What’s Your Lifetime Wealth Ratio?

What's Your Lifetime Wealth Ratio?

Have you checked your Social Security statement this year? I’m not counting on Social Security to fund my retirement, but it’s still nice to see the potential income. Of course, lots of things can change before I turn 67. That’s why I’m copying my father in law and designate my Social Security benefit as a donation fund. That way I won’t miss it. Anyway, it is a good idea to check your Social Security Statement at least once per year to make sure your earnings record is correct. If there is any mistake, then you need to correct the error within 3 years or else your Social Security benefits could be permanently affected. If you plan to retire early, check out this post – How Early Retirement Impacts Social Security Benefit.

Another nice thing about the Social Security statement is that you can go over your income history. Once you have the income history, then you can calculate your Lifetime Wealth Ratio. Let’s do that today to see how much money we have vs how much we’ve earned. It’s a very interesting number.

This post was originally written in 2015. I’m updating it every year to see how we’re doing. Hopefully, we’ll reach 100% at some point. Also, this was inspired by J. Money’s post at Budgets Are Sexy – Do You Know Your Lifetime Wealth Ratio?

My estimated Social Security Benefit:

Here is my latest Social Security statement

You have earned enough credits to qualify for retirement benefits. At your current earnings rate, your estimated payment would be:

At full retirement age (67): $2,510 a month

At age 70: $3,113 a month

At early retirement age (62): $1,763 a month

Alright! My benefit increased from $2,227/month to $2,510/month (since 2015.) That’s an increase of $283/month, almost 13%. In 2015, I predicted that my benefit estimate would stay pretty stable, but I didn’t factor in my blog income. Last year, I had $65,388 in revenue. That’s much higher than expected. However, it’s not going to last.

That’s the problem with the Social Security benefit estimator. They assume your income will be relatively stable until 67. This spike in blog income is throwing off my estimate. I think my monthly estimate probably will come down to $2,300/month once the blog income stabilized to a normal level.

Mrs. RB40’s estimated benefit:

At full retirement age (67): $2,546 a month

Mrs. RB40’s estimate increased from $2,222/month to $2,546/month. However, this isn’t going to be accurate if she retires in 2020. Her income would drop and the estimate will decrease. I used the Social Security Benefit online calculator to see what her benefit would be if she stops working next year and it dropped to around $1,356/month. Wow, that’s a drastic decrease! Her AIME is about halfway to the second bend point so she really could benefit from working a few more years. Don’t worry if this is all Greek to you. We’ll see how Social Security Benefits are calculated next.

Social Security Benefit Estimate

Let’s dig into how social security benefits are calculated.

Social Security benefits are computed using “average indexed monthly earnings.” This average summarizes up to 35 years of a worker’s indexed earnings. We apply a formula to this average to compute the primary insurance amount (PIA). The PIA is the basis for the benefits that are paid to an individual.

That’s from Social Security’s website. Basically, they take your highest 35 earning years and average them. If you have some years with $0 earnings, then your benefit will be less. Let’s take a look at our earnings.

household earnings history

Wow, I made a lot of money as an engineer. My total lifetime earnings so far is $1,946,002. I used the Medicare earnings column because that one has no limit.

That’s a lot more income than I thought. Check out that big spike in 2012. I only worked full time for 6 months, but I sold a bunch of stock options that year. That inflated my earned 2012 income to $260,000. My earnings dropped drastically after I left full time work, but life is much better since I retired 6 years ago . What can I say? *shrug* Money isn’t everything.

As for Mrs. RB40, she joined the Peace Corps for 3 years after college so she got a later start than I did. She also took another 2 years off from full time employment to get her Master degree and made very little income during those years. Her total earning is $963,856. Holy moly, together we earned over $3 million once we count 2018! Where did all that money go?

We’ll need these numbers for the Lifetime Wealth Ratio next.

Is the estimate accurate?

The Social Security Benefit is calculated with your highest 35 earning years. Currently, I have 24 earning years and 11 blank years. Social Security filled in those 11 blank years with my latest earnings to get their estimate. So they assume I’ll make about $65,000 for the next 11 years. I doubt that’s really going to happen because we plan to travel a lot more. My income is great this year, but it will most likely drop in the future.

However, the benefit should not drop that much even if my earned income decreased over the next 11 years. The social security calculator shows that my benefit would be about $2,100 even if I earned $10,000 per year for the next 11 years. Basically, I’m very close the second bend point and the benefit curve has flattened out for me. From now on, my benefit won’t change that much because I already put a lot into it.

Here is a graph of the AIME (average indexed monthly earnings) vs PIA (the Social Security Benefits.) The benefit grows at a different rate depending on your AIME. It doesn’t take much to reach the first bend point. You only need to average just $895/month over 35 years. Then it’s a long slog to the second bend point. After that, your Social Security Benefit won’t grow much even if you earn more.

Social Security bend points

Mrs. RB40 is about halfway between the first and second bend point right now. If she keeps working, her benefit would keep climbing at a steady rate. It looks like she needs to work full time about 8 more years to reach the second bend point. That’s the price for having several low earning years in her youth. We are not depending on Social Security so it’s not really a big deal. I prefer that she stop working full time earlier. She doesn’t need to maximize her Social Security Benefits because our passive income is in good shape.

Anyway, the extra $3,500 to $4,500 Social Security Benefit would definitely come in handy when we turn 67. This will be our donation account and we can support whatever charity we want. I think that will be a great way to give back.

Back to the Lifetime Wealth Ratio

Once you have your lifetime earning total, then you can figure out your Lifetime Wealth Ratio. Don’t forget that you need to use the Medicare earnings column in your statement. What’s the Lifetime Wealth Ratio? It’s basically how much wealth you have generated from the money you earned. The higher the ratio, the better you have been at saving, investing, and building wealth. You will need your net worth for this, too. The formula is very simple.

Lifetime Wealth Ratio (LWR) = Net worth / Total Income Earned

I’m going to look at this as a team because the numbers look better that way. Our LWR is 90% at the end of 2018. That’s really good.

Lifetime Wealth Ratio Score

  • 0%-10%: Horrible! You’re on par with the average American household.
  • 10%-25%: This is okay if you’re young, but it should be better.
  • 25-50% – Now we’re cooking. Nice job!
  • 50-100% – Excellent! You need to be here to FIRE.
  • 100%-1,000% – Wow… Congratulations! You’re doing it right. Keep it up!

Our Lifetime Wealth Ratio is increasing

household lifetime wealth ratio

Our LWR is 90%. In 4 years, we improved from 75% to 90%. I think that’s excellent. The stock market did very well over the last decade and our net worth outpaced our earnings most of those years. We still have a way to go before we reach 100%, though. 2019 doesn’t look too good. The stock market has been volatile lately and our net worth isn’t doing too well. We should reach 100% at some point, though. I’ll keep checking every year and see how it goes. My guesstimate is we’ll reach 100% by 2022.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your LWR is less than ours. We’ve been saving and investing for over 20 years. Just keep investing and your LWR should increase. See that dip in 2008? Our LWR dropped to 48% in 2008. It was scary, but we kept investing and did very well since then. You just have to keep saving and investing through the ups and downs.

Here is your homework this week – check your social security statement and calculate your Lifetime Wealth Ratio. How does it look? Can you beat the RB40 household (90%)?

Need help keeping track of your investments? I highly recommend Personal Capital for DIY investors. Personal Capital makes it easy for me to check on my investments. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement. Check them out.

Disclosure: We may receive a referral fee if you sign up with a service through the link above.

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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.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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79 thoughts on “What’s Your Lifetime Wealth Ratio?”

  1. My LWR is 60%, but I did semi-retire last spring. The number is a little misleading because your net worth depends in part on stock market performance (assuming you’re invested), so a robust market will perhaps artificially plump up your LWR.

    Reply
  2. This is a great metric for measuring one’s ability to save, taking into account both frugality and investment returns although it’s a strong function of age. I’m currently 38% @ 31 yo and aiming to double this in 10 years.

    Reply
  3. Great review of Social Security Joe, and congratulations on your future social security monthly checks. $5000 a month sounds great!!!

    Believe me, Social Security will be there in the near future, albeit in a slightly changed form probably with cap removed and age extension. Having used it for the past 17 years, it’s a very important part of one’s retirement plan thanks to FDR and his concern for the common people.

    Reply
  4. Fourteen months and a day after my last comment on this post, our LWR stands at a solid 46.8%. That’s up only about a point and a half… and it’ll probably drop to roughly 43% or so when SSA updates for 2018 earnings.

    It sounds more worrying than it is. We’ve put away $45k this year, VTSAX has not been particularly good to anybody, and homes in our area continue to appreciate at around 5% annually. The FIRE-in-2030 timeline is still plenty attainable, even if we average 3% market gains over the next dozen years (if inflation doesn’t kick up too hard; who knows).

    Reply
  5. This is on my to-do list for after the first of the year when my 2018 income will be in there. A quick estimate is 44%, but that’s not including the value of my pension plan. I’ve been interested in watching this number rise ever since J Money wrote about LWR a few years ago.

    Reply
  6. Hello RB40,

    I worked my numbers out and thanks to Dr. Networth, have realized that I am over the 100% LWR. It’s from real estate and the usual simple living. I would call it frugality but I’m not really that frugal. Definitely not from equities since they comprise <5% of my NW.

    Reply
  7. Very interesting concept. We are at 43%. A fair ratio compared to some here (not great, not bad).

    I would add that they are some very worthwhile efforts that are not included in this ratio but yet add great value to your overall worth. For instance when we are complete, we will have put our 3 sons through 12 total years of college without any debt to us or them. Even though this is not a portion of our financial net worth, saving and investing approximately $400K in their future adds to our overall worth as a family.

    Great post!

    Reply
    • You’re right. Life isn’t all about numbers. Great job with your sons. I think that’s a worthwhile accomplishment. I hope to do the same for our son someday.

      Reply
  8. Interesting article! I don’t even have enough working credits to qualify at this time. Still was nice to go out and find the website and set up and account. Seems like they have invested some money into the site it looked pretty good hopefully most of it will be there when I am old enough to use it.

    Reply
  9. Interesting. First time hearing about this Lifetime Wealth Ratio. My number is at 70%, not counting vested stock options. I assume this number will go up as I get older since I have more assets to work for me.

    Reply
  10. Taxes are a killer for high W2 earners!
    At 30% effective tax rate, a savings rate of 50%, and an invest return of 7% …

    Takes 27 years to hit 100% nest egg of your cumulative gross earnings.

    Reply
    • Savings rate of 50% after tax
      Gross $200k
      Net $140k
      Spend 70k
      Save $70k

      28 years gross =$5.6m
      Portfolio = $5.65m (101% of gross earnings)

      Reply
  11. Thanks for sharing Joe, I haven’t really thought to much about SS to be honest with you. I kinda trick myself, mentally, into thinking that it won’t exist when I retire. Even though logically there should still be something like 70% of the benefits or something like that that’ll still get paid out even with SS’ future looming troubles. It kinda forces me to prepare more, so the SS will eventually be the frosting on the cake!

    Reply
    • I’m not counting on Social Security much either, but I’m pretty sure it will still be there. Anything is helpful. We’ll donate it if we don’t need it.

      Reply
  12. Hi Joe,

    Funnily enough the other month I had to calculate my total gross earnings – I am missing one years data which I am struggling to get hold of, so I have had to take a but of a guess on.
    If you take my total gross salary over my working career then I am at the 100% – 150%.
    If you take my net earnings (i.e. after the greedy UK government takes their share), then I am at the 150% – 200% range.
    Why do I say the greedy government? Last tax year, my tax bill was higher than my total gross earnings less than a decade ago… ouch!
    Cheers,
    FiL

    Reply
  13. Interesting. I need to check up on mine but to be honest I’ve always considered SS to be gravy on top of everything else. But of course all money is good.

    Due to working overseas quite a lot not all our incredible me is on the chart so it’s hard to do a full income statement.

    The big decision is when to take the money, wait and get more or simply get in early and invest.

    Reply
  14. Thanks for the SS reminder. Now I’m going to check mines now to see if you everything is correct. I was not aware of the three year cutoff and I last time I checked my SS statement was around three years ago so I’m on it. Appreciate this post Joe!!

    Reply
  15. Wow that’s a good paycheque! I had no idea that SS cheques were so good. I’m from Canada and the basic amount is around $800-1000 a month, but if you have work pensions that’s on top of that.

    Reply
    • Really? I’ll have to check into the Canadian system. How does a retiree survive with that much? What if you don’t have a pension and no saving? That seems to be a common scenario here…

      Reply
  16. That was a fascinating read, even though it sounded Greek to me. I find this so interesting because it’s so strategic in nature. I’ll read it once over with Jared and we’ll figure out our % as well. I don’t think Jared even made a SS.gov account yet. I login to my parents but that’s it.

    If it’s higher per month at 70 and the money isn’t needed, would you and the Mrs keep it in as long as possible? (Go easy on me, I’m a noob >~<)

    Reply
    • Yes, check your record. At least, you’ll see if there are any mistakes.
      I’m not sure about waiting until 70. I guess it really depends on how long you’ll live. I’d probably take it at 67. 🙂

      Reply
  17. 84% is our ratio not factoring in our pensions
    123% is our adjusted ratio to factor in current 97K pensions/medical benefits
    140% is our adjusted ratio to factor in future 138K pensions/medical benefits in 2 years.

    Ex. Pension amt of 138K is like an added networth at 3.45M at 4%

    Adam

    Reply
  18. First, I want to say I really appreciate the total transparency you take with your blog, Joe. It’s really helpful to see the relation of income to SSI earnings and the bend points via a real life example.

    Mrs. Done by Forty and I are also not too concerned about Social Security. But as of right now, the missus needs to work for a few years just to reach the minimum 40 credits. All her years working as an RA & TA for her PhD program don’t count, unfortunately, as the school elected not to contribute to social security for student workers. :/

    I figure we’ll get her to the minimum and then see how life is treating us. We may be happy just being on the chart somewhere, regardless of what bend point we’re at.

    Reply
  19. My wife and I are both under 40, so I treat SS figures as more “wouldn’t it be nice” than “whew, good thing that’s there”; I have no faith in the federal government to get trillions of dollars’ worth of ducks in a row before we start drawing it down. Fortunately the market has been good to us since we started investing in ’08. On just under $1.1m of combined lifetime earnings, using a conservative value for our home, our LWR stands at a hair over 45%. Still on track to retire with a paid-off house when I’m fifty!

    Reply
  20. Thanks for the push. I’ve been meaning to check my social security situation out. We haven’t really accounted for getting anything, but it could end up being a nice bonus! Now to just figure out what my login for that site was..

    Reply
      • OK, I had to get my account unlocked first… but I finally did my check.

        My benefit at full retirement age would be around $2100, but using the calculator it looks like that will drop to around $1300 with me not working anymore. That doesn’t sound like a bad chunk, and I’m still eligible for benefits 🙂

        Doing a rough estimate just using my earnings as a guide, our lifetime wealth ratio would be somewhere in the 60% range. Maybe we partied too hard, you really crushed it 🙂

        Reply
  21. Hey, Joe. I never heard of the bend points for Social Security benefits. Do they have to do with Social Security benefits being a higher percentage of income for those on the lower side of the income scale? Very interesting. I’ll have to read up on Social Security bend points. Anyway, I calculated my lifetime wealth ratio a few months ago but deleted the spreadsheet for some reason. I’m pretty sure I beat J$’s ratio but fell short of yours. I think it was around 65%. Damn, now I got some homework to do. I’ll get back to you when I have the correct number. Great post as usual, my friend. Cheers.

    Reply
    • The bend points are quite interesting. Yes, you get to keep a higher percentage if your income is lower. Makes sense to me.
      65% is pretty good. I think you worked pretty long so the denominator is pretty high. Nice job!

      Reply
  22. I haven’t looked at our social security numbers in the last two years or so. The lifetime number I find more interesting. Holding your behavior constant I wonder how the number would change with stock market returns and employment changes. Would making lower amounts in retirement raise the number due to a decrease in the denominator or decrease it due to less to invest.

    Reply
    • It really depends on where you are in life. In our position, we already invested a lot so when Mrs. RB40 retires, the numerator should keep going up. The denominator will slow down a lot and our LWR should increase.
      If you’re at the beginning of your career, then it’d be a different story.

      Reply
  23. Wow this is such a thorough analysis. I didn’t my know Social Security has the three-year cutoff where you can edit your info. It’s such a disadvantage to those lacking information or an understanding of such rules.

    But I think it’s good for us to be aware of what our finances look like. 🙂

    Reply
  24. Thanks for posting the down to earth explanation of how social security benefits work. The lifetime wealth ratio is an excellent concept to monitor ones success at wealth accumulation. Tom

    Reply
  25. Is Social Security in US a sort of life insurance? They pay you until you are alive even if you live 120 years.
    Or is it a sort of saving account? They pay you until the saving account is empty.

    Reply
    • Social Security is more like employment insurance. When you can’t work due to disability or old age, then they will pay out.
      New workers keep paying into it. People are living longer now so they might run out of money in the future. We may not receive 100% of the estimate if they run out of money. Congress will have to restructure it at some point.

      Reply
  26. Keep in mind that 401k contributions and other tax deferred contributions are not included in social security’s earnings. This will stack the deck and give you an inflated lifetime wealth ratio if you’ve taken advantage of the tax deferred options.

    Reply
  27. Thanks for pointing out the Bend Points. I was trying to see how much my SS would increase by working longer and having those “early years” (washing dishes!) drop off. To my surprise not much increase all…like $20 a month for each year I work past 55. (I’m 54 and having 35 yrs of earnings).

    Ratio not so hot at 61%. My NW does not included a DB pension plan I’m eligible for however. Never certain how to account for that—but FWIW I’d need to spend $625K on a lifetime annuity to generate that same cash flow as my pension will provide. Maybe I should add that in my NW?

    Reply
  28. I was intrigued so I checked our SS statements. I came in at 80%. Funny that I never felt deprived in any way in our lifestyle choices and felt that we could have cut back even more.

    Reply
  29. Thanks for the very useful and timely post. That provided me the motivation to sign up and look at my earning and estimates. It have been years since I looked at the mailed version that SS used to send me.

    I am at 89% which surprised me. I thought I would be similar to Sam! I noticed Ali’s comments about being 27 how she how has time to work on it. When you hit your 50’s this percentage can work against if you have not invested well over the years, since your lifetime income will have increased significantly.

    Reply
  30. That’s good Retirebyforty. Your article is very helpful. Just like you I had neglected my National Social Security Fund for almost three years. When I started paying the amounts due, the calculations involved have been a problem for me. Thankfully, after reading your article, I have an idea and can even calculate my earnings when I retire. Thank you.

    Reply
  31. I have found the social security projects ion, calculation worksheet, and formula to be quite convoluted. I have devised an easier way to see what you should expect assuming no reductions in the program. Use the SS worksheet http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10070.pdf just cut an past the data into an excel file. Leave column A & B cut C & D out. Now go to your online statement and cut and paste all of your earnings for the past 35 years. If you don’t have 35 years then project into the future. Now in the next column of cells simply take a percentage by calculating Col B/Col A. This will give you a percentage by year of how far from the max you were each year. Anything >100% should be adjusted to 100%. Now just average the percentages of the highest 35 year period. That percentage tells you how much of the annul payout you will receive.

    Example for someone retiring at normal retirement age this year:
    avg 35 yr pctg to max = 85%
    max benefit in 2015 = $2,663
    2663*.85 = $2,264

    If you wait until 70 to collect just multiple the resulting number by 1.25

    for the last 15 years I have exceeded the max earnings but I will not work past 60 so I will not increase my percentage above an average of 90%. I plan to wait until 70 to collect so assuming no program changes I will receive approximately (2663*.9*1.25) $3,000 per month in 2015 dollars. Good enough for long term planning purposes.

    Reply
  32. Bummer – I came in just under 50%. Apparently my cost of living is still too high, and I’m still looking ahead to the college years for 2 kids. Some significant losses in real estate along the way didn’t help, but life happens. I appreciate this post guiding me to some interesting data – thanks Joe.

    Reply
    • That’s not bad at all. I’m sure you’ll pull over 50% pretty soon. The real estate market is recovering in our area. Hopefully, your area will recover soon too. College for 2 kids would be pretty painful..
      Good luck!

      Reply
  33. The beauty of this LWR metric is that it corrects for income trajectory. Those who get their big raises early in their careers should expect to have saved more than those at the same income level today who had to wait.

    It’s interesting how my LWR maps over time. I have year-end W2 gross and net worth handy in a spreadsheet, and over the past two decades it moved from 80% to 160%. It looks pretty bumpy, though, as I see periods of 3 or 4 flat years followed by a jump. And 2008 dropped it all the way back to its 1999 level (no I didn’t own real estate). I guess this volatility is the price we pay for a rising trend?

    Reply
    • The LWR maps over time is pretty interesting too. We were around 50-60% until I quit my job. Then it shot up to 70, 74, and 77% over the last 3 years. It’s nice that our net worth keeps growing although I don’t make as much money anymore.

      Reply
  34. I am pretty sure you can reset your my SS password online. I think I remember doing it when I forgot my password.

    I need to look at my lifetime earnings. I know I am over a million, so my ratio is not nearly what yours is. Looks like I have some work to do!

    Reply
    • I’m sure your LWR will improve as you get older especially if you’re saving and investing now. Starting early is the way to go.

      Reply
  35. Thanks for writing this article. It gives me a lot to think about. The calculator is particularly helpful to use. I view expected social security benefits at age 62/67/70 similar to owning treasury inflation protected bonds. So if I earn $1000/month in inflation adjusted social security benefits, this is equivalent to owning $400,000 in income generating assets at a 3% yield.

    It is important to check the social security statement every year, in order to fix any errors in your reported income figures on their end. If you do not correct an error within 3 years, your social security benefits will be permanently affected.

    Reply
    • I’ve been meaning to look at this for quite a while. It’s pretty amazing how much money we’ve made over time. I didn’t know that about the 3 years correction window. That’s a good tip.

      Reply
  36. Mine is similar to J. Money. The interesting thing is that our Social Security checks are similar too:

    Take at 62 yrs old: $1,577
    Take at 67 yrs old: $2,240
    Take at 70 yrs old: $2,778

    The only issue with the SS site is that it only shows income up to a certain amount because you stop paying social security is $118,500, so if you made more than that you have to go back to your tax returns to figure out exactly how much you made each year.

    Keep up the great blogs!

    Reply
    • You can look at the Taxed Medicare Earnings. It’s on the SSA site too. The increase as you get older is quite nice. If you think you’ll live longer, it’s much better to put off taking benefit.

      Reply
  37. 55% baby! So I beat J Money! That’s actually pretty impressive given that I bet I’ve never saved more than 40% of my income–I suppose that just goes to show the power of money creating money for you.

    One of my favorite things about the SSA site is that they show you your lifetime earnings, which can be really startling. I plotted all mine out in one of my first posts:(http://www.retire29.com/my-complete-lifetime-earnings/).

    It really tells your life’s story.

    Fun stuff, thanks for posting.

    Eric

    Reply
    • Nice job! Your earning history is pretty interesting. It looks like you should keep working while you’re making good income. 🙂

      Reply
  38. Our combined ratio is 51%. However, as for all single numbers, it is a bit misleading. I am currently semi-retired (for the past 3 years) and my wife will retire in a few months. Neither one of us HAS to work. Our lifetime of controlling costs, and investing well and CONSISTENTLY, has really paid off. Our monthly unearned income easy covers our expenses, and will continue to do so. But out of our accumulated savings and investments, we had paid cash for our older son’s private college education, and are currently paying cash for our younger son’s private college education. Both schools are in the Boston, MA area (ouch!). And over the past two years, we have had major renovations in our home (bathrooms, kitchen, etc) and have traveled to Europe twice, and will be going out west for a 2-week tour of the National Parks this fall. Everything has been paid for in cash. We have NEVER taken out loans (mortgage was the only exception). So in our case, I don’t see our ratio increasing. But at the same time, I don’t think we need to increase it as long as our expenses are comfortably paid for.

    Reply
  39. Good stuff! That’s a fun looking income chart you got there.

    My ratio is around 100% – 150%, depending on how much I value my business and property.

    Sam

    Reply

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