I’m Done with Debt

This guest post from Andrew J. is part of the “reader stories” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity, and with all sorts of incomes.

I am writing this for two reasons:

  • First, GRS is like a big toolbox that I just discovered, already full of all the tools I need to build a strong, long-lasting financial future for myself, and
  • Second, as a letter to myself, to remind me of where I am, at this point in my life, and why it's worth working so hard to not be here again.

Let me start by giving you my history.

In the beginning…
After high school, I lived at home with my family while I attended one of the area community colleges to complete my Associate of Arts Degree. I took a part-time job designing and maintaining a website for a local real estate company. I had no real reason to save any money at the time because my financial obligations were, well, none. At least until tax time came…

I was being paid as an independent contractor so no taxes were being taken out of my check, and when taxes came due, I owed almost $2,000. I took another job at a casino in town so I could save up the money needed to pay off the debt, and ended up liking where I was, so I stayed. Still, I didn't save any money. If I wanted something, I'd save just enough for it, then spend it all. I had a nice truck that cost me $550 per month plus gas (it took premium and got 12 mpg!!) and didn't think much of it.

I got a promotion at work two years after I started, got a decent pay increase, and decided it was time to make an investment. I got together with two friends (they were a couple I had known for several years), and we started looking at houses. This was in 2004 when the market was booming in California.

We got our finances approved and bought a nice four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house in a quiet cul-de-sac in a small town. The loan we got was an interest-only loan, and even though we knew the drawbacks of this kind of loan, we told ourselves that we were only going to hold onto it for a couple years, then get rid of it.

Exodus
Well, within a couple of weeks of closing, the couple broke up and she moved out, signing the house over to us and walking away. Now we had to find roommates so we could afford the house. Within the first year, the other owner decided he didn't want to be there anymore either and sold me his share of the house. He took off, and I had roommates for a while until I met a girl.

Up until that point, I had credit cards but never held a balance on them. We started traveling, going out to dinner often, and next thing you know, she moved in and the roommates moved out.

Now this was about the time the economy started to tank. My debt had grown to over $20,000, and I couldn't even afford to pay the minimum payments on my credit cards. We put the house on the market but didn't get one offer. Then our relationship ended and she took off after cleaning out our bank account. I was left in a house with a $2,000 monthly mortgage without property taxes and insurance and decided that foreclosure was the way to go. I stopped making payments on the house and started to concentrate on the credit cards. After a few months of paying toward the credit cards, I decided to declare bankruptcy and write everything off.

In November of 2009, everything was discharged and I was now debt free. I knew this was the perfect time for me to start saving. I moved back in with my parents so I could save as much as possible but then I had to have surgery on my ankle. I had insurance, but they didn't cover all of it. I got over that, but just when I started to save up a little bit, the temptations of my friends got the better of me. I ended up going with a group of friends to Germany and Switzerland for New Years. I had a great time and am happy I went, but it wasn't good timing. The good news is that, unlike everybody else in my group, I paid cash for the whole thing; when I got home, I wasn't paying off the trip for several months like some of the people I went with.

I got to the point where I could start saving again. But when I filed my taxes, I realized I never changed my W4 form through work the previous year and still had my paycheck adjusted for being able to write off the interest on the house. This year I owed over $3,000. Again, I had no money in the bank. I was able to pay off the state but had to set up a payment plan for the federal return.

Revelation
It was about this time I started reading the different articles at Get Rich Slowly. I started to realize that I make enough money to save rather quickly; I just really suck at budgeting.

So, I put together a plan on how to get out of debt, giving myself a weekly allowance, and paying off my current debt very quickly. I've accumulated a handful more bills from my surgery, but after putting together a plan (on paper), I can see that it is very possible to have it all taken care of in three months, while saving at the same time! More then anything, Get Rich Slowly has shown me that it is possible, and to look at the Big Picture and plan for the future. Just mapping out my budget lets me know exactly when I can pay something off so I can be honest with whoever is billing me.

I know it won't be easy at first. I've gotten used to spending a lot, and just running out and buying something if I want it. I've accumulated some nice things over the years, and now I've told myself to enjoy them. I was able to pick up a friend's old truck that runs well for only $700. I also have a motorcycle I picked up a few years back, when I didn't have a vehicle, so I could use it as cheap transportation. It works great and is very, very cheap to maintain and operate. My degree was in photography and I plan to get up and take more pictures.

All of these things can be done for next to nothing, which will allow me to not only save quickly, but also not sacrifice living at the same time. I want to go back to school and get my bachelors degree, and I don't want any type of student loans to do it. Debt has run my life for the past ten years almost and I'm done with it. I know at first it's going to be hard to tell my friends that I can't join them every trip or get together once a week for a cigar but, just like me, they'll get used to it.

Converted
I mapped out the rest of this year, being as accurate as I could, not taking into account any extra money that might come in, and have set a goal of having $10,000 in savings by the end of the year. I contribute to a 401(k) through work, and put in twice what they match just to build it up. I also have a Roth IRA I started a long time ago, but haven't touched in almost seven years. It's time I started making that money work for me.

I also have a gym membership and intend to keep it. Toward the end of my relationship, I got pretty unhealthy, and am now on a path to correcting that. I have a great friend that has pushed me to my limits in an effort for me to improve myself, and I am extremely grateful for him. I've noticed in the past few months since going to the gym that my self confidence has grown, and I just plain feel better about myself and also in the decisions I make.

In the future, the hardest part of all of this is going to be avoiding the temptations and reminding myself that it's all worth it. Once I establish a routine and get set in it, it'll be much easier for me. Without Get Rich Slowly to remind me it's possible and to help push me in the right direction, I don't know if I would have taken the first steps to get started. And for that, I say thank you.

More about...Debt

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Tim S.
Tim S.

Thanks for sharing your story, Andrew. I will have to share this with my brother, who is graduating college this year. I could see him having the same story to tell if he doesn’t change his habits. He has a hard time saying “no” to friends and although he generally pays cash, he doesn’t save anything. From your story, it sounds like you used to have the same habits he has. The thing is, my brother doesn’t seem to care. Maybe this will inspire him.

Amy
Amy

Right on Andrew! Sounds like you are on a path that works for you and will be both monetarily and physically beneficial to you. Thanks for sharing your story.

basicmoneytips.com
basicmoneytips.com

Thanks for sharing this Andrew. Sounds like you have learned some hard lessons but you are young and have a lot of years to get things back on track.

Hope you can continue to stay focused and things continue to improve in your financial future.

Michelle
Michelle

Good for you Andrew! Taking care of your financial and physical selves will build success upon success, as each step that you take toward either goal will remind you that your future is worth fighting for!

Mark B.
Mark B.

I’m sorry, but it sickens me to read of people like this writer who simply discharge their debt with bankruptcy and then continue on the same path once again with no remorse for those they’ve screwed over. People who get themselves into this predicament shouldn’t be able to simply walk away as this writer did and consider themselves “debt free”. Thank goodness the government (IRS) and student loans aren’t bankruptable. At least people can’t completely scam the system. Bankruptcy is an option for thiefs and cowards.

jaiganesh v
jaiganesh v

good to read this inspirational article, Andrew!!

Bobbi
Bobbi

Great story. The important thing is you have learned from this and are taking the right steps to have a great life. Sounds like you have a good plan going for you. Keep up the good work. 🙂

Bananen
Bananen

Part of your debt was the result of stupid mistakes, but another significant part was the result of taxes. What a shame that government robbery is what held you down for a long time.

wanzman
wanzman

Its hard to have respect for somebody who really just gave up and cried uncle (filed bankruptcy).

What has this guy really accomplished, other than giving up and starting over?

Nothing.

I am not really impressed.

Show me someone who has actually worked hard and made sacrifices to achieve something. Then I will listen.

fantasma
fantasma

I missed the part about bankruptcy the first time I read this story, but the second time around I caught it. Why didn’t you get roommates or a second job? Cut back on stuff. Sell stuff in the house you didn’t need/use? I really don’t see how your going to turn a new leaf. You got cleared of your debts, seems like to me you will do this again. I don’t like the path you travelled. But you made your decision, best of luck.

Dee
Dee

I would not say so as harshly as Mark, but I also think that the writer took the easy way out and it makes me angry because I (as a taxpayer and credit card user) get left paying for his choice. He says that he has the income but just isn’t good at budgeting – well maybe he should consider paying back his debt with his income, after all, HE is the one who consumed all those dinners, lived in that house, bought that whatever – why shouldn’t he pay for those things now?

Kyle
Kyle

Those of you “sickened” by bankruptcy have bought so heavily into the dogma that credit card companies push. As a bankruptcy attorney I regularly counsel clients to begin reading this site, and to research other resources like mint.com. What you need to know about bankruptcy is that there is a portion of the law that creates an income measurement called the ‘means test.’ It determines if you raise the presumption that filing a bankruptcy is abusive to your creditors (a.k.a. unfair). In the law, a presumption shifts to the other party when you rebut it. Accordingly, if you do not… Read more »

Elliot
Elliot

This writer has inspired me!! I am $11,000 in debt but instead of paying it back I am going to file for bankruptcy. That way I will be able to save $10,000 this year, with enough leftover to pay for a gym membership.

I’m sorry but that wasn’t very inspiring at all.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

Folks, I’m no fan of bankruptcy either. I do think there’s a place for it, however, and it’s not a blanket evil. Arguing that it this is the case is nonsensical. Was Andrew justified in declaring bankruptcy? That’s not for me to say. At the time, he felt like it was his only choice, so who am I to judge him? Yes, he made some stupid mistakes, and he admits as much. To focus on this one aspect of the story misses the point. This is a story about how somebody has made mistakes in the past, and is now… Read more »

uncertain algorithm
uncertain algorithm

I concur with Mark, Dee and Elliot.

“Please begin to think for yourself rather than buying the dogma of corporations…”

You, of course, make the false assumption that people who disagree with bankruptcy align themselves with corporations. We align ourselves with integrity: if we are responsible enough to borrow money, we are responsible enough to pay back what we owe. That is not corporate thinking, but understanding and accepting responsibility.

Sandy E.
Sandy E.

If I read the story correctly, the writer ran up his credit card, then filed for bankruptcy (chapter 7, I’m assuming?) That’s just being irresponsible, and hence the resentment from a lot of readers who have done the same thing and paid theirs down. Had this been for say medical bills, that’s more what the Founding Fathers undoubtedly had in mind by inserting a bankruptcy provision into the Constitution (before they added the Bill of Rights even) because they wanted Americans to have an alternative to debtors’ prisons and a lifetime of debt. Naturally an attorney specializing in bankruptcy would… Read more »

emma
emma

I’m sorry Kyle but I’m not buying what you’re selling , “Accordingly, if you do not raise the presumption of abuse, then it is presumed that the creditors were abusive in extending the credit in the first place. Think about it, they are in the best position to make credit-worthiness decisions every day. They know the risks and have full benefit of access to a minimum of 9 types of credit reports including personality profiling.” Creditors abusive? In my 52 years of walking this earth not once has a creditor pulled me off the street or out of my house… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

I wanted to add something else: When I was struggling with debt in the late 1990s, I considered bankruptcy. I felt so overwhelmed by my debt that I couldn’t see any other way out. Obviously, I was able to find another option, but at the time, bankruptcy seemed like a viable (if shameful) option. I wasn’t proud of considering it, but I was so desperate, I was willing to consider anything. I’m glad that I didn’t have to go that route, but I totally relate to those who feel like it’s their only option. One of my hopes is that… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

I can’t say I didn’t see this line of comments coming. Admit past mistakes and a bunch of self-righteous but uninvolved and unaffected 3rd parties chime in to declare you morally reprehensible. GRS Comments: where working within the law to settle debts in a centuries-old, established, and legal manner makes you an irredeemable failure of a person. Meanwhile, the actual creditors involved have long since forgotten about it and hold no ill will (being that they’re generally not actual people anyway, it’d probably be impossible for them to hold ill will). No one’s going to want to share any stories… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah

Don’t think “government robbery” helped hold you down. There actually is a worksheet to estimate your tax situation AND you can take some time and review it during the year and make any changes necessary.

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass

“No one’s going to want to share any stories at all where they admit any sort of past failing if this is the sort of response we always see.” Heck, even stories of past success get flamed here. And Tyler, you haven’t always been nice, either (though, to be fair, I’ve written my share of negative comments too; I stopped after my post ran here and got 150+ negative comments.) It falls on the author to deal with this with a thick skin and to not let the haters get to him/her. Which is unfortunate. But at least the haters… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

Tyler (#19) has an excellent point, folks: No one’s going to want to share any stories at all where they admit any sort of past failing if this is the sort of response we always see. I don’t think Tyler, Andrew, and I are expecting you to praise certain choices and mistakes. But to dwell on them serves no purpose. Andrew knows he’s screwed up in the past. Now, though, he’s trying to turn things around, and I think that’s what we should be talking about: How he can improve in the future and avoid the mistakes of the past.… Read more »

M.Wright
M.Wright

The first thing I noticed about Andrew’s story was that he declared bankruptcy and then went off on vacation to Europe. Wow! Sounds little like these recent bank bail outs, but in a very small scale. You create a financial disaster, get “bailed out” and then go on a vacation to celebrate your freedom while you leave your debtors holding the bag. Hmmm…somehow that does not sit comfortably with me. But as a fellow recovering “debt-addict” I have to add that I’m pleased to read that Andrew is on the way to recovery. Little more humility about your past might… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth

People seem to be in a bad mood today! How did Andrew “rob the government” if he settled his tax bills and followed their payment plan? People do it all the time. Yes, he could have paid in advance, but if it were “robbery” he would be in jail. Also, for people raging about bankruptcy, an overwhelming portion of people while file have outstanding medical bills, but a bill is a bill. Americans seem to believe that you only deserve to be healed if you can pay for it, so why would you be ok with people claiming bankruptcy for… Read more »

emma
emma

I just want to be clear that I wasn’t hating on Tyler or the choices he made. What’s done is done and the only thing one can do is move forward and hopefully not make the same mistakes again. And hopefully by telling his story helping someone else to make better choices.

What I am “hating” on, and I’m not sure that is the right word, is for people to excuse those poor choices by saying it was someone else’s fault aka the credit card companies.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

I admit I can be critical, Erica — I remember being critical of your article specifically (I too think I’ve toned this down recently). There’s a difference though between, “I see problems in your reasoning” or “your point seems unsupported” which is what I try to do (maybe I’m not always successful) and “You lack integrity and responsibility as a person. You are a thief and a coward.” which is what we’re seeing today (and not the sort of thing I can ever remember writing). Criticism can sting even when it’s ultimately helpful. Personal attacks and moral judgements of past… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

Also, I think J.D.’s right: In general, this site has some of the best commenters on the internet. Compare to youtube for contrast. However, on days like today, I wonder if that’s not so much because of the community, but because of the de facto rules that the community has to abide by. Discussion of politics and religion are effectively verboten, which I’m sure keeps out a lot of vitriol. The math beyond the actual financial aspect of the site is generally simple and not really up for debate, it’s either correct or it isn’t. We operate in a bit… Read more »

Kyle
Kyle

As I mentioned before, I regularly recommend this site to clients as a way of learning financial responsibility subsequent to filing a bankruptcy. Given the apparent predisposition and lack of compassion towards individuals who may have found themselves in situations beyond their own control, I am second guessing that recommendation. I would hope that the majority of individuals who read this site do so to educate themselves and others about how to heal the mistakes we have made and to avoid them in the future. Sadly, I fear this may not entirely be the case. After years of practice, I… Read more »

Andrew J
Andrew J

A little more to the story… I would like to say, in my defense, that it wasn’t like I ran out and charged everything under the sun just so I could “right it off” in the future. My girlfriend at the time had her hours cut at work, then she got sick and had to quit. 80% of the debt we had was for our day to day item; gas, food, etc. We paid all the bills with the cash I was making. The plan at the time was when the house sold, we would be able to take the… Read more »

Jennifer Lissette
Jennifer Lissette

I think what’s interesting about this post is that the writer is at the very beginning of his financial turnaround. There are so many vastly successful contributors to Get Rich Slowly, but here is someone who is just starting to make the realizations that many of us take for granted these days. It’s a helpful reminder of the humble beginnings that caused many of us to start reading this site to begin with. I find myself wondering if that’s why JD chose this story to publish. I’d be interested to hear from Andrew again in two years. I’d like to… Read more »

schmei
schmei

emma (#17): “Whatever happened to personal responsibility?” Isn’t this a story about someone TAKING personal responsibility? I thought most GRS readers were in situations similar to the original poster: we are or have been in serious debt, we need help budgeting, we’re not sitting around with silver spoons in our mouths. We’re reading this to learn how to improve our situation, not to gloat about how morally superior we are to folks who’ve made mistakes. And yes, he made stupid mistakes. He admits as much. So did JD, but we read his site. So did I, but I’m working on… Read more »

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass

J.D.: “I don’t agree with you. I don’t think GRS commenters are haters. In general, they’re awesome, supportive people.” They’re only awesome and supportive if you follow expected societal norms. When your wife wrote about feeling guilty for hiring a housekeeper, the comments were generally supportive. That’s because feeling guilty for hiring help is an expected cultural norm in America. (Travel to Africa or Asia and it’s not normal at all to feel guilty. In fact, it’s expected that you will hire help when you’re doing well to help better the community and support local jobs–completely the opposite of here.)… Read more »

Jason B
Jason B

Andrew,

Good luck. I know you can’t feel good about the past mistakes, but you can feel really good knowing you’ve found good tools and hopefully good support in making the right choices going forward. Sure, you had some fun with a life of debt, but you realized it’s not a long term plan. Now you can make better use of your money by using it efficiently rather than wastefully, and you can be prepared for your future, whether it’s family, travel or retirement. Stick with it!

Jason

KK
KK

@ JD I am thinking that some of the nasty comments today may be due to frustration in general over this series rather than personally with Andrew. I enjoy the Sunday “reader’s stories” and look forward to reading it each week. Today as I read the story I immediately thought – “oh man not another one about bankruptcy!” Obviously, I already know that bankruptcy is an option. It is my impression that many of the GRS readers are people who are looking for a different way to handle their financial situations. If the idea is that “reader stories” are supposed… Read more »

chris
chris

I think this writer had it very easy. He had safety nets whenever he turned around. He lived with parents, fell back on the bankruptcy and then lived with parents yet again? I don’t know many people – any really – who could do this. While it is nice to think or imagine that one could have that easy-out, I think many people have too much pride for that. There is real satisfaction in making it on your own, correcting your own mistakes and sustaining yourself by your own means. I think that this writing is missing out on a… Read more »

Jean
Jean

Hey, Andrew, I know exactly what you mean about letting that tax reserve kinda slide during the year, and then having to scramble to come up with the money when it’s due. I became self-employed when I was about 25, and it took awhile to get into the swing of setting aside a percentage of every payment I invoiced. I well remember that sinking feeling when doing my tax return, and thinking “Oh, dear, the next few months are going to be lean while I fix this situation…again….”

Good luck with turning over that new leaf.

sashie
sashie

I read this post earlier today and had come back after thinking about it for several hours. There are several issues here for me. The first one being that I think it is difficult to accept some of Andrew’s assertions because he is so clearly at the beginning of his financial “journey”. He has some very optimistic goals, but not a lot of past precedence to make those goals seem realistic (to me). I am supportive of people declaring bankruptcy when they get overwhelmed by debt. But, it is hard for me to understand how one is overwhelmed with debt… Read more »

Claudia M.
Claudia M.

Stories about personal finance include the good, the bad, and the flat out butt-ugly. Although I completely disagree with Andrew J.’s past decision to file bankruptcy, I don’t condemn his personal character or question his morality for choosing to do so. The whole point of Andrew’s post is that we all have, do, and will make mistakes with our personal finances. However, we can recover from these decisions when we as individuals decide to take responsibility for our actions. The unfortunate part of Andrew’s story is that it took him ten years before he was able to get it together.… Read more »

Dan M
Dan M

That’s a great story, and very well written. Good job, Andrew, on moving on after your mistakes and sharing your problems and solutions with the rest of us. There is a lot of valuable information to take away from this post 🙂

Student in London
Student in London

This is an excellent story with a good message. It was written with the deepest honesty which I really appreciated. This can happen to anyone but the truth is you decided to get out of the situation.

I hope you do reach that $10,000 goal and can come back in a year or so with a story of what you did to reach this goal and whether it ended up being more (should there be any windfalls)

Best of luck to you! Highly moving story.

Debbie M
Debbie M

The great thing about this story is that Andrew knows what he’s doing now. He’s never going bankrupt again. He’s trying to never even go into debt again. Even if you think bankruptcy in his circumstances was a horrible choice, you can now feel good that he has changed into the sort of guy who will never make that kind of choice again. He is dedicated to learning more about personal finance, and from now on, he’ll be making choices based on a lot more knowledge and information. And he also now knows that things come up–both things you should… Read more »

Kat Eden
Kat Eden

This is amazing. Your honesty, I mean. The idea of getting out of debt terrifies me. I don’t know why. It sounds ridiculous – what am I scared of? I think it’s about giving up, but deep down I know that it would ultimately be about getting more. Thank-you for sharing your story: I don’t know if I could do that so bravely!

Missy
Missy

I have to admit, the bankruptcy, “debt-free” comment did cause my gut to clench just a bit, particularly in these times. On the other hand, a friend of mine is continuing to throw money at a duplex in CA that he bought for $300K and is now worth $95K. He is 30 years old and unmarried, and shares a house far out of town with 3-4 roommates so he can continue making payments. I have to respect his integrity, but his story is the other extreme, with a single bad financial decision now controlling his life. I don’t know what… Read more »

Storch Money
Storch Money

I very much enjoy, and have learned many things by reading, the comments on blog entries on this site. I’m not sure why this post has spurred so much apparent self-analysis of the site, since it should have been entirely predictable that a personal story involving a bankruptcy would draw some negative comments.

I don’t think the comments have been outside the bounds of decency.

Adrienne
Adrienne

I think one of the reasons that there are so many negative comments on the story (besides the bankruptcy) is that the author hasn’t actually done anything yet. It’s as if someone told a story of years of unsucessful dieting but then said they had a revelation and figured they could loose 50 lbs this year. Well…ok but what makes us think it will be different this time? Realization is the first step but it doesn’t always lead to actions. Hope to hear a follow-up in a year.

Kate
Kate

Well, it’s my guess that Andrew won’t be filing for bankruptcy again in the future and THAT is what really seems to be the point of the story.

Andrew, thanks for sharing.

L
L

I just wanted to reply to Erica Douglass’ comments. She stated: “For some reason, this site attracts people of certain viewpoints, and when someone writes a story that doesn’t fit their view, the comments get nasty. I can tell you that it discourages a lot of people from sharing stories.” I disagree. There are some PF blogs out there that have some VERY cynical, hateful comments – I don’t feel that this is one of them. I do feel that people here are honest, which I think is great and refreshing! I found it interesting to read Erica’s comments, and… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1

I’m starting to think that every reader should have to submit a Reader Story before they’re allowed to comment. Peer pressure is a very effective tool, guys, but it doesn’t work retroactively! Something that’s done, is DONE – and if someone is self-aware enough to write a story about bad financial decisions they’ve made, there is a very good chance that they have truly hit bottom and had their moment of clarity. It’s idiotic to say someone “should have done” thus-and-so. Not one of us can change the past. It’s also idiotic to say someone *who you don’t even know*… Read more »

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass

L, here is the post that describes the background I have and the reason I’m no longer “humble”:

http://www.erica.biz/2009/how-do-all-those-idiots-make-so-much-money/

By the way, “humble” is just another American accepted cultural norm.

-Erica

uncertain algorithm
uncertain algorithm

“I’d be interested to hear from Andrew again in two years. I’d like to hear if he took advantage of the opportunity to start over or if it turns out that he can talk the talk but cannot walk the walk.” See, this is my concern. If Andrew becomes a better person for it and truly goes on to do great things (who knows, maybe finds a way to right his wrongs), that is one thing. But at least from what I read, it’s difficult to know this. As a comparison, when I was in high school I stole a… Read more »

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