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Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Managing Editor

Matt joined SMI in 2012. He leads SMI’s content strategy — managing the company’s monthly editorial calendar, writing many of the articles, sourcing content from outside the company, and either writing or overseeing much of what appears on our website. He also represents SMI in various radio guest appearances.

Prior to joining SMI, Matt was an independent biblical money management writer and speaker. He is the author of five biblical money management books, including Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management, which will be published by Focus on the Family and its publishing partner, Tyndale House, at the end of this year. He has spoken at churches, universities, conferences, and retreats throughout the country. Matt has been involved in stewardship ministry since 1990.

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 influence of our consumer culture.

Matt and his wife Jude have three children at home. 

Most Recent Articles

Money Roundup: The Case for a Secular Bull Market, Medicare “Disadvantage” Plans, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

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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How Prepared Are You for Later-Life Health Care Costs?

When you’re young and healthy, it’s hard to envision how much you'll have to spend on health care costs in your later years. Besides, there will be time to think about that later, right? And yet, as with so many things, when you’re young is precisely the time to take action for the benefit of your future self.

That point was emphasized in Fidelity’s most recent study of retiree health care costs. The company estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring this year can expect to spend $315,000 on such costs throughout their retirement — 5% more than last year. Fidelity’s calculation assumes the couple uses original Medicare (i.e., not Medicare Advantage) and the tally takes into account premiums, including Part D prescription drug coverage, as well as deductibles and co-insurance costs. It does not account for dental or long-term care costs.

On the one hand, if this couple lives another 20 years, that works out to $15,750 per year or $1,312.50 per month. That could be less than a younger person is paying per month right now for health care (certainly the case in our household, by a long shot!). On the other hand, Fidelity’s estimate is an average. Individual people’s actual health care needs vary considerably. Of course, the big unknown is whether you will need long-term care, and if so, how much care, for how long, and at what cost?

A call for more education

One of the most important aspects of the study is that it highlights the need for today's workers to gain a more realistic view of their future health care costs. According to Fidelity’s research, on average, Americans believe that a couple retiring this year will spend just $41,000 on health care throughout their retirement. Of course, that's an unrealistically low estimate. 

The study also highlighted the opportunity many younger workers have to prepare for such costs, especially those who qualify for a health savings account (to qualify, you need to have a high-deductible health insurance plan). A much higher percentage of those with an HSA feel prepared for their health care expenses in retirement than those who do not have an HSA.

Fidelity uses the example of a 35-year-old couple that maxes out HSA contributions and invests the balance, assuming an average annual return of 7%. As the illustration below shows, such a couple could use half of their HSA money for current expenses and still end up with a later life health care nest egg of nearly $500,000. If the couple had enough money to pay current health care costs with other funds, thereby not tapping any of the HSA money during their working years, they could end up with nearly $1,000,000. 

A "Super IRA"

As we noted in an article last year, Elevating the Role of Health Savings Accounts, the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson recently encouraged people to think of an HSA as a retirement account. The company suggested that qualifying workers make funding such an account their second-highest retirement-investing priority, right after investing enough in a workplace retirement plan to receive all available matching money an employer offers. After all, an HSA has the potential to function as a "super IRA," with contributions tax-deductible and investment gains and withdrawals tax-free as long as the money is used for qualified health care costs.

A number of HSA providers allow balances to be invested, not just saved, and Morningstar’s most recent evaluation of the HSA landscape gave Fidelity its highest marks. In fact, Fidelity was the only provider to receive Morningstar’s “High” assessment on a five-tier scale. Calling it the “clear-cut winner,” Morningstar noted that Fidelity offers a wide range of investment options and low fees. SMI came to a similar conclusion in the article mentioned earlier, writing:

It’s noteworthy that Fidelity is Morningstar’s top choice since it is also SMI’s top recommended broker. Opening a Fidelity HSA would enable you to use any SMI strategy to manage that account. The SMI Funds and SMI Private Client also allow for the use of HSAs, with Private Client able to manage balances using a custom blend of SMI strategies.

Other steps you could take to better prepare for post-retirement health care costs include:

  • Once you turn 65 and are eligible for Medicare, give careful consideration to which will be more beneficial to you — a Medicare Advantage plan or traditional Medicare plus Medigap. Some Medicare Advantage plans may pay for expensive items such as hearing aids, which traditional Medicare does not cover. If you plan to split your time in retirement, living in two locations, be sure the plan your choose will cover you in both places. (See the article links in the sidebar for more on this topic.)
  • Have honest conversations with your family about future medical care issues. People often “don’t want to be a burden” to their adult children, but those children may be very open to the idea of a multi-generational living arrangement, which used to be much more common. Also discuss how much care you would want if you became terminally ill, and specify your wishes in a living will.
  • Consider what you would do in case you need long-term skilled care. What’s the likelihood? Do you have a family history of dementia? Should you consider a long-term-care insurance policy?
  • Take good care of yourself. While we can’t control all of the factors that impact our health, many of today’s most common health issues are self-inflicted through poor diet, lack of exercise, too little sleep, too much stress, and other controllable factors.

What are you doing to prepare for later life health care costs?

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Money Roundup: Bad Markets Happen to Good Investors, What the Happiest Retirees Know, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

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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Debt and Lack of Financial Knowledge Holding People Back From Retirement Preparedness

The latest installment in one of the longest-running retirement preparedness studies points to too much debt and too little financial knowledge as among the most significant retirement roadblocks. The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 32nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey paints an overall optimistic picture of retirement in the U.S., with more 73% of current workers expressing confidence that they will have enough money in retirement to live comfortably and 77% of current retirees saying they’re confident they’ll have enough to continue living comfortably. However, the survey also pointed to some areas of financial vulnerability.

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Money Lessons From Mom and Dad

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about money management lessons I learned from my parents, and also my in-laws. Parents are their children’s primary teachers about money. Even if we never teach overt lessons about money (although we should!), our kids are watching what we do with money and listening to what we say. As someone told my wife, Jude, and me before we had our first child, more will be caught than taught.

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How to Minimize the Cost of Early IRA Withdrawals

Taking money out of an Individual Retirement Account before you retire undermines the purpose of an IRA: accumulating enough money to help cover your living expenses in retirement. But life happens. A financial reversal could land you in a situation that makes tapping your retirement account prematurely one of the few options available.

The good news is that IRA funds are available early if you need them. The bad news is that accessing them carries a price. In most circumstances, Uncle Sam will take a hefty cut — not just the regular taxes owed upon any withdrawal but also an early-withdrawal penalty.

However, as is often the case with tax matters, the law allows several approaches to an early IRA withdrawal that can help you avoid the taxman — or at least minimize his take.

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Helping Your Kids Find Their Way

College can be a very expensive place to “find yourself.” When young people enter school without clarity about what to study, that can cause them to switch majors, and that can delay their graduation. In fact, fewer than 40% of college students complete a bachelor’s degree within four years. And with today’s sticker prices topping $25,000 per year at a four-year public school (the total for in-state tuition, room & board, and fees before scholarships or grants are subtracted) and nearly $51,000 at a private school, the cost of delay can add up quickly.

It behooves parents to do all they can to help their teens consider what type of career to pursue. Fortunately, there are resources that can help, including CliftonStrengths for Students and Career Direct.

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Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud and Other Points to Ponder

A good question

“We were assured by policy makers that QE provided large benefits to the real economy. If so, won’t its reversal in the form of QT come with a cost?  It can’t be all rainbows and unicorns.” 

– These comments, from hedge fund manager Stan Druckenmiller and former Federal Reserve governor Kevin Warsh, date back to a 12/16/18 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. The two authors were referring to the Fed’s transition from Quantitative Easing (QE), its bond-buying program designed to stimulate the post Great Financial Crisis economy, to Quantitative Tightening (QT), which many expect to begin in May. Read more at

Saying the quiet part out loud

“It’s hard to know how much the U.S. Federal Reserve will need to do to get inflation under control. But one thing is certain: To be effective, it’ll have to inflict more losses on stock and bond investors than it has so far.... Investors should pay closer attention to what [Chairman] Powell has said: Financial conditions need to tighten. If this doesn’t happen on its own (which seems unlikely), the Fed will have to shock markets to achieve the desired response. This would mean hiking the federal funds rate considerably higher than currently anticipated. One way or another, to get inflation under control, the Fed will need to push bond yields higher and stock prices lower.”

– From an unusually candid opinion piece written by Bill Dudley, who served as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2009-2018. Mr. Dudley was vice-chairman of the Fed’s policy-setting Open Market Committee. Mr. Dudley’s article was titled, “If Stocks Don’t Fall, the Fed Needs to Force Them.” Read more at bit.ly/3KnuTIK.

A blunt instrument

“While the average lead time from the first [bond-yield curve] inversion to the start of [a] recession has been 19 months, we’ve seen lead times as short as 7 months (before the 2020 recession) and as long as 35 months (before the 2001 recession). So even if past is prologue (and there’s no guarantee of that), we could be looking at a recession starting as early as November of this year or as late as March 2025 (35 months from now).”

– Money manager Charlie Bilello, writing about the recently inverted yield curve—that is, the relatively uncommon situation in which yields on short-term Treasuries exceed long-term yields. Although an inverted yield curve has been a historically strong predictor of a recession, it isn’t precise in being able to predict when a recession will begin. Read more at bit.ly/3MvCYg0.

Impending recession? Not so fast

“Actual economic data has [proven to be more positive than] estimates made by professional economic forecasters.... For now, despite high inflation, rising interest rates and geopolitical uncertainty, the economy most certainly doesn’t seem to be headed for a recession any time soon.”

– Market analyst Sam Ro in a 4/24/22 post on his Substack blog TKer. He cited statistics that paint a surprisingly strong picture of the economy—from moderate employment gains to accelerated consumer spending, and from solid manufacturing activity to continued strong demand for real estate. Read more at bit.ly/3LeSiO4.

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Money Roundup: Beware the Yield Curve, a Reluctance to Spend, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

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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Controlling What We Can

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a financial toll on many households. For example, a recent Fidelity study found that a quarter of U.S. adults are less confident than they were before the pandemic that they will eventually be able to retire how and when they want.

Among those, younger generations are understandably more confident about being able to get back on track within a year or two. On the other end of the age spectrum, among Baby Boomers, fully 46% either are unsure as to when they’ll be able to get back on track (39%) or believe they won’t ever be able to (7%).

And now, of course, inflation is raging. With the CPI at a 40-year high of 8.5%, it’s no surprise that 71% of U.S. adults are very concerned about its impact on their retirement preparedness, according to Fidelity. Some 31% aren’t sure how to keep up with rising prices.

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