SPOTLIGHT ON ACHIEVING A BETTER LIFE EXPERIENCE (ABLE) ACCOUNTS  -- 2020 Edition

INFORMATION ABOUT TAX-FREE SAVING ACCOUNTS FOR DISABLED INDIVIDUALS

The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) became law on December 19, 2014. The law aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free saving accounts available to cover qualified disability expenses.

spotlight

IMPORTANT FACTS TO KNOW ABOUT THE ABLE ACT

  • The designated beneficiary of an ABLE account is the eligible individual who owns the ABLE account. He or she must be:
    • eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26;
    • entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB), childhood disability benefits (CDB), or disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits (DWB) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26; or
    • someone who has certified, or whose parent or guardian has certified that he or she met the criteria for a disability certification before age 26.
  • An eligible individual may have only one ABLE account.
  • A contribution is the deposit of funds into an ABLE account. Any person may contribute to an ABLE account for an eligible beneficiary. Contributions for an ABLE account may not exceed the annual gift tax exemption ($15,000 in 2020).
    • A distribution is the withdrawal from an ABLE account. Distributions are only to or for the benefit of the designated beneficiary.
    • A person with signature authority can establish and control an ABLE account for a designated beneficiary who is a minor child or is otherwise incapable of managing the account.
  • Qualified disability expenses (QDE) are expenses made for the benefit of the designated beneficiary and related to his or her disability, including, but not limited to:
    • Education;
    • Housing;
    • Transportation;
    • Employment training and support;
    • Assistive technology and related services;
    • Health;
    • Prevention and wellness;
    • Financial management and administrative services;
    • Legal fees;
    • Expenses for ABLE account oversight and monitoring;
    • Funeral and burial; and,
    • Basic living expenses.
  • Earnings on an ABLE account and distributions from the account for qualified medical expenses do not count as taxable income.
  • A rollover is the distribution of all or some of the funds from one ABLE account to the ABLE account of a member of the original designated beneficiary's family.

TREATMENT OF ABLE UNDER FEDERAL MEANS-TESTED PROGRAMS

SSI Program

We disregard the first $100,000. Only assets above $100,000 count as a resource. If an ABLE balance exceeds $100,000 by an amount that causes you to exceed the SSI resource limit -- whether alone or with other resources, we suspend the SSI payment until the countable resources are below the allowable limit.

Medicaid Program

A beneficiary’s Medicaid continues when an SSI recipient’s ABLE account exceeds $100,000 by an amount that causes the recipient to exceed the SSI resource limit--whether alone or with other resources. The recipient retains eligibility for Medical Assistance (Medicaid) without a time limit as long as he or she remains otherwise eligible.

Medicaid Payback Provision

Assets remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of a beneficiary must be used to reimburse the state for Medicaid payments it made on behalf of the beneficiary.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What is an ABLE account?

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account is a tax-advantaged savings account to which contributions can be made to meet the qualified disability expenses of the owner, or designated beneficiary. ABLE accounts receive favorable treatment and are excluded from resources in whole, or in part, for purposes of certain means-tested Federal programs.

2. What is the federal law that made ABLE accounts possible?

The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act became law on December 19, 2014. The law aims to increase financial independence and improve quality of life while easing financial hardship faced by many individuals with disabilities and their families.

3. Who is eligible to own an ABLE account?

In order to be eligible to own an ABLE account, a person must:

  • be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26;
  • be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), childhood disability benefits (CDB), or disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits (DWB) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26; or
  • have certified, or have a parent or guardian that has certified, that he or she met the criteria for a disability certification before age 26.
4. Do you have to provide proof of disability when opening an ABLE account?

Proof of disability is one of the criteria necessary to establish an ABLE account.  However, State ABLE programs determine what additional proof an individual must provide at account establishment and recertification.  In regard to proof of disability, the eligible person, or the eligible person’s authorized legal representative, certifies that the person:

  • is eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26,
  • is entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), childhood disability benefits (CDB), or disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits (DWB) based on disability or blindness that began before age 26, or
  • meets the criteria for a disability certification before age 26.

The person must make the proof available for the IRS or the ABLE program if requested to satisfy the disability certification requirement.  Account owners must recertify their eligibility annually.

5. Who is the owner and beneficiary of an ABLE account?

The person with the disability is the owner and the beneficiary of the ABLE account. Therefore, you may see “owner” and “designated beneficiary” used interchangeably when you get information about ABLE accounts. 

6. Do ABLE account balances count toward the SSI statutory resource limit?

Up to and including $100,000 in the person’s ABLE account is excluded from being treated as a countable resource for SSI benefits calculations.

7. What happens if an SSI recipient has more than $100,000 in an ABLE account?

Up to and including $100,000 in an ABLE account is disregarded.  Only assets above $100,000 count as a resource for SSI purposes.  If the ABLE account balance exceeds $100,000 by an amount that causes the SSI recipient to exceed the $2,000 resource limit, either alone or with other resources, SSI benefits will be suspended without a time limit (assuming that the individual otherwise remains eligible for SSI).  SSI benefits are reinstated for all months in which the ABLE account balance no longer causes the individual to exceed the resource limit and the individual is otherwise eligible for SSI.

8. Will Medicaid be suspended if the ABLE account exceeds $100,000?

No. Medicaid eligibility continues even if the ABLE account exceeds $100,000 by an amount that causes the recipient to exceed the SSI resource limit, whether alone or with other resources, as long as the individual remains otherwise eligible for SSI.

9. Who may contribute to an ABLE account?

Any person may contribute to, or deposit funds into, an ABLE account. (The Internal Revenue Code defines a person as including an individual, trust, estate, partnership, association, company, or corporation.)

10. How much may be contributed annually to an ABLE account?

Total contributions from all sources are limited to the annual gift tax exclusion.  In 2021, the limit is $15,000.  

11. Can more money be contributed to the ABLE account of a working account owner?

Yes.  ABLE account owners who are employed, and for whom certain other contributions have not been made for the taxable year, may contribute additional funds to the accounts beyond the annual gift tax exclusion limit ($15,000 in 2021).  The additional annual contribution  may not exceed the federal poverty level for a one-person household for the calendar year preceding the calendar year in which the tax year begins (in your state of residence) or the designated beneficiary's gross wages for the taxable year, whichever is less.

12. What is a distribution from an ABLE account?

A distribution is any payment from an ABLE account. Distributions (other than returns of contributions) may be made only to, or for the benefit of, the designated beneficiary.  Distributions for Qualified Disability Expenses are not counted as taxable income.

13. What are Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE)?

Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE) are expenses that relate to the disability or blindness of the designated beneficiary and that are for the benefit of the designated beneficiary in improving health, independence, or quality of life. Such expenses include, but are not limited to, expenses related to the designated beneficiary’s: education; housing; transportation; employment training and support; assistive technology; healthcare, prevention and wellness; financial management and administrative services; legal fees; account oversight and monitoring; funeral and burial expenses; and basic living expenses.

14. Do distributions from ABLE accounts impact SSI benefits?

A distribution for a housing expense or for an expense that is not a QDE is counted as a resource, if the designated beneficiary retains the distribution into the month following the month of receipt. If the designated beneficiary spends the distribution within the month of receipt, there is no effect on SSI eligibility.

15. Who can open an ABLE account?

You can open your account for yourself if you are an eligible individual, at least 18 years of age and have the legal authority to open an account.  Sometimes, the eligible individual does not want to, or does not have the legal authority to act on his/her own behalf. In those cases, an authorized legal representative may open and manage the account on behalf of the account owner. Those who can serve as authorized legal representatives may vary by state.  Consult State plan disclosure documents for more information. 

16. Does the ABLE account have to be opened in the home state of the eligible individual?

No.  Eligible persons or their authorized legal representatives may open an account in their own State’s plan or in a State plan that is available to out-of-State residents.  Some State plans are available only to residents of that State.  It is important to look at one’s home State plan first in case there are tax benefits for owning an ABLE account with that plan.

17. How many ABLE accounts may an account owner have?

Only one ABLE account can be owned no matter what plan you enroll in.

18. Are ABLE accounts transferrable?

ABLE accounts are transferrable to family members who are also qualified individuals.

19. What are the tax benefits of owning an ABLE account?

Earnings on an ABLE account and distributions from the account for QDEs are not counted as taxable income.    

20. What about Medicaid reimbursement?

Upon the death of an ABLE account owner, a portion or all of the balance remaining in the ABLE account must be distributed to a State that files a claim with respect to medical assistance provided to the designated beneficiary under that State’s Medicaid plan. The payment of such a claim (if any) is limited to the total amount of medical assistance paid after establishment of the ABLE account over the amount of any premiums paid, and it is made only after payment from the ABLE account of the designated beneficiary’s funeral and burial expenses and outstanding payments due for his or her other QDEs. Some States have passed legislation to limit recovery.  See State plan disclosure documents for specific details.

21. Who administers ABLE plans?

States administer ABLE plans.  See States’ plan disclosure documents or for additional state-specific information or visit the links provided below.

22. How do you open an ABLE account?

An ABLE account can be opened by going to directly to a State’s plan website or by calling their customer service.  Some State plans may offer paper enrollment. 

OTHER USEFUL LINKS

SSA Program Operations Manual System (POMS): https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0501130740

Federal Rule - Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM): https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/06/22/2015-15280/guidance-under-section-529a-qualified-able-programs#h-20

Center for Medicare and Medicaid ABLE Medicaid Director Letter: https://www.medicaid.gov/federal-policy-guidance/downloads/smd17002.pdf

National Association of State Treasurers – ABLE:
https://nast.org/able/

ABLE National Resource Center:
https://www.ablenrc.org/


THIS INFORMATION IS GENERAL.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CALL 1–800–772–1213 (TTY 1–800–325–0778),
VISIT OUR WEBSITE (www.ssa.gov) ON THE INTERNET,
OR CONTACT YOUR LOCAL SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE.