Bonus Deductions

Dear, Anita,

I just got a year-end holiday bonus check and I’m grateful, but confused. The amount taken out for taxes seems way too high. It seems to be a greater percentage than my usual paycheck deductions. What’s up with that?

Dear, Bob Cratchitt,money

Oh, joy! Oh… wait! I hear this concern about bonus checks often. Uncle Scrooge… excuse me, Uncle Sam may be to blame. The IRS views bonuses (as well as commissions, overtime, even things like employer-paid moving expenses) as “supplemental wages.” Employers may use either a flat 25% withholding rate or an aggregate method. The aggregate method combines the bonus amount with the most recent regular wage paycheck. Then, the normal withholding amount based on IRS tables is determined for the total of both amounts. Your payroll department subtracts what was already withheld from your last paycheck and withholds the rest from the bonus amount.

The aggregate method, while more cumbersome, is actually the more accurate method of determining your actual tax liability. Pay now or pay later – April 15th, to be exact. (Not-so-fun fact: the average American works the first 111 days of the year – or to just past Tax Day – to pay their taxes.) The good news is that if the withholding at the higher rate was actually too much, you’ll be refunded when you file your tax returns.

Man doing his accounting, financial adviser workingSpecial rules apply to bonuses of $1 million or more (don’t you wish you had that “problem?”), and they are bumped into the 39.6% withholding rate.

Before you go out to spend your anticipated bonus, use the AmCheck Flat-Rate or Aggregate Bonus Calculator. Remember, in addition to the federal taxes, bonuses are also subject to withholding for Social Security, Medicare, and any state and local taxes.

Readers: Did you get a holiday or year-end bonus this year? What are your plans for the windfall?

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No Payroll Deductions
Keeping Employees’ Spirits Bright
Developing Employees with a Business Owner Mentality

Dear Santa, I Want This Job to Become Permanent

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been looking for work for a while, and have an opportunity for a temporary job during the holiday season. If I take it, is there any possibility I can stay on after the season ends?Santa List

Yes, Virginia,

Christmas comes but once a year, and so do some seasonal jobs, most notably in retail and shipping. To lengthen the traditional 12 days of Christmas employment into 365, follow this list and check it twice.

  • Show up on time or – gasp! – a few minutes early for each and every shift. It’s a sad fact, but punctuality is noticed by managers because of the severe lack of it these days.
  • Don’t be a clock-watcher. If you are in the middle of helping a customer or an assigned task when the end of your shift rolls around, finish up before clocking out.
  • Be flexible with your schedule. You’ll endear yourself to your supervisor if you volunteer for night and weekend shifts and offer to cover for the inevitable no-shows.
  • Learn from the full-timers. Get to know the permanent employees, and pick up tips from those in the trenches all year long. Maintain friendly relations with all coworkers.
  • Be self-motivated and willing to do anything asked of you. Managers appreciate employees who don’t need constant reminders and supervision to get the assigned tasks done.Red_Shirt_Worker_Small
  • Do your best. Some seasonal employees do just enough to get by. Doing even more than asked will make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. If you can keep a smile on your face during this hectic season, you’ll be seen as someone easy to work with year-round.
  • Make your wish known. Be sure your supervisor is aware that you are interested in staying on after the holidays – preferably after you’ve just gotten positive feedback or an “Atta Girl” from said supervisor.

Once you get hired on a permanent basis, January will become your most wonderful time of the year.

Readers: Have you turned a holiday job into a permanent position? Add your top tip to the list in the comments below!


Looking for Work during the Holiday Season
The Bridge from Temping to a Full-Time Position
I Resolve to Get a New Job

Coworker Gift Exchanges

Dear, Anita,

Morale has been low around our office since we learned we would not be getting a year-end bonus due to a downturn in company sales. I’d like to organize some sort of gift exchange to spread some holiday cheer. Any ideas?

Dear, Cindy Lou Who,

There are several un-Grinch-like options to get you and your coworkers in the Christmas spirit.  I’ve even heard of some offices that do some version giving a gift on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. Not literally, though like Andy on The Office:

But a gift swap should be fun and not a burden (so the 12 Days of Christmas is out, considering all the other family and friends you have to buy for). Keep the gift budget to a comfortable level for all participants. It’s not about the cost; it’s about how creative you can get for the money!

Why not try a Theme Gift Exchange? One year can be ornaments, the next year a coffee/tea mug, and the following year food items, to mix it up a bit.

The simplest way to exchange gifts with workmates is to have a Gift Grab Bag. Everyone brings a gift of a pre-set value suitable for a coworker of any gender or age and contributes to the grab bag.

Celebration of Christmas in the officeTo add a little friendly rivalry to the party, try a Yankee Swap or White Elephant Gift Exchange.* Everyone contributes a wrapped gift – a new item for Yankee Swap rules; a used one is often brought for White Elephant exchanges with sometimes hilarious regifting high jinks. Draw numbers to see who gets to pick from the array of gifts first. Player #1 chooses a present, unwraps it, and displays for all to see – and possibly envy. Player #2 then either “steals” that item or picks an unopened gift from the remaining pile. Each subsequent
team member can either steal any opened gift or choose to unwrap another. Any player whose gift is stolen gets to pick again. The game continues until everyone has a present.

Another option is Secret Santa. WikiHow has instructions on setting up this name-draw exchange. For a laugh, here are some additional rules, courtesy of At or, you can let the Internet help keep the name draw and notifications undercover. Euroffice offers some workplace gift-giving tips in its infographic here.

Gift exchanges can occur at the holiday party, lunchtime potluck, or December’s departmental meeting. In lieu of a gift exchange, keep to a food motif. Simplify the Martha Stewart 8-step Cookie Swap party – festive paper plates and saran wrap will do! Each person brings two dozen holiday cookies and goes home with a sampling of each of their coworkers’ culinary creations.

Sometimes the best way to get your mind off your woes is to help someone else. Consider organizing a Charitable Drive. You can collect Toys for Tots, help Make-a-Wish Foundation, donate to a local charity that organizes gifts for foster kids or for children whose parents are in prison, or sponsor a needy family by providing gifts plus a holiday meal. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!

Readers: What was your most memorable holiday gift-giving event at work?

*Random tidbits: The term “white elephant” refers to a burdensome gift not easily disposed of, supposedly after the King of Siam gifted albino elephants to courtiers who displeased him so they would sink into financial ruin because of the costs to maintain the animals. The “Yankee Swap” term is said to have come from the civil war tradition of trading Confederate soldiers for wounded or sickly Yankee prisoners of war.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Holiday Parties, Payouts, and Perks
Getting Your Staff into the Giving Spirit

Giving (and Receiving) Holiday Client Gifts

Dear, Anita,

I manage our sales department, and since we’ve had a profitable year, we were thinking of sending out gifts to clients this Christmas. I know our company employees like the goodies that roll in during the holiday season. Any suggestions?

GiftDear, UnsELFish,

First, be sure the companies do not have a No Gift Policy in place, or if a gift policy imposes a dollar limit on tokens employees can accept from vendors and suppliers. HRHero conducted a survey on workplace gift policies and got an interesting sampling of employer responses:

  • Gifts from clients that can be shared with others in the office are acceptable.
  • Any gift of a greater value than $10 must be returned or donated to [a charitable] organization.
  • Nothing valued at more than $25 from a customer, vendor, or other third party can be accepted by an employee.
  • Employees are prohibited from receiving gifts from customers or vendors when the gift is valued at more than $50.
  • Any gift over $100 must be reported to HR.
  • Guidelines say no gifts can be solicited, and only gifts of minimal value, such as inexpensive cups or pens, can be accepted.
  • No cash or gift cards can be accepted.
  • Another employer reported that there’s no policy and the subject has never been an issue.

If your customer list is small, a personalized present based on the client’s interests shows you really pay attention and value them and their business. If your client list is larger, you may want to differentiate gift price points for various levels of patronage. Your top tier may get a $100 value gift, $50 for the next level, and $25 for less prolific customers. (Keep tax implications in mind – the maximum IRS business gift deduction is $25 per person per year but check with your accountant for any nuances.) If you have several contacts at one company, give a food gift basket for all to nosh on or a shared experience such as taking them out for a sporting event. You may go the democratic route of purchasing one item for all customers; this is definitely easier to organize and you may get a bulk discount for your purchase.

businessman in santa hatShould the gift do double-duty as a promotional item with your company’s logo? Only if the item isn’t cheesy (cheese is only acceptable with crackers in a food gift basket).

Don’t be a bad Santa. Use your corporate responsibility to make sure not to offend your clients’ social conscience. Some customers may have an aversion to leather, alcohol, tobacco, or even to a box of juicy steaks, if they’re vegan. Many people have nut allergies or gluten intolerance.

With all of these hurdles to being an elf bearing gifts, charitable donations may be the way to go. Employees are not receiving any personal gain, so they won’t (in theory) become biased. If your client base is primarily local, choose a well-respected community nonprofit and donate a certain amount in each client’s name. If your business reach is nationwide or global, choose a national charity or a gift that allows the recipient to choose, such as CharityChoice Gift Cards. Helping those less fortunate at the holidays is way better than unpalatable fruitcake.

Readers: What is the most unusual holiday gift you have received from a supplier, or given as a vendor?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Holiday Parties, Payouts, and Perks
Celebrate the Smart Way

Take Stock with a Mock Interview

Dear, Anita,

I have worked for and run the family business for over 33 years, but due to dwindling sales, I am going to have to close the doors and go to work for someone else. I applied for a promising management position, and have been called in for an interview. I know the questions I used for the specially-skilled positions at my company, but am unsure what will be asked of me. Help – I’ve never been on the other side of the desk! 

Job InterviewDear, First-Time Interviewee,

I’m sure in your tenure as a business owner that you’ve seen your share of faux pas in employment interviews.  Check out Top 10 Interview Fails  and see if any of the mistakes seem familiar.

Now that we’ve broken the tension with a good chuckle, let’s talk turkey.  Don’t wing it; be fully prepared for your interview. Write out your answers to common interview questions, and then rehearse them out loud until they sound conversational rather than scripted. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague to participate in a mock interview to give you valuable feedback. They can let you know if you’re talking too fast or if you answered a question with uncertainty. You may wish to videotape yourself. I know, it’s painful to listen to your own voice, but review the recording and analyze your performance like a pro sports coach. Some career centers and counselors offer mock interviews for an even more realistic experience than pretending with a biased buddy at your kitchen table.

As you probably know, the ice-breaker is usually, “Tell me about yourself.” While some experts maintain that your answer should be 100% work related, I disagree… slightly. The interviewer is not hiring a robot; they are hiring a team member that should fit into the company culture. But do keep the personal bit short (“In my spare time, I’m an avid cyclist”). You shouldn’t rattle on, sounding like an online dating profile.

Pick out a dozen or so of the tough ones in Monster’s list of 100 potential interview questions (don’t be alarmed… you won’t be asked all of them!). For a management position, expect to answer some variation of “Describe your management style” or “What would your direct reports say about you?”  In your situation, the interviewer may ask about the specifics of your business closure. See From Self-Employed to Employed for my advice to entrepreneurs re-entering the workforce.

This mock interview video from health care company Cerner Corporation is geared toward recent graduates, but illustrates some dos as well as don’ts for first-time interviewees:

Readers: Let’s role-play! In the comments below, give your best answer to the opening volley, “Tell me about yourself.”


Interview DO’s and DON’Ts
Interview Tips
Talking too much in an interview

Salary Negotiation Mistakes

Dear, Anita,

I think I may have blown it when asking for a raise. I thought it would be best to email my boss and outline my financial situation (I recently incurred huge medical bills for my son). I was also talking with a friend about what his company pays for my position, which is more than I make, so I mentioned that, too. My boss called me into his office and turned me down. What did I do wrong?

Raising_HandDear, Raising Eyebrows,

Recently, a bank employee emailed his CEO asking for a $10,000 raise and CC’d about 200,000 of his coworkers. See the full story here. I would not recommend this tactic.

Here are 10 salary negotiation mistakes employees make when asking for a raise. Since I don’t know your entire situation, I can only guess that you made a few of these errors.

  1. Bad timing. Don’t make your request after you’ve made a major mistake, such as losing a big client, or bungling a manager’s travel arrangements. Making a raise request during budget cuts won’t get you far. Keep your ear to the ground, and know what’s going on within your company.
  2. Requesting a raise via email. You can request a meeting by email, but it’s best to have delicate salary discussions face-to-face. You can better gauge body language and adapt your presentation to the reactions you experience.
  3. Citing personal reasons. Asking for more money because of medical bills is not a compelling reason for your boss to give you a raise. While he may be sympathetic, your compensation is based on your value to the company, not the stack of bills on your dining room table.
  4. Complaining versus explaining. While your workload may have increased, be sure you are not whining about it when asking for an increase in salary to go along with your additional responsibilities.
  5. Throwing coworkers under the bus. Whether Sandra in the next cubicle told you her salary, or John is not doing his fair share of the work assignments, now is not the time to bring it up.
  6. Money_Steps_iStock_000014098920_SmallUnreliable facts. Water-cooler gossip and cocktail party chats may not be the most dependable source of salary information. Check out average salaries for similar positions in your area at But use this information in a non-confrontational way.
  7. Acting entitled. Years at the company alone, or the fact that you have a family, does not give you claim to a pay raise.
  8. Stating a specific number. If push comes to shove, state a range, preferably in percentages rather than dollars. Give your supervisor some wiggle room.
  9. Threatening.  If you issue ultimatums – “If I don’t get a raise, I’ll walk” – you may find yourself walking to the unemployment office.
  10. Holding a grudge. If you are turned down for a raise, continue to do your best work. Ask your supervisor what steps you can take in the upcoming months or year to warrant a pay increase.

Readers: What are some successful tactics that have earned you a requested raise?

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I Resolve… to Get a Raise
Achieving the Annual Raise
Transparent Salaries: From Hourly Employees to the CEO

Job Search is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Dear, Anita,

When I lost my job two months ago, I was all gung-ho, applying to everything and getting out there networking. Now, though, after so much rejection, I’m losing steam. How can I keep myself motivated?

Dear, Jockeying for Position,

Grief often follows losing a job. You’ve just experienced a major loss – certainly a loss of income, position, and security that may even lead to loss of self-esteem. While experts in the grieving process recommend not making major life changes during stressful times, you have to get yourself out there and find a new job! But it can be difficult for a person experiencing grief or stress (or both) to function at full capacity.

Call to mind the moral of “The Tortoise and The Hare” fable – slow and steady wins the race. While I certainly don’t advise that you lollygag in responding to job board postings and follow up with emails at a snail’s pace, I don’t want you to burn yourself out by sprinting. Fatigue is inevitable during high-intensity periods, but running a marathon requires the athlete to leave energy for the end of the race. As the entrants in the Select Staffing Veterans Day Marathon know, there are some tips for maintaining endurance that we can apply to your job search.

    • Diet: Stop eating ice cream straight out of the container and make healthy eating choices to maintain your vitality.
    • Protection: While wise marathon runners apply sunscreen, I hope that you have a safety net of a savings account in addition to unemployment benefits to guard against unexpected expenses that arise during the hopefully short period between jobs.
    • Breathe: Marathon runners have greater lung capacity than sprinters. When stressed, your body goes into fight or flight mode, and breathing becomes shallow. Take some deep breaths – here are a few exercises from integrative medicine physician Dr. Andrew Weil.
    • Join: Find the support group equivalent of a running club. There are online groups of similarly unemployed people, but a local face-to-face clique such as a Meetup Group may be more beneficial. Do a Google search with terms like “job,” “career,” “unemployed,” and “support.”
    • Plan: A physical training plan is crucial if you want to finish a marathon. Similarly, draft out your long-range job search efforts and calendar critical activities, and keep a log of your endeavors.
    • Rehearse: Nobody goes out to run 26.2 miles on their first run. Practice for your important competition with mock interviews. Watch for an upcoming blog about rehearsing for those tough job interview questions.
    • Visualize: Don’t underrate the power of mental preparation. Just as the runner envisions crossing the finish line, create a movie in your mind with you as the star, acing that grueling interview.
    • Fuel up: Long-distance runners take in fuel and hydrate during the race. Likewise, in your job search, refresh yourself. J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of CareerHMO, advises pleasant disruption techniques to change your brain pattern to get over your down days:

When you do land that post, celebrate making it over the finish line! It’s now time to start the real exercise of maintaining a long-running job.

Readers: How do you keep up the pace when you “hit the wall” in your job search?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Job Hunting Blues
No Longer “Enthused”
Understanding Unemployment

Energy Vampires at Work

Dear, Anita,

At work, we have a large special project and I have to work with a guy from another department on it. He is turning out to be hypercritical of everything I am doing. (My boss, in the meantime, seems to like and approve my work.) I go home feeling both mentally and physically exhausted. How can I deal with this [jerk] for the next few months?

Businessman_Fangs_iStock_000007557585_SmallDear, Feeling Drained,

Psychiatrist and author of Positive Energy, Dr. Judith Orloff, identifies six types of “energy vampires” and their antidotes:

  • The sob sister (or brother) loves to complain about their situation. At work, you’ll have to set clear boundaries to keep the “poor me” stories to a minimum.
  • The drama queen (or king) makes mountains out of molehills. Again, you’ll have to set limits and not get caught up in the drama.
  • The constant talker may be entertaining at first (or not), but you may have to interrupt this self-centered coworker to get back to your task.
  • The fixer upper wants your help with everything, from unjamming the copy machine to serving as a go-between in a contentious interoffice relationship. Offer solutions, but don’t rescue the fixer-upper all the time.
  • The blamer makes negative comments and tries to make you feel guilty for not getting things just right. Orloff suggests visualizing yourself in a cocoon of white light. If that sounds too new-agey, just think of it as ignoring the comments whenever you can. (Remember that kids’ chant, “I’m rubber; you’re glue. Whatever you say to me, bounces off me and sticks to you!”)
  • The go for the jugular fiend cuts you down with no consideration for your feelings. Don’t drink the poison; try not to take the pointed barbs personally.

Your coworker may be a mutant of the last two psyches (or Psychos, if the wig fits). Clinical psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw suggests a two-pronged approach to dealing with energy vampires. First, assess your emotional capacity to see just how much of this person you can take. Second, assess how much of a threat the vampire is to you. She even has an energy vampire quiz to help you with your appraisal.

Long dayCrazy coworkers are not the only energy vampires at work. Some of your very own behaviors can suck the life out of you. According to entrepreneur coach Helaine Iris, keeping details in your head instead of a system is not a good idea. Remembering everything on today’s to-do list – without the actual list – consumes the mental energy you could use to, say, write that major report. In an article, “Top 10 Office Energy Drains,” Forbes lists multi-tasking, technology, workplace noise, an uncomfortable environment, sitting still, clutter, boredom, and resentment as other vitality zappers in the workplace.

Feeling Drained, hang in there. Fight fang and nail to avoid the draining situations you can control, and minimize your interaction with your office vampire. It’ll be a treat once the project is complete.

Readers: Is your biggest energy vampire a coworker or one of your own self-sabotaging habits?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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All-Day Alertness
Be Happy – All Day, Every Day
Opposing Office Politics

Stop Over-Apologizing

Dear, Anita,

I’ve recently been made a manager in my department, and I think I’m adjusting fairly well. One of my friends within the department called me out the other day, though, for saying “I’m sorry” too much.  I think it’s my way of coming across as sympathetic (as in, “I’m sorry, but the VP wants you to redo this report to include the new sales figures.”) As a woman in management, does this really make me appear weak?

Dear, Brenda Lee,

OverApologizing_Manager_300Is this something new, or have you always been an over-apologizer? It could be you’re feeling a little insecure in your new job. A people-pleasing mentality may be overshadowing your people skills. What new manager doesn’t want to be well-liked?

Saying you’re sorry in and of itself is not a form of weakness. It shows that you are socially aware that your actions may impact others negatively.

It’s a widely held stereotype that women apologize more than men. This Pantene commercial illustrates the all-too-common phenomenon of women apologizing for situations where they are not at fault.

In recent studies, Karina Schumann at the University of Waterloo discovered that women did in fact apologize more than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. (Men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. I won’t apologize for saying, That figures!)

Your “I’m sorry” in your question above doesn’t mean you are apologizing for something that was your fault (“I’m sorry I didn’t get you those new numbers before you finished your report”) but is more of an “I’m sorry this happened to you and our department.”

There’s something to be said about women using our hardwired peacekeeping skills in teambuilding. But women managers have to tread a narrower line than men between appearing to be a powerless doormat or a strong ice queen.

Saying sorry too often can trivialize the act of apology, making the important ones less significant. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Save your “I’m sorrys” for when you really need them.

Readers: Do you find yourself over-apologizing a work?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

It’s Your First Day as Manager, Now What?
Becoming the Boss: Advice for New Managers
New Year… New Management Style

No Payroll Deductions

Dear, Anita,

I work for a small company. My employer pays me with a personal check and I never see the break out of my taxes. Is the employer required to give me a break out of my taxes? Also, my 18-year-old niece just got a job at a coffee shop. Her boss pays her in cash. Is that legal?

Pay_Stub_iStock_000006469037_SmallDear, Worried About Taxes,

If you are an hourly or salaried employee and not a properly classified independent contractor, your employer is required by law to withhold payroll taxes (Federal income, state, and any local taxes, along with Social Security and Medicare). Whether or not your company must provide an itemized pay stub varies by state. According to the American Payroll Association Basic Guide to Payroll, the only states NOT required to provide deduction information on an employees’  pay stubs are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona (only required if paid by direct deposit), Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio (oddly the law only protects minors here; employees over the age of 18 do not have the right to an itemized pay stub), small South Carolina employers (who have less than five employees for the past year), South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah government employees, and only on request in Virginia. Ask your boss to clarify the issue. If you are not satisfied with the answer, check with an employment attorney.

Cash paymentNow let’s talk about your barista relative. Some businesses pay cash “under the table” (restaurants and the construction trades are notorious for this). The IRS and your state’s employment taxation agency do not look kindly on this practice. Employers who are caught during an audit face the consequence of penalties and interest in addition to payment of back taxes and may be subject to criminal prosecution.

What happens to employees who receive cash wages? They won’t have check stubs, a Wage and Withholding Statement (Form W-2), or a way to verify their earnings (advise your niece to keep records of her own), and they may be subject to an income tax audits for not reporting the wages. Note that the IRS doesn’t care if an employer failed to take out taxes; each individual is still responsible for their personal tax obligations. Your niece is not paying into Social Security or Medicare, which will affect her ability to collect in the future. I know, an 18 year old is probably not even thinking about those far-distant retirement issues. But if or when she needs to file for unemployment (UI) or state disability (SDI), benefits may be delayed or even denied.

Your niece should not accept being paid off the books. If her employer is unwilling to abide by its legal obligations, I would recommend she find another job. Whistle-blowing is optional.

Readers: Have you ever had issues with an employer not withholding the proper deductions?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Understanding Unemployment
Rich Retirement

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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