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Abby Hayes

Some say carrying a small credit card balance will increase your credit score. Is that true or an urban legend? We asked the credit experts.

Credit Card Balance Will Increase Your Credit Score

I’ve spent countless hours research credit scores. One of the more interesting assertions I came across had to do with credit card debt. Some financial experts say it’s better to carry a small credit card balance than to carry no balance at all.

I’d actually never read this before, even though I’ve been writing about personal finance for nearly a decade now. But it’s an interesting idea, so I set out to determine the truth about this claim.

Credit Score Formula

If you spend any amount of time reading (or writing!) about credit scores, you’ll find that sometimes getting a straight answer is tough. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. Credit scores are highly personal. What negatively affects my score might not affect yours at all. Or what causes your score to increase by 100 points might only increase mine by 25.
  2. Credit scoring algorithms are practically state secrets. Companies like FICO make money from having the most finely-tuned credit scoring algorithms that lenders trust. This means they’ll release general information about their algorithms, which is good for consumers who want to boost their scores. But they tend to avoid giving hard and fast answers about some questions. Plus, algorithms are constantly being updated, so what’s true today may not be true tomorrow.

With all that said, getting answers about questions like this isn’t impossible. We just have to look to the actual sources–places like FICO and the actual credit bureaus–for information. And then we need to apply some common sense to the answers–and variations in answers–that we might find there.

What the Experts Say

First, I dug around the internet to find some different opinions on this question. One Bankrate article said experts tend to recommend carrying a balance equal to 10 to the 30 percent of your available credit, though the lower is better.

The article notes that carrying some balance is important for two reasons:

  1. It shows credit reporting bureaus that you’re actually using your cards, which is a good thing from a credit score perspective.
  2. It can keep your credit card accounts from being unexpectedly closed due to lack of use.

A Time Money article, on the other hand, said that consumers should not carry a balance. This advice is mainly because carrying a balance means paying interest. And carrying a balance can get you started down the road to hefty credit card debt.

A blog post from agrees that it’s in consumers’ best interests to pay the balance in full each month.

What the Credit Bureaus Say

So how do we resolve this discrepancy in expert opinion? Let’s go straight to the source: the credit reporting bureaus.

Experian, the bureau with the best online documentation, says, unequivocally, that it’s best to pay off your balance in full each month, if possible. A second Experian article says that any credit utilization ratio under 30 percent is good, but that lower is better.

What About Reporting Timelines?

One factor that plays into this question is when credit card companies report to the credit bureaus. If you use a free credit reporting service, you may notice that your credit card balances don’t all change at the same time. That’s because your credit card company might report your balance at the end of your billing cycle, rather than after you pay off the balance when you receive the bill.

This can be a problem if you use your credit card for everyday expenses, leading to a high balance at any point during the billing cycle.

So What’s the Verdict?

After sorting through the information online, it’s clear that paying off your credit card balances in full each month is the best option. Since we’re disagreeing with the Bankrate article, let’s break down why we think the information there isn’t quite correct.

  1. Credit bureaus only care if your account is open. It’ll be counted as active, even if you don’t use the account frequently, or at all. The credit card companies just report your monthly credit limit and balance, and that’s what counts towards your credit score.
  2. You don’t have to carry a balance for a credit card issuer to consider your account active. You can pay off your balance in full each month when you receive your bill, and the issuer won’t close your account for inactivity–because it’s not inactive.

Some Caveats and Exceptions

If you can’t pay off your credit card balance in full, it’s not the end of the world. You just need to make a plan to pay off your balance as soon as you can. And know that the lower your balance gets, the better your credit score will be in most cases.

Also, I’m not saying that it’s a completely dumb decision to finance a big-ticket purchase on a 0% APR credit card. Let’s say your fridge putters out unexpectedly. You have some money in emergency savings, but not enough to have money left over after you replace your fridge. But you qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer on purchases.

Should you charge the new fridge to the credit card? Or should you drain your savings account?

Well, as long as that charge to the credit card won’t max out the credit card in question, charging the fridge isn’t a terrible idea if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have a good track record with managing debt.
  • You can definitely pay off the debt well before the introductory APR offer is up.
  • Your overall debt-to-credit ratio won’t go above 30 percent with this purchase.

In this case, using the credit card isn’t the worst choice you could make. But, again, make sure you pay it off as quickly as possible. And don’t make a move like this if you’re getting ready to apply for a large loan like a car loan or mortgage.

Your Credit Card Strategy

So what’s your best credit card strategy if you’re trying to keep your credit score high? Here’s what you should do in our opinion:

  1. Pay down any balances you’re currently carrying. Use this debt calculator to figure out the best way to pay down your debts.
  2. Make a habit of paying off your debt in full each month.
  3. Keep total balances under 30 percent of your total available credit each month, so that your balance doesn’t show as too high at the end of your billing cycle.
  4. If you do want to net rewards by using your card for most of your expenses, consider paying down the balance midway through the cycle to avoid the above issue.
  5. Only use your credit cards to finance longer-term purchases if you meet the criteria above, and limit this type of activity whenever possible.

Finally, check out our guide on how to get out of credit card debt once and for all.


It’s possible to make good money from home taking online surveys. To help, we’ve assembled 21 of the best paid survey sites.

best paid survey sites

Have you been looking for an easy, low-lift way to make money online? Paid survey sites are a popular option. There are literally hundreds of these sites around, though not all of them are legitimate. Before we dive into the best paid survey sites, let’s talk about how and why these sites work and how to make the most of them.

Why Surveys are Paid

Companies, government organizations, and nonprofit are all interested in consumers’ needs and opinions. But they know getting those answers takes time on your part. So they pay market research companies to pay consumers for their opinions.

Sometimes the market research companies dole out these rewards in the form of cash. Other times, you get points that you can use to purchase prizes or gift cards. It’s a little like some credit card rewards programs, actually.

Typical surveys don’t pay much–just a few bucks per survey. But many only take a few minutes. I don’t know about you, but getting paid $5 for 15 minutes of not-very-difficult work–or $20 an hour–isn’t a bad deal in my book.

Making the Most of Paid Surveys

Filling out paid surveys will never be a full-time income. But it could be a tidy little side gig income that you can do in your free time. But before you can make decent money with this strategy, you need to know how. Here are our top tips:

  1. Don’t pay to join survey sites. There are plenty of legitimate survey sites out there. And those sites or apps will not ask you to pay for the privilege of taking surveys. So don’t pay to join, and don’t pay a third party to give you a list of sites. Just use our list below to get started.
  2. Sign up for a bunch of sites. This is key! Each survey site might run thousands of surveys per day. But they’ll only offer you a handful. That’s because companies are targeting certain demographics. If you don’t fit the target demographic, you won’t be able to take the survey. So sign up for at least five or ten survey sites to get offered more surveys per month.
  3. Don’t give out sensitive personal information. If a survey site asks for your Social Security number, skip it. Many will ask for your address, email address, and phone number. But if they’re asking for more personal information, that’s not a good sign.
  4. Use PayPal for quicker payment. Many of these sites let you cash in your rewards points for cash. The quickest and safest way to get that cash is with PayPal. So if you don’t already have one, sign up for a PayPal account.
  5. Fill out all the profile surveys. These sites will all start by asking you for a lot of demographic information. Fill it out as completely as possible. You may also get preliminary surveys from some companies asking for further demographic information. These can be boring. But the more you fill out, the more likely you are to qualify for future survey offers.
  6. Check your email often, and take all the surveys you can. Taking surveys quickly is important. Surveys have a specific quota, and you can’t get paid to take the survey after that quota is met. So set up email alerts so that you can take the surveys sooner rather than later.
  7. Find gaps in your schedule for taking surveys. Paid surveys aren’t a good replacement for other income options, so don’t fill them out on company time or when you could be making money otherwise. But do find times that are otherwise down time for filling out surveys. This might include riding the elevator to your office, waiting in your kid’s school pick-up line, or while you’re watching your evening television shows.

The Best Paid Survey Sites

Now that you know how to make the most of these survey sites, here are a bunch you should check out. These sites cater to varying types of companies and surveys. Sign up for several, and then you can eventually weed out the ones that don’t pay off for you.

  1. Swagbucks doesn’t just do surveys. It also lets you earn by watching videos and more. You earn Swagbucks points, which you can then use to enter sweepstakes or purchase gift cards. It’s one of the kings of the paid survey space because it makes earning extra money really easy.
  2. Inbox Dollars is another site with a survey component, but one that doesn’t just focus on surveys. One great things about InboxDollars is you can actually get your payments in cash.
  3. MyPoints lets you earn points with this site and app by watching videos, shopping online, and taking surveys. Then, use your points to get rewards like gift cards.
  4. MindSwarms is unique in that it requires you to take a video of yourself to start and to answer survey questions. This verifies that you really are in the demographic you claim to be part of. But the extra time is worth it, since you can earn $50 for answering seven-question surveys!
  5. eMiles is a little different because it offers reward points in the form of airline miles. Again, it gives you various options for earning, including shopping, signing up for free services, watching ads, and taking surveys.
  6. Opinion Outpost gives you rewards for each survey you answer, but also enters you into a $10,000 sweepstakes for each survey you complete.
  7. SurveySavvy focuses on online surveys. But you can also earn more rewards from referrals. When you refer others who take surveys, you’ll get points for their survey completion. You can also use Savvy Connect to get points for allowing the service to track your web browsing.
  8. Springboard America does consumer and also political research, so you might get some interesting surveys from this one. But you can also get thank you points or entries into contests to win cash and other rewards.
  9. Point Club offers a $5 sign up bonus, and offers points for surveys. It gives you more points for surveys with a very specific audience and surveys that are longer. You can cash in points for cash.
  10. Valued Opinions lets you take surveys for which you qualify, and then cash in points for gift cards. They offer gift cards to many great retailers, as well as some airline programs.
  11. Harris Poll is one of the older polling sites around. The site gives you points for most surveys, which you can cash in for a variety of rewards. You can also enter a sweepstakes after each survey you complete.
  12. Ipsos i-Say has a unique loyalty program that lets you earn additional points on top of those you earn for completing surveys. You’ll get bonus points for the number of surveys you take during the year. You could earn up to 600 bonus points!
  13. VIP Voice lets you earn rewards, which you can then use to enter sweepstakes or bid on auctions.
  14. Parent Speak is a unique survey site just for parents. It lets you earn rewards by participating in surveys, discussions, and polls. You can also get rewards for keeping diaries for research purposes, as well as other projects.
  15. OneOpinion offers quick payment, which is nice. It also may give you access to trying new products in exchange for your opinion on them.
  16. Pinecone Research lets you earn points, which you can cash in for gift cards, merchandise, and more.
  17. KidzEyes is a survey site just for kids ages six through 12. Kids can take one or two surveys per month. They get rewards for taking the surveys, and they can cash in those rewards for money.
  18. TeensEyes is similar to KidzEyes and is run by the same market research company. It’s for kids ages 13 to 18. Again, they can take one or two surveys per month in order to earn points, which they can use to get cash.
  19. Nielsen Digital Voice is run by one of the oldest market research companies in the U.S. You’ll get entered into the company’s sweepstakes just for installing and running their app. And you can earn additional cash rewards for participating in surveys.
  20. Global Test Market offers an average of $5 per survey, which is relatively high for this market. Their surveys usually take about 15 minutes.
  21. Toluna gives you the opportunity to now only get prizes or cash, but also to win test products in exchange for your survey opinion. The site also includes a unique community forum aspect that can be interesting.


Quicken online is gone. But there are plenty of great options. Here are the three best Quicken alternatives (and #1 is totally free).

quicken alternatives

Not all that long ago, Quicken was the leading giant in the personal financial planning market. It did everything you could want in a software. Then, Quicken one-upped itself by launching Quicken Online. Not all that long after, though, Quicken Online became obsolete. Here, we’ll talk about the history of Quicken Online, and talk about today’s best Quicken alternatives.

What Was Quicken Online?

Quicken software was created way back when people still used MS-DOS. (To the under-thirty crowd, you don’t even want to know!) It was built on a database structure. This make it a good option for managing complicated financial systems. But it also made cross-platform compatibility difficult. So Intuit, Quicken’s creating company, had to keep coming up with new models.

And, in fact, they still do. Quicken software is still a great option if you want a robust way to manage your personal or business finances. But it wasn’t doing what millennials wanted it to do.

This is why by back in 2007, Intuit launched Quicken Online. The tool was meant to help “young and responsible” individuals manage cash flow. At the time, the data seemed to say that the most pressing question for younger earners was whether or not they could actually pay the bills. So Quicken Online didn’t begin by tracking investments and other long-term goals. Instead, it focused on tracking checking, savings, and credit card transactions.

Intuit could have made a major misstep here by simply moving their old-school database-style software online. But that’s not what they did.

One of Quicken Online’s major differences was the fact that it did not track investments, which Quicken software users had come to expect. But it also made tracking everyday spending much easier.

At the time, financial software that actually synced with your bank accounts was a new concept. So Quicken Online jumped on that bandwagon early. You could connect your checking account directly to Quicken Online, and it would automatically import your transactions.

That’s not something unusual today, of course. But in 2007, it was still a pretty new concept.

What about the problem of uncashed checks? Today, that’s not as much of an issue. I, for one, use checks for only two or three monthly bills. But in 2007, I was still writing checks pretty often. So Quicken Online allowed users to manually enter written but unposted checks. Then, it calculated your actual account balance based on these numbers.

This was a great solution for those up-and-coming professionals struggling with day-to-day cash flow!

Quicken Online also helped people become more aware of their overall financial situation. For instance, new users would get a list of recurring bills suggested from their previous 90 days’ worth of transactions in each connected account. Then, users could set up bill reminders.

Quicken Online’s interface was sleek and user-friendly for the time, though today it would feel clunky and out of date. But it still gave users a quick way to get insight into their spending, saving, and other financial patterns.

Quicken Online screenshot

Quicken Online also acted in an app-like way for iPhone users, specifically. These users could log into their account to view their updated balances and five latest transactions in each account. With transactions downloaded nightly, the feature is a far cry from the to-the-minute financial insight today’s apps offer. But it was still pretty high-tech for a decade ago!

Finally, Quicken Online eventually rolled out an online bill paying option. This was meant to help users manage short-term cash flow and to make their online bill paying easier. And Intuit, of course, tied Quicken Online into its TurboTaxOnline products, as well.

So What Happened to Quicken Online?

In short, it seems that other platforms were quicker to innovate than Intuit. They offered consumers better options than Quicken Online, and for cheaper. So in 2009, Intuit announced its $170 million acquisition of the still-popular financial management platform

Quicken then moved its Quicken Online users over to, which was already a well-functioning platform for the most part. It did not go well. Quicken customers weren’t happy to lose their data, and the change was a frustrating one.

With that said, still consistently ranks in the top ten lists for personal financial management software options. It’s in my personal top three!

In more recent history, Intuit has been trying hard to preserve Quicken, which was overshadowed by its more popular products, QuickBooks and TurboTax. But many consumers still benefit from using on a regular basis.

What Other Options Are There?

If you are looking for a review for Quicken Online, you may be a bit disappointed. It just doesn’t exist anymore. But don’t despair! There are many excellent money management tools online these days. Here are the top three to consider:

Personal Capital

Want a tool that accounts for everyday spending but has a heavier focus on long-term financial planning? Personal Capital may be exactly what you’re looking for. Like Mint, it features a user-friendly, image-driven interface. And like Mint, it syncs with your existing accounts to bring in data automatically.

Unlike Mint, though, Personal Capital has always had a heavy focus on investments. It helps you keep track of your net worth, and it also offers a variety of advising tools. For instance, you can use the investment checkup tool to find out your current asset allocation compared with Personal Capital’s suggested allocation. You can read our full review of this tool here.

It’s no surprise that took over the Quicken Online space pretty quickly. And it’s evolved quite a lot since I started using it back in 2010. Back then, the syncing of transactions was sometimes sketchy, and users had now way to track financial goals or investments. These days, things are different.

Mint isn’t just for tracking your cash flow. You can also use it to set up financial goals for the near and long term. And you can automatically import your investment information to keep an eye on that piece of your finances. In short, it’s a comprehensive, visually-driven financial management tool that’s an excellent replacement for the older Quicken tool. Check out our full review here.

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

Of these three tools, YNAB is the weakest when it comes to the visual interface. With that said, it’s still very user-friendly. It is based on a different type of financial management. One that focuses on using last month’s cash for this month’s spending. This is an excellent way to build more financial stability into your life.

YNAB imports transactions when you tell it to, but it does so fairly cleanly. It lets you categorize transactions and set goals. One of its unique features is that it tells you how old your money is. The longer your money sits in your checking account, the older it is. And that’s a good thing!

Not sure which of these options will work best for you? Get our breakdown of the best budget tools here.


The best meal plan services don’t have to be expensive. Here are the best and cheapest meal plan delivery services.

best meal plan services

We’re all busy these days. And that sometimes translates into too much eating out. Or maybe for you it means meal-planning burnout. In an effort to save mental energy, you just make the save handful of meals week in and week out.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

Luckily, the internet abounds with meal planning options. I’m not talking about the actual delivery services here. These are services that give you a menu each week and the grocery list you need to complete that menu.

These services are a good balance for busy people who still want to live on a budget. Even the cheapest meal delivery services average around $10 per person per meal. In my book, that’s actually a lot to spend on dinner!

Using a meal planning service, instead, you can save by shopping for the groceries yourself. But you can get away from the same old dinner routine, as well.

With all that said, here are the four cheapest meal plan services I’ve found. In this list, I looked at both the cost of the actual service, as well as the cost of the planned meals.

$5 Meal Plan

Created by the blogger who started the blog Five Dollar Dinners, this meal plan sends you super-cheap menus each week. Each meal plan comes with the recipes for five dinner entrees with sides, plus one lunch and one breakfast idea. There’s also a random goodie each week. This could include a dessert, a beverage, or a snack.

Each meal is marked with one or more icons. These stand for 20-minute meal, freezer-friendly, slow cooker meal, one-dish dinner, chop ahead, or make ahead. The symbols make it easy for you to rearrange your dinners according to what you have going on during the week. Every menu includes at least one slow cooker meal, one 20-minute meal, and one freezer-friendly meal.

Another option with your membership is to use the drag-and-drop meal planner. This planner features cheap recipes from the blog, but lets you customize your own meal plan. As with the pre-made meal plan, the meal planner will build your shopping list for you, too.

  • Cost: $5/month
  • Cost of Meals: $2/serving or less
  • Best Parts: The best part of this meal plan is just how cheap it is! You can potentially serve your entire family a meal that costs less than $5.
  • Drawbacks: Unlike some of the other plans featured here, this one doesn’t allow for a lot of customization. They now offer limited specialized meal plans, including paleo and vegetarian. But these are six-week meal plans and aren’t guaranteed to be as cheap as the standard meal plan.


This service is similar to $5 Meal Plan, with a few key differences. For one thing, it offers a much larger variety of plan options, but most aren’t focused solely on being cheap. It’s also a more expensive option. But on the other hand, it has two meal size options. The smaller one serves two to three adults, and the larger one serves four to six adults.

eMeals has a number of great meal plan options, including Clean Eating, Paleo, Quick and Healthy, Low Carb, Low Calorie, Portion Control, Slow Cooker, Classic, Budget Friendly, Gluten Free, and Diabetic. If you’re on a specific type of diet, this is probably the meal-planning service for you. You can only access one meal plan at a time, but you can switch between plans whenever you’d like.

My family has been using the two to three person Paleo meal plan while my husband and I do a Whole30. It’s enough to serve the two of us and our 6-year-old and 1-year-old. Sometimes we have leftovers if the side is super filling. We aren’t saving a ton of money on groceries, but we also haven’t significantly increased our frugal-ish $150 per week, even while on the Whole30. Since the Whole30 is notorious for busting grocery budgets, I’m going to call that a win.

  • Cost: $29.99/three months or $59.99/year
  • Cost of Meals: Varies with meal plan, but budget options are available
  • Best Parts: The huge variety of meal plans makes this one a winner in my book. You can also add in additional meal plans if certain family members have specific needs or preferences.
  • Drawbacks: It’s slightly more expensive unless you pay annually, and it provides seven meals per week. For my family, this means actually weeding out items on the provided grocery list, since we don’t cook full meals at home every single night of the week.


This site is unique in that it lets you build your own weekly menu out of categories of meals that revolve each Thursday. When you log in on a Thursday, you can choose recipes from several categories, including Simple Gourmet, Quick, Kid-Friendly, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free. You can customize individual recipes to suit 2, 4, 6, or 8 eaters, and choose your sides separately. Once you set your menu, Relish will generate your shopping list.

I can see this level of customization being really helpful if, for instance, your kids aren’t with you every night of the week. Choose kid-friendly meals for four when they’re with you, and gourmet meals for two when they aren’t.

It could also be helpful for those who host frequently. We typically have friends over for dinner at least once a week. That’s been one of my frustrations with eMeals. It’s hard to automatically scale up our amounts for just those nights when we’re hosting.

  • Cost: $8/month, $21.70/3 months, $78/year (there is also a free plan with fewer features)
  • Cost of Meals: Depends on plan, but puts you largely in control each week
  • Best Parts: I love how customizable this one is. That’ll make it worth the extra few bucks a month if the group around your dining room table is constantly changing!
  • Drawbacks: This is a slightly more expensive option, too, and it doesn’t seem to have a menu on hand that’s specifically low-budget.

Plan to Eat

What if you already have a decent bank of recipes your family likes, but you just hate pulling them together into a weekly menu? Then Plan to Eat may be the best option for you. It lets you create a virtual recipe book of recipes from anywhere on the web. Each week or month, you can drag and drop the recipes onto your calendar-based planner. Then, Plan to Eat will make your grocery list for you.

I love this idea because it means you can use the recipes you already know that you like. You can also see your grocery list on your phone, which would be helpful for my family’s grocery shopping routine. The calendar-based planning is helpful, too, so that you can easily plan around certain events or rhythms.

  • Cost: $4.95/month
  • Cost of Meals: Depends on what meals you use
  • Best Parts: If you have picky eaters or already know what meals your family loves, this is a great app to try. It’ll help you build in some variety without veering away from the food you know your family will eat. It’s also the cheapest option in our roundup.
  • Drawbacks: This service isn’t automated enough for me. Plus, it looks like you’ll be stuck with the serving sizes of the meals in your menu, which could be limiting.


The Best Term Life Insurance Companies

by Abby Hayes

There can be a lot to consider when shopping for life insurance. Cost and ease of application might sway your initial decision but does that make it the best choice? When it comes to life insurance, things seem so complicated that you may not feel like shopping around. Maybe you just take the policy your […]

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7 Budgeting Apps to Help You Manage Your Money

by Abby Hayes

The best budgeting software can make managing your money easy and dare I say enjoyable. Here are our top picks for budgeting apps. When you’re constantly on the go, getting a handle on your finances can be tough. You may not have time to sit in front of your desktop or laptop, or to deal […]

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A 60-Second Guide to Term Life Insurance

by Abby Hayes

So you’re looking for information on term life insurance? You’ve come to the right place! Here’s your quick and not-so-dirty guide to term life insurance: what it is, how it works, why you need it, how much it costs, and how to buy it. What is Term Life Insurance? Term life insurance is a little […]

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How Mint Can Revolutionize Your Budget

by Abby Hayes

When it comes to budgeting, life has never been easier. Today, you don’t have to revert to an old-fashioned spreadsheet or pen and paper. (But go for it, if that’s your jam!) Instead, budgeters have access to a huge variety of apps and websites, including one of my favorites: Mint has been in the […]

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33 of the Best Work From Home Jobs (That Are Legitimate)

by Abby Hayes
work from home jobs

A reader recently wrote in asking about part-time, work from home jobs. After all, wouldn’t it be great to bring some extra money in without worrying about a commute, needing to find childcare, or having it interfere with your other job(s)? So we put together this list of some of the best work from jobs […]

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A New Bank of America Perk: Free Museum Passes

by Abby Hayes

Bank of America has a long history of supporting the arts through philanthropy and raising awareness. But they’re stepping up their game in 2017 with their Museums on Us program. This program allows qualifying Bank of America members to get into local museums for free on certain weekends, through the rest of this year! Here […]

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