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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

Money Roundup: Investors Look Past the Headlines, What Sir John Might Think, and More

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

Investors look past headlines as bull market roars ahead (NY Times). With eyes on the economy, investors see reason for optimism.

White House chaos doesn’t bother the stock market (Bloomberg). For investors, apparently the drama is just a sideshow.

How big do you want your nest egg to be? (NY Times). And what is your number based on? All the confusion around this topic is why we’re so pleased to now offer our premium members access to MoneyGuidePro.

Tips for handling investing uncertainty (Vanguard). Putting the post-election rally into context with some back-to-the-basics reminders of principles for wise investing.

Ready to retire? Better ask yourself these 3 questions first (Time). Do your expectations match reality?

And from the blogosphere…

What would John Templeton think? (The Big Picture). “…how can we not ask ourselves whether we are in the ‘euphoria’ stage of this bull run.”

Just a thought (The Reformed Broker). The post-election rally won’t go on forever.

Reagan vs. Trump: Parallels and implications (MacKay Shields). Short video from Dan Roberts, former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan and current Chief Investment Officer of MacKay Shields, with $95 billion under management. He points out the very different economic conditions at the start of Trump’s presidency vs. Reagan’s.

Retirement decisions with expiration dates (The Retirement Café). “Delaying some retirement decisions too long can take them off the table.”

Getting rich vs. staying rich (Collaborative Fund). Well-written piece on the importance of staying humble.

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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Learning To Bullet-Proof Your Career

It used to be fairly common to spend the bulk of one’s career working for a single company. This workplace model seemed almost like guaranteed employment, with a gold watch and defined-benefit pension waiting at the end. Today, lifetime employees are a rare breed. Many of today’s younger workers don’t even want to stay at one company very long.

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Understanding How Fund Distributions Affect Your Total Returns

We frequently get e-mails from members who follow our Fund Upgrading strategy and wonder why the returns they’ve calculated for various trades don’t match the ones we report. Without fail, the issue has to do with their failure to take fund distributions into account.

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Student Loans Tarnishing The ‘Golden Years’

Much has been made of all the stress and strain education debt is inflicting on young college grads. But the fastest growing segment of the population with burdensome school debt isn’t the young. It’s borrowers who are furthest removed from their college days: those age 60+.

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Optimism Is Up, and Other Points To Ponder

Dow sets a record

  • “The optimist will say ‘of course things turned out okay.’ The pessimist will say ‘just you wait.’ The intelligent investor will say ‘it is what it is.’” — Josh Brown, blogger at The Reformed Broker, commenting on 1/25/17 about the Dow breaking the 20,000 mark that day for the first time. Read more
  • “We just hit a record, and a number that’s never been hit before. So I was very honored by that. [The market] has gone up a lot since I won. Now we have to go up, up, up. We don’t want it to stay there.” — President Donald Trump, quoted by CNN on 1/26/17. The article pointed out the Dow was up 1,700+ points since Trump’s election, much of it driven by expectations that his stimulus plans will make the economy grow faster. In a presidential debate last September, candidate Trump had warned the market was “in a big, fat, ugly bubble.” Read more

Optimism is up

  • 49% — The percentage of Americans who say they are financially better off than they were a year ago—the highest level at any time in the past 10 years. — Gallup, reporting on a poll taken January 4-8, 2017. Read more

Plans are worthless, planning is essential...

  • “Think of your financial plan as a GPS. It’ll point you in the right direction, but you still have to keep your head up and watch your surroundings. By regularly checking and refining your plan, you can compensate for context, circumstances, and changes.” – Bob French, writing on the McLean blog on 1/17/17, on the nature of financial plans— they’re all wrong in some way (there are too many moving parts to say they’re 100% accurate), and yet having one is a necessity. Read more

...flexibility helps, too

  • “Think of the 1987 crash, when the Dow Jones fell 20% in one day. People are still not sure what exactly caused it. …It would have been a dreadful error to base future investment decisions expecting this type of event to frequently reappear. Human behavior is unpredictable; sometimes small random decisions can change the course of history.…This makes markets a very dangerous place for those who insist on certainty and order.” — Tony Isola, in his A Teachable Moment blog on 1/27/17. Read more

Fiduci... What?

  • “The fiduciary rule was introduced by President Obama’s Department of Labor to regulate a large number of financial professionals who service 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts.…It’s so broad that financial professionals who provide even one-time guidance or appraisal of investments would be classified as [fiduciaries] …This not only limits the ability of financial firms to provide certain services, it also hurts Americans who work hard saving for their retirement by limiting the availability of investment advice and retirement products.…The rule particularly harms those with lower retirement savings, including minority communities.” — Steve DeMaura writing for The Hill, arguing for the rule to be rolled back. President Trump has given the Labor Department the authority to revise or rescind the rule. His order will delay implementation, which was planned for this April. Read more
  • “Today, after literally standing alongside big bank and hedge fund CEOs, [President Trump] announced two new orders—one that will make it easier for investment advisors to cheat you out of your retirement savings, and another that will put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of gutting the rules that protect you from financial fraud and another economic meltdown.” — Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, quoted in Business Insider on 2/3/17. She was responding to Trump’s order regarding the fiduciary rule, which she favors keeping, and another one requiring a review of the 2010 Frank-Dodd financial oversight law. Read more
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Sighting: Dow 21,000 Is in Sight, but Many Stocks Are Getting Left Behind

[In February], investors have enjoyed perfection: All four major averages have snagged consecutive new record highs and the S&P 500 has climbed for 12 of the last 14 sessions [as of February 22]. Interest rates remain low. Volatility has been quelled, with nearly 90 days elapsed since the last 1% decline, as global economic data improves. Earnings growth has rebounded. President Trump is ready to lower taxes.

All of this caps one of the quietest four-year periods in market history and the quietest January of all time. And it comes despite the turmoil in Washington, D.C.… But the market isn’t quite as placid as it seems. There are glitches in the Matrix—bizarre behavior and unexplainable events taking place just beneath the surface—if you know where to look.

Consider, for instance, market breadth—the percentage of stocks rising within the market. It’s been narrowing consistently as traders focus on a shrinking list of upward-bound stocks, ignoring the growing list of laggards.

Jason Goepfert of SentimenTrader notes that the S&P 500’s march to new highs has been driven by fewer than 80 companies, less than 16 percent of the index. While that didn’t matter when it happened in 1995, the other times it happened (in 1997, 2005, 2010 and July 2016), fresh gains were subsequently wiped out.…Investors—especially those maintaining their own retirement accounts—should be cautious. — by Anthony Mirhaydari writing in The Fiscal Times. Read the full article

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Sighting: Transforming Your Basic Advantage Into a Basic Disadvantage

The longer I’m involved with the markets the less I find myself paying attention to the daily, weekly or monthly gyrations. Some investors are able to watch every tick in the markets with complete indifference but it seems most investors see more harm than good by trying to swim through the sea of noise in the short-term movements in the market.

The reason this can be so problematic for investors is that we humans suffer from what Richard Thaler calls myopic loss aversion. Myopia or nearsightedness can be harmful because the more often we check the value of our portfolios or holdings, the more likely we are to see losses (stocks are basically a coin flip between being positive or negative on any given day). The more likely we are to see losses, the more likely we are to experience loss aversion, which is the human tendency that makes us regret losses twice as much as gains make us feel good.

Thus, the more often you look at your portfolio, the more often you’re likely to feel terrible from seeing short-term losses in value. The less frequently you evaluate your portfolio the more likely you are to see gains in your account because the probability for gain increases with a longer holding period.

Paying close attention to the markets on a tick-by-tick basis can also give people an illusion of control. You begin to assume that because you’re keeping up with everything that’s going on that you have more control over the outcomes. The opposite is true more often than not and the harder you try the more mistakes you make in the markets.

The biggest advantage you have as an investor is the ability to think and act for the long-term. That may be more important today than ever because our society and the finance industry have become more and more obsessed with the short-term. — by Ben Carlson, blogger at A Wealth of Common Sense. Read the full article

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‘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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