ABLE Accounts Growing In Popularity
A year after debuting, thousands of people with disabilities have opened ABLE accounts, but experts say millions more could benefit from this new way to save without jeopardizing government benefits.
Nearly 14,000 ABLE accounts were opened by the end of September. Collectively, the accounts have over $48.5 million in deposits, according to numbers released at a congressional briefing this week.
Created under a 2014 federal law, ABLE accounts allow people with disabilities to save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government benefits. Medicaid can be retained no matter how much is in the accounts.
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Funds saved can be used to pay for qualified disability expenses including education, health care, transportation and housing. Interest earned is tax-free.
Though the ABLE Act establishing the accounts was approved three years ago, the first accounts became available in June 2016 when Ohio launched its program. Since that time, 29 additional states have introduced ABLE offerings, most of which are available to individuals with disabilities no matter where they live.
The number of accounts opened has continued to increase as more states have launched programs, according to Paul Curley, director of savings research at Strategic Insight, a consulting firm that tracks ABLE account trends.
But there’s a long way to go to reach what Curley estimates is a market of 8 million potential ABLE account holders.
Of the accounts that are open, 22 percent are checking accounts while 78 percent are invested with an average of $3,679 in each. A quarter of the accounts have automatic monthly contributions averaging $132, Curley said.
Andrea Feirstein, managing director of AKF Consulting Group who presented alongside Curley at the congressional briefing, said that feedback from advocates and other stakeholders at listening sessions across the country has been strong.
She noted that large states like California and Texas are still working to roll out programs. And, Feirstein said there have been a few “stumbling blocks.”
Specifically, some people are concerned by the limits on ABLE accounts — just one account per person and a cap on annual deposits of $14,000 this year and $15,000 for 2018 — while others are worried about Medicaid’s ability to reclaim money remaining after an account holder dies to pay for benefits disbursed to them. Meanwhile, many people who are interested in opening ABLE accounts aren’t eligible because their disability did not onset before age 26.
“The demand is out there, the interest is out there, but the take-up is a little slower than we imagined,” Feirstein said. “But it’s still very early.”
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