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The Student Loan Scam
September 3, 2010 12:49 PM   Subscribe

The Student Loan Scheme: Gateway Drug to Debt Slavery...Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on credit cards. With for-profit universities under recent scrutiny, many argue that the student loan industry itself is in need of more reform.
posted by thisisdrew (59 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this was an interesting graph. Pretty crazy. Also crazy that colleges are pricing themselves to look more attractive by increasing tuitions...
posted by backseatpilot at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2010


If the government is guaranteeing the loans, why isn't the gummint originating the loans? Why is there a private contractor involved at all, except to skim a bunch off the top, and bottom (since they also run the collection agencies)?

Once again, proof that private industry has no business doing government work. Ugh.
posted by notsnot at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Point 1: I find it unbelievable that Americans ever owed more on their credit cards than they do in student loans. I really don't see much justification for owing thousands, or tens of thousands, on a credit card. Yet to my mind, huge student loans (although terrible) are not an illogical thing for someone to acquire under the current system. The credit card debt is insane, the loans, sane but awful.

Point 2: America gutted their education system. Canada has been trailing behind, and Europe behind them. Everyone seems to go to the American model, even as it's demonstrated not to work. I guess that's world economy for you. I see this as the product of economic pressure, rather than political ideology.

Point 3: The entire idea of a "for profit university" makes me queasy. If the goal of your education institution is to make lots of money, you're not getting an education.

Point 4: I guess in the modern climate of "education as job training" Point 3 is kind of less important. That makes me even sadder.

That's it. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


If the government is guaranteeing the loans, why isn't the gummint originating the loans?

Now it does.

Of course, that's only for federal loans, so you're still going to a private bank for those.
posted by valkyryn at 12:57 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blurb under two guys, one on the right in a tux: "Whenever there is millions of losers there is always a few giant winners." Those "is"s should be "are"s shouldn't they? I expect better from a .org.
posted by ND¢ at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Point 1: I find it unbelievable that Americans ever owed more on their credit cards than they do in student loans.

I actually find this quite understandable. Until the last two decades, the minority of the country which went to college did it mostly without incurring much in the way of debt. Borrowing money to go to college wasn't standard practice until the 1980s and it's gotten progressively worse since then.

But far more Americans have a credit card than went to any kind of higher education, so even if the average balance wasn't the $15k it seems to be, that would still be a shit ton of money.
posted by valkyryn at 1:02 PM on September 3, 2010


Borrowing money to go to college wasn't standard practice until the 1980s and it's gotten progressively worse since then.

But far more Americans have a credit card than went to any kind of higher education...


The rate of growth of the for-profit sector is shocking. Based on the linked articles, it looks like about $275 billion of the total ~$600 billion in outstanding federal student loans represents loans to attend for-profit institutions. The population taking out those loans consists mostly of nontraditional students, those who in the past would not have pursued a postsecondary education at all.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2010


The problem ain't the loans, its the bloated universities and the cost of attendance.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, nothing better for welcoming young n00bs to working America than a big old hunk of standard-of-life destroying debt.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:19 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does everyone have to go to university?
posted by unSane at 1:23 PM on September 3, 2010


>Why does everyone have to go to university?

Because blue collar work is increasingly evaporating, and employers wont hire paper pushers without a 4 year?
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:28 PM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


America gutted their education system. Canada has been trailing behind...

What do you mean by this? The US and Canada have vastly different approaches to post-secondary education; most notably the fact that Canada has only ten private (non-profit) baccalaureate institutions in the entire country, and the US has more than 1800.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:31 PM on September 3, 2010


All I can say is it's a damned good thing those poor universities don't have to pay property taxes. So, students go into debt (that can't be waived) in order to fund universities (that aren't taxed).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:41 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The rate of growth of the for-profit sector is shocking.
It's not so shocking when you remember that the for-profit sector includes a whole host of technical schools, "business" schools, "medical" schools, etc. Those have been going great-guns and expanding for decades.

The rise of the for-profit full-service university, though, has been startling, but not surprising either. For decades, our society has been hammering into people's heads about the need for a degree in order to get ahead. How often do you hear, for instance, the "people who earn a degree make a million dollars more" line? And, all you have to do is scour the want ads and see that, increasingly, even the most low-wage job seems to require a degree. To a kid flipping burgers, all that makes his future look very bleak indeed.

But, the kid can't afford to leave work and go to a regular college for four friggin' years...if he can even get accepted. Sadly, the for-profit schools prey on kids like that. Or, alternately, sadly, our state universities are only now waking-up to that kid's needs.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:41 PM on September 3, 2010


The problem ain't the loans, its the bloated universities and the cost of attendance.

My impression is that these two things feed each other. Universities and colleges can increase fees when there are easy-to-get loans that will allow students to pay the fees, and the students and their families believe that any amount of education debt is worth it because of the big payoff they expect.
posted by not that girl at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can I ask any mefites that went to college in the 50s/60s/70s if things used to be so different that one really could "work my way through college"?

I grew up in the 80s and remember hearing that alot and wondering how anyone could ever afford to do that, community college maybe but not university.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:44 PM on September 3, 2010


I grew up in the 80s and remember hearing that alot and wondering how anyone could ever afford to do that, community college maybe but not university.

In the 90's I went to a university that had a co-op program so you alternated school with jobs. There were certainly people who paid for university that way. Now, of course, this was in engineering and computer science where even students were making an equivalent salary to 20-something-thousand annually and this was 90's Ontario tuition levels of a few thousand dollars a year. But it was certainly doable in certain fields until the end of the 90's.
posted by GuyZero at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2010


Senor Cardage, I "worked my way through university" in the early to mid '90s. But I worked three jobs during the school year and one during the summers, had a small break on fees because I had been on my high school honour roll, and used up all the money I had saved from summer jobs during high school. And had no life, because any and all money was to be guarded jealously for use paying down tuition fees and other assorted costs.

It was do-able then, but hardly a life. I'm not at all convinced it's do-able now.
posted by LN at 2:06 PM on September 3, 2010


It was possible. In the mid-seventies, my dad was able to pay for all but his final semester of medical school by working three jobs during the summers.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 2:11 PM on September 3, 2010


Senor Cardgage, I worked half time (20 hrs/week) throughout both my undergraduate education and graduate education, working full-time during the summers. While even that much work wasn't enough to pay for my (public) education, I could have worked full time and earned enough to pay for the entirety of my education without incurring any debt or receiving outside aid of any kind.
posted by LoopyG at 2:12 PM on September 3, 2010


(by the way, that was in the early to mid 2000's)
posted by LoopyG at 2:13 PM on September 3, 2010


At the beginning of College Inc. the loan-shark profiteer is all about Jesus. Uh huh.
posted by telstar at 2:16 PM on September 3, 2010


I was trying to think of something interesting to write, but it's just to depressing to think about. Fuck student loans and fuck student loan lenders. I was lied to when I borrowed money for school. And because I got an education, I will never own a house, never have a family, never travel, never be able to start my own business, nada - thanks to an education that will effectively keep me just about at the poverty line for the next 40 years, barring some great windfall.

It's pretty hilarious. When I filled out my loan paperwork, my lender - a huge lender - told me I'd easily make $65K my first year out of college (ha). They (aggressively) lent accordingly. I graduated, the economy collapsed, and 50% of kids my age don't even have a job. Partially my fault? Absolutely. But for an analyst to not only allow but urge an 18 year old to take out a mortgage sized loan for school? I'm biased, but I think it's criminal.

Fucking hell. I started my adult life D.O.A.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:17 PM on September 3, 2010 [21 favorites]


My impression is that these two things feed each other. Universities and colleges can increase fees when there are easy-to-get loans that will allow students to pay the fees, and the students and their families believe that any amount of education debt is worth it because of the big payoff they expect.

I have to agree. The admissions offices at (even the nonprofit) universities are the first to encourage people to take out loans to finance school. They rarely discussion tuition in terms of per credit hour. And the marketing is so ramped up with promises of exciting careers and positioning oneself in a field. There are so many cash cow programs that I think the fed govt needs to really scrutinize the kinds of programs they are going to offer federal aid for so universities don't keep creating new terminal master's programs that have no proven usefulness towards beginning a career.
posted by anniecat at 2:19 PM on September 3, 2010



Can I ask any mefites that went to college in the 50s/60s/70s if things used to be so different that one really could "work my way through college"?


That's how my parents, aunts, uncles, etc went to college. A bit of money from a parent and/or a crappy summer job working on a farm or in a grocery store could cover tuition, and then (just like now) part time work in the school year could cover cheap rent and food, as long as your standards were low.

Yet to my mind, huge student loans (although terrible) are not an illogical thing for someone to acquire under the current system. The credit card debt is insane, the loans, sane but awful.

Sometimes, maybe. Like if you owe $150k for your dental degree, that's probably a good investment over time. But the person profiled here who took on $170,000 in debt for a photography BA? That's seriously insane. Even if you were as good a photographer as Ansel Adams or Sebastião Salgado, that's still insane. (I mean, imagine how many cameras and trips to amazing places you could pay for with $170,000.)
posted by Forktine at 2:20 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The only person I know who did something similar nowadays was a very talented and connected artist who would work on commissions during the summer that paid for much of professional school. Not very many artists make what he could, though. (not dissing artists, just saying this was a very rare situation.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 2:20 PM on September 3, 2010


The admissions offices at (even the nonprofit) universities are the first to encourage people to take out loans to finance school. They rarely discussion tuition in terms of per credit hour. And the marketing is so ramped up with promises of exciting careers and positioning oneself in a field.

Yes. Total truth.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2010


Can I ask any mefites that went to college in the 50s/60s/70s if things used to be so different that one really could "work my way through college"?

No need to ask for anecdotes when you can find data (linked for the nice graph, not necessarily for the heaping side dish of opinion).

blue collar work is increasingly evaporating, and employers wont hire paper pushers without a 4 year

True, but is that because employers think all their paper pushers needed a university education, or just because a bachelor's degree is the best comprehensive test they have of a young potential employee's competence? If it's the latter, then there's room for better tests to be created at lower expense, and the "higher education bubble" talk may be more than just wild opinion.
posted by roystgnr at 2:22 PM on September 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


I tried working full time and going to school. I dropped out. After what amounts to a nine-hour work day (with commute) and a 5-hour school day (with commute), there simply was no time for actually doing schoolwork. My first 300-level class with its 20 hours a week of homework was the writing on the wall. Money was an issue, but time was the killer. I know people have done this, I wasn't "man" enough to make it happen. Fortunately my small loans amounted to $2500 or so.
posted by maxwelton at 2:23 PM on September 3, 2010


This makes me feel bad about my job as a student loan coordinator at a university with a large low-income population. At 5:00, I'm gonna go get really drunk.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 2:23 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I graduated, the economy collapsed, and 50% of kids my age don't even have a job. Partially my fault? Absolutely.

Agreed. I feel like a damn fool for falling for this propaganda about the worth of a college degree that I've been sold since I was 8. I may have my loans paid off by the time I am in my mid 40s, if I can find work between now and then.

Nothing has contributed more toward my desire that America falls in ugly fashion than my student loans, at least then I can default and consider living on more than potatoes.
posted by banal evil at 2:33 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Part of what bothers me about this is that Congress changed the bankrupcy laws so that you can't get out from under college loans that way. The result is a bit like "Debt bondage".

As to whether it was possible to get a college education without debt, yeah, it could be done. I went to college in the early 1970's. I worked a year between high school and college. I attended a state university. I had a part time job while in school. I worked summers. And I got a small amount of money ($140 per month) from the government because my deceased father was a government employee.

Between all those things, I managed to stay above water economically until the middle of my senior year (1975). At that point, to stay in school I would have had to take out a loan. So I dropped out, and got a job. Never finished, but it didn't affect my career to any extent that I ever noticed. After my first five years of professional employment, no one seemed to care any longer that I didn't have a degree.

Because bankrupcy is no escape, for some people who have ended up owing $200,000 or more than they'll never be able to pay, about the only way they can escape is to emigrate somewhere that won't extradite them. And that's really sad.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:39 PM on September 3, 2010


Student Loan Debt Clock
posted by homunculus at 2:43 PM on September 3, 2010



What do you mean by this? The US and Canada have vastly different approaches to post-secondary education; most notably the fact that Canada has only ten private (non-profit) baccalaureate institutions in the entire country, and the US has more than 1800.


The cost of an education goes up every year, at a higher rate than interest rises. Although our government oversees the loan system, interest is prohibitive and the amounts are such that they're nearly impossible for many to pay off.

Meanwhile, government funding for our education institutions has been slashed and slashed and slashed.

We haven't sold out our entire system yet, thank god, but the scene is sure set for the argument. Support for students and universities has been hit so hard that the current model is clearly in danger. Our conservative government has a long track record of letting the private sector pick up the slack after they brutalize our public institutions.

You can go look at the numbers if you'd like!
The university system here has been a blessing and a curse to me, that's for sure. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:56 PM on September 3, 2010


Anybody else getting a Keller School of Graduate Management image ad on this thread?
posted by graphnerd at 2:59 PM on September 3, 2010


(I mean, imagine how many cameras and trips to amazing places you could pay for with $170,000.)

Yes, but what bank on earth would lend you the money? Unless, of course, you utter the magic words "student loan"....

It's an interesting contrast. If you walk into a bank and say "Lend me $10k so I can live frugally for a year and spend every waking hour taking pictures," they'll turn you down. But if you ask for ten times that much money and promise to blow most of it on tuition for a degree you don't want, they'll say yes. And then you can use what little is left after tuition to do what you wanted to do anyway — live frugally and take pictures.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:17 PM on September 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


Because bankrupcy is no escape, for some people who have ended up owing $200,000 or more than they'll never be able to pay, about the only way they can escape is to emigrate somewhere that won't extradite them.

Actually I wonder if that's a viable plan in this kind of economy... get your education in Country A, immigrate to Country B, and start fresh with technical qualifications and no debt in Country B. Then when the person in Country B is established, they bring their family in. I guess that begs the question what extent credit files are transferred internationally and if debt from the previous country has to be reported when immigrating.

Yeah, it's not ethical, but it's interesting to think about. Maybe it's gonna be the way of the new world.
posted by crapmatic at 3:18 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Things are set up now in such a way that the vast majority of people are condemned to wage slavery from the get-go while bankers piss on their faces from a great height.

What always surprises me is while investment houses and their ilk get rich as they kill the host they are parasitic upon, while the value of peoples' homes crash, while the real economy gets hollowed out and sent overseas, while fulltime work gets transformed into part-time jobs that people feel lucky to get, while every turn of the screw makes it more and more unlikely that most people will ever be able to retire with any kind of security, that most folks just stand there, mouths agape, and take it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


and start fresh with technical qualifications and no debt in Country B.

I'd imagine most people would run into problems getting those qualifications to count in other countries or, if they didn't, they're probably in a field where they make enough to pay the loans off.
posted by drezdn at 5:32 PM on September 3, 2010


anniecat:There are so many cash cow programs that I think the fed govt needs to really scrutinize the kinds of programs they are going to offer federal aid for so universities don't keep creating new terminal master's programs that have no proven usefulness towards beginning a career.

Usefulness doesn't enter the equation. Colleges will crank out degrees in whatever subject, regardless of any job market associated with it. If you call them on it, they'll usually trot out the line about how college is education for education's sake, not a job training facility.
posted by dr_dank at 6:05 PM on September 3, 2010


the 180:30 mark of this congressional hearing is tellling. Steve Eisman (of "The Big Short" fame, talks about how some of the for-profit universities manipulate their job placement statistics .

"I don't believe a single statistic generated by this industry other than it's audited financials"
posted by thisisdrew at 6:16 PM on September 3, 2010


most folks just stand there, mouths agape, and take it.

Their mouths are agape because they're ignorant mouth-breathers. Most of them don't even see what the problem is. They actually think one's success is purely a result of hard work and putting your nose to the grindstone, and any failing of any kind is due to some fundamental lack of character, a lack of AMERICA! in their souls.

I mean, christ, that Arizona mouth-breather had a twenty point lead over her Democrat challenger.

We don't deserve civilization.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:56 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


crapmatic, the problem isn't extradition, the problem is enforcement of foreign judgments. So if you default on your loans and then scram to any country with a functional justice system, the American debt collectors can bring a valid judgment from an American court or (alternatively) sue you in the courts of your new home country, and you can still be made to pay. If they can find you, then they can find a way to collect.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:58 PM on September 3, 2010


There's a lot of talk here about the lie we've all been told that you need a college degree to even function in the adult world. And yes, to a large extent we've seen that it's utterly false. My boyfriend is a bike mechanic and my parents, his parents, and all our friends keep saying that he needs to go to college. I constantly have to fight them on this. He doesn't need to go until he knows what he wants to do. And he certainly doesn't need to go if he's going to be a bike mechanic for a while. He already has that skill. What the hell is a degree going to do for him other than get him into debt?

But then there's people like my mom, who was recently laid off after working in her field for 20 years and now can't even get an interview for a comparable position because she only has an Associate's and not a Bachelor's.

And here I am, a little more than halfway through my BA with something like $12,000 in debt and I'm shaking in my boots.

It seems like there's no way out of getting screwed and that's terrifying.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee wrote: "The credit card debt is insane, the loans, sane but awful."

I consider it the opposite. If you get in over your head with credit card debt, you have an out. If you get in over your head with student loan debt, you're out.
posted by wierdo at 9:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I consider it the opposite. If you get in over your head with credit card debt, you have an out. If you get in over your head with student loan debt, you're out.

So why don't people pay off their student loans with credit cards?
posted by clockworkjoe at 9:55 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was grateful to my parents for paying for half of my college education at a nice, cozy private institution (other half was scholarship).

I'm amused by the fact that as a teacher, there's no chance in hell of any of my potential children ever going to the same place barring a full scholarship or winning the lottery.

For me the real question is this: Is the 20K-40K/year you pay for a "prestigious" private college worth more than the 5K-10K/year you pay for Big State U.?

The answer is pretty fucking obvious ca. 2010.
posted by bardic at 9:55 PM on September 3, 2010


I'm amused by the fact that as a teacher, there's no chance in hell of any of my potential children ever going to the same place barring a full scholarship or winning the lottery.

I don't know which place you went to, but plenty of schools aren't actually playing this game. Harvard, Yale, Stanford all don't charge tuition to students whose parents make less than 60k (or so, details may vary by school); there are likely more on the list but I don't know all of them. There is a recognition that loans aren't actually a good thing for students.

And I'd argue that the answer isn't so obvious-- whether the extra tuition is 'worth it' really depends on what degree you're getting and what you're going to do with it, and what you consider value anyhow.
posted by nat at 11:15 PM on September 3, 2010


So why don't people pay off their student loans with credit cards?

Because student loans, though a terrible idea, still frequently max out at around 6.8%. You'll be hard pressed to find a credit card for less than twice that.
posted by valkyryn at 4:17 AM on September 4, 2010


Because student loans, though a terrible idea, still frequently max out at around 6.8%. You'll be hard pressed to find a credit card for less than twice that.

But if your goal is to go bankrupt, which you can do with credit cards but not with student loans (if I understand earlier posts correctly, after all I'm not from the USA), then what difference does the percentage make?
posted by DreamerFi at 6:45 AM on September 4, 2010


The real barrier is probably that credit cards will only let you take a percentage of your credit limit as cash, while the amounts people borrow for student loans is much higher. So you might have a credit card with a $40k limit, of which they might let you take $10k or $15k as cash. Even getting the entire credit card limit as cash (which I don't think many companies will allow) won't let you pay off the huge student loans people are getting.
posted by Forktine at 7:54 AM on September 4, 2010


Yeah, the credit card companies make it not too terribly easy to get cash most of the time. A few years back (and I think still today if you're on their "good" list) Citibank was both handing out large lines like candy (I had $20k just from them, not counting store-branded cards they happened to issue) and would let you take a "balance transfer" that was really just them writing you a check or direct depositing money in your bank account. Your cash limit was irrelevant, since it was coded as a balance transfer.

Sometimes, those "balance transfer" offers were pretty good, like 1.99% for the life of the balance in the '03ish timeframe. If I had a standard SL and didn't have a consolidation option, I'd strongly consider such an offer.

Speaking of cash limits on credit cards, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. I have Chase cards with a cash and credit limit exactly the same, and I had one with a nearly $10,000 credit limit and an $800 cash limit. (yes, eight hundred dollars)
posted by wierdo at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2010


The real barrier is probably that credit cards will only let you take a percentage of your credit limit as cash,

The reason they do this for reasons just like this one. Student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy (generally speaking) but unsecured consumer debt is. So a savvy person with a lot of capacity for cash advances could theoretically convert that and his secured debt--mortgages, car loans, etc. which survive bankruptcy actions--into unsecured debt and declare bankruptcy.

But that wouldn't necessarily do all that much good, for two reasons.

First, declaring bankruptcy doesn't automatically make 100% of your debts go away every single time. Any assets you have which don't fall into one of a relatively few protected categories--your house, your 401(k), etc.--can be liquidated to satisfy your debt burden. So if you've got any investments which aren't protected somehow, they're up for grabs.

Second, if it looks to the U.S. Trustee--a federal official assigned to manage each bankruptcy case--that you can pay off a sizable chunk of your debt within five years using your assets and projected disposable income over that time, he may simply deny your petition as abusive. In recent years, the Trustee has gotten more aggressive about pursuing this option. As most people with enough access to cash advances to make a sizable dent in their overall indebtedness is more than likely to have sufficient assets that the Trustee wouldn't permit a discharge. So you're out costs, attorney's fees, and a fine for your trouble, but you're still stuck with the debt.
posted by valkyryn at 6:17 PM on September 5, 2010


A good attorney would tell you if he or she thought your petition was abusive before getting to the point of filing. There was a time not too long ago when one could get ridiculous credit lines with few, if any, assets.

I was more thinking of the situation where a person had (wisely or not, depending on interest rates at the time) converted their student loan debt into consumer debt, then a year or two down the road lost their job. Without income (presuming you didn't up and quit your job), it's going to be harder for the trustee to claim that you're attempting to abuse the system.
posted by wierdo at 9:01 PM on September 5, 2010


And on top of all this... health care. How you poor bastards manage to get by I just don't know. Please someone tell me where to send an aid package.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2010


The lucky among us don't get sick. The rest of us die.
posted by wierdo at 1:12 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class: "Distinguished law scholar Elizabeth Warren teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law at Harvard Law School. She is an outspoken critic of America's credit economy, which she has linked to the continuing rise in bankruptcy among the middle-class. Series: "UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures""
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:16 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


That was a fascinating lecture.
posted by wierdo at 6:26 PM on September 9, 2010




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