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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 web site. 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

Money Roundup: Gauging Your Real Risk Tolerance, ‘Disruptive Generosity,’ and More

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

Your tolerance for investment risk is probably not what you think (Wall Street Journal). Don’t wait until the next bear market to find out for sure.

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The Other Side of 'Longevity Risk'

When financial planners talk about "longevity risk," it isn’t that they don't wish you a long life. They're simply concerned that you may live a long life without the ability to pay for that long life. But there’s a related risk that doesn’t get enough attention. It's the risk of living a long life in poor health.

A recent book, Life Reimagined, provides a comprehensive survey of the latest research on how to best navigate the path from midlife onward. Author Barbara Bradley Hagerty found much to be hopeful about, and much that we can do to live a long, healthy, fulfilling life.

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Money Roundup: Time to Check Your Risk Tolerance, When Losing Big is No Loss at All, and More

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

The market is high. Beware of portfolio drift. (NY Times). It’s a good time to honestly assess your risk tolerance.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, here’s what you need to know about flood insurance (Washington Post). What’s your risk?

Transferring IRA money to a health savings account (Kiplinger). It can be done, but you need to understand the rules and the drawbacks.

Read this before getting a reverse mortgage (MarketWatch). Some key rules have changed recently.

The language of long-term care (Morningstar). When shopping for a policy, as when visiting a foreign country, it helps to speak the language.

And from the blogosphere…

An amazing lesson from Buffett on his cake day (The Reformed Broker). How to lose $6.2 billion and not lose a thing. If you read nothing else in this week’s roundup, read this.

Stocks are fundamentally sound (Dr. Ed’s Blog). The case for optimism.

Bull and bear market volatility look very different (Bloomberg View). Is this the calm before the storm?

What do the best investors do that the rest don’t? (Behavioral Value Investor). Successful investing is largely an inside job.

‘It’s not you. It’s me.’ (Above the Market). A detailed look at confirmation bias.

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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Moving Your Career Forward Through Mentoring

The biblical admonition to do your work “with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) stands in stark contrast to many people’s daily experience.

According to the latest in a long-running series of Gallup studies, only one-third of U.S. workers are “engaged” — that is, involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. That number has “barely budged” over the past 15 years. More than half (51%) of today’s workers are not engaged (“indifferent”) and another 16% are actively disengaged (“miserable in the workplace”). No wonder more than half of all workers are actively looking for another job or watching for openings.

Labor Day is an appropriate time to take stock of your career. If you’re feeling less than engaged, mentoring — whether being mentored or serving as a mentor — might just breathe some new life into your work.

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MoneyGuidePro® vs. Fidelity: How Do The Planning Tools Differ?

A few weeks ago, in an article titled How Well Are You Preparing for Later Life, I suggested that signing up for an account with MoneyGuidePro® would be a very helpful step in crafting a comprehensive retirement plan. SMI Premium members have access to this financial planning software for a one-time fee of $50. As long as you maintain your premium membership, you will continue to have access to MoneyGuidePro®.

In response to that article, a couple of readers mentioned that they’re using the free online planning resources available through Fidelity and wondered how MoneyGuidePro® compared. I have now put both approaches to the test and am back with the results.

How specific do you want to be?

The summary statement is that MoneyGuidePro® is far more detailed than Fidelity’s tools and it provides multiple solutions for filling in any projected shortfalls—something you’re left on your own to figure out with Fidelity.

Similar basics

Fidelity and MoneyGuidePro® both ask for the basic information you would expect, such as your birthdate, gender, income (Fidelity makes you choose among several preset ranges, whereas MoneyGuidePro® allows you to enter the exact information), expected retirement age, and “planning age” (a polite way of asking when you expect to die)—along with all the same information for your spouse if you are married. Both tools enable you to link directly to your investment accounts, saving you from having to enter the information manually.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Very different details

Fidelity asks you to choose from several preset answers to questions about your level of investment knowledge and your investment objective (growth, aggressive growth, etc.), which it uses to help compare your current portfolio allocation to an optimized allocation.

MoneyGuidePro® is much more detailed, asking about your later life expectations (active or quiet lifestyle, new home purchase, travel, self-employment, and more), concerns (running out of money, healthcare costs, parents needing care, and others), goals (desired monthly income, leave a bequest)—with specific amounts allocated to each goal and the ability to classify each one as a need, want, or wish.

MoneyGuidePro® also enables you to choose a specific “risk score,” which is used to create an appropriate asset allocation. From there, you can see how likely it is that you’ll be able to achieve your goals without running out of money. If your probability of success is low, the software will recommend various changes, which you can customize as well by changing the aggressiveness of your portfolio, modifying your goals, and more.

Worst case scenarios

Something else that’s unique to MoneyGuidePro® is its ability to model various worst-case scenarios. How would cuts to Social Security impact your plan? What about a spike in inflation? What if you were to die much earlier or later than the assumption you used in your plan?

When we publish the September issue of the Sound Mind Investing newsletter online tomorrow, the cover article will walk you through the worst-case scenario that’s on many investors minds right now: the possibility of another 2008-level bear market. Knowing how well your portfolio would hold up during such a downturn would help you see whether your current allocation is appropriate and give you added confidence in staying with your plan if and when such market conditions emerge.

Is it worth $50 to get down to this level of detail in your retirement planning? Maybe the better question is whether you can afford not to use MoneyGuidePro®.

If you’re a Basic member and would like to access MoneyGuidePro®, your first step is to upgrade to Premium. Right now we’re running one of the best upgrade offers we've made in years, and we're doing it specifically to try to entice Basic Members to try MoneyGuidePro® because we think it's such a valuable tool.

If you’re already a Premium member, this article will tell you how to sign up.

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Money Roundup: The Cause of Market Crashes, The History of Living in Dangerous Times, and more

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

How to spot the next stock market crash (CNBC). What one author sees as similarities between the last five market crashes.

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Unburdening Your Family From Some Tough Decisions

Many older people say they “don’t want to be a burden” on their families. And yet, by not making a handful of key decisions and not completing the associated paperwork, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the very situation they say they’d like to avoid.

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How Well Are You Preparing for Later Life?

What are the keys to successful retirement planning? Many factors matter, of course, and a lot of them can feel frustratingly out of your control. However, there’s one factor that is well within your control and it has proven to be especially effective at helping people transition into retirement with on solid financial footing. It’s putting a plan in writing.

Two recent studies found that people who have a written financial plan are far more likely to save diligently for their retirement and to move toward retirement with confidence.

The first study, which was conducted by Schwab among 1,000 adults between the ages of 21 and 75, found that people with a written financial plan are much more likely than those without a plan to have a monthly savings goal, max out their contributions to their workplace retirement plan, and have investments outside their 401(k) plan.

The second study, which was conducted by Wells Fargo among 1,000 investors (adults with at least $10,000 in savings or investments), found that those with a written financial plan are much more likely to have confidence that they will be able to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement.

And yet, very few people have a written financial plan. Schwab’s survey found that just 24% of its respondents have one. Wells Fargo’s study found that 37% of investors who are still in the workforce, and 40% of retired investors, have a written financial plan. 

So, what are the elements of a good written financial plan? As we described in a previous article on the topic, How to Write An Investment Plan, some of the key elements include:

  • Your investment objectives
  • Your accounts and portfolios
  • Your investment strategy or strategies
  • Your optimal asset allocation
  • How much you are contributing
  • Your approach to rebalancing
  • How you will respond to significant market events

That last one is especially important. Deciding ahead of time how you will respond to a bear market—and committing that decision to paper—can go a long way toward helping you navigate those rough waters with sanity.

If you’re a Premium Member of SMI and haven’t done so already, signing up for an account with the MoneyGuidePro® financial planning software would be a very helpful step in crafting a comprehensive plan. (Read An Exciting New Opportunity for SMI Members: Personal Financial Planning via MoneyGuidePro®.)

You can’t control world events, the economy, or the stock market. But creating a financial plan for your household, and committing it to paper, is something that is well within your control. Doing so will be one of the most helpful steps you can take for managing money well over the course of your life.

Do you have a written financial plan? If so, how have you found it helpful? If not, what’s been holding you back?

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Competition Continues To Cut Investors’ Costs

Brokerage houses are continuing their “race to the bottom,” with each competing against the others to offer the lowest commissions and fund expense ratios.

It’s a race that began almost from the moment Charles Schwab launched its mutual fund marketplace in 1992, enabling investors for the first time to buy mutual funds from different fund families on a single platform. Fidelity soon followed by rolling out its own fund supermarket model, and the competition for customers was on.

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Women Out-Invest Men and Other Points To Ponder

Low volatility means…what exactly?

  • “I’m uncomfortable that people are so comfortable with this. I’m concerned about the very, very low volatility levels. But valuations aren’t super stretched, and companies are cashed up. It’s a new paradigm that’s challenging people’s long-held assumptions.” — James Audiss, wealth manager at Shaw and Partners, quoted by Bloomberg on 6/27/17. He said low stock-market volatility is making investors too complacent. Read more
  • “I don’t think it means anything. There’s no way to determine whether volatility is too high or too low. It just is what it is." — William Schwert, finance professor at the University of Rochester, in a 7/21/17 post on Jason Zweig’s blog. He said long periods of low volatility, such as the one we’re in now, are not uncommon and are not a reason to worry about an impending bear market. Read more
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