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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

#GivingTuesday is Starting Early, and Your Gifts in Support of the Gospel Will be Doubled!

We're getting the #GivingTuesday celebration started a day early this year, and once again SMI readers have the opportunity to partner with our friends at the Jesus Film Project to help bring the Gospel to thousands of people who have never heard it. This year, every dollar you give will be doubled through a match by SMI Advisory Services (SMIAS) — the separate, but affiliated, business that manages the SMI mutual funds and SMI Private Client.

The SMIAS match is available for up to $20,000 of donations. So, if SMI readers contribute $20,000 collectively, that will turn into a $40,000 donation.

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I-Bonds Are the Best Deal in Fixed-Income Right Now

Bond investors haven’t had much to smile about this year. Depending on which maturity one observes (10-year, 30-year, etc.), 2021 has been either the 3rd-, 4th-, or 5th-worst year to own Treasury Bonds in the past 50 years, according to market researcher Jim Bianco.

Meanwhile, October’s Consumer Price Index surged to 6.2% over the prior 12 months. Historically, interest rates have tended to rise in tandem with higher inflation. But in the current cycle, the “transitory inflation” narrative (along with the constant buying by central banks) has kept bond yields subdued thus far. On the same day the latest 6.2% annual inflation rate was announced, the 10-year Treasury bond yielded only 1.5%. That’s an enormous gap — and a significant problem for fixed-income investors.

Against this backdrop, the appeal of U.S. Government I-Bonds is easy to see: their annualized interest rate is currently 7.12%, exceeding any other type of bond yield available. Plus I-Bonds offer favorable tax treatment and significant protection against loss. How is this possible?

I-Bond basics

I-Bonds are savings bonds issued directly by the government to investors. The interest rate on I-Bonds consists of a fixed rate plus an inflation rate that adjusts every six months (the “I” in I-Bonds). Currently, the fixed rate is 0% and the semiannual inflation rate is 3.56%, so the composite (total) semiannual rate is 3.56%. The inflation rate, based on the federal government’s CPI-U rate, adjusts twice a year — on the first business day of May and the first business day of November. Compounding on I-Bonds is semiannual, so if this rate remains unchanged next May, the full-year return would be 7.12%. (Interest is credited monthly and automatically reinvested. The total will result in the semi-annual yield of 3.56%.) Of course, this rate could go up or down every six months.

The disparity between the I-Bond yield and other bonds comes from the fact that I-Bonds are guaranteed to match the rate of inflation. In contrast, other bond yields currently lag inflation by record margins. In other words, I-Bonds have already had their rates adjusted based on the recent surge in inflation, while other bonds have not.

More good news: the composite rate can never fall below 0%. So the only way the yield will decrease is if inflation does. That’s different than the federal government’s other inflation-based bond offering, TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities), which can generate negative returns in a deflationary environment.

Another benefit of I-Bonds is their tax treatment. I-Bond interest is exempt from state and local income taxes. And, because you won’t receive any income from your I-Bonds until you redeem them, federal income taxes are not due until maturity (30 years) or redemption, whichever comes first.

I-Bond drawbacks

All of this sounds rather amazing in a world in which 10-year Treasury bonds yield 1.5% and inflation is running 6.2% — but note these three restrictions.

  1. Holding Period
    I-Bonds must be held at least 12 months, making them less liquid than other fixed-income investments. If they are redeemed between one and five years, you will lose the last three months of interest. Still, if the inflation rate doesn’t decline before next May, you could buy an I-bond today, redeem it 366 days from now, and earn 5.3% (after forfeiting three months’ interest).
     
  2. Purchase Maximums
    In most cases, you can purchase only $10,000 of I-Bonds per calendar year per account holder. If you are due an income tax refund, that refund can be directed to purchase up to an additional $5,000 of I-Bonds.

    While these restrictions are significant, a couple who act promptly could potentially buy $20,000 of I-Bonds between now and year-end, then turn right around and buy another $20,000 in early 2022. If you have a tax refund, that could be added on top, up to an additional $5,000 (per return, not per person).
     
  3. Direct Purchase Only
    This is a biggie because it means you can’t buy I-Bonds within your retirement or brokerage account. Instead, you must open an account at Treasury Direct. The process isn’t too painful, however, and the purchase money simply transfers from your bank account. So as long as you can get “buy bonds” money into your bank account, you’re all set. (Go here for a helpful purchasing walkthrough.) Trusts and businesses are also eligible to purchase I-Bonds.

Conclusion

Attractive bond opportunities are few and far between right now, but I-Bonds certainly fit that description. If they were easier to own and transact in, they’d already be in every bond investor’s portfolio. This is a rare deal that favors individuals over institutional investors. For once, the little guy comes out on top!

Unfortunately, you won’t find I-Bonds in the SMI strategies because of their purchase restrictions. To be clear: We think I-Bonds are probably the best bond investment available right now — better than the funds currently recommended in SMI’s Bond Upgrading portfolio. We can’t recommend I-Bonds there because of the direct-purchase requirements. But if your portfolio calls for bond exposure and you can work with the TreasuryDirect restrictions, I-Bonds are a great option right now.

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Retirement Surprises

Many people spend decades preparing for retirement. They consider how much money they may need, where they’d like to live, how they plan to spend their time, and more. Still, after so much time getting ready for the final season of life, when that time finally comes, even the best prepared often find that retirement comes with a surprising number of, well, surprises. To reduce your surprise factor, here are some of the often-unexpected realities of retirement, both financial and emotional.

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Teach Your Kids the “Why” Behind Generosity This Christmas

I know several young adults who grew up in Christian homes and saw their parents giving to their church, but none of these young people really understood why. One 20-something man said that when his parents gave, it seemed as if they were just “checking a box.”

If ever there were a time of year perfectly suited to teaching our kids why we give, and getting them involved in generosity, it is the Christmas season.

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Money Roundup: Another Safe Spending Rate Revision, Helping Adult Children Financially, 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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Health Care Expenses in Later Life — the Elephant in the Room

When you’re young and healthy, it’s hard to envision one day incurring catastrophic health care costs. 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 $300,000 on such costs throughout their retirement. Fidelity’s calculation assumes the couple uses original Medicare 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.

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Money Roundup: How Inflation Impacts the Market, Making a Ulysses Pact, 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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Money Roundup: The Market Can Be Wrong, Time Horizon is Everything, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web — a day early this week because we'll have strategy updates for Dynamic Asset Allocation and Sector Rotation for you tomorrow.

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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IRA or 401(K)? You Might Be Able to Enjoy the Best of Both

This article has been updated to reflect 2022 contribution and deductibility limits.

The two main types of retirement vehicles in the U.S. are Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and employer-sponsored accounts, such as 401(k)s. These are similar in many respects, and both offer tax advantages. But if you’re eligible to contribute to either type of account, should you choose one over the other? It depends on your situation.

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Investing for Short-Term Goals in Today’s Stock/Bond Environment

A central tenet of asset allocation is that the risk profile of an investment portfolio should become more conservative over time. When a goal, such as retirement, is a long way off, you can afford to have a stock-heavy portfolio. As you get closer to the goal, your allocations to bonds and cash should increase as your allocation to stocks declines.

For those pursuing shorter-term investment goals, the advice has been much the same but with a heavier cash-and-bond starting point. In today’s low-rate environment, however, that general approach — starting somewhat aggressive and taming a portfolio over time — no longer holds for goals that have a timefrom of, say, two to 10 years.

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