to [magically come up with the money]. If they don’t have a decent paying job or a job at all, then its obviously hard to come up with $200-$1000 a month. In pretty much any other type of situation where one would take out a loan, there is collateral that can be taken to make up for non payment, but you can’t repo an education. This isnt an issue of a small % of students not paying their loans. We are talking about close to a trillion dollars in unpaid student loans and that number is constantly growing because we cant stop giving student loans unless we want to fall behind in education as a country. So instead the D.O.E came up with programs that would allow people to consolidate their loans andd lower their payments based on their income and dependents. This way the D.O.E can have some money coming in. Did you have a better solution?

          • Brian Teal

            Except when they get stage 3c cancer, lose their job, and their child has special needs and a life threatening disease. Sorry, I shouldn’t have signed those papers, should I? I should have known all that would happen. I guess I’m just a greedy liberal.

            • lifeofhardknocks

              Sorry if all that is true. However, evaluating the risks are a part of all financial transactions right or wrong. By accepting the loans you place yourself and those you are responsible for on the hook. You are irresponsible if those items are not taken into consideration. Life is not free. No, you are not a greedy liberal, just a bleeding heart liberal.

              • Grateful

                Lifeofhardknocks must be a republican with zero life experience. Why else would this individual, (note the choice of word- not “person”), or any other the other individual with similar views make such idiotic comments. Lord helps these folks should ANYTHING ever go other than “As Planned” in their world… All we can do is pray for them!

          • Shaun

            Are you serious? People get loans to support getting an education to support having a better life. The goal is to pay the loan off. However, most people end up paying two to three times the amount that they actually borrowed. A lot of people cannot make ends meet or afford to support the economy in other ways (buying homes, vehicles, investing in visiting other US cities) because they cannot afford to do so because of student loan debt.

        • Shelly

          Most parents that cosign are released have 1-2 years of on time payments. Especially on private. There’s also options to re-finance student loans to remove the parents after the student has sufficient credit.

          • Toni Derbort

            That is so not true! I have been making payments as well as my son faithfully every month for five years. Can’t get my name off!

            • Shaunr

              Toni, not sure if you signed a parent plus loan. However, if your son took out a loan and you were simply a cosigner, you may be able to have your name removed if he consolidates his loans. Look into it.

              • Sarah

                Wrong. Consolidators require a cosigner when they evaluate the debt to income ratio. As you would imagine it’s very frustrating since 90% of cosigner are chained to loans long after they’ve met the requirements. The loan sharks will change the agreement and cosigners can be sued if the student dies. What a lousy country we live in.

        • Jenn

          Traditional Student Loans from the feds do not require cosigning (Subsidized, Unsubsidized Direct Loans and occasionally Perkins). These are automatically offered to the student without a credit check. These are also solely in the student’s name. I believe these are the loans the article is referring to.

          Parent Plus Loans should be the only federal loan offered to the student. These loans are solely in the parent’s name; this means the parent is solely responsible for repayment. These are credit based loans. Unfortunately, there are no current programs to assist in this type of loan.

          Do not cosign for an Alternative Student Loan unless absolutely necessary. These loans are from lenders other than a bank or other lending agency and are not associated with the Federal Government. These generally are not the best option for funding. If you absolutely have to have this extra funding, make sure you and your student research your lender before accepting the financial responsibility.

          You should never borrow money if you don’t know how you are going to repay it. While things occasionally happen that cause a hardship, most borrowers should be responsible with their spending. Make sure you and your student are living within your means.

      • alex

        Thats not true at all…. The programs for doctors and teachers are the exact same programs that are available to ANYONE with federal student loans. So anyone can consolidate and lower their payment based on income and dependents, but the only difference for public service workers is the amount of consecutive monthly payments before being forgiven. So instead of 300 payments , they are only required to make 120. Know your facts before you open your mouth please

        • Mom

          Yeah, they play a lot of games with that, according to my daughter. (“The paperwork wasn’t filled out properly, don’t send THAT kind of check, etc.”) Unless they’ve really changed, it’s like owing a loan shark or the IRS. I finally paid off MY loans, PLUS loans, (they are the parent loans) by getting another part-time job and using that money to pay the ($16,000.00) off as quickly as I possibly could. That was “back in the day” when the interest rates were 9%+,too! Never again.

        • Jasmine

          No, you need to know your facts because teachers who remain at low income schools for 5 years are eligible for loan forgiveness.

      • NY NBicky

        welllll…..I was disabled by 33 operations and can NO LONGER work…let alone feed myself….How can I pay anything?

        • Latina

          Your student loans can be forgiven and wiped clean if you are disabled. Call the lender and make the necessary arrangements. This is true even if you receive state disability, LTD payments from a curent or past employer, or have a doctor certify the disability. Just call the lender and ask some questions.

          • Gerri Detweiler

            You and Lili are right – between loan forgiveness and bankruptcy there should be a solution for NY NBicky. The only caution I would give is that there could be a tax liability for student loan debt cancelled due to disability, but not if the loans are discharged in bankruptcy. We wrote about that here: student loan disability

            • Susy

              There are two things you cannot file in any type of bankruptcy and they are: Child Support and Student Loans. If someone is disabled and not receiving any earned income they can call their server and ask to be put on the IBR program. They will send you a form. The form tells you if you don’t have any earned income to sign the form and send it back. You don’t have to fill out anything just sign it. It will not hurt your credit or your credit score.

              • Gerri Detweiler

                Some student loans are dischargeable in bankruptcy. Not always easy but it is sometimes possible. And agreed that IBR or Pay As You Earn can be very helpful for some students.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        I agree. Your best option at this point is to consult with a bankruptcy attorney with experience in student loans to find out what your options are.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Unfortunately Parent PLUS loans aren’t eligible for the same programs as student loans. And while you may be able to consolidate them together you may not want to. As the website explains:

        “Parent PLUS borrowers who also have other federal student loans and choose to consolidate with Direct Loans will find that the PLUS loan taints the entire consolidation loan and will mean that they will not be eligible to repay the consolidation loan using IBR. If they wish to consolidate, parent PLUS borrowers may exclude the PLUS loans from the consolidation and pay them separately. These borrowers should also be able to consolidate and choose ICR.”

      • Kathleen AOM

        I am a parent and as I have 4 children – now young adults – 3 college grads, with the recent grad heading to law school and one still an undergrad. I can tell you that we tried to save for their college educations — we managed to save about 5K for each. That turned out to be a drop in the bucket for what it costs to attend even a public university! In IL, our public universities are now $18-30K
        yearly. Very few who raise a family on normal and decent-sized middle
        class salaries (my husband and I both work for municipal entities in
        professions of public service – so we make good money, never intending nor
        expecting, of course, to become millionaires, etc.), can afford to save
        that kind of money and feed and clothe 4 children. To make good on loans and equity loans we took, we will probably have to work until we are 100!

        When we first began the college search in 2000 for our oldest child, our flagship public university cost approximately 10-12K yearly. With some sacrifice, we fully expected we could foot that bill. By the time he actually graduated high school and
        was admitted, suddenly the costs began to soar. Why? Think about this: Our banks suddenly went from offering 5% interest on regular savings accounts to a mere whatever it is now .001%? Bank CDs, which used to offer 10-12% interest on money deposited for a given amount of time, now offer 1.05% on $10K deposit
        over 48 months? Why? I am no economist or financial expert, but I
        do have a very simple theory. I also have a more complicated theory, but I do
        not intend to get into politics here!

        It seems to me that the 2009 recession/depression and lost reasonable interest rates on almost any kind of loan, credit cards, etc as well as the lost reasonable interest rates on savings, etc. — has one aim —- to increase bank and financial profit margins to ensure their CEOs and upper financial management keep the exorbitant salaries they now receive and that these salaries annually increase. Tell me, what does one do with a salary of $25 million or more a year?
        CEO salaries in most corporations, not just financial, have risen at
        ridiculous rates to the point where they soar way past reasonable and/or excellent compensation! If this is not checked, soon our country will return to the scenario
        prevalent 100 years ago, only the few elite immensely wealthy upper class
        will be able to attend college!

        When I graduated college in 1980, I graduated with $1500 in student loans. Young teachers I work with today are going into public service public school teaching jobs
        with $40-60K in student loan debt, because neither they nor their families could possibly save $80-120K+ for a college education and they have dreamed of being teachers all their young lives. Should they have forgone college until they could save $80-100+ thousand dollars to finish 4 years of college? Where will our teachers and other professionals come from? And although these young teachers will receive some loan forgiveness, it still only taps the surface of their debts, which are continually accruing interest!

        In my youth, I had returned from studying away at college to live at home, and was able to finish at a public university and pay my tuition, books, and other expenses
        easily with my part-time job. Today’s students cannot do this and many
        parents find the prospect of signing and undertaking massive debt, when
        retirement should be 5-10 years away, to send their children to college –
        prohibitive for many reasons. One of my children is about to enter law
        school in the fall; she will be in over $250K debt with interest accruing all
        the while she is studying law! Hopefully she will be able to go either the public service route for loan forgiveness or find a job to pay her enough to pay off that loan before she is 80! This is fulfilling her dreams since she was a little girl
        and we will try to support her as much as we can — I am confident in her
        abilities to do well, but should our competent qualified young people have to
        come out of college burdened with this sort of debt?

        • Michael Biancanello

          I share your pain. At 250k+, law school is a mistake.

        • SIMI

          Don’t send your child to law school. So many law grads are stuck with no legal job. Most of them leave the field. Law school is very expensive and very grueling. Law schools are just a business. Seriously think very hard about law school. I have 90K debt that swelled to 180k with a job not even in the law that doesn’t pay much. Unless you can pay of fit in cash, and you have a guaranteed job already waiting for you at a top firm, I wouldn’t consider it.

      • olivia60

        you lost my comment

      • Jon

        Possibly the Federal Government could have the interest on these loans based on just the prime interest rate (~1%) instead of trying to make it a highly profitable concern (~4-9%) to get the money back. This could be offered to those having loans as a one time opportunity and if they don’t take it or default, they lose.

      • Olga

        Can you qualify for teacher loan forgiveness if you consolidate your loans

        • Credit Experts

          According to the application, the loans that may be forgiven are: Federal Direct Stafford/Ford Loans (Direct Subsidized Loans), Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford/Ford Loans (Direct Unsubsidized Loans), Federal Stafford Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized), and any portion of a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan or Federal Consolidation Loan that paid off an eligible Direct Subsidized Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loan, or Federal Stafford Loan.

        • educator57

          If you consolidate a Perkins loan, you would not be able to qualify for the forgiveness over 5 years because the Consolidation loan pays off the Perkins loan so the loan is no longer a Perkins Loan. (And I would encourage anyone considering consolidating a Perkins loan to think thrice about what they’re giving up!)
          Stafford loans have a cancellation privilege of up to $5000 for students teaching in low-income areas and up to $17,500
          for highly qualified teachers in an area of need.
          However, if you consolidate your loans with the federal government into the Federal Direct Student Loan Program, you can apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows students with “partial financial hardship,” to make payments based on their income and have the remainder of the loan plus interest forgiven after working and making payments for 120 months in a government or non-profit job (with a few exceptions). The 120 months do not have to be consecutive, nor do they have to be with the same employer.

      • Anna

        Just to let you all know that if you qualify for the IBR plan the intrest on EACH of the loans will still accumulate, so even if you have a payment each month of say $10.00
        the interest on those loans could be $200.00 per month. Even though you don’t pay the interet right now just be aware. Also, if you have a little extra money to put twords your payment for that month, you will not be allowed to exceed a certain payment amount for more than 3 months or you will be takken off the IBR plan and placed into a regular scheduled payment of the higher amount. These are just a few things to think about.

      • Sondra Carr

        People in desperate situations do desperate things. Loan companies know that and take advantage of them – the reason for the relief is that we’re admitting these guys are carnie-like con men and stopping the pretense that that’s the same as “business people” – even the bible has strict warnings against usury. And this is likely the reason why.

      • Shaun

        Everyone has the right to education. There was a time when people did not think high school should be free. Where would we be if someone did not take a chance on that. The fact is schooling is expensive. These days, 20% of jobs in the United States require a masters degree. However, just 11% of the population have masters degrees. Many of the people with masters degrees obtained those degrees because they wanted better lives. Unfortunately, student loans are the only way many people could make that happen. People have paid student loans, but the interest rates often force people to pay back twice the amount borrowed. Also, life gets in the way. Unemployment, medical expenses, etc… have made a number of people miss payments. You cannot be so heartless.

      • Stuck in student loan interest

        I am in the same boat. I signed up for the loans when the government took away my scholarship half way through school. I was forced with the choice to walk away from the eduction that I had a taste of or take out loans. I had no concept of the amount of money I was borrowing at the time. I thought I would move home and pay it back aggressively in 3 years. I work three jobs and live in poverty just to watch the balance continue to grow because of the interest rate. I have come to terms that my life will never amount to much because of these debts. I can’t even afford to have children. I have chosen to focus on using this education to better the community and world hopefully contributing to society through my efforts. This is my reward. I would not trade my knowledge for any worldly treasures and I thank god we don’t have debtors prison.
        I have heard bankruptcy will not offer any relief from student loans.

      • educator57

        Parents generally do not qualify for relief from co-signed student loans, but there are some exceptions. Parents should be aware that, for federal student loans and some alternative loans, should the student become permanently and totally disabled or pass away, the debt is cancelled in full, although the IRS taxes the loan amount forgiven. Also, if the school closes before the student can finish his/her certificate or degree program, the federal student loans may be cancelled.

        For co-signed federal student loans, a parent can be relieved of the debt if the student consolidates his/her federal loans into a new loan which pays off the old loans. The downside to consolidating is that the student’s new interest rate will be slightly higher as the new interest rate will be the weighted average of the loans being consolidated rounded up to the next 1/8th of a percentage point.

        Some private alternative loans allow a co-signer to be released from the debt obligation once the student has made a specific number of on-time full monthly payments (usually 12-24) and meets specific income and credit criteria without the assistance of the parent.

        If you, as a parent, have questions about the loans which you borrowed or for which you co-signed for your dependent child, you should contact the lender or school for more information. For federal loans, parents or their children may qualify for income-dependent repayments, deferments, forbearance, forgiveness or cancellation depending upon the type of loan, the student’s type of work, and many other items, so if you or your child are/is having a problem making payments, reach out for help. For federal student loans, you may call 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FED-AID) or check out Even if your child has graduated, if you need information about repaying federal student loans or are having trouble making payments, you can still contact the school’s financial aid office for guidance. There may be something you aren’t aware of than can help you.

        Just don’t pay attention to the advertisers on the TV and radio who tell you they can fix everything for you. Everything they can do for you, you can do for free and without sharing or risking all your personal information (such as social security number, birthdate, address, etc.) with these extra middlemen.

      • educator57

        There are programs for permanent and total disability that can forgive loans, and deferments, forbearances, and reduced payment plans for when the finances are too tight to repay. And, while student loans cannot generally be dismissed in bankruptcy, if they do present a hardship, the court does have the ability to dismiss even federal student loans.

      • KEVIN

        The loan amount may not be the issue. I had one son with interest rates from 2 to 3.5% and can make his payments. My youngest son is paying 8% on his loans and having troubles. During the 4 years his college cost doubled from year one to year four. Why should a billion dollar bank borrow from the government at 0%, but we charge the young person making $9 per hour a high rate. Same government giving the wealthy all the tax breaks. I see tax returns where depreciation is 1/2 million and the owner of the company shows $10,000 income. How about the gains tax of 15% to a multi-millionaire and the family with $100,000 income pays 25%. The wealthy corrupt the government. Buffet even asked to be taxed more, duh!

      • Tracee F

        Yes, ok. But when I went to college and signed for those student loans, I was 18 years old, did not have a lawyer to explain to me what I was signing, and was told how the loans were fixed at 3% interest. And at the time, at 18, the ONLY person in my ENTIRE family to ever go to college, so I had nobody to help me through the process. I was lead to believe that once I graduated, I would be so much better off and able to pay off those loans. Nobody guaranteed me a job, but they really talk a good game at the colleges. You are young, and you believe it. They want you to attend, they want your money, it is high pressure sales like anything else. Get real people. These are young kids right out of high school who are already ingrained to believe that going to college is the way to the future. It is an easy sell. Especially for someone like me, whose parents weren’t even there. Then, I didn’t know the difference between state and private schools, guess where I ended up? Thank goodness it was only for the last two years of my bachelor degree. I borrowed 17,000. The rest was grants and working. I went to school full time and worked 32 hrs per wk, and was a single mom. After graduating, the interest rate was 8%. After 6 months the bill became due at 180.00 per month, at 22 yrs old with no job, after our buddy GB Sr. destroyed our country (read my lips). So, pile 8% on 180.00 per month and that interest capitalizes. How can you owe interest on interest? I didn’t borrow the interest!!! Now, I owe over 55,000 on 17,000 worth of loans. However, those people who signed for variable rate mortgages when they were super low, got a house for a half to 3/4 million, then when the interest went up to 12%-15% which they were TOLD it could, with their lawyer (I wasn’t told at 18, by myself, that my interest rate would go up to 8% after graduation- probably in the 10 pages of fine print, I will give you that, but what 18 yo is going to read that? that’s how they get you) suddenly these people couldn’t afford their mortgages anymore. They all cried hardship and got bailed out!!! Why did they deserve a free, or next to free house? And if they couldn’t afford it or couldn’t get bailed out, they could just walk away from their house. What options do we have with these student loans that just keep compounding on us? Nothing. There is no way out from under the crushing debt. They will take our pay, our bank accounts, our houses, our taxes (I have learned to owe taxes rather than get refunds). You have a lawyer to buy a house, but not to sign for student loans for which you can NEVER get out of. That makes no sense. Young kids should not be allowed to sign for any loan over 5,000 without counsel. I owe more on my student loans than I do on my house!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • blackcatsoda

          Well said

          • Tracee F


        • Stephen

          I worked at a grocery store making 5.50 an hour (when I started) and lived on tuna fish for years making my way through college. I never ate out. I got my undergrad without loans. I saved each week and payed tuition in full when it was do It can be done. People generally take out loans to make their life easier. It’s their fault if they sign the papers!!! Btw…I have never met my dad and my mother was a HS drop out. I didn’t have anyone help me do squat! Everyone wants a handout now days. Pretty pathetic.

          • Sarah

            Eating all that tuna instead of working a real job is ridiculous. Loans do not make your life easier buacause it goes to the college – or do you not know what a student loan is?

            Your hatred of students is telling indeed.

      • geeeno

        you have to wonder how smart educated people are if they can’t figure out how to handle finances stretching out 10 years into the future. did you calculate average starting salary in the city you will live in, interest, college costs. do you know what net present value is? an educated person is going into debt with the HOPE that someone will hire them? they go into debt with the plan that their future financial status is placed in someone else’s hands? take business classes and learn how to be an entrepreneur, then your future is in your own hands. THAT makes sense. if you’re going to PAY money in order to make money, then learn how to make money. if you’re going to pay money to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. well then you got what you paid for, and huge debt is part of that. you can satisfy your intellectual curiosity by reading books, too, which is much cheaper. there are tons of free online college courses put out there by harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc etc, with actual professors who are teaching live online.

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