Living with a disability can be difficult and costly. Adults who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration because of disability often are challenged to improve their life circumstances because of a $2,000 resource limit. This limit means that a person receiving payments from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program cannot have a bank account balance or any other resources on hand that exceed $2,000, without losing part of their benefit.
Savings of $2,000 or less can be limiting for someone who might want to move into a new home, invest in a vehicle or save for higher education or a vocational training program.
The government provides a way for individuals with disabilities to overcome this barrier and save money. The Stephen Beck Jr. ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act of 2014 allows individuals to save up to $15,000 annually without losing benefits. ABLE is modeled after college savings plans. The savings and/or investment account bypasses the SSI resource limit and can grow interest tax-free.
There are some restrictions:
- The account holder must meet criteria for a disability that began before age 26.
- The account may not receive more than $15,000 per year.
- If the account balance exceeds $100,000, Social Security benefits are impacted.
- Most accounts have a total lifetime balance limit of $500,000.
ABLE account money may not be spent on just anything. Generally, the account funds can be used to pay for expenses that may help improve independence or quality of life.
Here are a few examples of qualifying expenses:
- Personal assistance
- Assistive technology
- Health and wellness
- Employment training and support
Savings in an ABLE account are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). A chosen percentage of funds in the account may also be allocated as uninsured investment money. The account holder can choose a low-, median-, or high-risk investment strategy. Low-risk is the safest, most conservative option, with the lowest possibility for return. A high-risk investment might make more money but also could lose more. A median-risk investment is somewhere in between. Based on the account holder’s choice, the money is automatically allocated into some combination of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
An individual considering these options may want to consider how long the money will be in the market and risk tolerance. ABLE does warn that invested money is not insured and that money, including principle, may be lost over the course of an investment period.
Although the program was federally enacted, ABLE is state-run. Washington’s program opened for enrollments in July 2018. So far, enrollments have been low, with the State Department of Commerce reporting that only a few hundred people have opened accounts. Commerce estimates about 30,000-50,000 people in Washington are eligible for the ABLE Savings Plan and have the financial assets to open an account.
The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver recently included an article about the ABLE program and quoted Peter Tassoni, commerce disability workgroup manager: “I had hopes we’d have higher enrollment rates. I thought there would be more of a backlog of people wanting to join the program.”
Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have ABLE Savings Plans. Oregon’s plan was a year and a half ahead of Washington’s, so some Washingtonians signed up early through that option or through the national ABLE For ALL Savings Plan.
Individuals can shop around for the best program to meet their needs, and some states accept clients from all 50 states, including Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Virginia is among a few states that issue a debit card for the account. The ABLE National Resource Center provides a toolkit for reviewing the various state programs to find the best fit.
The account holder, family and friends can deposit funds into the account using post-taxed dollars. Contributions are not federally tax deductible; however, some states may allow for state income-tax deductions for contribution made to an ABLE account.
One way to apply is to type “Open an ABLE account” into a search engine. If you also type the name of the state, you can find links that will take you directly to that program. Washington’s ABLE Savings Plan links directly to a clickable form to determine eligibility.
Here are additional resources for more information:
Washington ABLE Savings Plan: WashingtonStateABLE.com, Phone: 1-844-600-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Oregon ABLE Savings Plan: OregonABLESavings.com, Phone: 1-844-999-2253 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
ABLE For ALL Savings Plan (national plan): AbleForAll.com, Phone: 1-844-394-2253 from noon to 5 p.m. or 1-844-888-2253 (TTY) from noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.