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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

Be Prepared: How Investing Effectively Can Improve the Effectiveness of Our Witness

The Bible teaches us to always be ready to give an explanation for our faith.

"Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." – 1 Peter 3:15

Peter’s assumption seemed to be that our faith will be so evident that people will ask questions. But is it?

"When was the last time someone stopped you to inquire about the reason for the hope that lies within you? You’re at the market, say, in the frozen food section. A friend you haven’t seen for some time comes up to you, grasps you by both shoulders, and pleads, ‘Please, you’ve got to tell me. Be honest now. How can you live with such hope? Where does it come from? I must know the reason.’" – John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire

I laughed when I first read that. And then I cringed. How often has my faith been so clear — so appealing — that a non-believer sought me out to ask about the reason for my hope? I’ve shared my faith with non-believers many times, but I can’t recall a time when such a conversation was started by the other person.

Because money is such an important factor in people’s lives, our use of it would seem to have the potential to point people to Jesus. If our financial decisions are grounded in the counter-cultural Truths of God’s Word, shouldn’t our use of money set us apart from what’s normal? Shouldn’t there be something noticeably different about our life? C.S. Lewis wrote about this idea as it relates to generosity.

"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."

Just keeping a car for more than five years qualifies as unusual behavior in this day and age; keeping one for 10 years or more may attract attention. So would using some of your vacation time and hard-earned money to serve with a ministry you support. While our motives for doing such things shouldn’t be about calling attention to ourselves, it’s possible that such decisions will prompt questions, which could be opportunities for life-changing conversations.

Similarly, when it comes to investing, it’s likely that there are “things we should like to do and cannot do” because the amount we’re setting aside each month to provide for our family excludes them. But what people are more likely to notice are our reactions to unusually good or bad times in the market.

As I’m sure you’re keenly aware, the next significant inflection point for the market is bound to be a downturn. Being prepared for that from a financial stewardship perspective is about taking a long-term perspective and making sure you’re using a trustworthy investment process that’s aligned with your timeframe and temperament.

Being prepared from a holistic life stewardship perspective means remembering that people will notice how you respond. Someone who exudes peace of mind when so many others are fearful is likely to draw attention. It’s a time when you may have an especially good opportunity to be a good witness.

So remember, as this helpful article points out, the theme of our witness is Jesus Christ, the power of our witness is the Holy Spirit, and the validity of our witness will be shown in how we live our lives.

It may not be easy to bring our faith into water cooler conversations about investing. It will require prayer, discernment, and sensitivity. But if we’re in the game, if we’re proactive in how we navigate the next downturn personally, and if we’re attentive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, the next market slide may present a life-changing opportunity to give the reason for the hope that we have. May we all be so prepared.

Has your approach to investing ever given you an opportunity to talk about your faith?

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Plan to Succeed

It makes intuitive sense that people with a financial plan would be more likely to achieve their financial goals than those who are just winging it.

A new Schwab study confirms this, while noting several specific differences between people with a financial plan and those who don’t have a plan. For example:

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Money Roundup: The Stretch IRA May Be Going Away, Tough Love for Investors, and More

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

And from the blogosphere…

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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The Freedom of Living in Financial Truth

When I began serving in stewardship ministry, I frequently met with individuals and couples to review their financial situation. I was constantly amazed at the disconnect between how people looked like they were doing financially and how they were actually doing. Very often, they were driving nice cars and wearing nice clothes. They looked just fine, but they weren’t fine. Most were deeply in debt.

In just about every case, I was the first person they had shared the details of their financial life with. Few of us share the true details of our finances with anyone other than our spouse (and in some cases, people don’t even do that!).

However, in one important sense, we all share financial information all the time. The choices we make — the home we live in, the car we drive, the vacations we take, and all the rest — gives people a sense of how we’re doing financially. And all of us constantly take in this type of information from others.

The problem is, that type of information is often at odds with a person’s true financial condition. You might think of it as fake financial news, and it swirls around us every day, impacting us in ways we don’t even recognize.

It’s a dangerous mistake to assume that people are doing as well as they appear to be doing. We don’t really know how they paid for that vacation, whether they can actually afford the car they’re driving, or how often they argue about money behind the closed doors of their beautiful home.

If we assume we’re making about as much as our friends or neighbors and that it’s normal for someone with that income to drive the sort of car they drive, it can tempt us to try to keep up, even if that means living beyond our means. Sociologist Juliet Schor wrote about this in her book, The Overworked American:

It may be as simple as the fact that exposure to their latest "lifestyle upgrade" plants the seed in our own mind that we must have it, too — whether it be a European vacation, this year’s fashion statement, or piano lessons for the children.

Today, social media has taken this to a whole new level. Most of us don’t intend to use Facebook or Instagram to brag, but we tend to share only the good things we’ve experienced. It isn’t that we’re lying, it’s just that we’re presenting an incomplete picture. Scrolling through the feeds of everyone’s best experiences can leave you feeling like you’re missing out.

Not surprisingly, frequent use of social media impacts people’s use of money. Millennials (people ages 25-34) are especially vulnerable. According to several studies, they spend more time on social media than older generations and are more likely to say they’ve spent money they hadn’t planned to spend because of something they saw on social media.

So, while there’s no evidence that more people are sharing the true details of their financial lives with anyone, it’s obvious that there has been a great increase in the sharing of people’s best experiences through social media, and it’s having a negative impact on people’s financial well-being. In a 2018 Fidelity study, two-thirds of Millennials acknowledged as much.

That’s why, especially today, it can be helpful to have someone in addition to our spouse to share the truth of our financial situation with — a sounding board for accountability, encouragement, new ideas, and to help ensure that our use of money reflects the reality of our financial situation.

Recently, I spent a few days with some good friends I’ve known for nearly 30 years. One of the guys is a successful commercial real estate developer, but I’ve never known exactly how successful he is until this trip. During our visit, he showed us his estate plan. He wasn’t boasting; he was being transparent, inviting feedback, and recommending that we consider using a tool he’s developed that provides a simple flow chart of what will happen to his and his wife’s assets upon their deaths.

Later, prompted in part by his openness, I shared some details about a recent financial decision my wife and I made and asked for feedback. It was so freeing and helpful to be able to talk openly about a topic most of us keep close to the vest.

Who would you consider sharing some of your financial details with? If no one comes to mind, or if you feel hesitant about the idea, that’s understandable. Just think about it, and keep in mind that disclosure tends to beget disclosure. Your willingness to share some details of your financial life may make a friend comfortable sharing some of theirs.

This isn’t just about improving your finances. It’s about living in more authentic community. And today, we could all use more of that.

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Banking With Your Church

How does a 2.99% interest rate sound for a six-month CD with just a $500 minimum? That’s a bit better than the best nationally advertised rate of 2.70%. Or how about 4.65% on a five-year CD with a $10,000 minimum? That’s significantly better than the 3.15% best nationally-advertised rate.

Where can you get such rates? Possibly through a “church extension fund.”

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The Positives – and Perils – of “Back-Door” Roth IRA Contributions

As we explained in our April 2019 article, Making Sense of Your IRA Options, Roth IRAs offer a compelling tax benefit: withdrawals are tax-free in retirement. Further, Roth IRAs have no mandatory withdrawal requirement, which creates greater flexibility in managing retirement assets.

Unfortunately, if you’re a high-income earner and would like to contribute to a Roth IRA, a quick review of the IRS rules suggests you are out of luck. For single filers, modified adjusted gross income must be under $137,000 to be eligible. For married couples filing jointly, the income cutoff is $203,000. But there are ways around those income-level restrictions, as we’ll explain shortly.

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June Sightings

Sighting: A mild recession, a not-so-mild bear market?

Recession fears resurfaced at the end of 2018 as a combination of negative data surprises, communication blunders by the Fed, slowing growth overseas, and rising trade tensions triggered a selloff in risk assets that led many in the market to fear a recession was imminent. While more dovish Fed communication and the recent market rebound have helped allay these fears, many are still left wondering if a recession is around the next corner. We don’t think so. Our recession forecasting tools continue to point to the same timing as they have over the past year-and-a-half: recession risk in the near term is moderate, but the next recession could begin as early as the first half of 2020....

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Do Not Covet What Thy Facebook Friends Have, and Other Points to Ponder

Do not covet what thy Facebook friends have

“Spending is not the enemy, but when we allow social pressure or other forces to lure us into spending beyond our means, it can impact long-term financial stability and become a larger problem.”

– Terri Kallsen, executive vice president and head of Schwab investor services, commenting on her company’s most recent Modern Wealth Survey. The study found that 35% adults believe social media has a bad influence on how they manage money. Read more

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Money Roundup: Retirement Account Rules May Change, Values-Based Money Management, and More

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

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Rethinking the Roth 401(k)

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal (paywall) mentioned two issues related to Roth 401(k) plans that are worth highlighting.

First, participation in such plans remains low compared to participation in traditional 401(k) plans. And second, the conventional wisdom about who should use a Roth may be scaring away some people who would benefit from a Roth.

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