ABLE Accounts


Brittany’s Story

Brittany becomes paraplegic at age 22 after a rock climbing accident. Now 31, she lives with a roommate in an accessible apartment, works a part-time job as an office clerk, and gets Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, as well as Food Assistance Program and Medicaid.

She has a van that has been adapted so she can use it, but she knows it’s aging and won’t last forever. Brittany wants to be able to start saving up for a better vehicle, but she worries that if she saves more than $2,000, she’ll lose her SSI benefits.

Her parents are willing to help her with the cost, but Brittany worries that their gift will also count against her benefits.

Sometimes Brittany’s supervisor asks her to work a few extra hours, which would mean a little extra money — but Brittany usually says no because she worries she’ll have too much money in her checking account at the end of the month, putting her over SSI’s resource limit.

Brittany feels like she can never get ahead, and that she’s always one step away from a minor disaster, like a car repair she can’t afford.

Then, at a monthly support group that Brittany attends, someone mentions how ABLE accounts let people with disabilities save some money without losing SSI and other benefits. The person doesn’t know a lot of details, but thinks you have to be younger than 26 to open an account. Brittany’s heart sinks when she hears that, but she decides to check it out anyway.

Learning More

Brittany decides she needs to get expert advice, so she calls a Benefits Planner. She’s connected with Pam, who asks how she can help.

Brittany explains her situation, and says she heard there might be a new savings program for people with disabilities, but isn’t sure she qualifies. Pam says yes, the ABLE program is new, and helps people with disabilities be more independent and financially secure.

“But don’t I have to be younger than 26 to open an ABLE account?” Brittany asks.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are now, as long as your disability began before you turned 26,” Pam explains. “Because you were 22 when your disability began, and you get SSI benefits now, you definitely qualify for an ABLE account. And the money you save in your ABLE account won’t affect your benefits from Medicaid either.”

Brittany asks if there are any limits on ABLE accounts, and Pam explains that there are two limits on how much can be put into an ABLE account in a single calendar year — up to $18,000 from any source (including your family and friends, your benefits, and other unearned income) and, if you have a job, another $14,580 from your own earned income. As long as the account balance is less than $100,000, the money saved won’t affect SSI benefits. Pam adds, "Even if you have more than $100,000 in the account and your SSI benefits are suspended, your Medicaid coverage will continue."

Brittany laughs, “I can’t imagine being able to save $32,580 in a single year, or ever having $100,000 in an account! Still, this is good stuff to know.”

Pam explains that any growth in an ABLE account is tax-free and, if Brittany is saving money from her earned income, she might qualify for the federal Saver’s Credit when she files her income taxes. Pam adds that it’s important to remember that any money taken out of the account must be used to pay for disability-related expenses.

“Oh, does that only mean medical expenses?” Brittany asks. “I really want to save up for a new van.”

“You can do that,” Pam says. “Qualified ABLE expenses include transportation, housing, health and wellness, education, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal assistance services, and basic living expenses.”

Getting Started

Brittany asks what she has to do to open an ABLE account. Pam explains that each state can set up an ABLE program.

“Oh, do I have to open my account in Michigan’s program?” Brittany asks.

“No, you can open an account in any state that offers ABLE accounts nationwide. But you can only have one ABLE account at a time, so you need to choose the state program that works best for you,” Pam says.

Pam directs Brittany to the ABLE National Resource Center website, where Brittany can find states that already offer ABLE accounts nationwide, and compare their programs. She mentions that Michigan's ABLE account program is MiABLE.

Brittany asks Pam a few more questions. Then she gets off the phone so she can start researching state ABLE programs.

When she has the details she needs, Brittany meets with her parents to go over what she has learned, and to discuss possible investment strategies. They ask their family financial planner a few questions, then Brittany picks an ABLE account program, and enrolls online.

Her parents set things up to automatically put $200 a month into Brittany’s account, to help her save up for a new van. And Brittany now says yes whenever her supervisor offers her a little extra work, because she can put the extra money into her ABLE account. Brittany keeps track of both her own contributions and the money from her parents. At the end of the year, Brittany has about $6,000 in her ABLE account.

Brittany now has an ABLE plan in place that will let her save money to buy her next van and other things she might need, and she worries less about her future.

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