AP photos.

SMALLBIZ-SMALLTALK

During the recession, workers were just happy to have a steady job and accepted, in some cases, years of no pay raises â¿¿ and even pay cuts. Now that the economy is showing slow improvement, some small companies are giving out raises again, but with a catch: They have to be earned. Small business owners are increasingly tying raises to performance of individual employees or the company as a whole. By Business Writer Joyce Rosenberg.

AP photos.

COLLEGE GRADS-ECONOMY, HFR

It was a defining image of the Great Recession: floundering college grads stuck back home, living in mom and dad's basement. But while rooted in some truth, that picture doesn't show fully how the prolonged economic downturn broadly impacted people in their early 20s, according to a new study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project. However, the report finds all of the negative effects came in much smaller doses for college graduates than for those with associate's degrees and only a high school credential, and that fewer graduates fell out of work entirely. By Education Writer Justin Pope. Eds: Hold for release until 5:00 p.m. EST.

ON THE MONEY-GIFT CARDS

Gift cards are easily forgotten. They're placed in drawers or stuffed into wallets, never to be seen again. If you're not happy about the store your gift card is from, don't let the money go to waste. You have options. Here are six ways to put those less desirable gift cards to use. By Business Writer Joseph Pisani.

MARKETS & ECONOMY:

CONSUMER PROTECTION-MORTGAGES, HFR

WASHINGTON â¿¿ Federal regulators for the first time are laying out rules aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay the loans they take out. The rules being unveiled Thursday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on the risky "interest-only" and "no documentation" loans that helped inflate the housing bubble. By Business Writer Daniel Wagner. Eds: Hold for release until 12:01 a.m. EST.

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