Rising home prices and income inequality priced many out of the market, but for strivers who aspired to homeownership, the latest ruptures to the economy hit hard. The release of the new government’s sweeping plan for debt-funded tax cuts led to a big uptick in interest rates this week that roiled the mortgage market. Many homeowners are calculating their potential future mortgage payments with alarm, amid soaring energy and food prices and a general cost-of-living crisis.

Before they were informed they were no longer eligible, the family had been in the final stages of applying for a five-year fixed-rate mortgage on an apartment priced at £519,000, or around $576,000, in the leafy parish of Loughton, a town about 40 minutes north of London by train where the streets fill with students in the afternoon and the properties span from lower-end apartments to million-pound mansions.

according to the Financial Conduct Authority. And more than a third of all mortgages are on fixed rates that expire within the next two years, most likely exposing those borrowers to higher rates, too. By contrast, the vast majority of mortgages in the United States are locked in for 30-year fixed terms.

And the abrupt surge in interest rates could threaten to set off a housing market crisis, analysts at Oxford Economics wrote in a note on Friday, adding that if mortgage rates stayed at the levels now being offered, that would suggest that house prices were around 30 percent overvalued “based on the affordability of mortgage payment.”

“This just adds a significant further strain to finances in the order of hundreds of pounds a month,” said David Sturrock, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, adding that the squeeze on household budgets will affect the broader economy.

Uncertainty and even panic was clear this week, with many homeowners seeking financial advice. Mortgage brokers said they were receiving a higher volume of inquiries than normal from people stressed about refinancing their loans.

“You can feel the fear in people’s voices,” said Caroline Opie, a mortgage broker working with Ms. Anne who said she had not seen this level of worry in a long time. One couple this week even called her the morning of their wedding, she said, to set an appointment to refinance their mortgage next week.

the war in Ukraine. “Something has got to give,” he said. “Prices are too high anyway.”

To save for the deposit, Mr. Szostek, 37, picked up construction shifts and cleaning jobs when restaurants closed during Covid-19 lockdowns. A £5,000 inheritance from Ms. Anne’s grandfather went into their deposit fund. At a 3.99 percent interest rate, the mortgage repayments were set to be about £2,200 a month.

“I wanted to feel at home for real,” said Ms. Anne, adding she would have been the first in her family to own a property. Mr. Szostek called it “a lifelong dream.”

On Wednesday night, that dream still seemed in reach: The mortgage dealer Ms. Opie had found another loan, which they rushed to apply for.

The higher interest rate — 4.6 percent — will mean their new monthly mortgage payment will be £2,400, the upper limit of what the Szostek family can afford. Still, they felt lucky to secure anything at all, hoping it will mean their promises to their children — of bigger bedrooms, more space, freedom to decorate how they like — will materialize.

They would wait to celebrate, Mr. Szostek said, until they had the keys in hand.

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Strike Threat on Freight Railroads Is New Supply Chain Worry

“Failure to finalize an agreement before the Sept. 16 deadline will hurt U.S. consumers and imperil the availability, affordability and accessibility of everyday essential products,” the Consumer Brands Association, which represents manufacturers of food, beverage, household and personal care products, said in a letter to Mr. Biden last week.

In a statement over the weekend, Corey Rosenbusch, the president of the Fertilizer Institute, an industry group, said a potential work stoppage would be “bad news for farmers and food security.”

The Association of American Railroads, a freight rail industry group, said a disruption to service would cost more than $2 billion per day in economic output, idle thousands of trains and result in widespread product shortages and job losses. Rail accounts for about 28 percent of U.S. freight movement, second only to trucking’s nearly 40 percent, according to federal data.

More than 460,000 additional trucks would be needed each day to carry the goods otherwise delivered by rail, the American Trucking Associations, another industry group, said in a letter last week asking lawmakers to be prepared to intervene. The trucking industry faces a shortage of 80,000 drivers, so a rail disruption would “create havoc in the supply chain and fuel inflationary pressures across the board,” it said.

In a message on Friday, Steve Bobb, the chief marketing officer of one of the rail carriers, BNSF, encouraged customers to ask Congress to intervene. His counterpart at Norfolk Southern echoed that request to its customers over the weekend, too.

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said on Friday that he was hopeful that a strike could be averted, but was prepared to act if not.

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Student Loan Help For Millions Coming From Biden After Delay

The precise details of President Biden’s plan were reportedly still not finalized on the eve of the announcement.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday is set to announce his long-delayed move to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for many Americans and extend a pause on payments to January, according to three people familiar with the plan.

President Biden has faced pressure from liberals to provide broader relief to hard-hit borrowers, and from moderates and Republicans questioning the fairness of any widespread forgiveness. The delay in Biden’s decision has only heightened the anticipation for what his own aides acknowledge represents a political no-win situation. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Biden’s intended announcement ahead of time.

The precise details of President Biden’s plan, which will include an income cap limiting the forgiveness to only those earning less than $125,000 a year, were being kept to an unusually small circle within the Biden administration and were still not finalized on the eve of the announcement.

Down-to-the-wire decision-making has been a hallmark of the Biden White House, but the particular delay on student loans reflects the vexing challenge confronting him in fulfilling a key campaign promise.

The plan would likely eliminate student debt entirely for millions of Americans and wipe away at least half for millions more.

The nation’s federal student debt now tops $1.6 trillion after ballooning for years. More than 43 million Americans have federal student debt, with almost a third owing less than $10,000 and more than half owing less than $20,000, according to the latest federal data.

The continuation of the pandemic-era payment freeze comes just days before millions of Americans were set to find out when their next student loan bills will be due. This is the closest the administration has come to hitting the end of the payment freeze extension, with the current pause set to end Aug. 31.

Wednesday’s announcement was set for the White House after President Biden returns from vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The administration had briefly considered higher education schools in the president’s home state for a larger reveal, but scaled back their plans.

President Biden was initially skeptical of student loan debt cancellation as he faced off against more progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who had proposed cancellations of $50,000 or more, during the 2020 primaries.

As he tried to shore up support among younger voters and prepare for a general election battle against then-President Donald Trump, candidate Biden unveiled his initial proposal for debt cancellation of $10,000 per borrower, with no mention of an income cap.

President Biden narrowed his campaign promise in recent months by embracing the income limit as soaring inflation took a political toll and as he aimed to head off political attacks that the cancellation would benefit those with higher take-home pay. But Democrats, from members of congressional leadership to those facing tough re-election bids this November, have pushed the administration to go as broad as possible on debt relief, seeing it in part as a galvanizing issue, particularly for Black and young voters this fall.

The frenzied last-minute lobbying continued Tuesday even as President Biden remained on his summer vacation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the loudest advocates in recent years for canceling student loan debt, spoke privately on the phone with Biden, imploring the president to forgive as much debt as the administration can, according to a Democrat with knowledge of the call.

In his pitch, Schumer argued to President Biden that doing so was the right thing to do morally and economically, said the Democrat, who asked for anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Inside the administration, officials have discussed since at least early summer forgiving more than $10,000 of student debt for certain categories of borrowers, such as Pell Grant recipients, according to three people with knowledge of the deliberations. That remained one of the final variables being considered by President Biden heading into Wednesday’s announcement.

Democrats are betting that President Biden, who has seen his public approval rating tumble over the last year, can help motivate younger voters to the polls in November with the announcement.

Although President Biden’s plan is narrower than what he initially proposed during the campaign, “he’ll get a lot of credit for following through on something that he was committed to,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked with Biden during the 2020 election.

She described student debt as a “gateway issue” for younger voters, meaning it affects their views and decisions on housing affordability and career choices. A survey of 18- to 29-year-olds conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics in March found that 59% of those polled favored debt cancellation of some sort — whether for all borrowers or those most in need — although student loans did not rank high among issues that most concerned people in that age group.

Some advocates were already bracing for disappointment.

“If the rumors are true, we’ve got a problem,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, which has aggressively lobbied President Biden to take bolder action, said Tuesday. He emphasized that Black students face higher debut burdens than white students.

“President Biden’s decision on student debt cannot become the latest example of a policy that has left Black people — especially Black women — behind,” he said. “This is not how you treat Black voters who turned out in record numbers and provided 90% of their vote to once again save democracy in 2020.”

John Della Volpe, who worked as a consultant on President Biden’s campaign and is the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, said the particulars of President Biden’s announcement were less important than the decision itself.

“It’s about trust in politics, in government, in our system. It’s also about trust in the individual, which in this case is President Biden.”

Combined with fears about expanding abortion restrictions and Trump’s reemergence on the political scene, Della Volpe said student debt forgiveness “adds an additional tailwind to an already improving position with young people.”

Republicans, meanwhile, see only political upside if President Biden pursues a large-scale cancellation of student debt ahead of the November midterms, anticipating backlash for Democrats — particularly in states where there are large numbers of working-class voters without college degrees. Critics of broad student debt forgiveness also believe it will open the White House to lawsuits, on the grounds that Congress has never given the president the explicit authority to cancel debt on his own.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday blasted President Biden’s expected announcement as a “handout to the rich,” claiming it would unfairly burden lower-income taxpayers and those who have already paid off their student loans with covering the costs of higher education for the wealthy.

“My neighbor, a detective, worked 3 jobs (including selling carpet) & his wife worked to make sure their daughter got quality college degree w/no student debt,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, tweeted Tuesday. “Big sacrifice. Now their taxes must pay off someone else’s student debt?”

President Biden’s elongated deliberations have sent federal loan servicers, who have been instructed to hold back billing statements while he weighed a decision, grumbling.

Industry groups had complained that the delayed decision left them with just days to notify borrowers, retrain customer service workers and update websites and digital payment systems, said Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance.

It increases the risk that some borrowers will inadvertently be told they need to make payments, he said.

“At this late stage I think that’s the risk we’re running,” he said. “You can’t just turn on a dime with 35 million borrowers who all have different loan types and statuses.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Housing Market Is Cooling Off, But Interest Rates May Pause Price Drop

Sellers are taking advantage of the market, driving down prices with more inventory, but interest rates might not make affordability better.

Prices are finally dropping in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. But as interest rates rise, home affordability is changing more slowly.

“You’re either gonna have to pay more for that house because the loan is going to cost more, or you’re gonna have to downsize the kind of house that you want,” said Michelle Singletary, author of “What To Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits.”

Some experts are urging first-time buyers especially to wait.

“I think right now is an opportunity for the market to settle back down a little bit, although still a great seller’s market,” said David Hall, a mortgage lender.

Experts and forecasters see a cooling market in some cities and a scale tipping more in the buyer’s direction. But we’re not headed for a nationwide market crash.

“This is not a situation where it’s going to drastically drop in price,” said realtor Sindy Ready. “They’ll be small corrections.”

Sellers are slashing asking prices out west, where home prices reached some of the highest levels in the country amid the boom earlier this year. In southern California, the median home price dropped more than 1% in July — now $20,000 off its spring peak, according to real estate firm DQNews.

“Somebody who’s not a cash buyer may actually be able to buy a house, so from a buyer’s perspective, it’s a good time to get in the market,” Ready said.

As sellers try to take advantage of the last of the seller’s market, they’re improving inventory for buyers, helping to speed up the cool down.

Now, the Federal Reserve is eyeing another interest rate hike next month.

“Date the rate, marry the house,” said Frank Fuentes, loan officer at New American Funding. “Purchase your home, and you’re gonna have the opportunity, whether it’s in six months or a year or a year and a half, to refinance and lower your interest rate back down.”

Another hike could make homes more expensive for borrowers, but it could also help keep the cool going down.

Source: newsy.com

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U.S. Gas Prices Fall Below $4 a Gallon, AAA Says. Here’s Why.

Gas prices in the United States fell below $4 a gallon on Thursday, retreating to their lowest level since March, a sign of relief for Americans struggling with historically high inflation and a political boost for President Biden, who has been under pressure to do more to bring down prices.

The national average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline now stands at $3.99, according to AAA. That’s still higher than it was a year ago but well below a peak of nearly $5.02 in mid-June. The average price has fallen for 58 consecutive days.

Energy costs feed into broad measures of inflation, so the drop is also good news for policymakers who have struggled to contain rising prices. It is a welcome development for Mr. Biden, who has spent recent weeks trumpeting the drop in gasoline prices, even as he pledges to do more to bring costs down. Mr. Biden has criticized oil companies for their record profits, and this year he released some of the nation’s stockpile of oil in an effort to reduce price pressures.

cost of gasoline at the pump is determined by global oil prices, which have tumbled to their lowest point since the war in Ukraine began in February, a drop that reflects in part the growing concern of a worldwide recession that will hit demand for crude.

said in a statement, citing it as one example of recent “encouraging economic developments.”

For consumers, falling gas prices offer a respite from a shaky economy, rapid inflation and other worries. “We have new rising diseases and inflation, and people expect a recession,” said Zindy Contreras, a student and part-time waitress in Los Angeles. “If I just had to not worry about my gas tank taking up $70, that’d be a huge relief, for once.”

Ms. Contreras has been filling up her 2008 Mazda 3 only halfway as a result of the higher prices, costing her $25 to $30 each visit to the pump, and she had found opportunities to car-pool with friends. These days, Ms. Contreras usually gets gas twice a week, driving 15 miles to and from work each week and an additional 10 to 50 miles a week, depending on her plans.

The national average price masks wide regional variations. Prices vary according to the health of local economies, proximity to refineries and state taxes, said Devin Gladden, a spokesman with AAA.

weaker demand because of high costs, a sharp decline in global oil prices in recent months and the suspension of taxes on gasoline in a handful of states.

Nearly two-thirds of people in a recent AAA survey said they had altered their driving habits because of high prices, mostly by taking fewer trips and combining errands. On Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries revised down its forecast for global oil demand this year.

Regardless of the causes, the lower prices are a welcome change for drivers for whom the added expense — often $10 to $15 extra for a tank of gas — had become yet another hurdle as they sought to get their lives back to normal as the coronavirus pandemic eased.

“The affordability squeeze is becoming very real when you see these high prices at the gas pump,” said Beth Ann Bovino, the U.S. chief economist at S&P Global. “So, in that sense, it’s a positive sign certainly for those folks that are struggling.”

That cushion — cash not spent on gasoline that can go elsewhere — also extends to businesses, particularly as the price of diesel fuel drops. Diesel, which is used to fuel, for instance, farm equipment, construction machinery and long-haul trucks, has also fallen from a June record, though at a slower pace than gasoline prices.

The drop in the price of gas is also good news for the economy, as businesses face less pressure to pass energy costs on to their customers — a move that would add to the country’s inflation problem.

hurricanes later this year could damage Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines, choking off supplies.

For now, though, the steady drop in the cost of fuel offers Americans a reprieve.

“If gasoline prices stay at or near the levels they have reached, that would mean much more cushion for households,” Ms. Bovino said.

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Georgia’s Kemp Seeks Tax Breaks, Rebutting Abrams On Economy

Gov. Kemp is blaming inflation and other economic troubles on President Joe Biden and Kemp’s Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.

Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp will unfurl his first major policy proposals of his reelection bid Thursday, pledging another state income tax rebate and revival of a long-dormant state property tax break while contending with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams over who’s best for the state’s economy.

After Abrams argued this week that “miserly” Republicans are denying basic services and ignoring inequities in pursuit of low spending and tax cuts for the rich, Kemp started swinging at Abrams as he celebrated record-high economic development numbers Wednesday.

“If anyone wants to suggest we aren’t delivering on jobs and opportunities for everyone in this state, they should get their facts straight before commenting on things that they simply do not understand,” Kemp said.

Abrams is seeking traction against a Republican incumbent she narrowly trails in the polls in a crucial swing state. The challenger argues that not only Kemp’s fiscal policies but his support for abortion restrictions, loose gun laws and even tighter controls on what’s taught in schools threaten the growth of a $683 billion state economy.

Kemp is sticking to the script Georgia Republicans have followed in 20 years in power. He will tell voters Thursday that if they reelect him, he will seek a second round of income tax rebates like the $1.1 billion in payments issued this year, according to a Kemp campaign official with knowledge of plans who spoke on condition of anonymity. This year’s payments gave dual-earner households $500, single adults with dependents $375, and single adults $250.

The governor also will seek to revive a property tax break that succumbed in 2009 amid the state budget crisis caused by the Great Recession, the official said in previewing Kemp’s announcement. The tax break, created by Democrat Roy Barnes in 1999, cost the state $428 million in its last year in 2008, saving homeowners $200 to $300 on tax bills.

Kemp said Wednesday that he wants to “help Georgians further fight through a 40-year high inflation and extremely high costs that our citizens are experiencing” focusing on the unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Kemp can hand out cash because Georgia’s coffers are fat. The state ran a roughly $5 billion surplus in the year ended June 30, with more than $2 billion in surplus still banked from the year before.

The governor has also repeatedly renewed a gas tax break over five months. His administration plans to draw from the surplus to channel money to roadbuilding in place of what’s already $750 million in foregone fuel taxes. Kemp also signed a state income tax cut that begins in 2024 and could eventually reduce taxes by more than $2 billion.

Abrams already called for another round of income tax rebates. She’s also called on Kemp to suspend the gas tax through the end of 2022, and has pledged to not try to roll back the income tax cut, even though she criticizes benefits to the wealthy.

“While Brian Kemp is following Stacey Abrams’ lead in calling for tax rebates, he’s still pushing an extreme and dangerous agenda that threatens Georgia families and puts our economy at risk,” said Abrams spokesperson Alex Floyd.

Kemp accuses Abrams of backing his policies only because they’re popular.

“She criticized all those things before she came out and is now supporting them,” he said.

Abrams slammed the property tax break in a speech Tuesday, calling it “paying off the property taxes of mansion owners and millionaires.” The Census Bureau says 66% of Georgians own homes, but Abrams focuses on housing affordability and the Kemp administration’s stuttering payout of federal COVID-19 relief to renters.

Kemp used the power of incumbency to stomp Republican challenger David Perdue, delivering benefits and legislative accomplishments before the May primary. But he would have to wait until after any reelection for legislative approval of his new plans, barring an election-season special session.

The governor would be building off Georgia’s record $21.2 billion in state-incentivized business investments last year, with companies committing to create 51,000 jobs. Georgia also has a record-low unemployment rate.

Abrams argues many, especially in rural Georgia, are missing out. She notes Georgia’s income rankings have fallen during two decades of Republican rule.

“Most Georgia families are doing everything right,” Abrams said Tuesday, arguing for more state investment in education and health care to boost everyone. “They work full-time jobs. They’re putting a little away when they can despite rising prices. Yet middle class families are struggling.”

Kemp argues only Democrats are to blame for economic instability.

“The only reason Georgians are worried about going into poverty in rural Georgia right now is because Stacey Abrams helped Joe Biden get elected president,” he said Wednesday, “and we have 40-year-high inflation and everything that they’re buying — whether it’s butter, eggs, milk, meat, any other protein — is astronomical right now.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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