Are You a Chronic Underearner?

Hey guys! Got an interesting email this morning from a new reader of the site:

“Hello J. Money – My name is Zack* and I am a chronic Under Earner. I am using a 12 step Recovery program to learn to value myself, my time and money. Regards.”

I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not, haha, but I thought it was pretty clever regardless :) So I wrote him back congratulating him on being ready to fix the situation, and then promptly hit up Google of course to answer my own question.

And guess what? It’s real!

About Underearners Anonymous

Similar to Debtors Anonymous (which we blogged about earlier last year), this one officially goes by Underearners Anonymous and can be found at

Here’s their take on underearning:

Underearning is many things, not all of which are about money. While the most visible consequence is the inability to provide for one’s needs, including future needs, underearning is also about the inability to fully acknowledge and express our capabilities and competencies. It is about underachieving, or under-being, no matter how much money we make.

According to Wikipedia, members of UA sometimes refer to themselves as “time drunks” because they have a propensity to fritter away their time in useless activities, rather than pursuing constructive goals. (Totally stealing that term – so descriptive!)

Here are all the symptoms of underearning UA lays out (paraphrased):

  1. Time Indifference – putting important stuff off and not using time effectively to further your own vision and goals
  2. Idea Deflection – compulsively rejecting ideas that could expand your lives or careers and increase profitability
  3. Compulsive Need to Prove – even though you’ve demonstrated competence at your job/biz
  4. Clinging to Useless Possessions – holding onto possessions that no longer serve your needs
  5. Exertion/Exhaustion – habitually overworking, becoming exhausted, then under-working or ceasing to work completely
  6. Giving Away Our Time – compulsively volunteering for various causes or giving away your services free of charge without any clear benefit
  7. Undervaluing and Under-pricing – undervaluing your abilities and services and fearing to ask for increased compensation or for what the market will bear
  8. Isolation – choosing to work alone when it might serve you better to have co-workers, associates, or employees.
  9. Physical Ailments – sometimes out of fear of being larger or exposed
  10. Misplaced Guilt or Shame – feeling unease when asking for (or given,) what you need or owed
  11. Not Following Up – not following up on opportunities, leads, or jobs that could prove profitable. You begin many projects and tasks but often do not complete them.
  12. Stability Boredom – creating unnecessary conflict with co-workers, supervisors and clients, which generate problems that result in financial distress

underearners anonymous logoYou can see a lot of those in your own life I bet, huh? I know I can. I’m about 50% on 5-6 of them for sure. You’d need to relate to a majority of them however to be truly diagnosed with underachieving I’d bet. Though it’s always good to recognize your short comings so you can start working them out!

Here’s where I stand:

  1. Time Indifference – I always get my stuff done, but I tend to maintain over build, and usually wait until the last minute to knock out the important stuff. I spend a lot of time on “the little things” vs. the stuff that will either grow my projects faster or bring me tons more money  – especially on the latter.  I should be making a lot more off this blog than I do, but I can’t bring myself to do it (though, admittedly, a lot of it is lame and would feel like selling my soul…). Does this make me a “time buzzer” vs drunk? ;)
  2. Idea Deflection – I used to give up before I even started, but mostly just ‘cuz the old me was lazy as hell :) I didn’t have that “fire” you need to really go out there and make $hit happen so I just let my ideas fly out of my head… Not so much anymore.
  3. Compulsive Need to Prove – Every now and then I’ll feel bad for myself and feel like I suck and need a quick compliment or to repeat something that was just as successful as the last thing, but I’m getting better at not taking myself as seriously anymore. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re grateful for how far you’ve come already :)
  4. Clinging to Useless Possessions – Not anymore, baby! The Craigslist Rule is still in full effect!
  5. Exertion/Exhaustion – I’m always working to exhaustion, though I guess a part of that could be NOT SLEEPING AT NIGHT due to our 10 mo old hating sleep, ugh… I still work way to hard than I should be I feel like though. Probably ties in to the “time indifference” one.
  6. Giving Away Our Time – I give away a handful of hours every week responding to questions about money or blogging and all types of things which doesn’t pay, but I also feel like it’s all a part of the game. And while it does get super time consuming, it is nice when you hit “send” and know you’ve just helped someone out. I do need to get back into the habit of saying “no” though since my time has been cut drastically with the appearance of baby #2…
  7. Undervaluing and Under-pricing – I def. do this, especially with money and blog coaching. I used to do it for free, then started charging $25/session, then $50, and now in the $75-$100 range but it took me 2 years to move it up and finally get comfortable with it. I will say though that my clients seem to take it much more seriously the more they pay which is good!
  8. Isolation – I do work by myself at home even when I’d rather not, but every now and then I get good about getting outside and chillin’ in coffee shops to do work too. What I really need is one of those co-sharing work spaces!
  9. Physical Ailments – Nah, not outside some back pains here and there from forgetting to take breaks or go on walks (best activity ever on a work day!)
  10. Misplaced Guilt or Shame – I do hate it when I’m making less than I used to, like how it is currently, but I remind myself of the overall plan and mission and try my best to not get all “woe is me” up in here. It’s hard to blame yourself when you were the only ones making the decision! :)
  11. Not Following Up – I’m usually good at this, outside of turning down well-paying offers…
  12. Stability Boredom – I couldn’t cause trouble with anyone even if I tried :)

Naturally, they have a 12-step program as well. Some of it I can’t relate to, but then again I’m not in the position many of these people are who could greatly use the support system. We should all be so lucky!

I did like a few of their tools and ideas though:

(Quoted directly off their tools page)

  • Time Recording – We must be conscious of how we spend our time. We keep a written record to increase awareness and support our focus on goals and the actions required to achieve them.
  • Possession Consciousness – We routinely discard what no longer serves us in order to foster a belief that life is plentiful and that we will be able to provide ourselves with what we need.
  • Goals Pages – We set goals for all aspects of our lives, write them down, measure our progress and reward achievement.
  • Action Partner – We connect regularly with action partners regarding earning concerns in order to provide each other with accountability, continuity, and support.
  • Solvency – We do not debt one day at a time. Debting leads to underearning.
  • Savings – Saving money demonstrates faith in the future and acceptance of the fact that money is a tool vital to our prosperous vision. We create and follow a savings plan on whatever scale we are able.

All of which is great for personal finances (and life) in general! Tracking time/money, being careful of what “stuff” you’re bringing into the house, setting goals, having accountability partners, setting (and measuring) your goals, NOT GOING INTO DEBT, and getting into the habit of saving.

Yes, yes, and more yes.

I can get down with you, U.A. :) And now really appreciate how fortunate I am to not need you too! Something good to stop and reflect on today…

Anyways, big ups to Zack for inspiring this post and taking action himself to get to this blog. I hope you successfully make it to overachieving! Actually, that’s probably not all that healthy for you either.

More info on Underearners Anonymous:
More info on Debtors Anonymous:
More info on Shopaholics Anonymous (also real thing!):

*Name edited for privacy… but speaking of Zacks, y’all see the Saved by The Bell Reunion? ;)

FYI: Our friend Zack also recommends the book “Overcoming Underearning: A Five-Step Plan to a Richer Life” by Barbara Stanny, if anyone finds themselves searching for answers or not ready to do the whole U.A. thing yet.

[To you bloggers reading this – the reason I got this email? I’ve included a question in my auto-response email when people sign up to my newsletter that asks them how they found me :) And it’s amazing how many new friends you make and where they’re all coming from! Highly advise incorporating it yourself if you like this sorta thing… been making blogging so much more delightful.]

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  1. Revanche March 13, 2015 at 5:18 AM

    Ok I didn’t expect to have any items to relate to on that list from my hard-charging career days but lo and behold, I do too :) Just goes to show there’s always something to be learnt from everyone, right?
    I’ve gotten MUCH better at stopping Time Indifference but I’m a Chronic Compulsive Need to Prover. I’m surrounded by dudes in my job and the only way to stay the MVP is to keep ahead of some pretty strong performers. It seems to be related to the possibly more well known Imposter Syndrome which I know a lot of folks have.
    I have a bone to pick with #9, though, it implies that you have a CHOICE about physical ailments. As Abby from ipickuppennies can also attest, neither of us have a choice about our physical crap that we deal with. We have a choice about how we deal with it but not whether or not to have them! Because for *sure* I would be choosing NOT to have them! And file the exhaustion bit under the same heading as well, like you, my kid hates sleep. Or hates me sleeping. Grrr!

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:12 PM

      Oh man, Imposter Syndrome gets me all the time. At *least* once a week. Such a weird thing, right?

      1. Revanche March 14, 2015 at 6:54 PM

        It is weird! And it’s a little weirder that you have it, of all people ;) But I completely understand. One major thing I’ve achieved in my offline professional life is that I mostly eliminated this and can say with a totally straight face that I’m damn awesome at my job and anyone would be lucky to have me. hah :)

  2. Mrs. Frugalwoods March 13, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    There’s a lot of good advice wrapped up in there! I’m not necessarily an underearner, but I definitely identify with a few of those characteristics. The idea of a goals page is such a great idea. Without defined goals, I have a really hard time staying motivated and focused on the future. And, I agree with you, all of those steps can be applied with a personal finance lens… All in all, sounds like a helpful program!

  3. Emma | Money Can Buy Me Happiness March 13, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    Yep – I’m guilty of this! Especially under-charging. I recently raised my hourly rate by $10 per hour and thought my client would freak out. They said nothing. Makes me think I’ve been too cheap all along!

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:13 PM

      That’s when you keep upping it a little over time until you find the perfect threshold :) (Says the guy who sucks at raising his own rates!)

  4. Debtless in Texas March 13, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Not a chronic underearner, but I do like a lot of the advice that they have for recovery. Thankfully, I married my goals and actions partner already – so several of these steps we already did without even knowing about it. Of course, staying out of debt is always good advice.

    It might be an interesting experiment to keep a time log and see what our daily lives look like in black and white.

  5. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 13, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    The maintaining over building is a really easy trap to fall into. Undercharging is always a risk too, especially as you’re starting out working freelance or self-employed, you just want to work!

  6. Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents March 13, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    Not a chronic underearner at least in terms of my primary job, though this helps put into perspective that I should be using the same energy and verve with my side gigs if I ever want to see them succeed.

  7. Gil March 13, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Well there ya go, I guess I’m an underearner and I didn’t even know it! Not all 12 symptoms apply but yeah, still, pretty much fits the bill (especially 4, 5, 6, and 7).

    It’s interesting that UA also utilizes the religious component of AA, i.e. referencing a “higher power,” “loving God,” etc. God and money, money and God…is the UA model right? Is the key to financial success “turning over our will” to God? Or learning from blogs like this one? (Not trying to start a religious war here! I think this is an honest question :D)

    BTW J. Money – sorry to hear that the 10-mo kid is anti-sleep. We sleep-trained our little girl (12-mo as of this week!) – it was hard as hell on us (emotionally) at first but now all three of us reap the benefits (of a full night’s sleep). Kind of like making, and sticking to, a budget………………….. :D

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:17 PM

      I’m glad she’s sleeping now!! We’ve done sleep-training three different times, which have ALL worked!, but then right after he gets sick and it sets him back and then we’re at the bottom again, ugh… The past few days he’s miraculously been much better than before though, so maybe he’s sloooowly about to grow out of it??

      (And you’re right – they definitely have a huge religious component to this just like AA and the others. As a Catholic myself I kinda like it in there, but I know it’ll turn away others who might have otherwise been helped. So it’s a tough one…)

      1. Gil March 15, 2015 at 8:08 AM

        Oooooh yeah, this is our first kid but I’ve seen with her – and every other habit that we try to develop in life – the hardest part seems to be “getting back on the wagon,” so to speak, after we’ve “fallen off.” She’s actually sick right now and refusing to go to sleep, I totally hear you about the set back.

        I’m not necessarily turned off by the religious component per se. I wonder how much this particular religious idea translates from problems with addiction to problems with earning. Maybe you see something here that I’m just missing (not enough coffee) – aren’t surrendering responsibility to a higher power and taking responsibility for one’s finances, at odds with each other?

        1. J. Money March 18, 2015 at 10:29 PM

          It does sound contradictory, doesn’t it? It can surely work together though. I very much believe in God myself and know I’ll be taken care of, but I still go and *make it happen* at the same time.

          Reminds me of that old moral/joke:


          A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

          Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”

          The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”

          So the rowboat went on.

          Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”

          To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

          So the motorboat went on.

          Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”

          To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

          So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

          Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

          To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

  8. Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 13, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    I’m guilty of #1 myself. There are times i just get lazy and would rather veg out watching TV. Sometimes I give in, knowing I need a break. But other times I trick myself. I say I’ll work for just 15 minutes because that will get me that much closer to getting the project done. Then I can veg out. But I always get motivated and caught up during those 15 minutes and end up working for a few hours.

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:17 PM

      YES! Haha… I do that trick too – it’s a brilliant one!

      Might have to blog about that – Dibs! :)

  9. Talaat @ His and Her Money March 13, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    Time indifference is a huge one for me. I’ve had the toughest time trying to properly manage my time between my day job and blogging and at times have let it get the best of me. I really like the idea of tracking my time to help get a better understanding. Heck, we give people the advice to track their spending to help them create a budget for their finances. It makes since to track time to budget and allocate my time wisely as well.

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:18 PM

      Exactly. I’ve done it here and there and always surprised at the findings too. Just so hard to keep up! (Just like w/ budgeting at times, eh?)

  10. Dr. Sheba March 13, 2015 at 9:11 AM

    So interesting that this exists. I tell you, there’s something for everyone. I definitely have a few of those symptoms. Great post. I will definitely bookmark it to make sure I stay on track.

  11. Kim @ Money Under the Cushions March 13, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    This is powerful stuff, J$. Not at all what I was expecting to read and an eye opener. I’m going to reflecting on a good number of these and taking action to change. I love it when something prods me out of complacency. Keeps things interesting. Have a great weekend.

  12. John D. Rockefeller March 13, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    Hey if you check out my site, I’ve just posted a similar article on how to get a pay rise and feeling undervalued at work. I think you guys could be interested in reading it if you find this article by J good!

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:19 PM

      I like the blog name :)

  13. Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich March 13, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    Really happy for Zack. I’m going to have to check out the book for my readers (and maybe a little bit for myself.)

    One free ebook I’d suggest for freelancers who want to up their earnings is Breaking the Time Barrier by FreshBooks. It really helped me up my pricing and showcase my proposals in a way that I’m getting paid much more now than I had before.

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:20 PM

      Great! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Steve Kobrin March 13, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    What a great find! Most of the people in the workforce are underearners. I’m a big one for giving away my time. But one should have somewhat of a service ethic, no? Not all our time really has to be monetized, does it?

  15. FI Investor March 13, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    Very interesting! I found alot of value in this article thanks for sharing!

  16. John @ Frugal Rules March 13, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    I’m definitely guilty of a few of these myself, especially with regards to time. I started working with a list several years ago otherwise I can get off track too easily and wonder where my time went. As it turns out, I’m just OCD enough to do what I can to get everything on my list done each day. ;) As for the undercharging, we still struggle with that in our business but have gotten to the point that if they complain about it, or anything like that, that we just don’t work with them – and 90+% of the time nothing is ever said if we raise rates.

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:21 PM

      It’s sometimes more fun to turn down the toxic people than it is to make that $$ haha…

  17. Mel March 13, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    I love the “time drunk” phrase. I’m pretty compulsive about getting stuff done NOW, but if it doesn’t happen quickly… I definitely think I get time drunk and feel like time starts to lose meaning and it’ll just magically get somehow, in time.

  18. Kayla @ Everything Finance March 13, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    Interesting. I guess I have some of those same symptoms myself… Thanks for sharing!

  19. Dividend Mantra March 13, 2015 at 1:29 PM


    “Time indifference”. I’ve never heard of that before, but that’s a pretty interesting concept. I’m guilty of it like a lot of others, especially now that I work online/from home. I’ll sometimes spend an hour or more with just useless/random browsing around the internet. It’s not uncommon for me to not even know where the time went after ending up deeper down the rabbit hole reading about all kinds of stuff that leads to other stuff. I’d keep a log of it, but I guess I don’t really mind it or feel the need to change/improve it. Gotta spend your time on something, and I don’t really mind all the reading. I think sometimes we’re all guilty of trying to improve/change to the point to where it’s diminishing returns or perhaps moving in the wrong direction. Nothing wrong with wasting time here and there. Being 100% productive 100% of the time sounds incredibly boring to me. :)

    Best regards!

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:22 PM

      Hah – agreed. I don’t even know if that’s possible? 100% productive 100% of the time?

  20. Tawcan March 13, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    Don’t think I’m an underearner but maybe I share some of the characteristics that you listed. Definitely need to look into how to break away from these characteristics.

  21. MJ March 13, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    The Barbara Stanny book changed my life. I read a random page of it almost every day. I worked through it with a trusted friend, and thing have really improved. I knew there was a 12 step program, too, and I think it’s all completely helpful. Thanks for the post about it!

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:23 PM

      Oh wow, really?? That is so cool! I hadn’t heard of it before but I guess it’s a known one!

  22. Brian @ Debt Discipline March 13, 2015 at 7:41 PM

    Seems like there is an Anonymous organization for just about everything. Which is a good thing because it mean you’re not alone and help available! I’m not an underearner, just like in an area that overexpensive. :)

  23. Donna Freedman March 13, 2015 at 11:46 PM

    It can be very difficult to put a dollar amount on your time. (Ask me how I know…!) What ISN’T difficult, unfortunately, is giving away too much of our time; as you noted, we have to learn to say “no” and mean it.
    I’m getting better at both those things, but it still isn’t easy.
    How interesting that this organization exists. Thanks for letting us know.

  24. Shannon @ Financially Blonde March 14, 2015 at 1:15 PM

    SO much great info here!! But I really love your suggestion about the follow up question for people who sign up for your newsletter. I get people signing up for mine all the time and I ALWAYS wonder how they found me and why they chose to sign up.

    1. J. Money March 14, 2015 at 5:24 PM

      Put it in there girl! Met 8 or 9 new people this week alone, it’s really fun :)

  25. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank March 14, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    Time is really my problem. I procrastinate most of the time and this results in not doing what I have planned, making me an UE. I’m really guilty not only this but also the others like isolation.

  26. Ben Luthi March 14, 2015 at 8:52 PM

    Cool stuff! I’m glad there are support groups like that out there. Also, I thought our 6-week-old son was bad, waking up every hour and a half at night. Hopefully your son is better than that!

    1. J. Money March 15, 2015 at 3:21 PM

      It’s only scary if they’re continuing to do it after that initial birth period :) I pray yours is good in a couple more months!

  27. Lil' VEE March 14, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    Fascinating read – thank you for sharing this!

  28. Beth Anne March 15, 2015 at 12:06 AM

    Wow this is FASCINATING! I agree I bet most people do a few of these in some capacity.

    I belong to a co-work office and enjoy going there a few days a month. I just wish it was in a better location and had free parking LOL.

    1. J. Money March 15, 2015 at 3:13 PM

      Love co-working spaces! Great way to stay connected with people while self-employed :)

  29. Jeremy March 15, 2015 at 5:46 AM

    Fantastic thought. I will share this to my family and friends. Thanks for sharing this post. Great!

  30. Jason March 15, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    I would have to say that I suffer from some of these things. Although I have a conventional job (well it is unconventional) I do some side gigs because I have over 25 years of public speaking experience over 15 years of training public speakers. However, I undercharge for my services. I know I could charge more, but for whatever reason I don’t raise my rates. I think part of it is because I don’t do a lot of seminars or individual sessions so it is hard to judge what my time is worth. And I blame my father. My dad has this habit of just giving things away he makes or builds. My father makes his own syrup, grows his own vegetables in a huge garden, and a lot of woodworking, but he doesn’t take a dime for any of that stuff. He has always just given it away. I appreciate that he is really generous with his time and the like and my parents have a very secure retirement, but I do wish sometimes he got a bit more in return for his time.

    1. J. Money March 15, 2015 at 3:18 PM

      Yeah, seems like there’s some happy medium there, right? Maybe he’s like those artists that when money comes into the picture “it gets weird” so avoiding it altogether keeps him happy and on the mission? Pretty bad ass about your public speaking stuff. That’s one area I wish I really enjoyed to help grow all my online stuff.

  31. Prudence Debtfree March 15, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    Wow! I had no idea that this organization existed. The symptom that jumped out at me was “Not following through.” I’ve become very aware of this trait in myself. For me, the key is to narrow down my “to-do” list to very specific items instead of having a generalized, infinite list. One thing done well is so much better than 10 things thought-of and barely started.

    1. J. Money March 15, 2015 at 3:47 PM

      A hard one (but incredible one!) to master :)

  32. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar March 16, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    Yikes. I definitely go through phases of this. Every time I’m playing a game on my cell phone and realize it I feel gross. It’s not worth it and there’s too many fun things to do instead!

    1. J. Money March 16, 2015 at 12:18 PM

      This is why I don’t have games on my cell phone. Or a personal facebook page for that matter :) Distractions that usually never add value to me.

  33. Konfused Ken March 16, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    Hey man, thanks for posting this! Sounds like an interesting group. Wish I had found it years ago, before frittering away so much of my life.

    A couple comments, (based on other comments):

    1. As far as the “Higher Power” component goes, maybe it’s because I’m a good bit older than most of y’all, (at least I assume so!), but eventually you realize that this is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of any 12 step program, and any well lived life, for that matter. Lacking a moral purpose, our rationality can lead to Stalin and Robespierre.

    2. Having TWO KIDS is insanely more difficult than having one, as you are no doubt discovering. Or maybe your experience is different? Nah ….. I doubt it.

    1. J. Money March 18, 2015 at 10:23 PM

      Two is definitely harder! I thought I had it down pat w/ #1 but boy was I wrong… at least we’re still one-on-one coverage here ;)

  34. The Money Spot March 17, 2015 at 9:01 AM

    I hate to admit it but I think I can relate to some of your points! I think I can still have a lot more improvement in my career once I get over them. Thanks for sharing this!

  35. Mistress Susan March 17, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    Zack, thanks for sharing. I attended my first meeting today. I attended the underearning meeting for writers, and it was very awesome. It was very supportive. I will continue to attend every week. I love the fact that they have meetings depending on what your goals are, which allows you to interact with people who are where you are and working to get where you are trying to get.

    1. J. Money March 18, 2015 at 10:24 PM

      That is fascinating – I didn’t know that! Helluva good idea!


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