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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

What If You Can’t Pay Uncle Sam?

No one likes unexpected expenses, especially large unexpected expenses. This time of year, one such expense can be income taxes. You’re probably aware of this year’s April 18 filing deadline, but maybe you weren’t prepared to owe additional tax. Even worse, perhaps you weren’t prepared for how much you have to pay.

Self-employed people are common candidates for income-tax bill shock, especially if you had a really good year in 2016 but didn’t make sufficient quarterly payments. Or maybe you had a tough year, including a time of unemployment, which has left you short on funds to pay this year’s bill.

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An Under-Appreciated Benefit of Saving Money and Other Points to Ponder

What P/E ratios tell us … or don’t

  • “The market is way over-priced.’’ – Yale Economics Professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller, who developed the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE), a widely used stock-market valuation metric. Shiller was quoted on Bloomberg.com on 3/14/17, pointing out that the CAPE, while still about 30 percent below its high in 2000, shows stocks are almost as expensive now as they were on the eve of the 1929 crash. Read more.
  • “Using a simple average treats radically different periods equally, which is simplistic, naïve and wrong.” - Charles Lieberman, Chief Investment Officer at Advisors Capital Management, writing in the Bloomberg View blog on 3/2/17. Instead of looking at today’s market in light of long-term average P/E ratios (as CAPE does), he argued it is more appropriate to compare it to other periods when inflation and interest rates were low. Viewed through that filter, he said stocks today “seem to be reasonably close to fair value.” Read more.
  • “Just like the children in Lake Wobegon, if this was easy, everybody would be an above-average investor.” – Barry Ritholtz, writing in his The Big Picture blog on 3/3/17 that it is a mistake to place too much importance on P/E ratios. He said many other variables need to be considered when determining whether stocks are cheap or expensive. Read more.
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The Art of Getting Older — Where Will You Live?

There are countless important decisions to make as you get older. Many of them have a financial focus—how much to withdraw from the nest egg you’ve built, when to take Social Security, how to pay for healthcare and the potential cost of long-term care, and many more.

There are a number of financial ramifications surrounding the decision of where to live in your later years as well. By deciding to downsize, you may be able to free up some equity that could be added to your nest egg, and you may be able to reduce your home operating costs as well.

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Money Roundup: Double Checking the Roth IRA Math, The Persistent Bull Market in Fear-Mongering, and more

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

A Roth IRA could be a worse choice than you think (Time). When comparing traditional and Roth IRAs, be careful how you do the math.

These exquisite quilts illustrate the importance of diversification in investing (Business Insider). The art of investing.

A smart investor tunes out the noise—but doesn’t tune out (Vanguard). The importance of becoming a selective listener.

Seven things you may not know about IRAs (Fidelity). Could you have passed a quiz on these topics?

Can I throw this financial paperwork out? (Morningstar). A helpful guide to what to keep and what to toss.

And from the blogosphere…

There’s always a bull market in fear-mongering (Bloomberg View). When fear is your guide, it’s tempting to get out of the market—and very tough to get back in.

Think global to avoid shrinking U.S. stock market (Bloomberg View). The U.S. stock market’s share of the global market has grown dramatically, and yet the number of companies that make up the U.S. market has been shrinking. Here’s what it all means.

Factor human capital into your financial plans (ETF.com). One of your most valuable assets probably isn’t on your net worth statement and it probably isn’t part of your financial plan.

Gradual improvements go unnoticed (The Irrelevant Investor). In many ways, life has been getting better for a long time, but “better” doesn’t make for dramatic headlines.

The evolution of the four pillars for retirement income portfolios (Kitces). How retirement planning has changed through the years, and where things stand today.

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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SMI on the Radio - The Wisdom and Foolishness of Saving Money

SMI Executive Editor Mark Biller is on the radio today with Rob West and Steve Moore of Compass — Finances God’s Way. Their conversation takes a closer look at saving money — how much is too little and how much is too much? The Bible uses a strong word to describe both ends of the spectrum — "foolish." Mark, Rob, and Steve discuss how to best walk that line between saving too little and too much.

Also on the program, they address the following listener questions:

  • I filed for bankruptcy during the recession. I am 57 and trying to figure out the best avenue for retirement. Should I buy another home?
  • I'm 59, retired from the military but working another government job, and I own some rental properties. How can I figure out whether I'm ready to retire for good?
  • How much money should you have between your pension and other savings in order to be ready for retirement?

To listen to the entire 25-minute program, click the link below.

To learn more about this topic, read the article The Wisdom and Foolishness of Saving Money.

To participate in a future program, call in a question at 1-800-525-7000 and mention that it’s for Sound Mind Investing.

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Money Roundup: Robert Shiller Sees Cause for Concern, Investing in Uncertain Times, and more

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

Why Robert Shiller is worried about the Trump rally (Bloomberg). There are a number of valuation metrics; his is flashing a warning sign.

Fixed index annuities: ‘Magical’ or ‘unsuitable’? (Philadelphia Inquirer). One of the most problematic products in “…an area of increasing complexity…and one in which there is a lot of room for mischief.”

The big reason many retirees run out of money (MarketWatch). No one knows how long they’ll live. When planning for retirement, better to err on the long side.

More than 40% of Americans are wrong about their retirement preparedness. Are you among them? (Time). Some are foolishly overconfident, others are needlessly worried. Here’s where MoneyGuidePro can help.

Five steps to age-proof your retirement healthcare costs (Reuters). Good health is good for your wealth.

And from the blogosphere…

Investing when no one really knows what to do (A Wealth of Common Sense). There’s a certain tension most investors live with. Here are some ideas for dialing it down.

Seven psychological quirks that destroy investment returns (Monevator). How to overcome the investing obstacle in the mirror.

Top 5 regrets of the dying (Becoming Minimalist). If you read just one of the articles in this week’s roundup, read this one.

3 common Medigap questions answered (Next Avenue). Medicare can be quite a maze. Here’s how to navigate decisions about supplemental coverage.

Get dental work before you retire (Squared Away). Some practical advice that may save you some money.

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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The Question For Investors

For investors who follow market news closely, there always seems to be something to worry about. Today, there’s frequent chatter about elevated P/E ratios and impending rate hikes, concern about how much longer the aging bull market can run, and even debate about exactly how old the bull market really is.

If you’re concerned about the market, maybe it’s time to trot out a key question that’s worthy of periodic review: Will I be able to stick with my current investment strategy come what may?

What we don’t know, and what we do

The reason we often advise not paying too much attention to market news is that so much of what isn’t knowable is frequently, misleadingly presented as if it is. No one knows what the market will do tomorrow, next week, or next year. But that doesn’t stop prognosticators with megaphones from doing what they do.

That said, the bull market will end. That isn’t some stargazing prediction; it’s a fact. No one knows when, but everyone with money in the market would do well to remember that all bull markets eventually turn into bear markets. Every investor should have that reality baked into their expectations and their planned response to the market’s eventual change of direction.

Unknowable, but not quite unimaginable

No one should choose a strategy based on predictions. Just ask those who pulled out of the market, thinking Donald Trump might actually win the election and that would trigger a sell-off. But everyone should choose a strategy having clearly imagined staying with it in good times and bad. That’s why asset allocation questionnaires typically ask what you would do if your portfolio fell by some huge amount in a short period of time (Would you sell all, sell some, hold, or buy more?).

The problem is, just as it’s impossible for any of us to predict the future, it turns out to be almost impossible for most of us to imagine the future. That’s one reason why so many people save so little for their retirement. They can’t imagine what their life will be like then. And it’s why some innovative thinkers are going to such lengths to help people save more by showing them computer-generated images of what they’ll look when they’re old. If people can actually see themselves at age 70, they reason, maybe that’ll get them to save more money.

Can you imagine a different market?

When the market is growing, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back for being such a talented investor. But it’s the tough times that make or break investors. And what makes a great deal of difference in successfully navigating those tough times is having decided well in advance how you will respond. Ideally, you would make no changes to your portfolio.

In order to actually live through a downturn without making portfolio changes requires the hard work of imagining that scenario.

Similar results, very different paths

Consider two of SMI's core strategies—Fund Upgrading and Dynamic Asset Allocation (DAA). Both are perfectly well suited for the full good/bad market cycle. What makes one perfectly suited for you depends on your temperament, time frame, and expectations.

Consider this: Over the past 17 years, those two strategies have delivered remarkably similar results—an average annual return of 10.4% for Fund Upgrading and 10.5% for Dynamic Asset Allocation (DAA was introduced in 2013; prior returns were back-tested). However, the paths they took toward those similar results couldn’t have been more different.

Here’s a look at the four worst years in that stretch and how each strategy performed.

  2000 2001 2002 2008
Whishire 5000 -10.9% -11.0% -20.9% -37.2%
Fund Upgrading -2.7% 4.8% -14.1% -38.8%
Dynamic Asset Allocation 7.1% 4.0% 10.4% 1.3%


Now here’s a look at the four best years in that stretch and how each strategy performed.

  2003 2009 2010 2013
Whishire 5000 31.6% 28.3% 17.2% 33.1%
Fund Upgrading 46.7% 33.6% 17.8% 34.5%
Dynamic Asset Allocation 22.4% 17.6% 20.3% 16.2%


Fund Upgrading is the more aggressive of the two strategies. It’ll typically fall harder during downturns, but then rise higher during upturns. DAA, on the other hand, is designed to mitigate losses during downturns (the strategy would have generated losses for several months in 2008 before turning things around), while participating in some of the gains during upturns. Their different approaches are reflected in their different relative risk scores (how their volatility compares to the market). Fund Upgrading’s 1.07 shows it to be slightly more volatile than the market, while DAA’s 0.62 shows it to be much less volatile.

What about you?

Keep in mind, the results described above were from a particular time period. How will the market perform in the future? No one knows. Future periods of strength should favor the Fund Upgrading investor, future periods of weakness the DAA investor.

If you prefer a smoother ride, DAA may be right for you. Your challenge, and where you’ll have to manage your expectations, will be the periods of market strength, since your returns will likely lag.

If you’re attracted to the pursuit of greater gains, Fund Upgrading may be right for you. Your challenge will come during downturns, when you will likely experience losses similar to those of the market. You’ll have to manage your expectations accordingly.

But remember, you don’t necessarily have to choose one strategy over the other; you could manage your portfolio using Fund Upgrading and DAA.

So, back to our core question: Will you be able to stick with your current investment strategy come what may?

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Money Roundup: Recession Watch, Interpreting the Market’s Valuation, and More

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

Is the economy due for a recession? (The Atlantic). “Expansions don’t die of old age.”

Rekenthaler: My asset allocation (Morningstar). Why one of the best investment writers invests aggressively.

5 tips for easing into retirement on your own terms (The Fiscal Times). Practical advice to help smooth the transition.

Replacing work: A new purpose can lift your emotional well-being (NY Times). Planning for your financial well-being in retirement is just one of the keys to success.

Protecting yourself and loved ones from elder financial abuse (CNBC). It’s a surprisingly widespread problem. Here’s how to avoid it.

And from the blogosphere…

What to make of these twice-in-history S&P 500 valuations (Bloomberg View). “Mean reversion doesn’t run on a schedule.”

How long will this bull market last? (The Irrelevant Investor). A good post that ends with a question all investors should consider.

A watched portfolio never performs (Longboard). Why monitoring your returns too closely can make you an unhappy, unsuccessful investor.

Annuities: All or nothing (The Retirement Café). The ideal age to buy an annuity.

Lessons after a burglary: physical security (The Finance Buff). Practical advice from one who learned these lessons the hard way.

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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The Changing ETF Landscape: Lower Fees, Different Alternatives

There’s good news for investors. ETF transaction fees continue to fall.

Fidelity started the latest fee war, dropping their commissions on ETFs (and stocks) from $7.95 to $4.95. Schwab quickly matched Fidelity and then TD Ameritrade joined what the Wall Street Journal termed “the race to the bottom,” lowering their ETF/stock commissions from $9.99 to $6.95.

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Money Roundup: Why Fear is a Perennial Best-Seller, The Case For Being a ‘Perma-Bull,’ and More

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

Beware the pessimists (Morningstar). Fear sells. Buyer beware.

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