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Deciding who is eligible for benefits could take time

Individual homeowners will probably have to wait months before they know if they will benefit from the $26 billion mortgage settlement announced Thursday.

The government agencies involved in the settlement, including the Justice Department, have established a website, nationalmortgagesettlement.com, to help answer basic questions. Anyone looking for quick details will be disappointed. “Because of the complexity of the mortgage market and this agreement, which will be performed over a three-year period, borrowers will not immediately know if they are eligible for relief,” the site says.

So who is potentially eligible?

The first requirement is that homeowners’ mortgages must be serviced by one of the five participating banks: Ally, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Those lenders will be working over the next six to nine months to determine which borrowers are eligible for relief, and will contact them with details. (Homeowners can, of course, contact their bank themselves, but the banks probably will not have specifics immediately.)

Borrowers who will be helped by the settlement are generally those who are underwater on their loans — that is, they owe more than their homes are worth. According to the government’s news release and information on its website, borrowers who are delinquent on their mortgages, or at “imminent risk” of default, may be eligible for modifications to their loans, like a reduction in the principal owed. Those who are current on their payments may be able to refinance into a new loan at current interest rates, which remain at record lows.

—Ann Carrns, The New York Times

Oracle extends cloud holdings by buying Taleo

Oracle, once wary of Web-based applications, has now embraced the cloud.

On Thursday, the technology giant agreed to buy Taleo, a maker of online human resources software, for $1.9 billion. The acquisition — Oracle’s second major purchase of a cloud-related services company — underscores the shift taking place in the enterprise software industry as more businesses turn to the Web to run their operations.

“It’s a major move for Oracle,” Paul D. Hamerman, a Forrester analyst, said in an interview Thursday.

“Larry Ellison used to be quite vocal that this sector would not be very profitable, but he’s changed his tune because customers prefer the Web for certain applications,” he added, referring to Oracle’s co-founder and chief executive.

The billionaire’s vote of confidence is in many ways a coming-of-age moment for the market, which emerged during the late 1990s.

—Evelyn M. Rusli, The New York Times

Republicans warn of possible expiration of payroll tax cuts

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans said Thursday that negotiations over extending a payroll tax cut were going so poorly that it was possible the tax break — along with added unemployment benefits — could expire at the end of the month.

If the benefits are allowed to lapse, it will be a stunning coda to a battle that has lasted months on Capitol Hill over whether and how to extend a 2-percentage-point tax break for nearly every working American and to provide additional unemployment benefits for millions more. A temporary agreement forged in December cost Republicans politically and left both parties locked in another round of fights over how to cover the costs.

In addition, Republicans are seeking numerous policy changes connected to unemployment benefits — like a mandatory high school equivalency program and possible drug testing for beneficiaries — that Democrats have rejected out of hand. They would also reduce the benefits to 59 weeks, far less than the 79 weeks sought by President Barack Obama.

Democrats have dismissed a host of Republican suggestions for how to pay for the extensions and have made few significant public counteroffers, leading Republicans to insist that the party is not serious about making a deal.

—Jennifer Steinhauer, The New York Times

Muslim group demands Egyptian military relinquish rule early

CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday demanded that Egypt’s military rulers cede control of the government, stepping closer to a long-anticipated confrontation between the ruling generals and the Islamist-dominated Parliament.

In a statement on its website and a television interview with one of its senior leaders, the Brotherhood called for the military to allow the replacement of the current prime minister and cabinet with a new coalition government formed by Parliament, which would amount to an immediate handover of power.

The Brotherhood, the formerly outlawed Islamist group that now dominates Parliament, had previously said it was content to wait for the June deadline by which the generals had pledged to turn over power, which they seized with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. And signs were accumulating of a general accord between the military and the Brotherhood over the terms of a new constitution expected to be ratified before the handover.

The Brotherhood’s shift comes on the eve of Saturday’s anniversary of Mubarak’s downfall, when other activists around the country have called for a general strike to demand the end of military rule — a call the Brotherhood has previously resisted.

But the group is also changing its position at a time when the military-controlled government appears overwhelmed by domestic and foreign crises, including a deadly soccer riot last week followed by five days of violent protests, a standoff with Washington that has imperiled billions of dollars in U.S. aid and international loans, and an economy teetering on collapse.

—David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times