Google gets into car insurance comparisons

Google is helping California drivers shop for car insurance as part of a new service that could foreshadow the Internet company's latest attempt to shake up a long-established industry. The feature compares auto insurance quotes from up to 14 carriers that are participating in the comparisons. The policies can then be bought online or through an agent. Google will receive a cut from the insurance sales. The Mountain View, Calif., company says the size of the commissions won't influence how it ranks the price quotes. Google Inc. plans to provide car insurance quotes in other states and sign up more carriers, too. The list of initial participants in California includes MetLife, Mercury Insurance and 21st Century Insurance.

Initial jobless claims rise but remain low

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since May, though the pace of applications remains at a level consistent with steady hiring. Weekly applications rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the Labor Department said. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 10,250 to 304,750, a six-week high. The number of applications tends to reflect the pace of U.S. layoffs. The four-week average has remained near or below 300,000 since September, a historically low level that typically signals healthy job gains. More Americans are earning paychecks, and gas prices have plummeted from last summer, thereby boosting consumers' buying power.

VW plans a lower-price electric Golf

Volkswagen is rolling out a cheaper edition of its all-electric e-Golf hatchback in an effort to broaden the car's appeal and keep up with the rest of the price-conscious segment. The new 2015 VW e-Golf Limited Edition, on its way to dealerships now, carries a price tag of $34,270 before state or federal tax incentives, the company announced Thursday. That's $2,000 less than the initial SEL model VW that debuted in November, and there's also a lease rate of $229 a month (with $1,999 down), which VW hopes will lure consumers who may have been turned away by the high purchase price.

After run-up, mortgage rates fell last week

Average long-term mortgage rates have fallen for the first time in four weeks and remain near historic lows reached in May 2013. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said that the national average for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.75 percent from 3.80 percent last week. The rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, fell to 3.03 percent from 3.07 percent last week. A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage stood at 4.28 percent and the 15-year mortgage at 3.32 percent.