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REAL ESTATE

New-home sales up, but pace remains sluggish

More people bought new homes for a second straight month in April, a hopeful sign. Still, sales remain far below a pace that would signal a turnaround for the depressed housing market.

New-home sales rose 7.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 323,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. A healthy real estate market would produce a pace of about 700,000 new-home sales a month.

People have little incentive to buy new homes, in part because they’re comparatively expensive. The median price of a new home rose more than 2 percent from March to $217,900. New-home prices are more than 30 percent higher the median price of re-sales — twice the normal markup.

CREDIT CARDS

Late credit card payments hit 15-year low

NEW YORK — Late payments on credit cards fell to their lowest level in 15 years during the first three months of 2011, TransUnion said Tuesday.

Nationwide, the rate of payments 90 days or more past due on bank-issued cards dropped to 0.74 percent in the first quarter, down from 1.11 percent a year ago.

The delinquency rate is the lowest level since the third quarter of 1996, TransUnion said. It peaked in the first quarter of 2009 at 1.32 percent.

One of the main reasons for the gains is that card users continue to pay down their credit card balances. The average credit card debt per borrower dropped to $4,679 for the quarter, down 9 percent from $5,165 a year ago. TransUnion said balances haven’t been this low since the third quarter of 2000.

ELECTRIC CARS

U.S. to install car-charging stations

To boost use of electric vehicles, the Obama administration is installing charging stations for government vehicles in five cities, including Washington and Detroit.

The General Services Administration plans to buy 116 plug-in electric vehicles, including 101 Chevrolet Volts, and will assign them to government agencies in five cities: Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and other officials were set to announce the purchase Tuesday, as well as a directive from President Obama ordering the government to purchase only fuel efficient cars and trucks by 2015.

The president has called for a one-third reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025 and wants to put 1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

BANKRUPTCY

Jackson Hewitt files for Chapter 11 protection

NEW YORK — Jackson Hewitt says it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the weight of heavy debt.

The nation’s second largest tax preparer says its lenders agreed to a restructuring plan to lower debt and interest expense. It filed the prepackaged plan with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware for court approval.

Under the plan, Jackson Hewitt’s secured lenders will receive their pro rata share of a new $100 million term loan and all of the stock in the reorganized company. Shareholders and unsecured lenders won’t receive anything.

Jackson Hewitt expects the plan to be implemented in 45 to 60 days. It will operate normally and prepare for the 2012 tax season until then.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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