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Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Managing Editor

Matt joined SMI in 2012. He assists with SMI’s content strategy and writes many of the company’s articles. Matt is the author of four personal finance books: “Money, Purpose, Joy,” “Money Strategies for Tough Times,” Money and Marriage,” and “The Grad’s Guide to Money.” He does some outside speaking as well at churches, universities, conferences, and retreats.

Prior to joining SMI, Matt was an independent biblical money management writer and speaker. He has been involved in stewardship ministry since 1990 when he began serving in the Good $ense ministry at Willowcreek Community Church.

Matt earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University and a graduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from DePaul University, where he wrote a thesis about the history and impact of our consumer culture.

Matt and his wife, Jude, have three children at home. 

Most Recent Articles

‘Tell Me Again, What Exactly Does SMI Do?’

A long-time friend wrote to me recently, asking, in essence, the question in this article’s headline. On a high level, he knows SMI does something in the investment space. But as he’s become less satisfied with how his financial advisor has been handling his family’s investments, he’s become more interested in knowing just what exactly SMI is all about.

At first glance, it’s very simple. SMI publishes a newsletter for do-it-yourself investors. We offer rules-based mutual fund investment strategies along with specific fund recommendations.

From there, however, a degree of confusion and misunderstanding sometimes sets in.

Outside the conversation

When people think about their options for getting help with investing, most probably think of investment advisors, although a fair number probably assume they could not afford to go that route. Others are familiar with target-date mutual funds, and may think of them as a way to manage their portfolio with the proper mix of stocks and bonds without having to pay for an advisor. (See Target-Date Funds: The Devil’s in the Details.)

However, subscribing to an investment newsletter is probably not top-of-mind. Many have simply never heard of such a thing. Those that have, may not view this segment of the investing space all that favorably. After all, it’s been home to all manner of market-timers, perma-bears, perma-gold bugs, and others who tend to camp on one side of the fear/greed spectrum or the other.

It can be a tough neighborhood for a Christian publisher to live in!

Three guiding factors

It took more time and effort than I thought it would to explain to my friend what an investment newsletter is. Thankfully, I found it much easier to describe what distinguishes SMI from other sources of investment guidance. Here are the three factors that I highlighted.

Principles. The approach to investing SMI tries to encourage in our members is one marked by patience and faith. It takes the mindset of a patient long-term investor, as compared to a short-term trader, to ride out the market’s ups and downs. And it takes faith to hold everything — our portfolios, our lives — with open hands, trusting in God as our provider, not Wall Street.

In past times of market stress, we've heard from many members who said our emphasis on such principles made a big difference in helping them survive the storm. 

Process. The investment process we use is objective, mechanical, and rules-based. We don’t gather around a conference room table to choose investments based on the price of oil, who won the latest election, or other ever-changing factors. Instead, we rely on the simple, powerful rules of momentum investing.

This isn’t a magic bullet that guarantees great returns every month or even every year. However, our process has generated very favorable long-term returns. And a rules-based system tends to be easier to trust and stay with than one based on the opinions of a money manager.  

Purpose. We’re an overtly, unapologetically Christian organization. What excites us is encouraging people to invest as a means of honoring God, helping them responsibly provide for their families and joyfully support Christ’s work in the world.

A well-kept secret

When I was approached about the possibility of joining Sound Mind Investing, my family was living in Chicago and had never been to Louisville. In fact, it wasn’t even on our radar screen as a place to visit some day. But after we began exploring the city, and now, after living here for over four years, we often describe Louisville as a well-kept secret. The weather is nice, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is a lot lower than Chicago.

SMI is also something of a well-kept secret, which may have something to do with how it’s described. 

So, how do you describe SMI to others? Do you use the phrase “investment newsletter”? And how do you distinguish our investing approach from other methods?

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Money Roundup: The Risk of Living a Long Life, Keeping Politics and Your Portfolio Separate, and More

This week’s picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

How investors underestimate how long they’ll live in retirement (Wall Street Journal). “Longevity risk” has an ironic sound to it, but if you don’t plan for a long life, it can pose a financial threat.

Your new retirement options: work longer or save a lot more (MarketWatch). The math of a longer lifespan.

21 questions you’re going to need to ask about investment fees (NY Times). With the fiduciary rule in limbo, some guidance on making sure whatever financial product someone is suggesting really is in your best interests.

Myth busters: Financial planning edition (Morningstar). Misconceptions about the gift tax, Roth IRAs, and more.

Americans don’t know much about taxes — or that they might get them done for free (USA TODAY). Do you pay to have your taxes done or do them yourself?

And from the blogosphere…

It’s probably a bad idea to sell stocks because you fear Trump (The Upshot – a NY Times blog). Maintaining a healthy separation between politics and your portfolio.

I sold everything when the Patriots won (Evidence Based Investor). There are a lot of things that move the markets, and a lot of things that don’t.

Spending from a portfolio in retirement (Oblivious Investor). Three questions about how to live on the nest egg you’ve accumulated, and the difficult nature of finding definitive answers.

The blessings and challenges of caring for older family members (Next Avenue). Pilots say flying amounts to hours of sheer boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. Caring for an ill older relative amounts to hours of stress interspersed with moments of rich conversation.

Planning to keep your 401(k)? Be careful when you reach RMD age (Vanguard blog). There are some unique rules that pertain to this unique situation.

We’d love to hear your responses to any of the above. To weigh in, just meet us in the comments section.

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Tales From the Frontlines of Retirement

If you want to know how things might turn out — whether trying a new restaurant or making a mid-life career change — ask those who’ve gone before you. That’s what the Wall Street Journal did recently in order to help pre-retirees (which is all of us who are still working) prepare for their post-career lives.

While the findings were more qualitative than quantitative, they still offer a helpful sneak peak at the future. Many of the retirees who sent feedback to the Journal said they’ve experienced numerous financial surprises—some pleasant, and some not so pleasant.

So far so good

Several retirees said one of their most pleasant surprises was that their finances were holding up so well. Still, they were mindful of what it took to create that reality.

Retired engineer Rick Abell said, “I’ve lived in the same house since 1972, keep cars for 10 years, exercise regularly for good health and, basically, live within my means.” If “you want to have a comfortable retirement, sacrifices are necessary while working.”

Others emphasized the importance of entering retirement debt-free. That was one of the biggest takeaways from retired physician Jonathan Stolz. “Having retired in 2004 without any money owed to the bank made riding out the stock market downturn and recession four years later easier to withstand. And I was able to sleep at night.”

That’s a message more people could benefit from hearing, as the amount of debt carried by older people is growing.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says the percentage of homeowners ages 65 and older with mortgage debt increased from 22 percent in 2001 to 30 percent in 2011. Among homeowners 75 and older, the rate more than doubled, from 8.4 to 21.2 percent.

Also according to the CFPB, between 2005 and 2015, the number of people age 60 or older with student loan debt quadrupled to 2.8 million. That age group is the fastest-growing segment of people with student loan debt. In most cases, such borrowers took out loans for their kids’ or grandkids’ educations, or they co-signed on such loans and now find themselves responsible for the payments.

Didn’t see THAT coming

The two most unpleasant financial surprises noted by retirees profiled in the Journal were higher than expected Medicare costs and living expenses.

Some didn’t realize they might be subject to surcharges for Medicare Part B or prescription drug coverage, which can be triggered by large and/or sudden changes in income due to a buyout or the sale of stocks.

Income levels have to be fairly high (more than $170,000 for couples filing jointly) to trigger those surcharges, but for those in that situation, monthly premiums can be twice or, for especially high-income people, even more than three times as high as what lower-income people pay.

As for the cost of living, a number of retirees said rules of thumb—for example, that retirees can expect to spend about 80% of pre-retirement income—can be misleading, especially in the early years of retirement.

“The big reality is that you will spend 100% of your preretirement income after you retire,” according to Steven Fechner, a retired geologist. While you may spend less on commuting and work clothes, he said, you may more than offset those savings with larger outlays for travel, entertainment, medical expenses, and more.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety, as it also looks at surprises retirees have experienced in their relationships, how they spend their time, and how they have built a meaningful, fulfilling post-career life.

If you’re retired, what are some of the biggest surprises—financial or otherwise—you’ve experienced?

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Money Roundup: You May Need More for Retirement Than You Think, Bearish Thoughts, and More

This week’s picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

How much do you need to fund retirement? More than you think (USA TODAY). Hopefully you’re taking advantage of the opportunity to use MoneyGuidePro to answer this question for yourself.

The ‘right’ rebalancing strategy depends on your life stage (Morningstar). Going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.

Five things that prove rich people are cheap (MarketWatch). “Cheap” sounds like an insult. Let’s call them wise spenders.

Retirement accounts a ‘holy grail’ that remain out of reach for ETFs (MarketWatch). Does your workplace retirement plan let you invest in mutual funds but not ETFs? Ever wonder why?

Here’s how much over-borrowing pads your student loan payment (CNBC). Borrowing to pay for college can pose enough of a challenge after college, but borrowing too much only makes the problem worse.

And from the blogosphere…

Be prepared for a bear market (Bloomberg View). No fear-mongering here; just a steady-hand-on-the-wheel look at the possibilities.

Interpreting Monte Carlo analysis and the wrong side of maybe fallacy (Kitces). Looking at one of the most common retirement planning processes through a behavioral bias lens.

The endgame (The Retirement Café). Dirk Cotton wraps up his three-part series comparing retirement planning to chess.

Consistency and self-delusion (A Wealth of Common Sense). How access to more information may lead to more confirmation bias.

Managing money with cognitive decline (Squared Away). The wise will groom trustworthy helpers before their help is needed.

We’d love to hear your responses to any of the above. To weigh in, just meet us in the comments section.

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Calm Under Pressure

If you played quarterback for a football team that was down 28-3 in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl, how do you think you would respond?

Or, if you were piloting a jet with 155 people onboard, just took off from an airport in the most populous city in the country, and suddenly lost power in both engines, how do you think you would react?

A steady hand on the wheel

Of course, we know how those stories ended.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully”) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles guided their crippled jet to a miraculous “landing” on the Hudson River, with all passengers and crew surviving.

In both cases, the outcomes were impressive. But what stood out to me was the way they came about.

I didn’t see any sense of panic in Brady’s eyes. He was focused, but not frantic.

I didn’t hear any sense of terror in Captain Sullenberger’s voice as he worked through his options with air traffic controller Patrick Harten (who was also remarkably calm). He spoke with urgency, but not fear.

Investors face trouble of their own

Investing may be a bit more mundane than playing a professional sport. And it may be a little less exhilarating than piloting a jet. Still, investors all face fear-inducing moments.  

Think back to last summer’s Brexit vote and the global selloff that followed.

Or think back to last fall’s presidential election and the stock futures selloff that followed.

How did you respond to those events? Did they scare you? Did you make any quick, reactionary moves with your money?

Danger ahead

You probably won’t be tasked with running a hurry-up offense for an NFL team or piloting a crippled commercial jet anytime soon. But you will need to guide your household’s investment portfolio through some tough times.

For investors, every year seems to bring its own form of trouble. Look at last year. The journey toward an eventual 13.4% gain included three major scares: the two already mentioned and a six-week 12% drop at the very start of the year.

So, here are two important questions. First, what lessons have you learned—or do you still need to learn—from how you’ve responded to scary market events in the past? And second, what will you do when this year’s scary market events happen? After all, there’s bound to be some type of stock market shock. That’s just how most years roll.

There were many factors that contributed to the Patriots’ win and the successful emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 — training, experience, teamwork, some uniquely favorable circumstances in the midst of incredible challenges, and more. But one very important factor was that neither Brady nor Sullenberger lost their cool. And that’s a good example for all of us.

The ability to stay calm under pressure is a very important skill for successful investing. How well do you do that and what helps you stay calm?

     For more on the topic I mentioned last week—How to get what you really want—meet me on my personal finance blog where I'll have another post on the topic tomorrow.

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Money Roundup: Bringing Retirement Confidence and Preparedness Together, The Profit of an Investment Process, and More

This week’s picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

5 ways you may be fooling yourself about your retirement plan (Time). Are you as prepared as you are confident?

6 myths about IRAs you can’t afford to believe (Forbes). Is a misunderstanding keeping you from contributing?

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What Do You Want?

Of all the many books about money I’ve read and messages about money I’ve heard, several authors and speakers have become favorites. I trust their use of Scripture, I enjoy their style of writing or speaking, and their teaching has impacted me in meaningful ways. One such writer/speaker is Andy Stanley, senior pastor at North Point Church in the Atlanta area.

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Money Roundup: Bond Market Veterans Look Ahead, Taking Politics Out of Your Investment Decisions, and More

This week’s picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

As bond bear market beckons, veterans tell tales of the unknown (Bloomberg). Very few bond pros have lived through a bond bear market. Here are five who have.

How a Roth IRA conversion can help you pass on more wealth (Time). There are a lot of moving parts in this decision. Here’s how to think it through.

A hierarchy for retirement savings (Morningstar). Should you save for retirement via your workplace 401(k) plan, an IRA, or both?

An account that can keep your retirement savings healthy (CNBC). With the benefits of a traditional and a Roth IRA, what’s not to like about Health Savings Accounts?

Kroc’s giving, like McDonald’s meals, was fast and super-sized (NY Times). A peak inside the wealth-building and philanthropic activities of the couple behind McDonald’s.

And from the blogosphere…

Love Trump? Hate him? That’s no way to invest (Bloomberg View). Don’t let your assumptions get ahead of the facts—alternative or otherwise!

The many uncertainties involved with retirement planning (A Wealth of Common Sense). It’s not a one-time proposition, which is why we at SMI are so happy to be able to make the MoneyGuidePro software available to so many of our members.

Did I say that? (Humble Dollar). Fourteen things financial journalists won’t tell you.

Don’t let fear stop you from end-of-life planning (Next Avenue). A little planning now could save your loved ones from having to make tough decisions later.

How to read (Collaborative Fund). What good books have you read lately?

We’d love to hear your responses to any of the above. To weigh in, just meet us in the comments section.

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Making It Easy On Yourself To ‘Do The Right Thing’

When the stock market experiences sharp downturns, as it did in August of 2015 and again in early 2016, we often hear from readers asking, “What should I do now?” Our answer is always the same: “Ignore the market and follow your long-term plan.”

It’s at this point some readers discover they really don’t have an objective long-term plan to guide them. Others are following SMI’s suggestions, but are nevertheless fearful.

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How To Get On The Same Retirement Page As Your Spouse

Imagine watching your spouse head out the door at the usual time on a weekday morning, but instead of grabbing a briefcase, he or she picks up golf clubs instead—and that’s your first clue that your spouse has retired!

Far fetched? Maybe. However, research shows husbands and wives often have different assumptions and expectations about retirement. In some cases, very different.

In this article, I’ll highlight some of those differences—not just for entertainment purposes, but to help you make sure you’re talking with your spouse to identify and sort out any important areas of disconnect. And I’ll suggest practical steps to help you plan for your future—together.

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