Let me start off by saying this question has been asked a million times before in a million different ways. I’m asking it now for my own clarity of what is the best thing to do in my situation and some guidance. And I swear I may sound like a total loser who had kids before having a strong individual financial situation, but I’m not a loser… just an idiot.

Details of Situation: I, along with my fiancée and two children, are being forced to move out of my parents home ASAP. I also need to take my cat and 85 pound dog (the dog part is important information, I promise). We would be first time home buyers/renters. Neither of us have ever had a credit card (though I do plan on getting one soon…I will buy only what I have with it as to make sure I don’t go into cc debt). My fiancée does have a car to her name (which she owns… no car loans). We both have yet to attain college degrees, and I have student loans that my 6 month grace period is soon to end and will require me to start paying them back (or does it???). We are young people (early 20’s). Currently I am the only one with income (though it is stable), however, soon my fiancée will start bring in an extra $400-600 monthly with a minimum wage job.

Details of Money:
Current Monthly Take-Home Pay: $2800

Current Monthly Expenses (including my student loans): $1300

Money Left Over: $1500

I have about $7000 saved and she has around the same (though her money is meant for college).

Our spending money outside of our Current Monthly Expenses totals about $200/month.

Renting: Around my area, renting a place is about equivalent to just paying a monthly mortgage of a 30yr 3.5% APR of a home priced at around $250,500. Also one of the major problems with renting is finding a place that allows my dog of her size. Some issues I see with renting: Smaller place (I can live with a smaller place no problem but with a family of 4, we need adequate space for our things), Extra monthly costs in pets ($20-50/month), lack of ownership… Some benefits: no need to pay for home insurance, (usually) no maintenance costs. So in all renting a 2 bedroom for us would be around $1300-1600/month.

Buying: To buy a place in my area would absolutely require a cosigner… assume I have one… Since my fiancée and I do not plan on moving away from our closest major city, I think it makes sense to give serious consideration to buying as well. The obvious issue with buying though is our lack of serious funds. We have no real emergency funds and no real money to use for a significant down payment. Other than the obvious expensive costs of home ownership (maintenance(I can do stuff I can do…), utilities, insurance, closing costs, furnishing the home (not too worried about this)), we can’t reeaallllly afford a home BUT it is doable. Our ideal price range would be $100,000-160,000 with a 25-30yr mortgage at 3.5 - 5.4%. If I’m just looking at monthly mortgage payments here, I can make them with just my income. My fiancé, with a job, can help make up some of the other costs, and if absolutely needed for whatever reason, my cosigner might help as well.

With all that said, the only real difference I see in buying vs. renting is that buying requires extra money to actually buy and maintain the home while renting is just a monthly cost (that can be more expensive than a 30yr mortgage.) Is there anything I can do to help better our chances of buying a home in the short term? Is it even a good idea to consider buying?

Help?: Is there any program/assistance that exists that helps out people like me? Low income, but stable job, first time home buyers… In the United States btw

And since this is the internet, is there anyone reading this post that has been through a similar situation? How did you get through it/manage not constantly freak out about money?

Oh, and can someone please explain what escrow means in simple terms. I’m confused if it’s an additional cost of buying a home. Is it a mandatory payment?

My analysis of the costs of buying a home:

HOA: not always but could be $200-500/month extra

Closing Costs: Not sure how much…maybe between 2-5%?

Taxes: range greatly…this is not a monthly cost, correct?

Utilities: I’m not too sure but could be an additional (depending on seasons) $200-600/month…right?

Insurance (Home&Flood): is this a monthly cost? not sure how much either…

Regular Maintenance: lets say around $1000/year

Unexpected Costs: I’ve read +/- $7000/year…

Does that cover everything above?? / Is it correct??

And thanks so much for reading this!! If I can get some answers, it would help put my mind at ease… even if I’m totally wrong.

EDIT WOW!!! This is amazing and I thank you all for your answers. I Love this site and the people in it. Truly amazing!!

I'll try to clear up some questions that some have had by commenting and other edits.

Second Edit:

I see that I cannot comment now. I want to address everyone who took the time to answer though.

@Ben Miller… Your point about marriage is a good one however, it is something that isn’t all that important to us. When it does happen, there will be no ‘wedding’ just paper work saying we’re married. I’m not ignoring that our expenses/income in the eyes of the law are separate, however, they truly are not and we don’t perceive them to be separate in any way. I trust her and she trusts me, which is enough for us to make a commitment to buying a huge thing.

What I meant by renting is equal to…was that that the monthly payments are equal. I realize this isn’t practical to think this way, I was just trying to illustrate a point.

A PMI is something I forgot to mention as it is something we will absolutely need. My cosigner (financially stable parent) would be helping us with a down payment of probably around 5-10% that I have full intentions of paying back. That being said, other than the obvious fact that I would be paying more in the long run with a PMI (on interest of a home), is there anything else that’s ‘bad’ about getting a PMI? Would there be any benefits to it too??

My income is low, however, the career path I’m on would give me raises as I gain more experience…saying that, I’m not too worried about low income right now, and the other side of that, I’m not oblivious to thinking that things can go horribly wrong either.

And your answer about escrow was exactly what I was looking for!

@jkuz…I really love the idea of creating a ‘x year plan’. I will get on doing that!

@zing…Your answer pretty much sums up my thoughts about if I were to buy. I like to consider myself a kinda handyman and can totally tackle fixing projects around a home as that’s how I was raised. But yes, the big major problems are an issue.

And @R… What’s so bad about an HOA? other than that it’s an additional cost. It seems to be put to good use by whoever is receiving it…right? or no?

@kragan…Your thoughts on putting down your roots are correct, however, this is something we totally intend to do. We live near a major U.S. city that won’t have a shortage of jobs for either of us. Also for a host of many many reasons, we won’t even be leaving the county we currently reside in. Also school districts are absolutely on our list. In our area, there are a plethora of top rated districts. And yes, the houses/rents are more expensive (boooo). And by ASAP I just mean we have been told to get out, but not being rushed to find a place either. And those assistance/help programs are exactly what I was looking for!! I will do my research on them. Much appreciated!!

@Allenph…I really appreciate you giving your answer, as it helps put it in some perspective about someone else who went through something similar. I take what everyone is saying with a grain of salt too and I’m glad things worked out for you (right?)!

@David Park…Yes the little ones are very young. I added some of your figures on home ownership to my list as well. Thanks!

@Dan C…You give solid insights however we are sure we are not moving away from the area we currently reside.

It’s pretty clear the general consensus is that we should rent. I will continue to do my research and will make a decision with my fiancé soon. All of your answers are in my head and this really helped put my mind at ease…at least a little bit. I have a realtor who I have been talking with who is helping answer questions as well.

The tough part about renting is finding a place that’s adequate for our needs and less that $1600…Cuz I don’t think it would be smart to literally spend ALL of my money on a monthly rent. I would literally be unable to save anything substantial if I was to do that, which would keep us there/without money forever (or at least until we make a significant amount of more money) which totally seems like forever…

I totally understand how home buying is exponentially more expensive than renting too. I think it’s worth mentioning this decision cannot be based completely off what is the best financial decision. I want to make the decision that is best for my family (the answer could be the best financial decision). I’m not much of a risk taker when others are involved but I am considering it here with buying. Life is hard, blah blah blah, only time will tell.

But seriously Thanks again for all your inputs!! I really appreciate it!

  • 4
    You should rent. If you have to ask the question, that's always a safe bet. mrmoneymustache.com/2015/07/27/rent-vs-buy Commented May 11, 2016 at 13:34
  • 4
    I +1'd Ben's answer. While there is attraction in "not throwing away rent money". That pithy statement totally does not consider risks. Homes can suck money at an incredible rate. Rent now, get your careers underway. Join your households (get married) and then buy. If need be get rid of the dog.
    – Pete B.
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:02
  • I see a lot of different questions. partly asking for term explanation, partly asking for financial aspects and some just asking for personal opinions/experiences. You should split it a) up into 1 question per post and b) don't ask for opinions.
    – Zaibis
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:55
  • 2
    You forgot the monthly expense of PMI or mortgage insurance that you will have to pay since you don't have enough for a good down-payment. When you add taxes, insurance, and PMI to the number that the mortgage payment estimator pops out, it's going to be a big difference. Your $700 payment can easily turn into $1100 or more. Adding it all up in my head - I don't see how you can afford it.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:19
  • 1
    I know absolutely zilch about home buying, but just looking at your question it doesn't make sense. It seems to me that the source of all your problems with renting is your... pets? If your pets are dear enough to be like your kids (or heck, even more dear... I don't even think all parents would risk bankruptcy for their [legal-age] kids), then you shouldn't even be asking this question. Given that's probably not the case, then shouldn't you be finding a better home for your pets and renting until you can afford them? If you go bankrupt you won't even be able to provide for them...
    – user541686
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 8:23

8 Answers 8


If I were you, I would rent. Wait to buy a home. Here is why:

  1. When you say that renting is equal in cost to a 30-year mortgage, you are failing to consider several aspects. See this recent answer for a list of things that need to be considered when comparing buying and renting.

  2. You have no down payment. Between the two of you, you have $14,000, but this money is needed for both your emergency fund and your fiancée's schooling.

  3. In your words: "we can’t reeaallllly afford a home." A home is a big financial commitment. If you buy a home before you are financially ready, it will be continuous trouble.

  4. If you need a cosigner, you aren't ready to buy a home. I would absolutely advise whoever you are thinking about cosigning for you not to do so. It puts them legally on the hook for a house that you can't yet afford.

  5. You aren't married yet. You should never buy something as big as a home with someone you aren't married to; there are just too many things that can go wrong. (See comments for more explanation.) Wait until you are married before you buy.

  6. Your income is low right now. And that is okay for now; you've been able to avoid the credit card debt that so many people fall into. However, you do have student loans to pay, and taking on a huge new debt right now would be potentially disastrous for you. Your family income will eventually increase when your fiancée gets her degree and gets a job, and at that time, you will be in a much better situation to consider buying a house.

  7. You need to move "ASAP." Buying a house when you are in a hurry is a generally a bad idea. When you look for a home, you need to take some time looking so you aren't rushed into a bad deal that you will regret. Even if you decide you want to buy, you should first find a place to rent; then you can take your time finding the right house.

To answer your question about escrow: When you own a house, two of the required expenses that you will have besides the mortgage payment are property taxes and homeowner's insurance. These are large payments that are only due once a year. The bank holding the mortgage wants to make sure that they get paid. So to help you budget for these expenses and to ensure that these expenses are paid, the bank will add these to your monthly mortgage payment, and set them aside in a savings account (called an escrow account). Then when these bills come due once a year, they are paid for out of the escrow account.

  • Minor issue - in point six you mentioned "... because you have no debt." - but the OP has student loans that are about to come due. That is more to your point, but probably worth an edit. Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:03
  • @WannabeCoder Good point. I missed the part about the student loan. I'll edit. Thanks.
    – Ben Miller
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:04
  • 1
    While your paragraph about "escrow" is technically correct, I doubt it is an answer to the question they asked. Escrow can be any money or documents temporarily deposited with a neutral third party, including pre-paid taxes and insurance, in this context, I think they were referring to the escrow established with a title company as part of the process of purchasing the house. Commented May 11, 2016 at 16:14
  • 2
    Do you bring up marriage for the financial lock-in (shared responsibility/finances) and legal benefits or rather for the idea of fully committing to the relationship? Or is it both? While I'm unfamiliar with the situation in the US, in many Western countries (registered) cohabitation offers a number of the same tax and legal benefits as marriage.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 20:43
  • 2
    @Lilienthal Both. By going through with the marriage, they have both demonstrated their commitment. More practically, though: When you buy a house with someone you are not married to, your finances are separate; how do you fairly split the mortgage/expenses? If they then break-up, what happens to the house? If they are married first, the house is community property. Then if something happens to the marriage, the house will be settled along with everything else in the divorce.
    – Ben Miller
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 0:51

First, you are not a loser nor an idiot! You have avoided many debt mistakes and have a stable income. This move will be good for you and your family and an opportunity to continue to build your life together. The fact you are even thinking about this and asking questions shows that you are responsible.

To your rent/buy question, Ben Miller has a great summary in his answer. I have nothing more to add except that you already know you cannot buy. That question is not really your main problem.

You need some financial goals and then you need a plan to achieve those goals. As you become more educated about finances, it can be like drinking from a fire hose. Trying to analyze too much information can paralyze you and make you 'freak out' that you are messing everything up!

Try this.

Think about where you want to be in 5 years or so. Write down with your fiance some of those dreams and goals. Maybe things like finish college degree(s), buy a house, pay off student loans, wedding, have more kids, etc...

As you prioritize these things, you will see that some are short-term goals and some are long-term. Then you lay out a step by step plan to get there. By focusing on each step at a time, you see more success and are more motivated.

  • Start a budget every month if you haven't already.
  • Save cash on hand for emergencies first. Set this aside and do not touch it except for a real emergencies
  • Get your income UP. This will be prioritizing things like finishing school and taking other jobs.
  • Prioritize other short term goals like saving for a wedding so that you don't go into more debt.
  • Pay off your student debt aggressively.
  • Save for longer term goals like buying a house. You will have lots more cash for this if you are debt free.

As you see movement towards your goals, you will be willing to sacrifice more to get there. You will be willing to rent a cheaper place with less room to make more headway on these things. This will be a several year plan, which is why it is so important to define your goals at the beginning. This will give you motivation and the mental toughness to follow through when it is difficult.

  • 9
    Agreed. Just considering advice makes you a non-loser.
    – Pete B.
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:41

My experience with owning a home is that its like putting down roots and can be like an anchor holding you to an area. Before considering whether you can financially own a home consider some of the other implications.

Once you own it you are stuck for awhile and cannot quickly move away like you can with renting. So if a better job opportunity comes up or your employer moves you to another office across town that doubles your commute time, you'll be regretting the home purchase as it will be a barrier to moving to a more convenient location.

I, along with my fiancée and two children, are being forced to move out of my parents home ASAP.

Do not rush buying a home. Take your time and find what you want. I made the mistake once of buying a home thinking I could take on some DIY remodeling to correct some features I wasn't fond of. Life intervenes and finding extra time for DIY house updates doesn't come easy, especially with children.

Speaking of children, consider the school district when buying a home too. Often times homes in good school districts cost more. If you don't consider the school district now, then you may be faced with a difficult decision when the kids start school.

IF you are confident you won't want to move anytime soon and can find a house you like and want to jump into home ownership there are some programs that can help first time buyers, but they can require some effort on your part.

FHA has a first time buyer program with a 3.5% down payment. You will need to search for a lender that offers FHA loans and work with them. FHA covers this program by charging mortgage insurance every month that's part of your house payment.

Fannie Mae has the HomeReady program where first time home buyers can purchase a foreclosed home from their inventory for as little as 3% down and possibly get up to 3% from the seller to apply toward closing costs. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is required with this program too. Their inventory of homes can be found on the https://www.homepath.com/ website.

There is also NACA, which requires attending workshops and creating a detailed plan to prove you're ready for homeownership. This might be a good option if they have workshops in your area and you want to talk with someone in person. https://www.naca.com/about/

  • "you are confident you won't want to move anytime soon" is the key point in deciding for most people.
    – Ian
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 11:00

Another reason, and to me the main reason not to buy a house if you're in your early 20s (regardless of your income), is mobility. If you rent, you can move pretty much whenever you want after the first year of your rental lease is up, even before then in some cases. If your fiancee finishes school and gets a great job offer in another city or state, you can move there pretty quickly. When you own a house, that is much harder to do. Your having two kids makes it harder in either case, but at this point in your lives you really don't know where your future will take you, geographically speaking, and renting gives you the option of moving easily if you have to.


You said 2 things that made me think you are one of the rare young couples barely making it but should attempt to buy rather than rent anyway....

Around my area, renting a place is about equivalent to just paying a monthly mortgage of a 30yr 3.5% APR of a home priced at around $250,500.


Our ideal price range would be $100,000-160,000 with a 25-30yr mortgage at 3.5 - 5.4%

The other answers suggesting that you should rent and the reasons given were excellent ones but because of those 2 points you made, this tells me that you would be willing to live in a much much more basic house if you owned rather than rented. Many renters rent rather than buy because they want a really nice place for their money and are willing to spend what it takes to get a nice place, but not you. If you buy, you would be willing to take a place worth half or even less than half what you would get if you rented.

That tells me you might accept a place that needs a little work. Perhaps you and/or your fiancée have some skills needed to do a little of the work yourself. I hope you decide to buy rather than rent if you can swing it, and instead of taking a 2nd job, spend all your spare time working on your little investment.

It's possible that by the time you're done fixing that house up some, through your own creative efforts or through the help you might get from your friends, you could end up with a $250,000 house, own it, and reap all the great benefits of owning rather than renting...or...better yet, sell that place for a nice profit, then turn around and buy the next one already fixed up with your newly acquired great credit to help you with the new mortgage, and ready for you to move in and enjoy. It's how my wife and I got started (only we didn't have the benefit of historically low interest rates) and if we can do it, I believe you can too.

Here are a couple tips that might help out....1) Don't spend a lot of money to fix the place...try to find the time to do the simpler tasks yourself. If you don't have the skills, you can learn them on youtube or by picking the brains of all the great willing people working at your local discount home project superstore. 2) Cosmetics go a long way towards increasing the value of a house. a) needs paint and b) needs carpet but not a) major structural damage and b) needs roof.

Regarding some of your other points...

  • HOA, hopefully if you buy in a formal community, the HOA should be less than $200. If it's more than that, it might be harder to do as I suggest.

  • Closing Costs, probably more like 4 - 5%

  • Taxes, monthly if included in mortgage, normally quarterly or semi-annually if not

  • Utilities...you're budgeting quite high for that. Depending on your area, you might only spend an average of $200/month, maybe even less.

  • Insurance...see answer for taxes

  • Regular maintenance, $1K a year might be about right but we better include irregular also, which comes up more often than you might think when owning, let's say $2 - $3 a year.

  • Unexpected costs. Expect the unexpected but if the place needs a new roof or something big like that, then you didn't do your homework before buying.


A Demographic On Where This Answer Is Coming From...

First, let me mention that the reasons mentioned this far for renting are excellent ones. But, I disagree. Second, I would like to mention that I'm just a regular Joe, not an accountant, or a realtor. That said, I was in a similar situation not that long ago. I ended up renting, but I wish I hadn't.

Some Thoughts About The Advantage Of Low-Income Home-Ownership

You should check out the "offers" in your area. You seem like you're willing to compromise on a more standard, or older home. If that is the case and you are willing to "settle" for an older town-home, or something similar, it might be in your best interest to do so.

In my area for instance, the urban areas are becoming a bit crowded. This is good news for the people who already own homes in those urban areas, but bad news for people who are looking to rent an apartment (which tend to be located in urban areas) or buy a house in these urban areas. The reason I say that is simple; there is only one thing there will never be more of: land. If people are moving into these areas, and there is limited room to build structures, the demand is going up while the supply is unable to keep up. This means an increase in prices. BUT, this can also be used to your advantage.

As the demand for those urban areas goes up, the rural areas around the urban areas are likely to be subsidized. For instance, near me, if you're willing to be 20 minutes from the nearest Walmart and you have a 550+ credit score and a stable income, you're able to acquire a government subsidized loan with 0% down. (I would recommend dropping at least SOMETHING, however, if possible.)

Apartments of the size your family is going to require are going to be expensive. People who own apartment buildings are looking to make the most money per square foot. This means most apartment complexes are going to be filled with 1-2 bedroom apartments, but have very few if any 3+ bedroom apartments. (Again, this is my general experience, but it may be different where you're living.)

Some Reasons A House Might Be Your Best Option...

I suspect the apartment your family is going to need is going to end up being very expensive, especially if people are moving into your town. You might consider trying to get a lower-quality house as apposed to a rare and large apartment for a few pretty obvious reasons:

  • Even if you never pay off your mortgage, and even if the housing market bursts again (which I would say it is likely to considering the fact that land prices have been recovering and the government has largely been considering subsidizing housing on a large scale...again) you still have SOMETHING in equity, whereas when you rent, you will never see that money again barring extenuating circumstances.
  • You may end up with a lower net payment per month for your living arrangements. And, suppose the housing bubble doesn't burst and continues rising for the life of your loan, or the city expands into the rural area you purchased your home. All of the sudden you've actually made ALL your money back and then some.
  • Home ownership is a recipe for stability. Especially for young families. It forces you to shift your perspective towards the long term, rather than your next move being a one-year-lease away.

Take What I'm Saying With A Grain Of Salt...

Don't misunderstand me, though. A lot of people get infatuated with the idea of being a home owner, and end up getting into something they will never be able to maintain, and if that happens it's something that's going to follow you for the rest of your life.

As for your student loans, if you NEED to and you qualify you can apply for hardship. This would mean that you don't have to pay anything, or pay a reduced rate for some arbitrary approved amount of time, or until some arbitrary circumstance is met. However, do not take this lightly. While doing this might not necessarily accrue interest (depending on whether or not your loans were subsidized or unsubsidized and a host of other factors it might actually halt interest) these loans will follow you even into bankruptcy. Meaning if you get your student loans postponed and end up losing the house anyway, you have to make a fresh start with a bankruptcy AND student loans on your back.

Furthermore, you can't count your chickens before they hatch, and neither will the banks. A big part of qualifying for a loan is your proof of income. If you haven't had that steady job for 6 months to a year or more, you're going to have a tough time getting a loan. Suppose your wife-to-be DOES start making that income...it's still not going to make a difference to the banks until they can say that it's not just a month long fling.

Last, after reading all this I want to tell you that I am BIAS. I happened to miss the opportunity I'm explaining to you now, and that affects what I think you should do in this situation. Weigh the options carefully and objectively. Talk to your fiance. Talk to your friends, parents, anyone who is close with you. Come to an educated decision, rather than the decision that might be more exciting, or the one you WISH you could take.

Good luck.


I think the consensus is that you can't afford a home now and need to build more of a down payment (20% is benchmark, you may also need to pay mortgage insurance if you are below that) and all considered, it takes up too much of your monthly budget.

You didn't do anything wrong but as mentioned by Ben, you are missing some monthly and yearly costs with home ownership. I suggest visiting a bank or somewhere like coldwell banker to discuss accurate costs and regulations in your area. I know the feeling of considering paying more now for the very attractive thought of owning a home... in 30 years. After interest, you need to consider that you are paying almost double the initial principle so don't rush for something you can do a year or two down the line as a major commitment.

One major point that isn't emphasized in the current answers. You have a large family: Two children, a dog, and a cat. I don't know the kid's ages but given you are in your early twenties and your estimated monthly costs, they are probably very young before the point they really put any stress financially but you need to budget them in exponentially.

Some quick figures from experience.
Closing costs including inspections, mortgage origination fee, lawyer fees, checking the history of the home for liens, etc, which will set you back minimum 5% depending on the type of purchase (short sales, foreclosures are more expensive because they take longer)
Insurance (home and flood) will depend on your zoning but you can expect anywhere between $100-300 a month. For many zones it is mandatory. Also depending on if it's a coop ($800+), condo($500+) or a townhouse-type you will need to pay different levels of monthly maintenance for the groundskeeping as a cooperative fee.

at an estimate of a 250K home, all your savings will not be able to cover your closing costs and all 250k will need to be part of your base mortgage. so your base monthly mortgage payment at around 4% will be $1,200 a month. it's too tight. If it was a friend, I would highly suggest against buying in this case to preserve financial flexibility and sanity at such a young age.


MY recommendation is simple.


The fact that you have to ask the question is a clear sign that you have no business buying a home. That's not to say that it's a bad question to ask though.

Far more important then rather it's finically wise for you to buy a home, is the more important question of "are you emotionally ready for the responsibility and permanence" of a home.

At best, you are tying your self to the same number of rooms, same location, and same set of circumstances for the next 5-7 years. In that time it will be very unlikely that you will be able to sell the house for a profit, get your minor equity back, or even get a second loan for any reason.

You mentioned getting married soon, that means the possibility of more children, divorce, and who knows what else.

You are in an emotionally and financially turblunt time in your life. Now is not the right time to buy anything large. Instead rent, and focus on improving your credit rating. In 5 years time you will have a much better credit rating, get much better rates and fees, and have a much better handle on where you want to be with your home/family situation.

Buying a house is not something you do on a weekend. For most people it's the culmination of years of work, searching, researching, and preparation. Often times people that buy before they are ready, will end up in foreclosure, and generally have a crappy next 15 years, as they try to work themselves out of the issue.

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