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Chris Arnold

The federal government took a major step toward helping homeowners this week, ordering lenders to give people hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic up to a 12-month break on their mortgage payments.

But what about renters?

Many cities say they're halting evictions if renters can't pay. But that's about it, says Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

Updated at 2:49 p.m. ET

Homeowners who have lost income or their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak are getting some relief. Depending on their situation, they should be eligible to have their mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months.

As the economy rapidly shuts down, many small businesses around the country are on the verge of collapsing. They have a message for the federal government: Please send money fast or we'll be out of business.

After the financial crisis hit in 2008, millions of Americans who worked at small businesses lost their jobs. It happened in just a matter of months. That's because many smaller businesses operate kind of like people who live paycheck to paycheck, without much savings.

In an unprecedented attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of stores and other businesses are closing their doors to customers.

Apple, Nike, Patagonia and scores of other retailers are closing thousands of stores across the country. In the nation's largest cities — New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco — officials said they were ordering restaurants, bars, and cinemas to close. Restaurants will be permitted to do takeout business.

In what's looking more like a public health debacle, the U.S. has a serious testing problem with the coronavirus. Only around 15,000 people have been tested so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And public health experts say that's not nearly enough to know how widespread the outbreak is and how to respond.

But the Food and Drug Administration has just approved a new test from the giant pharmaceutical company Roche that could represent a major breakthrough.

A dramatic drop in mortgage rates may give prospective homebuyers a chance to afford the house they've been eyeing — or may lower monthly payments for homeowners who refinance.

Last week, fears over the novel coronavirus outbreak's anticipated economic impact sparked the most dramatic stock market sell-off since the 2008 financial crisis. Stocks rallied Monday on expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to boost the economy.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you're looking to sell your home and avoid people tromping through your living room at open houses, there's a new option that's becoming popular in many parts of the country. Companies called iBuyers, or instant buyers, use computer algorithms to make you an offer, often within a day.

With rising home prices, many young people think they can't afford homes. But there are alternatives to the traditional 20% down payment, giving more people the opportunity of homeownership.

Listen to the full story on finding the right mortgage from Life Kit here.

Financial firms may be discriminating against people based on where they went to college, a watchdog group says. In particular, the group found that a lender named Upstart appears to be charging higher interest rates on student loans to graduates of historically black or predominantly Hispanic colleges.

A lot more people are getting loans these days from a new breed of lenders known as fintechs, or financial technology firms. And some of these lenders factor in where loan applicants went to college.

It has been more than two years since the nation's most powerful financial watchdog examined the companies that manage about $1.5 trillion of federal student loans owed by 43 million borrowers.

On Thursday, two members of the Senate Banking Committee said they're exasperated with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's continuing failure to pursue mounting problems with the way student loans are handled.

Your credit score can determine whether you can buy a car, get certain jobs or rent an apartment. It's a big deal. And so is this: Credit scores for many Americans are about to change — even if they don't do anything.

The changes will be extensive. About 40 million Americans are likely to see their credit scores drop by 20 points or more, and an equal number should go up by as much, according to Joanne Gaskin, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO, the company at the heart of the credit scoring system.

Updated at 1:26 p.m. ET Friday

If Jeff Bezos can't keep his phone safe, how can the rest of us hope to?

Sure, Bezos, Amazon's CEO and the owner of The Washington Post, is smart and presumably has good security people helping him, says Matthew Green, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University. But, Green says, "the bad thing about being Jeff Bezos is that there are a lot of people with huge amounts of money who want to hack you."

A few years ago, Lauren had a big problem. The Queens, N.Y., resident had graduated from college with an art degree as the Great Recession had hit. She had private student loans with high interest rates. For work, all she could find were retail jobs. And by 2016, her loans had ballooned to about $200,000.

" 'I can't afford to actually pay my bills and eat and pay my rent,' " she remembers thinking. "I was financially handicapped. I mean, my student loan payments were higher than my rent was."

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Saving more and spending less is a popular New Year's resolution, which doesn't sound like a lot of fun. So why are some of our listeners talking about budgeting like this?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm actually super jazzed about it (laughter). It's, like, all I want to talk about.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And I am a budgeting wizard.

MARTIN: A budgeting wizard - super jazzed - what's going on with these people? What are their secrets? NPR's Chris Arnold from our Life Kit podcast says this does not need to be a dreaded task.

Mike Calhoun is a man on a mission. He's flying around the country, warning state lawmakers and prosecutors, sounding the alarm at conferences and with members of Congress.

Updated at 12:26 p.m. ET

A nonprofit student loan group is suing the nation's most powerful consumer watchdog agency. The lawsuit, first obtained by NPR, alleges that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has abandoned its obligation to oversee companies that manage student loans, in particular a troubled loan forgiveness program.

Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders want to tear up your student loans and set you financially free. That's popular among voters – especially those struggling to pay off this debt.

Other Democratic candidates have more modest plans. But economists say the dramatic proposals from Sanders and Warren to free millions of Americans from the burden of student debt could boost the economy in significant ways and help combat income inequality.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Updated at 12:23 p.m. ET

A few years ago, money was very tight for Chasity Wohlford. The Houston resident, who was working a low-wage job, needed to fly to Colorado for a family emergency. She says a friend told her, "Oh, just go to this payday lender. It's super easy." But Wohlford ended up over her head in debt after taking out that loan.

A couple of years ago, Laura Hart had been through a divorce, her car was 11 years old, and she wanted a new vehicle. "Almost, 'I earned it,' really" is how Hart says she felt at the time.

She'd been through a tough experience "while maintaining a full-time job and raising two kids and things like that, so when I got to the point where I felt comfortable to take on a car loan again, I was fairly proud and ready to do that."

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET

Twenty-three U.S. senators are calling on the nation's top consumer protection agency to investigate a loan servicer for its role in a troubled student loan forgiveness program. The program is designed to help public service workers like teachers and police officers.

The loan servicer, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, better known as FedLoan and PHEAA, is one of the entities that handles the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

More than a third of car buyers these days are taking out loans longer than six years. And more people are rolling unpaid debt from their last car into their new car loan. If that's you, we'd love to hear from you — especially if you've done both.

Please fill out this survey to tell us about your experience and how best to get in touch with you. A reporter or producer may contact you about doing an interview for a story.

Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET

Four U.S. senators told the head of the nation's top consumer protection agency Thursday that they want her to launch examinations into serious problems with a program designed to offer loan forgiveness to public service workers.

Starting early last year, the nation's most powerful consumer protection agency sent examiners into companies that run student loan call centers to try to fix a troubled loan forgiveness program. But the Department of Education blocked the bureau from getting the information it needed, NPR has learned.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is designed to help firefighters, military service members, nonprofit workers and others. But thousands of people say they were treated unfairly and rejected.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno and leaders of the country's indigenous peoples have reached a deal to cancel a disputed austerity package. The move follows nearly two weeks of violent, widespread protests.

The unrest began after Moreno ended government subsidies that have helped keep fuel prices low in Ecuador for some 40 years. The move was part of a broader austerity plan related to $4.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund to prop up Ecuador's government and economy.

A different sort of American dream is under construction outside Denver. More than 130 homes are being framed and nail-gunned together. But there won't be any real estate agents staging open houses. Instead of homeownership, this development is all about home-rentership.

"We got started in around 2010 after the housing crash and people were losing their homes," says Josh Hartmann, the CEO of NexMetro Communities, the company building these homes.

For 24 years, Karen Bradley worked as a nurse at St. Clare's Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y. The pay wasn't great, she says, but it was a good hospital, the place where her father once worked as a pharmacist. Bradley thought that if she stayed she'd have a nice pension for retirement.

"I enjoyed what I did there and believed in the promises that were made about the pension," she says.

But a year ago, Bradley got a letter saying her pension was gone.

"Why is there nothing left? Who screwed up?" she wondered.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has reached an agreement in principle to settle a lawsuit that alleged that MIT, one of the nation's most prestigious universities, hurt workers in its retirement plan by engaging in an improper relationship with the financial firm Fidelity Investments.

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