Count the Cost | Financial Education Series | Posts


Financial Planning the Kingdom Way

posted Oct 30, 2014, 8:06 AM by Charles C. Christie,Jr.   [ updated Oct 30, 2014, 8:18 AM ]
















by Willie Thomas Butler

Planning Never Hurt Anyone

Within the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) are many important object lessons to be learned and embraced.  Understanding your responsibility—and thus, accountability—before God for all He has entrusted to your care is, in my opinion, at the top of the heap.  Like it or not, we will all give account one day for how we managed what we were given to nurture, preserve or increase for the Most High.
As a financial planner professional I have been more sensitive to our role as God’s stewards than most.  What I have learned through decades of God’s teachings and what I have counseled others to do based on my own life-events and academic training have greatly informed my every financial decision.   And, His teaching could not have come at a better time.  With today’s economic challenges and financial uncertainties, life may never have been as challenging as it is at the moment.

Planning Is For the Rich and the Not-So-Rich

An ancient biblical proverb exhorts us to “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23).  During a more agrarian era in human history, this passage would have seemed most appropriate for the conditions and experiences of working with livestock.  Today, farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses are probably closest to seeing how this passage might literally apply.  But for the rest of us, it would help if we substituted the words flocks and herds with words like wealth, riches, business interest or resources.  In that context the passage could read:

“Be diligent to know the state of your possessions [i.e., your wealth or riches], and look well at your business interest and other resources.”

Why is this important?  Because there are two duties each of us have that stem from what we possess and have been given to preserve and, in many cases increase.  First, we are accountable to the Lord, just as we see in the Parable of the Talents.  When the master returned and called his servants together, it was so that each would give their personal accounting for what he entrusted to their care (v. 19). Second, we have a practical mandate from God, sometimes referred to as the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:28; 9:7), and we have a moral and spiritual duty to work, to be productive and to leave a legacy for our progeny.  This is strongly encouraged in several Old Testament sayings such as:  “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Proverbs 13:22

To Whom Much Is Given . . .

Considering these represent two of life’s major responsibilities, would you be comfortable today with saying that you know the state of your possessions: that is, your wealth, riches, even your gifts, talent and ability?  And, if asked to make an accounting of these today, would you be able to offer an update that might please the Lord?
If you answered no to these questions, don’t panic.  There is still time to become knowledgeable and to learn how to manage everything to God’s expectation.  It begins with learning to take inventory of your possessions and then making decisions on how each item should be uniquely managed.  This process is what stewardship is all about.  Stewards manage what is entrusted to them by others, and in this case, it includes the earth and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).
Based on these biblical truths, you may need to shift away from thinking you own, therefore can choose to handle your possessions your way.  If this is how you think, then this is your wake-up call.  Instead, you would be better off adapting the Kingdom view that you own nothing but are responsible to account for all that you possess.  Such a shift will realign your core beliefs and values to understand how God thinks and what He requires of you, and it will make managing the Lord’s resources easier in the end.

LifePlanning Is Kingdom Planning

How can you gain the knowledge and understanding needed to be accountable?  By letting the LifePlanning Institute help you.  We are experts at integrating God’s instructions with state of the art financial techniques and practical skills training in wealth and financial management for everyday life.  We have economic and sophisticated financial tools that can assist you in reorganizing every aspect of your life.  All we ask is that you give us an opportunity to help you!  You can visit us online at www.MyLPI.org or call me at (757) 447-3260 to schedule an appointment.
A Premier Kingdom Financial LifePlan should be dynamic, and it is accomplished through the gathering of diverse data while deriving useful information from it. However, you will not retain much of that that great information for very long without an effective presentation. Your Financial Health Checkup is your portal to accomplish just such a task, and this video demonstrates the ease of use of Your Personalized Financial Dashboard.  To schedule your Financial Health Checkup today email Info@MyLPI.org, or call (888) 337-0345 ext 209, or (757) 447-3260.

You can also obtain a Free Copy of my latest eBook titled “Seven Keys to Living a Kingdom Life” (2013).
Whatever your preference is for support, please pursue an advisor or resource center that will help you prepare for the unknown.  For, no one knows when the Master may return and ask for an accounting of His possessions...


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Do You Know What You Owe?

posted Feb 4, 2014, 2:07 PM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 2:08 PM ]

Well, it is now February 2014, and those holiday shopping expenses have begun showing up on your monthly credit card bills.  Or, if you are like some cash-buyers, perhaps you deferred paying certain bills in order to buy Christmas gifts, attend parties and eat out with friends; or, perhaps you took that special holiday trip you’ve always wanted to take.

Either way, it is time to pay the piper.  The day of reckoning has come, and I’d guess it is not very welcomed right now.  According to a study by the American Research Group, the average American planned to spend about $801 on holiday shopping in 2013, which is down from $854 in 2012.  You can read their report at http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/

Do You Know What You Owe

Knowing this, just how ready are you to face the bill paying process this month?  More to the point, do you even know what you really owe in 2014?  Not just what your holiday debt may be, but what new expenses you might be facing in 2014?

At an average credit card annual rate holding between 14% (Fixed) and 16.5% (Variable) in 2013, Americans paid $12 billion in credit card penalty fees alone, this according to R.K. Hammer/Card Knowledge Factory, and Bankrate.com: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/rate-roundup.aspx   Ironically, that amount is down from $17.8 billion in credit card penalty fees paid in 2012, the only bright light in this story. 

And with many Americans planning to make the mere minimum required monthly payment—ranging between $30 and $50—paying down your 2013 holiday shopping alone could take an average of five years once you discount each minimum payment by the total of fees, charges, interest and possible penalties.  Yes. It is conceivable that as much as 10% of each minimum payment you submit actually gets applied to the principal balance owed.   So, if you spent and charged the average $801 on holiday gifts, you will be repaying for the privilege of using credit (and incurring debt) for years and not months.

So, again I ask, “Do you really know what you owe in 2014?”  And, even if you think you do, are you prepared to address your total budgetary needs in 2014? 

Budgets Are More than Spending Limiters

A few days ago, my 22-year old son’s car broke down in a recent snow storm in Virginia.  Rather than just having to install a new battery (for $109), he ended up incurring—but not paying for—a towing charge and mechanical work adding up to the tune of $828.  That is a total of $937 that he needed just for 1 auto repair incident.  And it would have been more if I did not have Emergency Roadside Service in my auto insurance policy. 

That point set aside, my son was now in a predicament where he had to choose from one-of-three available options:  1) to pay out-of-pocket from savings set aside for another goal,  2) establish and incur conventional credit to cover this unexpected expense;  or,  3) borrow the money from dad rather than through some merchant credit program charging usury rates of interest.  In effect, these were his immediate options for addressing this pressing need.  

Without option 1 being actionable, and not wanting to incur a hefty credit account charge for a few years, my son did as most would elect:  borrow from their parents at a zero to modest interest rate.  Of course, making the expense an outright gift would certainly be preferable to any borrower, but what would be the object lesson learned?  Here was an ordinary occurrence that many face in life every single day, and therefore it is a great opportunity to help someone young learn in the process.  

For my son, his proverbial straw is an unexpected automobile expense.   Have you stopped to determine what, if anything might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in your financial plan? 

LifePlanning Is a Solution

While debt should be avoided at all cost, the reality is that most people will rely upon it at some stage of their life.  It is possible to buy your first car or home or even attend college without ever incurring debt and it may not.  More realistically, we should plan our normal life events and anticipate—and plan for—the unexpected events which could severely cripple any momentum we make towards getting ahead in life. 

This means plan your spending around the goals that you intend to pursue and achieve, and revisit your overall plan at least twice per year.   Click here to see how the LifePlanning Institute can help you establish a unique plan.

My son is fortunate that dad chose to help.  Not all situations offer the same remedies.  So, if you are pressed into choosing from other options:

  1. Try to keep the length and interest rate you may incur to a minimum. 
  2. Revisit your Spending Plan and adjust it to make higher monthly payments
  3. See whether family or friends might help without charging interest
  4. Expect, on the other hand, that even family and friends have the right to say No!
  5. Don’t beat yourself up over these situations.  They happen to the best of us!

May The Lord Bless You!

It’s Here - Seven Keys To Living A Kingdom Life

posted Dec 31, 2013, 1:43 PM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 1:49 PM ]

As we bid farewell to 2013 and begin to make plans for 2014, it gives me great joy to offer you my latest book/eBook titled:  Seven Keys to Living a Kingdom Life.   For a limited time before I formerly publish this work, I have chosen to offer it as My Free Gift To You!. It is my way of expressing gratitude to all the Lord has done for me and through me, and for saying thank you for your interest in the Count the Cost series and the LifePlanning Institute’s vision for Kingdom living.

Again, this is a limited time offer, and one I am grateful to produce and honored to provide.  Some things need to be shared when they are grasped and understood.  Offering it to you in a pre-published eBook (pdf) is the quickest way to make it available.   

New Year’s Resolution

An important ingredient in any good planning for 2014 is determining what your purpose is and how you plan to accomplish it in the days ahead.  Until you understand your purpose it is difficult to accurately plan any of your future endeavors.   Resolutions require a firm determination and commitment to something you have chosen to embrace as direction.  Is that even possible without first knowing oneself and one’s Purpose?

Central to each of us who call Jesus Christ, Lord, is the responsibility to live our life according to His will and plans, and in a way that will bring Him honor and glory.  Some understand the subordination of self and self-will as a necessary prerequisite to Discipleship: evidence that one has chosen to follow Christ’ teachings and character.   Some do not attribute any label or tag to this decision but do acknowledge that as the Bible says, their life is no longer their own.

“Or [according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20], do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?   For you were bought with a [very precious] price; therefore glorify God in your body.”               

Enter Kingdom Life

Well, if our bodies are no longer our own, it is probably equally true that nothing of ours belongs to us.  What we each possess is not our own, not even our special gifts, talent or abilities.  This is why we talk about Stewardship in Christianity.  So, the right to use these things any way we please, even though the world might encourage such behaviors, is actually not a right at all.  Being bought with a price implies we—and all that we have or can do—are now God’s precious possessions.  Please tell us whether you agree with this interpretation and Kingdom principle.

My question to you is this:  How then should we live if we are not in charge of our own lives and if we are not actually welcomed in this world?   According to the sayings of Christ found in John 15:19, and of the Apostle Paul found in Romans 12:2, this world is not our true home, nor does it embrace those citizens that love and follow Christ.   In such an environment where you have been “chosen out of the world” and told “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,” how exactly should you live?  

Fortunately, Our Heavenly Father has left us with a way to not conform to the world’s pattern but rather can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Insight into this alternative life choice is available in my new book, which is only available FREE for a limited time offer.   So, please click here to obtain your Free CopyAnd, Happy New Year!..

Tis the Season to Be Mindful, Not Foolish!

posted Nov 22, 2013, 10:19 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 1:50 PM ]

The holiday season is upon us. Nowadays when you look in almost any direction you see advertised holiday specials on TV and cable, at supermarkets and at local dining establishments that will be serving Thanksgiving dinner and other holiday fare.  And right alongside are the Christmas gift giving promotions, new store shopping hours and special sales pricing offers for those who like to shop early.  Sadly, all but a few of the big box retailers have declared "Why wait to open for the Black Friday Rush when we can open Thanksgiving Day!"

That’s right.  Retailers have decided that Americans should spend even less time gathered together sharing a Thanksgiving meal and instead should opt to go to the malls and giant specialty stores and shop longer, even all-day.  So, as a consumer, know what you are really up against this year. 

So, what does this actually mean for the easily swayed shopper who is lulled into choosing between a so-called sale and holiday time with family and friends?  With several more hours now to shop, will this advertising tactic increase how much earlier and how much more people might spend over the holiday season this year?

Never Mind the Store, Who Influences You More?

This is a disturbing trend as it undermines the long held American tradition established in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln: established by proclamation and setting aside the last Thursday in November as a “national day of thanks.  This gave birth to recognizing a single yet very significant national day that all Americans would go on to adopt and celebrate for the past 150 years.  So, the question we should ask ourselves is whether this tradition should change now for the sake of holiday profits? 

Personally, I see an unhealthy trend; a slippery slope of social acceptance and another challenge to family values and quality fellowship.  I mean why stop here?   We are already shopping almost 365 days a year, 24 hours a day from even the most personal places, just as some do now from their home, the doctor’s office, a laundry mat, gym, airport or other public place.

Caveat Emptor, Sort Of!

On the Harry Jackson Radio Show--which aired November 16, 2013 via the Internet on American Family Radio and Urban Radio Ministries--I offered the following Savvy Holiday Spending Tips, including on the topics of debt and debt spending.  Incurring debt is a big problem this time of year, and what is worse is that retailers know it but do not care.  Some consumers will spend money they do not have either beyond their cash on hand or by using credit.  Either way, you should be aware, and Count the Cost! So, here are my tips and recommendations:

Don’t Ignore the Wealth Effect on Holiday Spending!

The Wealth Effect says that consumers will likely spend more when one of two things is true: when people actually are richer (objectively speaking), or when people  perceive themselves to be richer.   Recent stock market increases and appreciation in retirement accounts, housing and gas price reductions create for many—the perception of increased wealth.  But it is an allusion!  New economic highs have some thinking that their future is or, at least, feels brighter financially. 

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “On average, a single dollar increase in housing wealth raises consumption by between five and eight cents.”   In some markets real estate inventory is low and values have appreciated up 20-25%.  We may even be heading towards an economic reversal and towards a seller’s market soon; at least some will promote this idea, especially during the holidays!  

There is even Age-Related Spending this time of year.  Young people tend to feel less of the recessionary effects of our economy if they are still living in their parent’s home.  So, of course they think they have more to spend, but it is simply not true.  Older Americans feel better if their personal financial status is stable or has improved.  However, the confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare/Medicaid is having the opposite effect on their perception of being better off today.  This may prove a healthy benefit of the law's botched roll-out.

Remember that the goal of Retailers and Advertising are to "Prime-the-pump of holiday glee" as early in the year as possible.  K-mart will open 6 am; Target and others between 5 and 6 pm Thanksgiving DayWal-Mart recently announced it will remain open all day on Thanksgiving.  So, there is accommodation here for every type consumer, right?  How convenient!

I see it a bit differently.  First of all, time spent with Family, Friends, etc. on Thanksgiving Day should not be intruded upon with tantalizing (shopping) offers.  With so little time invested in this rich tradition called Thanksgiving, what are we really saying about social gatherings and time well spent together? 

Accepting that some will shop, and shop, and shop more this holiday season, here is my general advice:  If you are a cash shopper, take a moment to assess what you can actually afford to spend over the holidays.  There will be many kinds of social events such as parties, dinners, office gatherings etc., and there are still gifts to be purchased.  So you must Count the Cost! 

I suggest you look at the last 3-4 months of your personal spending and determine what amount—if any—has been available at the end of each month for discretionary spending.  If the assessment shows no discretionary funds available each of those months, then that is what you have available to spend during the holidays.  Zero dollars!  You might find that you can adjust your other budgetary expenditures, but there is no new or additional money to spend.  That is just sheer—and I hope—acceptable fact.

If you intend to charge your holiday gift spending, please don’t!  Sure, you may have reduced your credit card balances during the rough recession, so why go back to increasing your debt?  If you can afford to pay your balances in full over the next few months, then why not use any available cash instead?  In this economic season, even family and friends should understand if your gifts are a bit more modestly priced this year.

Most Importantly, Remember the True Reason for the Season              

Commercialization Versus Christ’ Birthday - Most retailers rely on making their profit for the entire year during the Thanksgiving and Christmas buying season.  So they will promote anything they think will stimulate impulse buying and sheer exuberance in spending.  They care nothing for the consumer or the real Reason for the Season!

We Christians must not forget our reason to truly celebrate Christmas, as it is when we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We must “push back” against the advertisers and retailer’s influences in motivating actions for the wrong reasons!  Accordingly, consider these ideas:

  • Adapt a Birthday Buying Mindset Instead of Runaway Exuberance - Former Fed. Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan penned the term Irrational Exuberance when unable to fully explain why the stock market was booming back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  What Mr. Greenspan saw was irrational behavior by Americans who were spending on anything they could, especially stocks.  We now know that there was intentional stimulating of consumers spawned by toxic mortgages and sub-par underwriting of mortgage loans, among other forms of economic stimulus.

  • Since Christmas is Celebrated as Christ’s Birthday, What Is Considered an Appropriate Gift?  What, for example, would you spend to buy a family member, friend or colleague a gift on their birthday?  More specifically, what would you give to a King, that is, someone who owns everything?   And what would you consider appropriate for that reason?  

Consider Gifts with More Than a 30-Day Expiration

Novelty gifts have their place and can add a personal, even humorous touch to the holiday exuberance.  Is that enough reason to give them to someone at Christmas?  Perhaps a gift that can endure for a longer time-frame or even a lifetime might also work this holiday season.  Consider these:

  • First and Foremost, Acknowledge the Source for All Gifts - Psalm 24:1
    Since God is the source for our prosperity, we should think of what He may expect us to do with what He has entrusted to us!  Remember the Parable of the Talents (in Matthew 25).

  •  Invest in Someone’s Purpose - (Jeremiah 29)
    The Three Wise Men brought what some might consider practical gifts to the baby Jesus.  But, have you ever stopped to consider that the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were tradable commodities that would enable Mary and Joseph to care for Jesus for a very long time? 

  • Help Someone Enjoy The Holiday More -
    Personal charity towards others or on their behalf is a gift that keeps on giving.  What if you had a friend that has suffered a job loss and cannot pay their debts?  Perhaps an appropriate Christmas gift would be to help them pay down or payoff one of those utility bills or other financial obligations … maybe as part of pooled effort with others!   The recent devastation in the Philippines and parts of our nations’ own mid-western states has left families to deal with death, lack of housing, a need for clothing, food and medical care.

  •  Underwrite Someone Else’s Gift-Giving Desire -
    Maybe giving to the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other charities on someone else’ behalf is a good way to express your love and concern.  Or, what if that same person loves animals and is quite charitable towards their cause.  How about a donation to the SPCA or Humane Society on their behalf?   Why not? You can give them a sweater at any time!

  • Consider the Future Value of Your Gift - 
    How about a cashmere sweater at $75 versus purchasing 1 Share of Proctor & Gamble @ $85 (paying a 2.90% dividend yield).  Which is better?  The stock share could continue its growth at an annual rate of 10-12% plus pay a quarterly dividend.  Or, what about gifting an investment in Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) which closely perform as the Dow or S&P, which are soaring.

    Even a musical instrument would provide more potential for a Return On Investment than a cell-phone or electronic game would.  They are good gifts at times, just not always right for Christmas when prices tend to be higher than at any other time of year…

  • Consider Estate Type Gifting;  Inheritance -
    Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.  Imagine being given several stocks (or equivalent shares) or an investment property as a Christmas gift?  There are some gift tax and possibly capital gains tax issues that may need to be considered beforehand, but the big idea here is sharing the future and allowing another to see their role in it through your very special gift;  a gift given, I might add, at the most precious time of any celebrated holiday.  It really says You Are Special.

  • Commit All Big-Ticket Purchases to Other Occasions -
    Christmas invokes lots of Impulse Buying often met with buyer’s remorse afterwards.  Generally speaking, even the lowest priced bargain items at  Christmas can be purchased for the same sale-price or less sometime later in the year.  For example, Wide-screen TVs during Super Bowl; or laptops at Back-to-School time, etc.   Retailers know this, and so should you!

  • Finally, Remember to Celebrate Jesus!
    He is and will always be the true reason for the season!

"Count the Cost" of Affordable Healthcare for All Americans

posted Sep 25, 2013, 2:39 PM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 1:49 PM ]

Some Issues Can’t Wait!

In preparing to publish Part 3 of the Count the Cost Series on Buying a Home, I felt there was a more pressing subject that needed to be addressed right away, and by many.  As such, I ask you the reader to please forgive my interruption of this series and know that I will publish Part 3 in mid-October.

As October 1st is just around-the-corner and so many Americans are still confused about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, it seems only fitting to try to address the many articles and viewpoints being expressed nationally that are for-or-against this seemingly unpopular legislation.   Hopefully, this article will be fair and balanced in its approach;  although I must say that I am writing [this article] because like Social Security, I believe that the Affordable Care Act is going to become one of America’s greatest legislative achievements.

There Is Good Precedent for Our Differences

There have been many public policy issues in the past few years that have splintered the ideological and practical views of Americans.   Going back to the enactment of the U.S. Constitution during a time when dissenters preferred secession to a law that imposes federal power over states’ rights.   During the days of Robber-Barons [i.e., a wealthy few running amuck] trying to monopolize the most prosperous industries serving our nation, its dissenters were against anti-trust legislation that would prohibit monopolies.  And, after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression, much of the public developed such a disdain for banks and investment markets that they started keeping money in other, safer places which they could control.  It did not matter that a new Federal Reserve System—designed to safeguard America’s bank deposits against complete loss, was just instituted—the die was cast and Americans were against any innovations and social-economic progress by government.

And finally, when the Social Security Act of 1935 was enacted by Congress during the term of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the public outcry was extremely audible but contrastively muted by the millions of Americans whose social well-being was about to improve.  There was no question that after the Great Depression and catastrophic losses of both property and lives, something major needed to happen.  There was an outcry for sure, but not for our nation to remain a spectator of events but rather to take decisive action that might offer remedy to those millions of Americans who were poor , disabled and hurting, and without hope.

A House Divided

Well, the same outcry has permeated the airwaves within our nation today.  With over 35 million Americans with no healthcare coverage, some 12% of our nation’s population and, in many cases to no fault of their own, a long-term infectious ailment has finally worsened.  While the merits of why so many people are without adequate [or any] healthcare coverage today can be debated, are we really more concerned with the ideological view that some people are undeserving because they do not care for themselves, or others are simply poor money-managers?  Clearly, both types are integral to any discourse of reforming a national social program.  But, to what end is such a debate or discourse beneficial?

Let’s not get hung up on the rhetoric that has been ever vigilant in keeping a national debate on healthcare at the forefront.  Keep in mind that such a debate has multiple sides and not just two.  There are the taxpayers and the beneficiaries, the politicians (or elected officials) and their political affiliations who dig their heels in the sand, and there are the various businesses and professions in the legal, third-party administration, medical manufacturing, pharmaceutical, dental and medical fields that must also weigh in.  All told, many voices have differing views in part because they are personally, professionally and, in some cases invested significantly in the potential outcomes of this social reform issue.

So, who’s Right?

Will there be winners and losers financially and where profits, salaries and job opportunities are concerned?  Yes.  And, like other industries that were causally impacted by federal intervention, such as the postal services system, the railroads and the utility conglomerates, there will be changes that make huge gainers of a few at a loss to many.  But the real question we should ask is this:  Are we better off as a nation today—given the railroads, highways and utilities infrastructure, and related regulations enacted—than we were before these unpopular but necessary reforms were implemented?  Personally, I would say yes.

Let’s Look Within Ourselves and Find the Answer

While this is not a religious issue, generally speaking, our opinions [as Americans] should be informed (and perhaps persuaded) by what is the moral issue we are really debating.  In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (15:11) we can find where our modern-day social challenges could be objectively considered by this verse:  “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” 

Now, some might say that America is not the Nation of Israel, and we are not living in the time before Christianity came on the scene.  However, is the issue of the poor or the moral commitment to help those in need any less relevant in our day than thousands of years ago?   In the NT Gospels, Jesus refers to this sobering truth about the poor as always existing within a nation’s borders—alluding, of course, to the Old Testament facts above—but His context also had to do with the right for any of us to prefer Him over the poor.  So, His message is actually two-fold:

  1. A fact about the poor, but also:

  2. An exhortation that in His short time on earth that His presence should take precedent in what others focused on.

And, less we forget, His most important exhortation was to simplify the instruction to each of us to:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:36-40 NIV).  Do I really need to say any more?

 Truth and “Untruthful” Consequences

As the author of the Count the Cost Series, I would ask you to consider for yourselves how the Affordable Care Act will make life more difficult for any of our citizens.   This is the central debate of our day, not just that some undeserving Americans (other people’s words, not mines) will benefit from free or subsidized healthcare by the government.    To that I would respond, the ACA is not a government program and it is not free.  Yes, taxpayers pay for the program guidelines to be adhered to and we all subsidize those who cannot pay.  But make no mistake; ACA is still private, non-governmental insurance.

Another concern is that somehow the general cost of healthcare services will go up significantly.  My question would be on whom will these cost escalate?  Advertising campaigns against the healthcare law have presented images of older and not-so-healthy Americans who say their rights are being taken from them to visit their current doctor, specialist or to have the freedom to choose whoever they will.  And the medical professionals are saying that their current rates for service will naturally rise because they have to reduce their billing to those who cannot pay or can only afford to pay less.  Here are two more distortions of the actual law.

No one will be required to see any healthcare professional they do not want to see, unless they are part of a PPO (Preferred Professional Organization/Association).   Well, that is exactly how medical insurance and medical professions have grouped themselves and are paid today.  Nothing about these facts changes under the new law.   And, as for the notion that some who cannot pay will be subsidized at the expense of the medical professional is a really bad distortion.  Truth is, future billing schedules that healthcare company and independent professionals put out do not have to change.  Americans qualifying for healthcare under the ACA, and even for subsidies, will have a specific healthcare plan that entitles them to certain services which are covered under their plan, or that may require them to pay a higher premium for a better plan.  The only change from existing medical coverage today is that as on October 1st, millions more Americans become eligible to obtain the services of the current professionals, which—in turn—dramatically increases their business opportunities without causing them to charge less for care. 

Still Feeling the Same about the Affordable Care Act?

There is no law mandating that a heart surgeon lower their rate for a bypass surgery.  Instead of a long three-tiered process of billing and remittance, that surgeon can expect that every patient they see will have sufficient coverage to obtain their service or be re-directed [based on the plan] to someone who can assist them.   This does not change who that surgeon would usually have as patients, nor does it prevent someone needing bypass surgery from obtaining it elsewhere.   Again, I would ask, who is really being harmed in the enactment and administration of the Affordable Care Act?

My final thought is this.  What is it that Wal-Mart discovered that may have overlap with healthcare?  I think the success that Wal-Mart gained was in choosing a different business model than their retail competition.  They built huge stores that allowed many businesses to be under one roof, thus generating tenant revenues.  But, even bigger was the idea of volume discount, that is, the more of something we can sell for less, the more we will sell.   Wal-Mart set itself apart from most competitors by using this strategy, and today they are heralded as one of the world’s most successful companies.

And, think about it this way.  Ask any professional salesperson in the insurance, medical equipment, banking or real estate industries whether they would like to have millions of new customers/clients waiting for their services.  Only the foolish among them would say no.  My point simply, in a few months millions of Americans guaranteed to be eligible to have healthcare insurance will be hitting the marketplace and registering via exchanges seeking medical services.  Should this really be seen as a problem by any professional genuinely seeking to help others medically, or who are interested in making more $$ by serving more people?  

An Objective Summary and Prayer

If the average new healthcare insurance were simply $1,000 a year in premiums, multiplied by 35 million new beneficiaries, imagine the amount of new money there will be circulating in America, particularly into the healthcare profession that is not there now.  If you’re doing the math, that’s a $35 billion transfusion (on the low end) into an already very prosperous industry.   Real losers?..  I think not!

Soon the sound of Ca-ching! Ca-ching! will pour over into many industries: such as preventative care services, higher education and training, nutritional food manufacturers, and other professions as well.   So, why not keep our minds and biases in check and let’s consider those fellow Americans that will now realize that we—as fellow taxpaying citizens—do care for one another, just like after Katrina and 9-11, and are here to help.

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If you have an opinion or other thoughts to share, please tell us.  We value your feedback and we want to share truth and practical advice whenever we can.  Please add your comments so we can begin real dialogue on this important topic.  Thank you!

“Count the Cost” Of Becoming A First-Time Home Buyer (Part 2)

posted Sep 13, 2013, 9:15 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 1:50 PM ]

In Part 1 of this subject, we listed four considerations for any Believer that is considering becoming a home buyer.  These are universal considerations, we believe, but they are especially important for Believers who, by virtue of their commitment to live for Jesus Christ, have a different standard to follow.

Part 2 attempts to provide further reasons to consider these tips, and it concludes by offering what we at the LifePlanning Institute consider are viable alternatives for the property virgin(s) or any home buying experience.  We hope you agree.

Consider Everything before Deciding

And, let us not overlook the significant impact that today’s college loans will have on these property virgins.  Young professional couples could be carrying between $150,000 - $300,000 in student loans, which is the equivalent of a conventional home loan and mortgage payment.  This means couples already debt-burdened will now incur the equivalent of two mortgages, which well exceeds the recommended budgeting percentage for housing (of no more than 50% of gross income).  Given this scenario, some couples are already obligated to pay $1,000 a month towards their student loans (for possibly 10+ years) and now will obligate themselves to another $1,500 - $2,300 a month (over 30 years) for a $300,000 mortgage loan. 

 Combined, these two monthly expenditures could be a potentially damaging duo of debt-to-income for a new home-buyer  especially if their annual income is not much higher than $50,000 annually or $4,250 a month.  Add to this the usual monthly expenses for transportation, utilities and the common service contracts for cell phones, Internet and other electronic communications and, of course, food purchases for the home and eating out, and you can have real financial challenges brewing.   And, even when couples say they will hold off having children for a few years, things have a way of changing when you least expect it!

 Living like the Jones-es

 Just think of it.  In many cases first-time home-buyers say they are looking for a home like their parents or friends own who may have done well in buying their own sizable home.  With that as their motivating goal, the only other consideration is simply how much [mortgage] they qualify for in the way of a home-buyers’ loan. 

 Fact is, at its peak, home-ownership in the U.S. once reached nearly 70%.  This means there was and will continue to be a segment of Americans that will never become homeowners, maybe never even pursue this lifestyle choice.  When the U.S. wanted to incent home ownership (after the Post-Depression era of 1935-1940) it founded the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), and, in 1938 Congress enacted legislation to create the Federal National Mortgage Association or Fannie Mae.  This helped mortgage-lenders gain further access to capital for mortgage loans.  Then in 1968, Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association)  was established, which provided the only mortgage-backed securities that are backed by the "full faith and credit" guaranty of the United States government.   

 And to increase the assurance of a viable secondary market for trading mortgage-backed securities,  the infamous Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association (FHLMA) known as Freddie Mac was formed (in 1970) as another government-sponsored enterprise (GSE).  However, in spite of these many government-sponsored agencies and private enterprises, America still entered into its worst  housing debacle ever, and in 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into conservatorship under another government intervention agency called the Federal Housing Financial Agency (FHFA).   Today our nation is still reeling from the effects of our housing crisis, and millions of American homeowners have been adversely and irreparably harmed by this mortgage-based financial crisis. 

More to the point, in the past Americans thought long and hard about homeownership which resulted in a growth rate rising from 25% to almost 70% in sixty-five years.  However, starter home prices back then ranged from $7,500 - $15,000 with interest rates around 2% for a 20-25 year mortgage.  Today, of course, the average home is appraised at $190,000 and the interest rate most people hold today can range from 7% to double-digits.

From a Kingdom Financial Planning perspective, a Christian should consider the following before this or any other major purchase:

 1.   Is This Purchase One That I Want Or Really Need?  And, If Needed, Why?

 2.   How Does This Purchase Fit In With The Accomplishment Of My “P” (Pursuit-of-Purpose)?

 3.   After Careful Review Of My Entire Financial Budge and my “P”, Can I Honestly Afford This Purchase?

 Viewed from this more comprehensive perspective, perhaps there are a few sensible ways to approach this major acquisition which can still accomplish the same goal.  For example: 

 1.  Set a Goal to Save For that First Home

     While this option is usually the least desirable when someone wants immediate gratification, it is often the best first option for all purchases.  This is what many other buyers did between the years 1945-1970.   If they could not save 100% of the home’s value, they set aside at least 20-25% as a down-payment which prevented their additional expense for Property Mortgage Insurance (PMI). 

 2.  Buy a Smaller Home with Cash and Gradually Upgrade

     This does not result in getting that ultra-modern home with all the latest in silver or platinum appliances right away, but it does get you into your own home more quickly and securely.  And, during your ownership, set aside money for do-it-yourself upgrades that add significant value to your home.  That way, when you do list it for resale, it will appraise much higher, perhaps well above your purchase price. 

 3.  Ask Friends, Relatives and Colleagues Whether They Know of Homes for Sale

     Again, it may not result in getting you that dream home, but you might find      that a good and affordable home was only an inquiry away.  You may have a relative that is planning to move soon, or they may know no someone who is selling their property and prefer to sell to someone they know. 

 4.   Consider Unconventional Purchase and Payment Options

       By asking around you might discover a quick-sale option with much more favorable terms.  For example, a seller might even agree to a private sale with payment terms more suitable to your own financial benefit.  They may have an existing mortgage you can assume at a lower rate than you might qualify for today.  And, there is always the Rent-to-Own option that is becoming increasing popular among sellers who are interested in helping others afford a home.  Point is you will never know what options exist until you ask.

 5.   Buying Simply to “Flip” or Rent A Section

       While many of today’s reality shows make the art of buying and flipping homes seem easy, it is not.  More to the point, getting into this activity to make substantial profits is a strategy that is also a way of life.  That means unless you are called to be in the real estate industry, beware.  It is costly and time-consuming, so you must consider what the actual cost to you might be.  Choosing a home that will allow you to rent a section—such as the basement or an extra wing—can present its own unique challenges and activity.  So again, count the cost and related toll on your time and use of resources.

 

A Call for a Higher (More Purpose-Oriented) Standard of Living

 Remember, our lives were designed with purpose, and God wants to use us in many ways as instruments that bring Him honor and glory in the earth.  But to do so requires that we make ourselves available.  Buying a home may be part of that plan, and it certainly will make the buyer feel as if they accomplished something important.  So expect God’s favor on such an acquisition.  However, do not let this goal undermine your willingness to serve Him as He directs (Proverbs 19:22) nor compromise your ability to respond to His will for your life.

 In the end, by using one of these options you may avoid incurring high, long-term debt that could derail your efforts to make other more important purchases relating to your “P,” and that demonstrate poor overall stewardship of what God has entrusted to you.  In Part 3 we will discuss more Do’s and Don’ts.

 These are just some of our thoughts.  Do you have any you would like to share?  Please comment below and let us know your thoughts.  

“Count the Cost” Of Becoming A First-Time Home Buyer (Part 1)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 7:24 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 1:51 PM ]

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?   Luke 14:28-30 ESV

Ever watch any of the cable-network shows that feature first-time home buyers in the process of being shown potential homes?   One of the more popular of these reality shows refer to its buyers as “Property Virgins.”  Oftentimes these episodes feature young couples (or families) somewhere between the ages of 22–30 which, in this day and age, symbolizes early achievement towards attaining the coveted American Dream.

The episodes generally start out innocent with each potential buyer-couple being shown at least three different properties.  The host starts with a brief overview of the home-buyer’s qualifications for a loan followed by a description of their dream home.  This means they are looking to satisfy their wants, desires and aspirations in this first-time home buying experience.  This is why, in my view, the home buying process becomes suspect, at least to me.

Think about it.  A young couple usually both employed at fairly new jobs, usually well-paying jobs, are asked to describe the type house they are looking for.  What often surfaces as common among all the property virgins is a desire for a home with no less than 3-4 bedrooms, at least as many bathrooms and a kitchen with all upgraded amenities.  The husbands typically look for the must-have man-cave or a basement-room where he can set up the equivalent of an exclusive men’s club.  Even couples without children ask for guest-rooms as large as a typical master suite so that the bundle-of-joy they know will someday arrive will have plenty of space for growth.

When Is Enough Really Enough?

In all, these property virgins are typically shopping for a first home ranging in price from $250,000 - $400,000, and interior space averaging between 2,000 - 3,000 square feet.  Some of these buyers even seek up to 5,000 square feet of habitable space because:  1) they feel they can afford it (and deserve it),  2) it signals to others their perceived economic class and,  3) they believe lots of space is needed to entertain friends and family today, and to raise a family many years into the future.  I consider this process suspect because one essential ingredient that is never shown is whether these couples receive any home-buyer counseling beforehand … and, if not, why not?

Financial counseling would ensure that each potential buyer is not just financially qualified to obtain a mortgage but that they also understand the many factors that affect home-ownership both near-term and in the years to come.  For example, when setting your sites on a home you consider your dream home, yet you are only 25 years old, you should consider the following statistical facts about home-ownership:

 1.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, among many sources, half of all first-time marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and often because of financial differences. 

 2.   According to the OMB (Office of Management and the Budget) and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), the median annual income in the U.S. over the past decade has hovered around $49,000.  And that includes two wage-earner householders.  Divided over 12 months, this implies an average gross income of $4,000 a month.

 3.  According to Fannie Mae and many real estate industry experts, the average length of home ownership (among first-time home-buyers) in the U.S. is six years.   Better employment opportunities, military service, divorce and separation (as shown in Fact #1), even extended job lay-offs are the common reasons for this short-term ownership.  Another reason is to upgrade to a bigger, more expensive (or rightly suited) home. 

 4.  Because of the recent Great Recession (2007-present), the national unemployment rate is still above the historical—and preferred rate—of  6.5%  This reflects the continued malaise and lack of confidence among the business community, and the lack of steady and certain employment which has been at the heart of increased home foreclosures and loan defaults.

These are just four of several considerations that make a commitment to repay a 30-year mortgage a decision that deserves more thought than whether the property is affordable today.  With the popularity of reality TV shows and the aggressiveness of realtors who are always out to make a market even under the worst of economic circumstances, purchasing homes without serious consideration of these facts has been bolstered, even encouraged by these realty influencers.  To these two prominent forces, there is always a buyers’ or sellers’ market to promote, no matter the economic climate.  So, truth is, it is just a matter of selling the benefits of same to the public.  Never mind that 3-4 years into home ownership any number of things can go wrong, even to no fault of the home buyers.

Remember, one or both new home-buyers could be laid-off.  One or both could get ill and incur a long-term illness.  And, worst, one or both could be fatally injured.  Homeowner’s insurance can make a huge difference where the mortgage balance is concerned, but will it provide enough (given such young ages) for everything else they will face in the decades to come? 

Is it possible one or more of these scenarios can happen to you?  Who really knows…  This is why proper planning from a Kingdom perspective is so much more beneficial.   Tell us whether you agree, and please read Part 2 of this article in the following week to get the full view—including recommendations—that the LifePlanning Institute offers.

"COUNT THE COST" Of Purchasing And Owning a Car

posted Aug 20, 2013, 11:14 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Aug 25, 2013, 6:17 PM ]


28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?   Luke 14:28-30 NKJV


I never thought I’d have a segment to write which was this personal in nature. 
On the other hand, I am glad I did.  It just shows that no matter what our own children see or hear, they do not always consider the information as applicable to themselves. 

I share this because only a few months ago, my daughter and I had a conversation about buying a car.  Specifically, one day she approached me and asked, “Dad, I was told that I could buy a car for $110 a month if I could get you to co-sign."  My daughter is 22, a full-time college student with a minimum wage (15-hours-or-less per-week) job. 

Needless to say she had my attention.  I responded in dismay and asked what made her think she can afford a car, and she responded that a car-salesman told her that he could get her a loan, but she would need a co-signer.  After I paused again and displayed a look of utter frustration--particularly with the entire auto industry—I said to my daughter, “Honey, it is time we talked about costs and borrowing money!”

Using my Kingdom Life Approach Financial Model, I began to illustrate how I+P=V is the universal strategy I use before making any purchasing decisions.  I explained what the acronym stands for, how each letter represents a specific financial consideration, and how anyone can use this approach as well.

I further explained how “P” requires you to ask certain and specific questions that will help guide you in your decision-making process.  Three central questions that should always be asked and that apply to almost every purchase consideration are:

  1. Is This Purchase One That I Want Or Really Need?  And, If Needed, Why?

  2. How Does This Purchase Fit In With The Accomplishment Of My “P” (Purpose)?

  3. After Careful Review Of My Entire Financial Budget, Can I Honestly Afford This Purchase?

After this discourse, I then introduced my daughter to the LPI Financial Evaluator, for calculating the true cost for purchasing a car.  The calculator factors in every car-related consideration, such as down-payment and loan terms, insurance premium, annual registration and property taxes (where applicable), annual estimated maintenance costs, monthly driving distances and related mileage and gas consumption, and even an average monthly cost for washing and detailing your car.

With the help of this tool I showed my daughter that the $110 loan payment she assumed would be her only expense for 72 months, is only 20% of the total estimated monthly expense, which is actually closer (for the make and model she had in mind) to $850 per month.  Finally,  I was showed  her that the $600 per month that she now earns was simply not enough income to purchase a car at this time, let alone truly qualify for an auto loan.

Using this conclusion, I saw this as an opportunity to share with her what the Bible says about debt.  I showed her where the  Bible actually discourages us from becoming surety or serving as a co-signer for anyone, which includes family.  Proverbs 22:26 says, "Don't agree to guarantee another person's debt or put up security for someone else."  A loss of your job, an emergency expense or other purchases all put at risk your ability to repay what you borrowed which places the co-signer at risk for a debt they did not incur but are now responsible to repay.   This can adversely affect relationships, even among loved ones, like nothing else can.

I decided at this point that I should offer her a few options that might work better, that is, are more cost-effective and align better with pursuing one’s ”P.”  For example:

  1. Set a Goal to Save For the Cost of Your First Vehicle

    While this option is usually the least desirable when someone wants immediate gratification, it is often the best first option for all purchases.  The exceptions are typically buying a home, a car and paying for college.

  2. Buy an Older Model Vehicle for Cash and Gradually Upgrade

    This does not result in getting that late-model, fully-equipped and never-driven vehicle you may have wanted, but it does solve the issue of immediate transportation.  And, depending on your pace for saving for an upgrade, you can eventually purchase the car of your dreams without ever financing it.

  3. Ask Your Parents, Other Relatives and Friends Whether They Have a Vehicle to Sell You

    Again, it may not result in getting you that dream car, but you might find that good and reliable transportation was only an inquiry away.  You may have a relative that no longer drives a particular vehicle they own or that someone you know no longer wants a vehicle they own and are willing to let you have it now with very reasonable and non-financing payment terms.

In the end, by using one of these options you may avoid incurring high, long-term debt that could derail your efforts to make other more important purchases relating to your “P,” and that signal poor overall stewardship of what God has entrusted to you.   Of course, these are but a few thoughts.   Remember, the real objective is not making any purchase without counting the cost first.

What do you think?  Is this information helpful and are there other suggestions you would like to share with others?

Let Prudence Be Your Guide

posted Aug 6, 2013, 8:10 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Aug 25, 2013, 6:17 PM ]


One thing we can all agree upon about today’s technology is that is makes life simpler in many ways. Gone are the days of balancing checkbooks, using public-telephones (generally speaking) or waiting for mail to be delivered to us. Most things today can be done using a Smartphone or other portable electronic device, and the manufacturers of these devices could not be happier.

 
But along with simplicity and ease of use has come a level of complacency where we no longer weigh the consequences of our decisions but rather accept whatever terms and conditions get us what we want when we want it.  We have become an instant society that demands that everything we see and desire be obtainable instantaneously as well.   But is this ever really in our best interest?

 Our Ultimate Goal Is Kingdom Accountability and Consideration

In Luke 14:28 we are warned that sometimes the path of least resistance can prove to be harmful to ourselves and even to others, such as loved ones.

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”  (ESV).

Applying this exhortation to our decision-process today, how often do we run out and buy things without really considering the immediate ad long-term affect of our choices?   Have you purchased anything recently with cash, or have you been buying your major ticket items using credit or some type of long-term financing.   If yes to the latter, then welcome to the club.  Most Americans buy using credit and related financing just as businesses do and, of course, our various federal, state and local governments.  In other words, it is no wonder that you may do just as you see others do. This is why I think it very important that someone say “Enough is enough!”  In a world where buying a home or paying for college is designed to accommodate an average repayment taking 20-30 years at a cost ranging from 25%-100% more than what is borrowed, there is an unsustainable practice underway that is destined to fail.  And along its path it takes well-meaning people and destroys them under the weight of significant debt loads and repayment obligations.

Let Prudence Be Your Guide

God’s exhortation to those who love Him and consider themselves His children is, in simple terms, to always Count the Cost of our decisions.   Choosing if and when to buy a home, purchase a car, go to college or even when to marry and start a family are all decisions that our Heavenly Father wants to be part of.  The questions you must ask, therefore, are will you allow Him to guide you in all of your decisions, or will you be selective and keep Him from leading and instructing you in some areas of your life?
  
Why not let God help you in every decision you make from this point forward?  Or, at the very least, why not follow our series titled Count the Cost?  I promise you, we’ll ask the right questions and provide what we believe to be sound yet practical advice for everyday living.   Try us and see for yourself!

Count the Cost | Financial Education Series | Introduction

posted Jul 30, 2013, 7:42 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Aug 21, 2013, 5:34 PM ]


Welcome to the LifePlanning Institute’s “Count the Cost” financial education series! As Founder and President of the LifePlanning Institute, and as author of this report, I want to take a moment to introduce this important and timely series.

The world around us is rapidly changing and in ways that discourage wholesome Christian living.  As a result, many Christians mimic the world in how they pursue their dreams and vision for a better tomorrow.  They are living as if this world offers a more appealing future and kind of advice that will change their lives for the better.  As Christians, this is tragic given the importance of remaining a light unto the world, yet having our light grow dim in the midst of adverse economic changes and questionable value systems.

Remember that God never asked His followers to conform to the institutions of this world.  If anything, Scripture reminds us, “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”. (Romans 12: 2 NLT). 

Knowing this we must ask ourselves, is it even possible today for a Believer to practice their biblical tenets of faith without separating themselves from society or without going along with the status quo?

As a minister, financial planning practitioner and businessman who has taught as well as practiced everything the world’s financial institutions have recommended, I believe the Lord wants true Believers to establish a new and better standard for daily living.  This is the reason for the Count the Cost Series. 

Each part of the series is written with a central question in mind.  That question is “How does my decision impact my “P,” or Pursuit of God’s Purpose for my life?”   This is the concept we attempt to address in each blog and video segment. 

As you read through our reports you will find that we take a different approach to how Believers—of all faith-based groups—should practice stewardship using sound, practical money-management strategies.  Our precedent is God’s word and our practice strategies incorporate over thirty years of helping individuals budget, save, invest and transfer estate assets to loved ones.  We care not what the world does but teach what we think will please God, and empower you to live your best life. 

Once you have had an opportunity to read our articles and apply our advice, we would love to hear your thoughts and comments.   In the interim, we pray as the Apostle Paul did in 3 John 1:2, that above all things God will prosper you in every area of your life!

 In Kingdom Service,

 Willie T. Butler- LifePlanning Institute, Inc.


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