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Ulzheimer: Find Opportunities In the Turmoil

Tuesday, 23 Sep 2008 | 4:41 PM ET

John Ulzheimer is a nationally recognized credit expert and contributor to On the Money. Learn more atCredit.com orJohnUlzheimer.com .

We’ve seen some extraordinary events take place over the past two weeks. From banks merging to stalwarts being sold to government bailouts, it’s been a busy time here at Credit.com and CNBC. And while most of the focus has been on what it means for your investments, insurance and deposits, very little attention has been paid to what this means for your credit -- consumer credit that is.

By and large there is no real overt connection to what’s happening on Wall Street and what it means for consumer credit issues. Nothing that’s happening is going on your credit reports and nothing that’s going on is going to hurt your credit scores. And save losing your job at Lehman Brothers and having to file bankruptcy, that’s not likely to change. Having said that, I firmly believe the seismic events that are still taking place, which are completely out of your control, should act as a 10,000-decibel call to action. Now is the time for you to ask yourself the question, “Why do I care about what is happening on Wall Street?”

Clearly the answer is “ because I care about my retirement nest egg, which is down 20% for the year”, or some derivative of that. Once this dust settles you’ll be poked, prodded and counseled to not do anything rash because knee jerk reactions generally don’t work out well. I’m fine with that advice, however I do think this is an exceptional time to re-evaluate your wealth-building strategies.

How do we build wealth? Let me count the ways. Inheritance, income generated from salaries, appreciation of physical holdings such as real estate, and increasing value of investment vehicles such as stocks are common answers to this question. Another very valuable method to build wealth but too often overlooked is to save money on things that you’re already going to buy. I’m not talking about buying generic groceries versus the national brands or coupon clipping. I’m talking about paying 5.5% interest instead of 7.5% interest on a loan. On a $350,000 30-yr mortgage the latter will cost you $460 more per month, $5,520 per year and $165,000 more over the life of the loan. And while I recognize that not many people actually pay on any one mortgage for a full 30 years, my guess is that you’re paying on a group of mortgages for at least that many years so my math is logical and maybe much too conservative when you add in cars, credit cards, personal loans, business loans and anything else where you pay interest.

The point is that this is real money that you are not keeping where it belongs, at home. And if you want to extrapolate the future value of that money, run a future-value-of-an-annuity spreadsheet with a $460 monthly investment at a conservative 7% per annum increase in value. Even with this conservative scenario we’re talking serious money, enough to be taken as seriously as your investment portfolio.

So my goal for the rest of 2008 is to convince you that:

Earning better credit scores is as important to your wealth-building efforts as picking the right stock, bond or mutual fund.

I’ll be talking more about this in the upcoming weeks and on the show so stay tuned.