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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 four personal finance books that were published by NavPress, including Money and Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples and The Grad’s Guide to Money (written for high school seniors and college freshmen). He does some outside speaking as well at churches, universities, conferences, and retreats throughout the country. Matt 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 influence of our consumer culture.

Matt and his wife Jude have three children at home. 

Most Recent Articles

A Conversation About Gold (Video)

The June SMI newsletter cover article about gold has prompted a lot of engagement, with numerous reader questions and comments. So, we decided to dive into the topic a bit deeper.

In the following conversation between the article’s author, SMI Executive Editor Mark Biller, and me, we look more closely at the prospects for inflation or deflation, how the strength of the dollar impacts the value of gold, the relationship between bonds and gold, the best way to hold physical gold, investing in gold through taxable accounts, the prospects for silver, and more.

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The Crucial Role Bonds Continue to Play Across SMI Strategies

With the pandemic sending the stock market on a wild ride this year, it’s no surprise that investment headlines have focused mostly on stock indices such as the S&P 500 and the Dow Industrials.

However, the bond market has been equally turbulent. As panic selling took hold in the stock market from February 19 to March 23, investors sold even traditional safe-haven investments, including Treasury bonds, which drove prices down.

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How to Set Your House in Order

In those days [King] Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’”  – Isaiah 38:1

Imagine you’ve been making all the right financial moves for a long time. You estimated your future needs, diligently set aside a portion of every paycheck, invested the money according to a trustworthy strategy, bought proper insurance for your family, stocked an emergency fund, made sure your paperwork is in order (wills, trusts, living wills, power-of-attorney documents), and everything else. If you’ve done all that, congratulations — you’re in far better shape than most people!

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Black Friday Comes Early, and Other Points to Ponder

An unknowable future becomes more so

“In the best of times, predicting the path of the economy with any certainty is difficult. We are now experiencing a whole new level of uncertainty, as questions only the virus can answer complicate the outlook.”

– Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, quoted in a New York Times article on 5/21/20. He and several Fed colleagues said the timeline for an economic recovery is far from obvious. Read more at nyti.ms/2yA01WR

A second chance

“A number of investors...have discovered during this crisis they don’t have a plan or strategy, just a portfolio of holdings. There’s a huge difference between a smattering of individual securities or mutual funds and an investment plan. The market’s recovery has given every investor who has been holding on for dear life a reprieve to figure out an asset allocation that fits their willingness, ability and need to take risk. If you don’t know what you own and why you own it, a bear market is a bad place to find out.”

– Ben Carlson, in a 5/10/20 post on his
A Wealth of Common Sense blog. Read more at bit.ly/2Xdfx38

Black Friday comes early

“It’s tough to generate inflation if people don’t believe in it. After all, why would anyone ‘chase’ goods if prices stay the same or fall? Delaying consumption could mean getting a discount later.”

– Kathy Jones, Schwab’s chief fixed-income strategist, in a 5/13/20 article on the company’s website. She said there is reason to be concerned about deflation in the short-term. Read more at bit.ly/2THmnwL

Understandable doubts

“Long-term thinking looks easy in a spreadsheet. You can look at a long stretch of history and say, ‘If you just put up with a few lousy years you went on to capture excellent returns.’ That’s good thinking. It’s right thinking. But the real world doesn’t play out in spreadsheets…. It plays out at the dinner table, where you have to convince a spouse that your net worth has plunged but, don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan. It plays out in your own head, when you start to wonder whether your poor performance means you missed something.”

– Morgan Housel, in a 5/14/20 post on the Collaborative Fund blog. Read more at bit.ly/36icwTn

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Money Roundup: Fed Sees New Level of Uncertainty, Faith Sees it Differently, and More

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

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It Isn’t Just the Results, It’s the Ride

When I used to play a lot of golf, one of my frequent playing partners had a phrase he used at least once per round: “At the end of the day, they don’t ask, ‘How?’ They ask, ‘How many?’” He would say that after he hit a bad shot but somehow got lucky and it worked out okay. To be fair, I said it a time or two as well!

That philosophy might work with golf, but it doesn’t work with investing. It isn’t just the results that matter. How you get those results matters, too.

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Money Roundup: Why the Market Can Soar When the Economy Tanks, Stocks for the Long Run, and More

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

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Has Your Commitment to the Stock Market Wavered?

Even experienced investors have felt a bit jarred by this year’s market activity. After reaching an all-time high on February 19, the nearly 11-year-old bull market hit a wall. In record time — just 16 trading sessions — the S&P 500 crashed through the -20% level typically used to define a bear market. From there, the market continued sliding until it found itself down -35% from its February high by March 23.

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When in Doubt, Take the Safe Route

Do you become anxious when circumstances compel you to make important investing decisions? You’re not alone. If our reader comments are any indication, there’s a high degree of financial fretting going on out there!

There’s a recurring theme in the comments we’re hearing right now:

  1. There’s so much at stake. I’d hate to make the wrong decision.
     
  2. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing. I’d hate to make the wrong decision.
     
  3. Can I fully trust SMI’s strategies? I’d hate to make the wrong decision.

What is the “wrong” decision, anyway? If you’re thinking it’s like saying 2+2=5, you have a misunderstanding about investing. Investing decisions can’t be made with mathematical certainty. Perhaps it’s because financial markets deal with numbers (e.g., “a 50-point advance,” “a 6% return”) that we get the idea that investing is somehow like scientific research: add up all the facts and you arrive at the correct solution.

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Stuck at Home? Improve Your Fiscal Health

Most of us aren’t accustomed to being cooped up at home all week long, especially when spring is in the air. Then again, most of us haven’t been through a pandemic before.

If you have time on your hands, we suggest turning your attention to accomplishing several tasks that will bear lasting fruit in your financial life. A few of these will put more money in your pocket, others will reduce your expenses, and still others will help you get better organized. Most can be accomplished online or by phone, so being stuck at home is no obstacle to getting them done!

For some items, we’ve included footnotes to SMI articles where you can find more details.

Ways to get money

  • Change your income-tax withholding. 
    If you receive a big refund each year, fill out a new W-4 form asking your employer to withhold less from each paycheck. This will get more of your earnings to you more quickly.
     
  • Open a high-yield savings account.
    Why let your savings languish in a low- or no-yield account at a local bank when credit unions and online banks offer higher rates?
     
  • Set up an auto-draft for monthly savings.
    This is easy to do online, and it will ensure that you are steadily adding to your savings and earning interest.
     
  • Get a “rewards” credit card.
    Some cards offer “cash back,” others reward you with air miles or retail discounts. But beware: A rewards card must be used wisely to be of real benefit to you.

Ways to save money

  • Check your PMI.
    If you bought your house with less than a 20% down-payment, you’re probably paying for private mortgage insurance. Once you build up at least 20% equity, you can drop that insurance. Check with your mortgage company to see how much equity you have.
     
  • Shop for cheaper insurance.
    You could save a few hundred dollars a year by reviewing your homeowner’s and auto insurance and making changes.
     
  • Cut back on phone service.
    Still have a landline? If you don’t need it, get rid of it. Also review your mobile bill and compare what you’re paying with plans other providers are offering.
     
  • Ask your Internet provider for a lower rate.
    You might get it — especially if you’ve found a better deal from another company and you’re willing to jump ship.
     
  • If you don’t want to negotiate bills yourself, use a bill-negotiation service.
    In return for a percentage of the savings, companies such as BillFixers and Billshark will negotiate everything from phone bills to gym memberships.
     
  • Check your travel rewards.
    If you’re accumulating frequent-flyer points from an airline or frequent-guest points from a hotel chain, find out if any of your points are due to expire soon. If so, see what minimal step you could take to protect those points.

Ways to get more organized

  • Create an online budget. 
    Free tools such as Mint and EveryDollar (basic version) make it easy to track your cash flow. Or you can use a more robust paid service such as Tiller, YouNeedABudget, or EveryDollar Plus. An online system will help you to truly manage your money and make progress toward your financial goals.
     
  • Automate payment of bills:
    Create auto drafts from your bank account for your phone bill, water, electricity, gas, etc.
     
  • Update your beneficiary designations.
    In many cases, you can review (and change) designations online, not only for bank accounts but for insurance policies and investment accounts.

    Improve your cybersecurity.
    Two suggestions: Strengthen passwords (perhaps using a “password manager” such as LastPass or 1Password), and add multi-factor authentication to your most sensitive accounts.
     
  • Make sure your computer has an ongoing back-up.
    Losing key information to a computer crash can be costly and time-consuming. Use an external back-up drive or a “cloud” service such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
     
  • Create a photographic inventory of your home for insurance.
    Take still photos or a video and store those images “in the cloud” or in a bank safe-deposit box. The pictures will come in handy should you need to file a claim.
     
  • Organize health insurance paperwork.
    There’s no better time than now to sort through claims and benefits forms and implement a filing system.
     
  • Check your credit reports. 
    Identity theft is a concern, so check your reports periodically. You’re entitled to a free report each year from the three credit bureaus via annualcreditreport.com. Look for accounts you don’t recognize. If you find any, take the steps outlined on the reports.
     
  • Freeze your credit.
    A credit freeze can help prevent ID theft. Go to each of the three credit-reporting agency sites to request a freeze. (Should you later need to apply for credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily.)
     
  • Get your Social Security statement.
    Setting up online access to your Social Security account (at www.ssa.gov/myaccount) will enable you to download your annual benefit statement. Review the statement for any errors in your earnings record. (Errors will negatively affect your eventual level of benefits).
     
  • Make a will or update an existing one.
    You can write a will with help from downloadable software such as from LegalZoom or Quicken WillMaker. If you’d rather use a local attorney, get the ball rolling with a phone call or email to a local law firm.
     
  • Write a “letter of instruction” for your family and heirs.
    Such a letter fills in practical details not included in a will, such as recommendations regarding your funeral plus information about where to find essential documents.

Many of the tasks suggested above are probably things you’ve intended to “get around to someday.” Well, someday is here! Investing some of your stay-at-home time in these tasks can help reshape this time of social distancing and quarantine into a season of fruitful stewardship.

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