With school letting out and sultry summer days ahead, it’s time to start thinking vacation.

Because it’s a supply-and-demand world, you’ll likely be up against higher airfare, hotel costs and car rental rates. But here are some tips to help keep things affordable.

If by air …

If you plan to fly domestically, your best chance to score cheaper fares is by booking about 60 days in advance. For international travel, make it 90 days. This may also be the right time to cash in frequent-flier miles or companion fare coupons. Comparison websites such as Kayak, Skiplagged and Airfarewatchdog can turn up cheap airfare.

If by land …

Make sure your vehicle is in good running condition. The last thing you want is a blown engine in a one-mechanic town. Depending on your route and time constraints, Amtrak or Greyhound may be affordable alternatives. Renting an RV may also pencil out, particularly with relatively low fuel prices.

Consider visiting places during their off-seasons

After major league baseball teams break spring training camps in Arizona and Florida at the end of March and it really starts to heat up, airfare and room rates tend to drop dramatically beginning in mid-April and lasting through the summer. You can find high-end hotels with luxurious swimming pools to keep the kids happy for hours. Just remember to get in your golf, tennis and hikes before midday.

Accommodations

This can be a touchy subject because comfort levels are highly personal. If you’re traveling solo to a metro area and don’t mind roughing it, check out Couchsurfing. Priceline claims to save up to 60% over published hotel prices. You won’t learn where you’re staying until your bid is accepted, but you name the price, and you can make another offer if your initial one is rejected.

Home-swapping companies operate domestically and internationally. Most often you arrange to exchange homes simultaneously, but in some cases you can stagger swaps to accommodate travel dates. There are fees to join home-exchange services, but typically they are more than offset by savings from avoided hotel costs. Sites to check include Love Home Swap, Knok, HomeLink, HomeExchange and Intervac. You may also be able to exchange vehicles.

The great outdoors

Circling back to the RV idea, or for those otherwise open to camping, there are nearly 500 KOA campground sites in the U.S. and Canada. State and national parks are extremely popular in the summer, so campgrounds can fill up fast. Make reservations as soon as you can. For $80 you can pick up an annual pass valid at national parks and federal recreation lands for a full year from the month of purchase. It covers the pass owner and three accompanying teens and adults age 16 and older. No entry fee is charged for children 15 and younger.

And if you really want to save …

Consider daytrips to places you’ve been meaning to visit near home. Hikes, wineries, picnicking and swimming at nearby lakes, fun cycling routes, water-park rides and music festivals may fit the bill.

Also, when inquiring about rooms or car rentals, it doesn’t hurt to ask whether they offer discounts for seniors, AAA or other memberships. And sometimes you can save money through credit card partnerships with hotel chains or car rental companies.

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College is in your rearview mirror, and you’re about to enter the working world. Although snagging a job certainly calls for a celebration or two, it is also time to start tackling the various financial responsibilities that await you, like saving for retirement and improving your credit score.

Here’s an overview of where to get started, including several best practices to help you along the way.

Keep credit card debt to a minimum

In 2014, households with unpaid credit card balances owed an average of about $15,000 on those cards, which can damage credit scores and make it difficult to qualify for low interest rates on auto loans and mortgages.

Once those first paychecks arrive, it may be tempting to max out your plastic for some new shoes or that must-have gaming console. Do everything in your power to resist that initial urge. While it’s OK to splurge from time to time, it’s important to keep debt as low as possible, especially if your credit card carries a high interest rate.

Contribute to a retirement account

Stashing away cash for retirement starting at an early age is one of the best money moves you can make. Your savings will have decades to multiply thanks to the wonders of compound returns, which lets you earn money on what your money earns.

If your employer offers a 401(k) retirement plan, be sure to take advantage of it. Start by contributing at least 10% of your monthly income and try to gradually work your way up to 20%. Individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, can also provide investment vehicles in which most people can put up to $5,500 each year. Both 401(k) and IRA contributions may reduce your taxes, too. The best way to get going with this kind of saving and investing is to build a budget for yourself.

Build an emergency fund

Gone are the days in which you could call up your parents for a quick injection of cash. Once you begin earning a steady salary, set some money aside for unexpected expenses. An emergency fund should consist of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Because you’ll never know when you might need that money, keep it somewhere safe but within easy reach, like your savings account.

Keep an eye on your credit score

Although it might be hard to believe, it’s likely that eventually you’ll want to settle down and buy a house. To do that, you’re probably going to need to apply for a mortgage. The better your credit score, the lower your interest rates will be, which could save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a 30-year mortgage.

To improve your credit score, pay your bills on time and restrain your card use to 30% of your credit limit. Regularly practicing this kind of responsible behavior should give your score a substantial boost over the years.

The bottom line

Although it’ll take some effort, making smart money moves at a young age doesn’t have to be a huge hassle. Just remember to pay attention to your retirement savings and make sure that your spending habits don’t result in massive amounts of debt. Before you know it, you’ll be able to toast to a secure financial future.

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You’re done with college, and now you’re ready to be on your own. But for newly minted grads who didn’t major in money management, here’s one last assignment: Summer reading to help with your financial future.

That degree you earned might open the door to a higher salary — and carry a student loan burden — so it’s important to know how to balance it all as you set the stage for the rest of your life.

Map out a budget

As a college student, you probably got accustomed to living frugally. Stay the course.

A good way to live within your means is to figure out how much discretionary spending — that’s what’s left over after necessary expenses like rent, food and gas — you can afford each month. This will be easier to compute after you’ve been working for a few months and have a better grasp of what your take-home pay is after taxes and other deductions.

In building your budget, start with the essentials as well as ongoing bills you have to pay, such as utilities, student loans or a car loan. What’s left over is yours to allocate for spending and saving. It’s probably wise to limit eating out and splurging on clothes and entertainment.

Ways to save

Chances are you didn’t live in your own house or apartment when you were in college. If you are on good terms with your parents and don’t think returning to live with them would be too regressive, that could be a huge bonus. You could use the saved rent money to pay down student loans, establish an emergency fund and even start building a retirement account.

If moving back home isn’t an option, look for roommates to reduce your overhead.

Pay down what you owe, build up credit

The average student loan burden hovers around $30,000, so the last thing you want to do is add to it by running up new credit card debt. Still, it’s to your advantage to have a credit card to build good credit. A good way to do that is to make regular small purchases and pay them off right away to establish your creditworthiness.

As for student loan debt, before graduating you selected a repayment plan for any federal loans. The standard plan calls for equal monthly payments for 10 years. If you have a steady income and good credit, or can use a co-signer, you can refinance the loans to get a lower interest rate and possibly pay off your loans faster. Before refinancing, make sure you won’t lose any important federal loan benefits, such as loan forgiveness.

Build a portfolio and retirement savings

Historically, buying stocks or mutual funds when you’re young is the best way to build a portfolio, because you have decades for your money to grow. In other words, you have time to ride out market declines and earn good long-term returns.

Similarly, starting a retirement savings plan early pays dividends. It’s particularly helpful if your employer offers to match your contributions, through a 401(k) or other plan. If your job does this, start contributing right away and make the most of the match.

One last piece of advice as the paychecks start rolling in: Don’t spend more than you earn. Congratulations on your graduation, and may the wind always be at your back!

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Privacy, lower living costs, graduation — there are myriad reasons you move from the dorms to an apartment. But with greater independence comes greater responsibility, and moving into your first place will certainly bring both, especially when it comes to your finances.

Here are some things to start budgeting for when you make your move.

Rent

Rent should be a top priority when you set up a budget. Follow the rule of thumb and aim for a place that costs 30% or less of your monthly income. Can’t find anything you like in your price range? Grab another roommate, or consider living farther away from campus or your job.

Save enough money to cover your security deposit — money your landlord holds onto in case of damages or failure to pay rent — when you sign your lease.

And your landlord might only take checks, so order a stack from your bank to have on hand.

Utilities

Unlike the dorms, where electricity, water, heating, garbage and internet costs are wrapped up neatly in one housing bill, living in an apartment means paying for utilities separately, usually at a monthly interval. Utility bills might cost around one-fifth of your rent. Keeping up with due dates can be a hassle, so set up automatic payments if you can — just make sure you always have enough in your account to cover the cost. If you don’t use auto pay, make a habit of paying your bills as soon as you get them.

Furniture

Your apartment probably is bigger than your dorm, meaning more space to fill. Buying furniture can put a dent in your wallet the first time you move, and getting it to your new home may take some muscle.

Keep yourself organized by making a list of what you need. Minimize costs by asking family and friends if they have spare items that you can take off their hands. Before you buy new, check Craigslist; if you’re still around campus, there may be a Facebook or Reddit page dedicated to buying and selling furniture. If you’re pooling resources with roommates, make sure everybody is on the same page about who owns what, or what happens if somebody moves out. When it’s time to move in, recruit your friends or family to help with the heavy lifting, or hire some quick help through a service app like TaskRabbit.

Renter’s insurance

Protect your belongings from unexpected events like theft or fire by taking out renters insurance. It’s relatively cheap, averaging $15 a month, and can save you thousands on replacing furniture, electronics or jewelry if calamity should strike.

Household items

It’s easy to forget that small items like dish towels, cleaning supplies, pots and pans are essential to happy apartment living. As with furniture, make a list of things you need. Look first for freebies, such as extras from family and friends, before heading to the store for new items. Add cooking to your arsenal of skills; eating out every day is not only impractical but expensive.

It’s great to have your own place, or just a new place, but don’t go overboard. Remember some of the frugal habits you honed in the dorms, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy independent living.

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Being able to bank or shop online is a great convenience, but you want to be sure you’re protecting yourself before you hit “submit.” If the wrong people access your accounts, you might find yourself with a lot less money than you thought — and a lot of work to set things right. Here are six steps you can take to help make sure that doesn’t happen.

1. Do your online shopping/banking from home

You’ve probably taken steps to secure your home network, so it makes sense to do most of your online activity there. Public computers are convenient, but be careful about entering passwords and sensitive account information when using these machines. Many will keep your login data in the web browser history, so after you leave, the next person who uses the computer might be able to see what you typed and access your account.

If you’re on your own laptop or mobile device but using public Wi-Fi to access the Internet, you could run into similar issues. You can’t be sure the network you’re on is secure, and if it’s not, a lurking hacker could see any information you send. When you use public Wi-Fi, consider updating the settings on your device to make sure you don’t automatically join networks you won’t use regularly.

If you have to shop or bank online while away from home, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, service to protect your account information.

2. Install antivirus software

Many antivirus companies will send security patches to your computer automatically, so you don’t have to be a tech genius to get the most up-to-date protection. In addition to installing an antivirus program, it’s a good idea to check your operating system, web browser and mobile devices to make sure they also have the latest software updates.

3. Be smart with account passwords

Strong passwords include both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and they can’t easily be guessed. Security experts recommend that you change your passwords at least every few months. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, especially your online banking accounts.

4. Don’t skimp on mobile security

Sometimes you may need to shop or bank online while you’re on the go. When using smartphones, tablets and laptops, you can help protect your accounts by adding a password to lock your device screen. Also, install a “find your phone” tool to help locate your device if it’s misplaced. Many such tools give you the ability to disable your device remotely, in case it can’t be recovered.

5. Remember, ‘secure’ starts with an ‘s’

Before sending over account numbers or other sensitive information, check to see whether your browser address bar begins with “https” instead of “http”. The extra “s” literally stands for “secure,” because the page is encrypted. In addition to checking for the “s,” you can also look to see whether the webpage has a seal from such organizations as the Better Business Bureau, Truste or VeriSign, which means the site is more likely to be trustworthy.

6. Shop with a credit card, not a debit card

With a credit card, you’ll generally have better consumer protection. If someone makes unauthorized charges, you’re only responsible for up to $50.

But with a debit card, your maximum liability is capped at $50 only if you report the card’s loss or theft within two business days after learning of it. After two days, you could be out $500 if you report a loss or theft within 60 days of getting your account statement — and beyond 60 days, you could lose all the money in your account, plus money taken from linked accounts.

No matter which card you have, set up automatic alerts to notify you when your card is used, and regularly check your statements for any charges you don’t recognize.

When you’re banking or shopping online, you don’t want to leave an open door for hackers. So it’s best to secure your accounts and your devices to protect your hard-earned money.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

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Making the decision to become a homeowner is emotionally and financially complex. Here are some key things to ask yourself if you’re considering whether buying is right for you.

Do you have a good reason to buy?

Sometimes switching from renting to buying is a no-brainer.  Maybe you live in a modern one-bedroom apartment in a chic part of town, but you have a baby on the way. If you want a place in a good school district, with more square footage and a yard, buying may well be your best bet.

Other times, the urge to buy is driven by emotion: You see a house you like and you “just know.” There’s nothing wrong with that reaction, but take time to check out the property before you make any commitments. If it’s too far from work, near a noisy road or the best house on a bad block, it may not be as good a deal as it first appears.

And remember: Houses go on the market all the time, and there are tens of millions of single-family homes and condos in the U.S. So there’s no need to worry if your first choice doesn’t work out; your home is out there.

Can you make the upfront investment?

Buying a home requires an initial investment that you can’t ignore.

First, many lenders require a down payment of 20% of the home price. That’s $40,000 for a home that costs $200,000, about the median price in America. You’ll also owe closing costs, which could include loan-origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, survey fees, underwriting fees, title search fees, and title insurance. Those could total another few thousand dollars.

The expenses don’t end there. You’ll want to hire an independent inspector to look for defects in a home before you buy.  This will cost several hundred dollars, but could save you thousands in repairs. And then there are moving costs, state or city taxes, utilities installation and the costs of changes you might want to make to the home — such as new flooring or painting — that are easiest to do while it’s empty.

This isn’t meant to scare you off; buying a home is still a smart choice for many people, despite the costs. But it does take a lot of cash.

Can you afford the upkeep?

Your mortgage payment might be fixed for the next 30 years, but your property taxes and insurance rates can rise. And if you didn’t make a 20% down payment, you’ll have to buy private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you have 20% equity in your home. It costs about $165 per month on a $200,000 loan.

Once you’re a homeowner, you’ll also have to pay certain utility bills that might have been included in your rent. And you’ll be responsible for maintenance: double-pane windows one year, a new garage door the next, fixes to the roof five years up the road. It adds up.

These numbers are based on averages.  Plug your specific figures into a rent-or-buy calculator to find out if you’re ready for homeownership. And know that there is no one answer that’s right for everybody. Whether you keep renting or buy, your decision should be right for you alone.

 

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

If you have any questions on your path to homeownership, please contact our Home Financing Department at (800)942-9575 or homeloans@AlignCU.com.

Most teenagers probably won’t leap at the prospect of learning about personal finance on their own. That’s why it’s important to take the time to teach them smart money management. To get the conversation started, here are seven topics worth discussing to help your teen avoid costly financial missteps in the future.

Encourage your teen to get a job

Preaching about the value of a hard-earned dollar isn’t quite as effective as encouraging your child to get a job. By working for their money, teenagers are likely to begin thinking critically about how they spend it, which is a good habit to pick up at an early age. If your child is too young for a job, you could provide a weekly allowance for helping around the house.

Help your teen set a budget

Once your teen starts earning money, explain how to set a budget. Consider explaining the difference between essential and nonessential expenses, providing examples from your own life.

Set financial goals together

Since creating a budget isn’t the most exciting activity, introducing the idea of saving up for a fun purchase might reinvigorate your teen. Putting away money every month requires discipline and is a great skill to practice at an early age by regularly stashing away some cash for a new smartphone, for example. Crunch the numbers with your child to determine how much needs to be saved each month to hit the savings goal by a certain date.

Help your teen sign up for a checking and savings account

So money doesn’t have to be stashed under their mattress, sign your teenager up for a checking and savings account. Although you’ll need to co-own the account if your child is under 18, your teen can have an active role in managing it. Just know that you’ll have to foot the bill if any fees, such as overdrafts, are incurred.

Encourage responsible credit card use

Although your child won’t be able to get a credit card before turning 21, anyone can be set up as an authorized user on your plastic at any age. Make sure to implement rules regarding when your teen can use the card, and make it abundantly clear that your credit score will take a hit if your card is maxed out.

Take your teen shopping

It can be tempting to overspend on name-brand products. To help your teen fight those initial instincts, shop together and explore the wonders of coupons, sales and store brand items. This should underscore the notion that popular products don’t always have to be the go-to option, which can save your child a lot of money over the years.

Teach your teen about compound interest

When it comes to saving money, compound interest is a person’s best friend. Teaching your child about the many benefits of compound interest should encourage contribution to a 401(k) plan in a future full-time job.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Marriage generally implies that two homes and lives become one. Should it also involve a complete merging of earnings, assets and expenses? With money arguments being one of the leading causes of failed marriages, combining finances can be scary. For some couples it’s the right approach, but there are several other options.

The traditional approach

Just a few generations ago, one spouse was generally the breadwinner who paid all the bills. Although today most marriages involve two people who work, the traditional approach isn’t entirely obsolete. It can be effective when one partner is a stay at home parent or full-time student, or one spouse earns much more than the other. It’s also appropriate for couples choosing to bank one income to save for shared goals, such as a down payment for a home. Single breadwinner couples may merge assets or maintain separate accounts.

This type of arrangement works best when both partners have similar financial styles so that no one ends up feeling like a child having to ask for spending money or resenting the other for spending too much.

The share-everything approach

With this option, couples completely merge financial assets and responsibilities. All investments and debts are in both names and bills are typically paid from one joint account. Sharing everything works particularly well for couples that enter marriage with similar incomes and limited assets. As with the traditional approach, it’s vital that spouses have compatible styles to avoid feelings of resentment or deprivation.

The four-accounts approach

Sharing is beautiful but sometimes it’s also nice to have a little something of your own. With this arrangement, both partners contribute equally to a joint checking account used to handle household expenses and joint savings to reach shared goals. Their remaining income is deposited to individual accounts to be saved or spent at each partner’s discretion. This approach makes sense for couples with comparable incomes and debts, or when one partner is much more frugal than the other, since it lets both manage money as they see fit without straining the relationship. In cases where one spouse earns substantially more than the other, couples may want to contribute a percentage of their income as opposed to a fixed monthly amount to the joint accounts.

The what’s-mine-is-mine approach

Some couples may simply be more comfortable maintaining totally separate assets and liabilities. With this approach responsibility for household expenses may be split equally, divided according to ability to pay, or each spouse may pick which bills to cover. Keeping finances separate may make sense if one partner has a much larger income, net worth or debt than the other. When entering into marriage with vastly different financial positions, it’s also a good idea to consider a prenuptial agreement, whether or not separate or joint accounts are maintained.

Which way is best?

Whether and how completely to merge finances is ultimately a matter of individual style. With honest communication and trust, any of these vastly different approaches can work, giving those who choose what feels right a good chance at avoiding the bitter money conflicts that plague so many married couples.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

An ATM can be a lifesaver when you’re on the go and need some fast cash. But as helpful as these machines can be, they’re also magnets for fraudsters who are out to make a quick buck. In fact, criminals stole data from magnetic-strip debit cards at ATMs at the highest rate in over 20 years during the first several months of 2015, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s a closer look at what you can do to stop these criminals and ensure that your money stays where it belongs: in your wallet.

Keep an eye out for skimming devices

Performed by hackers around the world, card skimming is the tried-and-true method of copying the information from magnetic-strip credit and debit cards by inserting a device on top of a card reader slot. This gadget scans and stores card information, which fraudsters use to produce duplicate plastic to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw money from your account.

To make sure your ATM hasn’t been tampered with, take a quick but careful look at its card reader. Consider using only those machines that are in densely populated places and that are monitored by security cameras. Criminals might be less willing to place skimming devices into these types of machines. That also makes it a good idea to stay away from ATMs located at gas stations and other remote places where cameras aren’t used.

The new microchip-embedded EMV cards are designed to foil this type of counterfeiting. They encrypt your account information and also generate an authentication code that’s required before in-person purchases are approved. Even if a scammer were able to steal your data and make a counterfeit card, the fake plastic wouldn’t work without the required microchip.

Avoid loitering

After confirming that the ATM isn’t rigged, try to withdraw your cash as quickly as possible. That way, you’ll reduce your chances of attracting unwanted attention. It will also help to initiate the transaction knowing exactly how much money you want to withdraw.

Have your plastic’s personal identification number, or PIN, memorized and use your hand to shield the keypad as you enter it. If it’s late and you’re alone, consider waiting until you’re inside a locked car or other safe place to count your money. Keep a copy of your receipt in case you received less cash than you requested.

Monitor your checking account

Although good judgment and common sense will go a long way in ensuring safe ATM withdrawals, you can make sure fraudsters aren’t using your card info by regularly monitoring your online checking account.

If you happen to notice an ATM transaction that you don’t remember making, call your financial institution immediately. The company should be able to investigate and refund any lost money within a few weeks.

The takeaway

The continued use of card skimmers means consumers must be vigilant when using magnetic-strip cards at ATMs. In a rush to get cash, it can be easy to forget the basics, such as covering the keypad and making sure that there aren’t any suspicious individuals lurking nearby.

By making the aforementioned moves, you’ll be doing everything in your power to protect yourself and your money. And don’t fret if you spot a strange transaction in one of your statements. Stay cool and call your financial institution immediately.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Financial Literacy for Kids

March 30th, 2017 | Posted by admin in Financial Literacy - (0 Comments)

No matter how enthusiastic you are, trying to formally teach finance to kids is a tall order that is likely to make their eyes glaze over. Hold their attention by keeping money lessons relevant, age-appropriate and a bit playful.

First finances

Preschoolers can grasp that money is exchanged for stuff. Teach them the names of coins, and as their counting ability develops, explain their values. Playing “store” lets them gain skills as they “buy,” “sell” and even “price” household items.

Begin giving your children a small allowance so they can experience money in the real world, and appoint them as valuable “assistants” on your shopping trips. They’ll feel important while clipping coupons and helping you find items on the shelves.

Grade-school growth

Early grade school kids can understand goals, saving and budgeting. Have them create and decorate wish lists and give them four containers for allowance labeled “spending,” “saving,” “investing” and “giving.” The spending jar is for inexpensive things kids want, such as candy or stickers. The savings jar provides a place to save for wish-list items, while the investing jar builds overall savings. The giving jar can encourage compassion as kids contribute to charities that are meaningful to them, or save to buy presents for family members.

Bring kids along when you visit a branch of a financial institution, explaining that the institutions keep your money safe and even pay you for letting it rest there. Make sure they understand the automated teller machine doesn’t spew free money and only releases cash you’ve already put in your account. By the later grade-school years, kids should graduate to their own savings accounts. Look for those with no fees and full parental access.

Middle-school money

Middle schoolers are ready to be included in appropriate family financial discussions about basic living expenses and savings goals. Wish lists can be swapped for goal charts, and you may want to offer to match your children’s savings as an incentive to help them make a special purchase.

Most kids this age enjoy the experience of running a garage sale where they can set prices, make change and bargain with customers. They’ll have fun earning extra cash while you clear out space at home.

Teen finances

In the teen years, introduce savings certificates, bonds and securities as investments. You may even want to give your teens a small amount of money and let them choose how to invest for a short-term or long-term goal. Encourage teens to work part-time and help them open a student checking account that has a debit card, mobile access and low or no minimum balance or maintenance fees. Consider downloading a mobile financial app to help them track spending and savings. When tax time comes, let them fill out their own return with your supervision and guidance.

No matter what the age, odds are kids would still rather play computer games than listen to you discuss money. Rather than get discouraged, introduce some fun financial apps and games. The experience kids gain through your efforts and a little help from technology will pave the way for a lifetime of financial savvy and success.

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