Why A Million Dollars Is Better Than A Steady Job

Why a million dollars is better than a steady job

Last week, I read this little nugget of goodness at Budgets are $exy, one of my favorite personal finance sites.

“Two thirds (67%) said they would rather have a steady job with a modest income than become a millionaire with a chance of going broke within a few years.”

This was from Capital One’s survey of Millenials’ attitudes on spending, saving, and sharing. Wow, that’s crazy. This tells me that 67% of Millenials are extremely bad at personal finance. I don’t know why anyone would choose a steady job over a million dollars. There is just no good reason to do that. Well, if inflation is 5,000%, then maybe a steady job would be better. (Zimbabwe – 79,600,000,000% inflation per month in 2008. Basically, price doubled every day.) Other than that, I can’t see why anyone would choose a steady job over a million dollars in the bank!

Am I missing something? I guess 2/3 of Millenials prefer income over net worth, but that’s just wrong. Of course, the best scenario would be having high income and high net worth. But if you have to choose just one, go with wealth. It’s no contest and here are some reasons why.

The Government taxes income, not wealth

We have a progressive tax system here in the US. The more income you make, the bigger percentage Uncle Sam will take. If you have a stable job*, you’ll pay $13,225 in tax according to the TurboTax free tax calculator. That’s about 17%. On the other hand, if you have a million dollars and generate $80,000 from dividends and long term stock sales, you’ll pay $4,838 in tax. You’ll pay almost 3 times more tax with earned income than passive income. The tax structure is biased toward the wealthy and a million dollars will get you there much faster than a steady job.

*For simplicity sake, let’s assume a stable job with a modest income earns $80,000.

Government benefits

Myriads of government benefits are based on how much income you make. Someone with a steady job will not qualify for Medicaid, Obamacare, student loan forgiveness programs, and many more. You simply make too much income to qualify. However, if you have a million dollars, you can manipulate your income to qualify for many of these benefits.

For example, a family of 3 that generates $40,000 in passive income will qualify for about $5,000 in benefits under the Affordable Care Act. That income is about 200% of the poverty level. Once Mrs. RB40 retires in 2020, we’ll be able to get health insurance at an affordable price. Well, we’ll see how healthcare goes over the next few years. The price of health insurance is increasing very rapidly.

I’m not saying millionaires should take advantage of these programs, but they can and do.

Compound interest

Someone with a steady job will never catch up to someone with a million dollars invested due to compound interest. If a million dollars is invested conservatively and generates 7% return, it will double in about 10 years. In that same period, it’s very unlikely for someone with a steady job to accumulate one million dollars. You’d have to invest $70,000 each year to accumulate a million dollars in 10 years. That’s impossible with a $80,000 per year job. It’s much more difficult to start from zero.

Try it out on a compound interest calculator if you don’t believe me.

Money in the bank

A bird in hand is better than two in the bush. Everyone knows that. A million bucks in the bank is much better than a steady job. Besides, no job is really secure these days. That steady job might not be very secure when the next economic downturn hits.

You will spend more when you have high income

Almost everybody spends more when their income increases. That’s why our national saving rate is so low, at about 5%. The temptation to spend money is practically uncontrollable when you have a nice fat paycheck coming in every 2 weeks. Why not go ahead and go out for dinner and buy a new iApple? After all, you will get another paycheck in 2 weeks!

On the other hand, if you have a million dollars invested, you want to see it grow. You don’t want to draw it down unless you really have to. Well, that’s my experience anyway.

You can still get a job even when you are a millionaire

Yes, millionaires work, too. Nothing is preventing you from getting a steady job when you are a millionaire. If you need training or more education, you will have money to pay for it.

In fact, a million dollars in the bank can mean freedom. You probably can’t retire fully with a million dollars, but you can invest it to generate some passive income. That investment income can offset your cost of living expenses and it will free you up to pursue your interest. That’s what I did. I left my well paying, but stressful engineering career to become a stay at home dad/blogger. I’m making much less income now, but our quality of life is so much better. Our investment income helps offset our monthly expenses so I don’t have to make as much money.

Choose wealth over income

The only downside to choosing a million dollars is you won’t know how hard it is to accumulate a million bucks. As a result, you might not appreciate it as much. That’s probably why all those lottery winners lose it all in just a few short years.

If you ever have a chance to choose between a steady job or a million dollars, I hope you’ll make the right choice. You will get bored with the steady job someday, but you will never get tired of your million dollars.

Would you rather have a rather have a steady job with a modest income than become a millionaire with a chance of going broke within a few years? Is this a trick question?

Common Creative image by spirobolos

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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48 thoughts on “Why A Million Dollars Is Better Than A Steady Job”

  1. take money,
    make portfolio,
    20% in Gold
    20% in Real Estate
    20% in Blue Chip Shares
    20% in Investment funds
    20% Spend normally increasing your standard, and after 20 years yor account will again over 1.000.000
    I would always took money.

  2. People would probably take the steady income because of insecurities and/or a lack of knowledge about how to put the million dollars to work. $1,000,000 could give you a “safe, steady” income of $20,000 – 80,000+ per year. I wouldn’t think 67% though… that seems really high. Oh well!

  3. Take the money, grow it, and still have a modest job if you want. Fact is that there are plenty of FI bloggers here who have had varied income levels during their short working careers who have acquired that $1 million and still are able to generate passive income streams that sustain their living expenses.

    It’s amazing to have such a community out there that have been enlightened enough to escape the rat race.

  4. Easy decision for me. I would take the 1 million and buy all of 4% plus muni bonds to generate a min of $40K tax free passive income per year. We curently only invest in munis and reached FI two years ago so we love munis.

      • Sean,
        If your state is financially strong then you can buy individual municpal bonds (no bond funds) that pays Federal and State tax free interest payments twice a year. I buy MTA, water, dormitory authority for schools/hospitals rated A and above with NO AMT. This year I purchased many 4% – 4.25% municipal bonds close to PAR (face value of $100) or at most 2% ($102) above PAR. For example, for a 4% bond, I don’t want to pay above $102 which will take 6 months of interest bonds to break even.

        Use a self service brokerage like fidelity or etrade, etc to purchase individual muni bonds in your state since using a broker at your bank usually cost 1-2% more.

        Currently for my state, inventory is extremely low. Just 2 months ago there were over 80 – 100 bonds available daily and there are just 6 bonds listed today. The prices are a bit high too. I recently saw a good quality MTA 4% bond listed for $104 which will take 1 year of bond payments to break even.

        Let me know if you have any additional questions.


  5. You’re probably misinterpreting the intent of the survey. People were probably just responding a hypothetical scenario where it was either choose a steady job without the possibility of ever being fired or laid off, but one that provided a modest income with full benefits for the next 40 years versus a million dollar in the bank in their 20s, but one in which they could never get a steady job and had to figure out how to make that money last via investing, entrepreneurship, etc.

    Thus the scenario becomes tougher. Choose modest financial security for the next 40 years perhaps working in a job they may not enjoy much for the duration of that time or get a decent lump sum in their 20s that’s enough to allow some time to try different things but without the steady income guarantee that a stable job would provide nor any guarantees of success in pursuit of their endeavors. If the amount is $5 to $10 million lump sum, then it’s obvious to choose the lump sum. With $1 mil in today’s dollar the question is harder to answer.

  6. Joe,

    What a silly survey. I’m really surprised more people pick the job, but I suppose that’s good for us investors who need others to keep consuming and keep running that treadmill?

    I’d much rather have the million, which could create dozens and dozens of “paychecks” for me, which, in aggregate, is certainly much more secure than one paycheck from an employer. Jobs aren’t guaranteed. That job can disappear quite quickly, as I think a lot of people found out a few years ago. Meanwhile, money, over long periods of time, tends to work harder than any of us ever could or would want to. Of course, I’m living out my choice, seeking passive income rather than a day job. Couldn’t be happier.


  7. In reality, people undervalue steady payment streams (such as annunities) and over-value lump sums. Most people will take the lump sum over the equivalent-value annuity. That’s true with pensions, annuity financial products, lottery winnings, and so on.

  8. $1 million for sure. This is absolutely a no brainer. I think what changed peoples’ mind was the fact that there was a “chance of going broke”. That could mean anything of course. So a young millenial is thinking – do I want a steady job, or a business technically worth a million that could disappear in a few years.

  9. I’m pretty sure many didn’t expect your numbers! Very well put! 😉

    I guess the main reason why there’s such a high percentage choosing the steady job is because people just can’t help spending and buying! Also, most have no idea HOW to use a million dollar to create wealth for most of your life.

    It’s much easier to count on the upcoming paycheck to make sure you buy your grocery… 😉



  10. I think the survey question was a bit loaded or vague.

    “Two thirds (67%) said they would rather have a steady job with a modest income than become a millionaire with a chance of going broke within a few years.”

    “steady job”
    “modest income”
    “chance of going broke”
    “within a few years”

    Those are all up to interpretation. I’d take a government job with a $80k income over a 50% chance of going broke in 3 years.

  11. I think the way the question is worded is what led to such skewed results:

    “rather have a steady job with a modest income than become a millionaire with a chance of going broke within a few years.”

    First of all, there’s not details on the “chance of going broke within a few years”. If this was described this way to me, in these exact words, I’d take the job as well. Are they implying the million dollars is invested in a way I don’t have control of? Eww.

    Also, the point made here is “rather”. It’s one or the other, not both. So, the question now becomes: “would you rather have financial stability or risk?”. And people choose stability, which to me makes sense. I choose stability too by investing in index funds, even if it may look volatile on a short time period, statistics shows us otherwise.

    • Right, the wording is a bit vague. I would choose risk when I was younger, but now I’d probably choose stability. I guess it just depends on how you read it. A million means more stability to me.

  12. Now I want $1 million! Compounding interest sounds like the best part: Let your money grow and sit back.

    If invested well enough, it could pay for a modest lifestyle for a lifetime.

  13. I’ll take a million dollar over a steady paying job any other day. The opportunity to get a million dollar doesn’t come every day. A steady paying job can be easily found.

  14. As other ave said, the social interaction and psychological benes of fulfilling work are priceless. Making that transition in retirement is often a challenge for those whose work/career has defined them for several decades. Of course, volunteering or part-time employment are great options to fill the void. Let’s also not forget that lots of bankruptcies are caused by health care spending. It’s easy to deplete that $1M if you have a serious injury or terminal illness coupled with no or inadequate disability/healthcare coverage. Lawsuits can also quickly siphon off your wealth. Let’s not forget the power of good luck and good timing in all this.

  15. Great Post! Now that I have had years of experience investing and life, I would choose the Tres Cool Million Dollars. Unfortunately, most of us learn the hard way. My first stint of investing in the market was as a trader for 20 years. It was a disaster. Fun, challenging, addictive…but a complete disaster. Now, with advanced age, I have a well diversified bucket system that protects us in retirement from stupid financial decisions. Thank God for I Bonds as well as Dividend Paying Stocks.

    Approaching age 80 next year, I find I still enjoy working or volunteering seasonally for a variety of reasons. I appreciate the option of doing both. The rest of the year I love the freedom of making my own choices and traveling about the globe. A million dollars gives one choices. Most jobs take that freedom away.

  16. I’d be curious about the exact wording of the questions posed, and how the sample of respondents was selected. I can see ways of interpreting this result that make a lot of sense, at least to me. Like maybe the millionaire was painted as a mostly-unemployed person living in a two million dollar house with a million dollar mortgage? And maybe the steady job with a modest income implied a work situation that is a great match for the respondent’s personality and skills? Even if the million were liquid, the mechanisms you describe about how to convert it into income and benefits may count as “work” (and perhaps even undesirable work) to some people. I wonder whether the sample was composed of Capital One online bank savers– in which case maybe the kids are saying that they prefer earning their own given the chance and don’t need a handout. Or maybe they’re not impressed by a large net worth. Taken these ways I don’t see their answers as “wrong”!

    As for wealth resilience, I’d interpret it a bit differently. I think of wealth more as a consequence of personality traits than as cause. The lottery winners all purchased a ticket, and I believe this would skew towards those who are not the type to accumulate wealth but want to live large. So to use your words “That’s probably why all those lottery winners lose it all in just a few short years.” Similarly I suspect that those who hit their first million on very high incomes likely have a higher risk of losing it all and then some at some point in their lives. It was the fuel from the high incomes plus maybe only average savings mindsets that got them there. By contrast those who hit a million by accumulating it from a modest income are almost guaranteed to not look back over the long term. They may suffer asset market crashes that take them down a notch but their extraordinary savings habits will bring them back surely as the tide rises.

    • You’ve hit the crux here. The survey was definitely written to encourage the responses. Somebody wanted to write a headline.

      First of all, they asked [paraphrasing] “steady job with modest income or $1 million with a chance of going broke.” That’s a leading question. They weren’t comparing “modest income” to “$1 million,” they were getting people to focus on “steady” vs “chance of going broke.” Obvious answer is obvious.

      Second, they only surveyed 1,400 people IIRC. The statistician in me cringes. This wasn’t a good survey, but it has led to some good discussion, so…

  17. $1 million. Doesn’t require a lot of thinking or analysis on my part. 🙂

    That $1 million invested properly would generate roughly what I was earning each year from a 9 to 5 job in engineering. I can take the million and do whatever I want for the rest of my life.

  18. I think you (and the blog article you referenced) read this incorrectly, though I agree that it is ambiguously phrased. I don’t think this is saying that people would turn down a million dollar check today, in exchange for a steady modest income. That’s (almost) obviously a no-brainer (depending on your definition of ‘modest’)

    Rather I would read it as many people would rather have a steady job with a modest income than a job that might make them rich or broke over the next few years (for example working at a startup for equity only).

    Now obviously one needs to look at the probabilities involved. What if you have a 5% change of becoming a millionaire, and a 95% chance of going broke? What if it’s 50/50? Or 95/5? Are we talking about a million dollars (a million dollars isn’t what it used to be), or a multi-millionaire?

    The way I really view this is that my generation (I’m late 30s now) grew up in an era where it seemed like every college graduate (and plenty of dropouts) were jumping into startups hoping to get rich quick. In reality very few of them did, but there were enough Netscape millionaires and Google billionaires that it sure seemed like an easy path. Today’s young people are more realistic. No doubt many are still taking that risk, hoping for the big payout, but most of them realize that there is significant risk involved, and prefer the security of a steady paycheck.

    I don’t think that indicates they’re bad at math. I think that indicates they have realistic expectations.

    • Oh, I see your point. I’d still take a chance at working in a startup when I was young. In a few years, I’d know if the company will make it and I can make a decision accordingly. You should be ambitious when you’re young. I guess Millenials are more realistic. Maybe it’s because they went through a lot of tough times already.
      Thanks for pointing this out.

  19. Hmmm…. as much as I agree with the math hypothesis, I’m not in agreement with the overall argument. Work you love can fill many needs — the need for belongingness, for example, for community, for a sense of self-respect and self-actualization. All those needs that come after your basic safety, food, etc. are met.

    A $1 million in the bank is great, but what if your unique talent and joy is in building skyscrapers? It’s pretty tough to do that alone — and $1 million isn’t going to get you into the world of those who finance the building of huge projects. If you love taking care of people in healthcare, you really can’t do that just sitting on your pile of money, and again — $1 million isn’t enough to run your practice for a five years by yourself.

    Personally, I think jobs (or “work”) and relationships are a lot in common. Good ones can bring you joy and fulfillment and bad ones can bring you to your knees. It’s finding the good ones that is the real challenge and brings the greatest rewards.

    • Well, why can’t you work in healthcare or architecture if you’re a millionaire? I’m sure many doctors and architects are millionaires and they still work. If you have a million bucks, you can afford to be picky about a job. You can take your time to find something that’s really the right fit. A steady job doesn’t necessary mean fulfilling work either. A steady job just mean a steady paycheck. As mentioned earlier, 70% of workers are not very happy at work.

      • Sure, you can be a millionaire and an architect — but unless you inherited the money, then your millionaire status isn’t going to come until much later in life. To your point, RB40, W-2 wages are drug down by taxes and architecture school is a 5 year program — can’t imagine the school debt. Same for health care professionals. Not to mention the fact that most w-2 architects and healthcare pros (and lawyers) have other debts like bigger cars and houses so that they look successful. Who will hire a poor, unsuccessful looking architect or lawyer? (from the Millionaire Next Door book’s research).

        So instead, let’s say you work really hard and become a millionaire at something else, like plumbing business or dry cleaning. (Again, from the Millionaire Next Door research – most likely ways to get to $1M). Then you get to go and become an architect or lawyer or school teacher or whatever you really wanted to do. You have the money for school, and can probably get in. And then 4-5 years later when you get out? (considering that maybe you don’t need graduate school, which make take a couple of years more? ) — Maybe you are 40 by now and just starting out in a new field. So you probably aren’t going to get hired for the fun, challenging top level projects — not as a newbie at 40. That will take some time. You don’ t have the experience or connections. And the 30 year old up and comers don’t always want to hang out with the 50 year olds “just starting out.” Many times they are working with people they went to school with — when they were 29.

        Not saying that you shouldn’t shoot for the million first. Just trying to be realistic. (That’s why I write my blog! Some of the money hype out in the blog-o-sphere is not helpful*). The answer to fulfillment doesn’t always come with the $1 Million in cash. Sometimes it comes in a compelling job — not just in a stack of bills, in my opinion.

        In fact, my experience has been that spending that million (i.e., being financially independent) in a way that brings an interesting, satisfying life (at least after the first 6 months or so!), can be tough. There is a day trading stock-broker millionaire who hangs out at the coffee shop in my city during the day, just looking for someone to talk to. Kinda sad. I retired early to a side-gig for about a month and went bonkers, my brain started to go to mush and I felt out of the loop of action for my special interests. I hear this from others as well, maybe that’s what happens to the lottery winners, I don’t know.

        So for those under 50 who have life/job interests that require working on a large team or huge amounts of capital — not so sure the million dollar golden ring is the only goal to focus on.

        Just my .02

        (*unlike the RB40 blog which is very very helpful…)

        • That’s something to think about. It is very difficult to find fulfilling work. If you have one, you need to hold on to it. Thanks for elaborating. Great comment!

  20. I think it’s the “with a chance of going broke within a few years” that turns us off. If I could have a million bucks, but had to bet half of my net worth on the Kentucky Derby every year, or keep my job, I’d definitely keep my job!

    Like Ernie said, there’s a chance of going broke in either scenario. But it’s explicitly stated in the second one.

  21. There is so much you can do with 1 million that would set you up for life. Where I live you could put 25% down on 10 rental properties for a total of about $300K or so. That would generate, from my personal experience with rental properties, about 30K to 60K after tax (if you make good investments then 60K is easily achievable). However, this varies wildly depending on what city and what types of properties you are buying. Your remaining 700K would generate, using the 3% rule, about $21,000 per year. All of this income in “sitting on your ass income”, you could still go out and pick up odd jobs if you really want.

    As a millennial myself I am very embarrassed at how bad our math skills are as a generation. I am an engineer and I have to explain things like this to other engineers who are supposed to be great at math. There is definitely a lack of financial education.

    • Oh wow, 10 rental properties? That’s great. Maybe an apartment building would make it simpler. I’m sure Millenials will improve as they get older. Young people tend to make silly mistakes like this. Thanks for educating your peers. 🙂

    • I don’t think Millenials are bad at math. We (yes, I’m still young enough darn it) are just gun-shy. As soon as we became adults, bad things started happening in personal finance. Our parents lost their jobs and pensions. Our grandparents were wiped out by two recessions caused almost entirely by the greed and shortsightedness of financial professionals. This generation has a bad case of Stranger Danger when it comes to money management. It’s understandable even if it’s horribly damaging in the long run.

      Everybody yearns for stability and predictability. As a retirement professional, you wouldn’t believe how many times I heard similar thoughts from EVERY generation: “Tell me how much I’m going to get every month from now on, and I’ll live within that budget.”

      I’d take the million and run, and I think everyone here would agree. But in thinking for the millions of Americans who are faced with tough personal finance decisions and decidedly NOT financial experts, tell me which of these goals is easier to wrap your head around:

      1) Spend no more than $5,000 per month, or
      2) Maintain a portfolio with investments aggressive enough to generate growth to meet long-term needs while also generating sufficient passive income to meet minimum living standards today.

  22. I love my job but if someone offered me a million dollars, I’d be out of here in a heartbeat. Money in the bank is a great thing and I would find something else to do so that I could continue to bring in an income.

    Sadly, though, I don’t think anyone is gearing up to make that offer. Oh well!

    • It’s so easy to spend when you know the next paycheck is coming. That’s why everyone spends so much of their income. When the economy is uncertain, the saving rate always increase. I guess uncertainty is good for something.

      • I think that’s a key point. For those of us few that choose wealth over income (even though we often have considerable income), something caused us to make that different choice. For me, I learned very early on that the paycheck may not be steady. Right out of college I worked for a startup that went bankrupt within one year. I wasn’t off to a great start, but I had to have a plan to get through the low points. So I made one, and that plan was really about building wealth. Eventually building wealth just became second nature, and now being worth millions seems normal too.

        Excellent post btw!

  23. I just finished reading The Millionaire Next Door, which is all about building wealth. Other than the index funds we’re invested in via our 401k plans, we don’t have investments, so our goal in 2016 is to learn as much as we can. We’ve had steady jobs, spent our money and turned into wage slaves. TMND and other books show a different path, one we’re ready to explore.

  24. I am a Millennial and I would take the $1 million over a steady job in a heartbeat! The “with a chance of going broke within a few years” gets me though–is this implying having it invested in stocks? I would still take $1 million in stocks over a job though! haha I can’t believe so few would take the money over a job.

    The mental security a million in the bank provides would be pretty fantastic! It would give you so much freedom to choose any job really. Go be a SCUBA instructor if that makes you happy, because you already got $20k-$40k rolling in every year FOREVER!

    You hit the nail on the head about the government loopholes with low income and high net worth. Even if you are a millionaire, you can collect unemployment and affordable health care!

    I think you are also right about simply inheriting a million bucks: you won’t appreciate it! Working hard for that million will make you happier in the long run anyways. Anything worth doing is usually difficult to do! Challenging yourself is key component to a wealthy, happy life. Just being lazy and floating along never made anyone happy in the long run–probably just made them depressed.


    • That’s the tricky part of the question. If you’re really conservative, you can just cash out and put the money in more conservative investments.
      You’re right about challenges. I’ve been thinking that happiness comes from overcoming challenges. You have to keep challenging yourself. Life gets a bit too boring otherwise.

  25. Fact is, having “a steady job with a modest income” doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t be broke within a few years either. Many people who have a steady job with a modest income not only wind up broke; they wind up with a lot of debt and have to declare bankruptcy.

    There is also the aspect of whether the “steady job” is enjoyable or a real drag. Here are some words of wisdom relating to this:

    “The irony of America’s fixation on jobs is that according to a 2011 Gallup Survey
    reported in Forbes, 70 percent of employees hate their jobs. So the question is: why are we so preoccupied with getting a job most of us will eventually hate?”
    — Phil Cooke

    “Have you ever heard of a wage slave? Even worse . . . are you one? Wage slaves may live in big houses. They might drive Porsches. It doesn’t matter how “rich” you look, if you can’t walk away from your job — even for a second — because you would no longer be able to pay the bills, you’re a wage slave.
    — Sara Glakas

    “No one can possibly achieve any real and lasting success or ‘get rich’ in business by being a conformist.”
    — J. Paul Getty

    “Shop for security over happiness and you buy it, at that price.”
    — Richard Bach

    “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
    — Fred Wilson

    “Money is for freedom, not slavery; for security, not worry. Unless money is
    used to give you greater freedom and happiness, accumulating money is a burden.”
    — Richard Koch

    “I’d rather live precariously in my own office than comfortably in somebody else’s.”
    — Peter Mayle

    In short, I would rather take the million dollars and take my chances with the freedom it would initially give me. If after a few years I wound up broke (which happened to me after I lost my engineering job), I could still use my creativity to make a comeback. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”

    • Exactly! Everyone has a chance of going broke. A steady job isn’t very secure these days. Great quotes, particularly the one about wage slaves.

    • The “wage slaves” quote is pretty spot on. Now, I think many of us are the kind of people who WON’T walk away from a job they hate until they find another job (which we will probably also end up hating…), but being completely unable to walk away is much scarier.

      I live paycheck to paycheck…because my savings rate is ridiculously high (for a single man in a big city). My advice has always been to not even think about your savings as ever having been income.


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