Figuring the Trip Budget: ABLE Accounts (A Piece of Cake to Set Up)

Back when Andy was little, it was drilled into us that we should never have assets in name … never, ever, never. Because if we did, he wouldn’t be able to receive necessary supports, such as healthcare benefits through Medicaid—which are often vital to people with disabilities. This put families and individuals with disabilities in a terrible position of forced poverty to keep essential benefits like healthcare.

But the ABLE Act in 2014 significantly changed that. Since 2014, qualifying people with disabilities can have money in their name through designated ABLE accounts and also keep Medicaid, SSI, and other benefits they need to live full and healthy lives.

If you haven’t yet set up an ABLE account, they are incredibly easy to do. I didn’t believe a mom when she said it would take less than 15 minutes, but she was right. I set up our ABLE account during my snack break with STABLE account. You don’t have to submit a bunch of paperwork–just a short online form with electronic transfer information.

The STABLE account program we use is run by the state of Ohio, but it’s available to anyone in the US. Partner States also receive reduced rates for fees, including Kentucky, Vermont, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, West Virginia, Wyoming, Arizona and Oklahoma. For example, I live in Georgia and work in Kentucky, and we use this program.

These accounts are completely online, so you make contributions electronically and usually get a debit card to use for qualifying expenses–which include most normal life stuff. Your son or daughter can also use money from his or her ABLE account to pay for things like job training, transportation, housing, health care costs, assistive technology, legal fees, and anything else that improves quality of life for a person with a disability. The accounts are free to set up, but you have to start with a deposit and pay some small fees.

These accounts truly are wonderful when you go in to apply for SSI because your son or daughter can have more than $2,000 in the ABLE account and still qualify for Medicaid and SSI. This means they can save their birthday gift money and graduation money and money from a job, and you can help them save for a college program or a home without worrying about losing benefits.

When we went in to apply for SSI, we had accumulated a modest amount in Andy’s ABLE account (a little above the normal $2000 SSI limit and far, far below the $100,000 limit). Our intake worker completely understood that this money wasn’t counted toward assets that would disqualify Andy for SSI. And if you have an SSI intake worker who doesn’t know about ABLE accounts yet, you can point them to this ABLE account page on the Social Security Administration website.

There are so many benefits to opening these accounts, so take the 10 minutes to set one up as soon as you can! It’s a piece of cake!

Learn more about ABLE accounts from the ABLE National Resource Center.

Important points to know about ABLE accounts:

  • The total annual limit of all contributions to your son or daughter’s ABLE account is $15,000 per year, which includes all contributions from family, friends, and the individual themselves.
  • SSI cash benefits can be suspended if the ABLE account surpasses $100,000, but they can be reinstated if the account drops back below that amount.
  • You also don’t want to save too much without spending because any money left at the end of a person’s life will be returned to the government.
  • There are many states that offer national programs, so people are not limited to their own state’s program. Also, for states that do not have programs, a person can open an account with a national program, e.g., Ohio and Virginia. However, the fees and requirements can be a bit different for different states, so check that out.
  • Some states also offer tax deductions for contributions to ABLE accounts in their state ABLE programs. This is a factor you should consider when deciding which ABLE program is right for you.