Episode 27: ABLE Accounts with Mary Rubenis

This week we’re talking all things ABLE accounts! From eligibility to qualified disability expenses to using your ABLE account as a tax-advantaged investment vehicle, we’ve got you covered.

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Joining us to discuss these accounts is Mary Rubenis, VP of Client Relationship Management and ABLE Savings at Vestwell. Vestwell is the program administrator for ABLE accounts in 20 states including:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Washington (state)
  • Maryland
  • Oregon
  • Alabama
  • Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • Vermont
  • Missouri
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming
  • Arizona
  • Oklahoma
  • Utah
  • California

But today’s episode is for everyone — regardless of which state you live in! Get out a pencil and notebook and get ready to learn.


Show Notes

Compare plans with ABLE National Resource Center.

Learn more about ABLE accounts at ABLE Today.

Check social security functional limitations to see if you qualify for an ABLE account even without SSI or SSDI via the SSA Blue Book.

Spotlight on ABLE from the SSA.

Social Security Benefits Counseling by state via the Ticket to Work program.

POMS document for ABLE & Social Security.

Check out the Vestwell website. (Though if you want to apply for an ABLE account, visit your state’s ABLE website. You’ll interact with Vestwell once you have an account set up if you’re in one of the above 19 states.)

Full transcript

Brynne: Welcome to Mom Autism Money, everyone! Today we’re talking ABLE accounts. We’ll take a deep dive into eligibility requirements, qualified disability expenses, and ways you can use your ABLE account with other financial tools to meet your economic objectives. The show notes are going to be jam packed with resources for further learning today so be sure to check them out!

Joining us to discuss this topic is Mary Rubenis of Vestwell. Joyce and I had the pleasure of meeting Mary this past Fall at the 529 Conference, and we’re so excited to bring you all her expertise on this topic. Quick note – this episode was recorded before the ABLE Age Adjustment Act was passed, so bear in mind that age requirements will change from 26 to 46 in the year 2026, but until then, the requirements we discussed with Mary hold.

Mary Rubenis is a VP of Client Relationship Management/ABLE Savings at Vestwell. With a background in PR, she is always viewing ABLE growth with a marketing lens to drive education and awareness of ABLE from a client and consumer perspective.

Previously, Mary worked at MEFA coordinating outreach and partnership building for the Massachusetts ABLE Savings Program and provided comprehensive guidance in the college planning/financing process as part of the college planning team. She is deeply passionate about employer financial wellness benefits and helping individuals with disabilities to find the resources they need.

Mary has a degree in Communication Studies from Emerson College with concentrated coursework in Marketing Communications and Public Relations. She is also an active member of USA 500 Clubs Special Needs Collaborative.

Without further ado, let’s talk ABLE accounts.

Mary: My name is Mary Rubenis and I, uh, work on ABLE programs nationwide for Vestwell. And I ended up in the world of able, I think from a little bit of personal experience really.

I had taken a career break when my daughter was born many years ago. She’s now 20. And, um, at the time had a family member that was struggling, uh, with a disability. And so, you know, really researching resources and was able to touch, you know, a lot of local organizations, um, for support. And so that really, I guess, shaped how I stepped into ABLE. I have a communication background and yeah, so that was really the pathway for me to end up in the ABLE world.

Brynne: I know that you worked at MEFA for a while there in Massachusetts, and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about your work there.

Mary: Sure. So that particular role at MEFA, uh, was kind of a segue from having this experience, uh, in the disability, um, space. I, uh, they were just at that time, uh, 2017, Massachusetts was rolling out their ABLE program nationwide.

And so, uh, this role became available there and it was part of the college planning team, you know, having a communication background and having a lot of touchpoints in the disability community. It was really a great fit for me and it really fit within my passion to help individuals and families, uh, who struggle to find, you know, support and resources for a family member or individual with a disability.

And so I worked on the college planning team there at MEFA, and that is the, uh, I should say what the acronym is, it’s the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority. And they are a not-for-profit state authority that does tremendous work. They are a resource for families, not only in Massachusetts but nationwide and the college planning space.

And so their mission is to help families plan, save, pay for college, and also obviously save in some tax advantaged savings plans that they offer, which was the, uh, Massachusetts 529, but also the ABLE Program in Massachusetts as well. And so I worked on the ABLE program there doing outreach and partnership building, just building awareness about the program and, and education and you know, forming relationships.

And I did that on the college planning team.

Brynne: Gotcha, gotcha. And I know when we look at ABLE programs across the states, Massachusetts always stands out to me as one of the ones that has just a ton of outreach and a ton of resources for parents. Some of those resources are great whether you live in Massachusetts or not, and I know you had a huge role in creating a lot of those.

So off the bat, thank you for that. Thank you for the great work over there.

Mary: Thank you. That’s good to hear. That’s really good to hear.

Brynne: Now you’re with Vestwell and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about Vestwell as a company, what it does just generally, and then specifically with ABLE Accounts, what role it serves.

Mary: Sure, sure. So Vestwell is really a leading small business retirement plan provider and individual savings platform. So that includes 529 college savings and also ABLE programs as well. And our mission is to build this unified savings platform. You know, we talk a lot about closing the savings gap and delivering this experience on our platform that is very simple for a saver to use and just really empowers them to save.

And so we offer this, you know, flexible, it’s it’s cost effective platform to save for these aspects of life that, you know, everyone needs to save for. You know, so we’re in those three areas of retirement education, saving in a a 529 college savings plan, and then also in the ABLE space as well as part of that mission to sort of close this gap across the country.

We launched Vestwell state savings, uh, in partnership with BNY Mellon so that that component of the 529 college savings and ABLE came over and is now part of Vestwell. And so we currently administer 75% of the state offered workplace savings programs, and we are the only FinTech company that partners with state governments to, you know, offer this personalized savings experience.

State-of-the-art platform that we’re always updating and enhancing with new features and just a great mission that we can span across all these three, you know, these three savings areas to help people save. And in the retirement space we work with small to mid-size companies as well as advisors as well.

And so we partner with states to, to power, you know, auto IRA programs on the retirement side and as well as the 529 and ABLE programs, which I mentioned and I know we’re here to talk about ABLE today, but I just wanted to give you a background of kind of these three areas that we’re really digging down on to help people save.

Brynne: So, if I was a parent and I was in a state where Vestwell is the administrator for some of these programs, the way I would interact with Vestwell, would that just be logging into my account, viewing my balance, uh, making transfers? Would that all happen in the Vestwell space? Am I understanding that correctly?

Mary: Yeah.

So you would go to the, you would go, um, to the platform and you’d be able to log in, um, and you know, execute on any distributions or any transactions that you’re looking to perform. That’s right. Yeah. You would go to whatever site, you know, you’re interested in opening an account and then go from there, you know, and then obviously you would have an account set up and then you would have a login, um, where you would go to login to do all that.

Brynne: As far as like paying for your services, go, that’s something the state does, not the parents, right?

Mary: Yeah, so the States contract with us, the states administer the, the ABLE programs, and then they partner with a program manager. And so Vestwell is the program manager. So there’s a, you know, there’s a, um, partnership with the states that we serve, and yeah, so that, that takes place, you know, that.

Contract fees takes place, you know, with the state and with their program manager and all the ABLE programs function that way nationwide. So in terms of an ABLE account, you know, the functionality is the same in terms of, you know, the use of the account, the eligibility, really the differences in programs come down to who the program managers are and the fee structure and the portfolios that you might be selecting.

Brynne: Which states are in Vestwell’s ABLE portfolio?

Mary: Sure I can. We, we currently, we currently powered 19 able programs nationwide, and so that includes Florida, Hawaii is our most recent state to come on board. State of Washington, Maryland, Oregon that you’ve mentioned previously. Uh, Alabama. And then Ohio is part of the stable collaboration, which is made up of 13 states, including Ohio.

And those other states are Kentucky, Vermont. Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, West Virginia, Wyoming, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah. And so those, all of those states, including Ohio, are part of the stable partnership, and there were 13 of them in total.

Brynne: Because you work with all these programs across these states, and some of them are even in collaboration together, are there any similarities across these program? As far as the rules go, as far as fees go, as far as the withdrawals go, what does that Venn diagram look like, or, or is there no overlap?

Mary: Yeah, I mean, I think that question comes up, you know, frequently, obviously people are trying to choose the best plan for them, and I always tell people, always look to your home state first, because some states do offer a tax deduction for their ABLE program.

So that’s something that you should always look at. But essentially the programs, the accounts, all function the same way. The functionality, like I mentioned, earlier, it’s all the same in terms of, and we should definitely talk about that. What’s eligibility look like, um, to, you know, to open one of these. But the functionality is the same.

The qualified disability expenses are the same, you know, they operate all the same across the board. The differences are gonna be, again, the fee structure. You know, is there a minimum, uh, to open the account $25? Um, or is there not a minimum to open the account, the fees associated with, you know, if there’s a prepaid card, is it $5 a month for the prepaid card?

And also, you know, portfolios and selection of those, you know, they’re gonna differ, plan to plan, but essentially, you know, the overall functionality and the way they operate, it’s the same across the board. And a great, a great resource for people to really compare plans is ABLE National Resource Center, that’s a, that’s a big one.

That just has a phenomenal website. I tell people you can go there and they actually have a, a tri-state, uh, comparison chart that you can go and, and look at three states. And compare, you know, all those things that you’re kind of digging down on here, you know, minimum contribution amount and overall amount that you can save in the plan.

You know, do they accept out-of-state residents, can you be an out-of-state resident rather an open an account. Um, so that’s a great resource. And I’ll also mention here NAST, which is the National Association of State Treasurers. That’s also another, um, great resource, um, for able, and they just launched a site called ABLE Today that people can go to, um, similar to ABLE National Resource where they’re, you know, just, um, you know, loading a lot of content and information there to help people make an informed decision about an, you know, opening and able account.

Brynne: Yeah, absolutely. We love ABLE National Resource Center. We’ve been using that one for a while and I was so excited to hear about Able Today. We’ve dove pretty deep into ABLE accounts before, but I don’t know that we’ve ever reviewed that base eligibility beyond the age of onset.

Mary: Okay. Yeah, no, it’s a great place to start, right?

Because that’s the number one question. Am I, am I eligible to open one of these or not? And so the criteria for opening one of these, so currently the age of onset is 26, so your disability has to have occurred prior to the age of 26. And then if you’re getting SSI or SSDI and meet that age requirement, you’re automatically eligible to open an ABLE account.

But even if you don’t get those federal benefits, I think sometimes there’s confusion. People think part of the reason why ABLE got the legislation got passed was because so many individuals who get federal benefits couldn’t save over this $2,000 asset cap, which still exists. And so I think sometimes there’s a misunderstanding out there that you have to be getting those benefits in order to open an ABLE account, which is untrue.

if you are getting those federal benefits, the ability to have an ABLE account really helps you because it allows you to keep those benefits but also to save, right? And that’s the great thing about ABLE is that if you are getting those federal benefits, it allows you to save over that $2,000 and not impact your benefits. So I always wanna make that clarification.

You don’t have to get benefits, but if, if you. To open an ABLE account, but if you are getting them, you know, it’s very impactful, um, to have an ABLE account. And so the first criteria, like I mentioned, 26, you meet that in, uh, SSI or SSDI. If you’re getting those, you are eligible to open an ABLE account.

And then secondly, you meet the age requirement, but you meet Social Security has a list of what they call functional limitations. That’s in this SSA Social Security Administration Blue Book, and they really, um, spell out many different types of disabilities from physical, developmental, mental health disabilities.

If you’re meeting one of those, and then you’re eligible to open an ABLE account as long as you meet the, um, age criteria. So that’s a good place to go to, to determine whether or not you meet the disability requirements. The SSA Blue book and they actually also have a great spotlight on ABLE that, um, really digs down on able and, and just sort of how it intersects with social security and just kind of the ins and outs.

And so I always recommend people look at that as well. It’s a great resource as well for people to learn about how the two kind of intersect together.

Brynne: Absolutely. Absolutely. And Joyce and I had this question kind of come up recently between the two of us. We were talking about how you have to meet those SSA requirements as far as your disability goes.

And with autism specifically, we’re very curious about this. You know, autism is a spectrum. We have some people on one end of the spectrum, some people on the other. Like, is the autism diagnosis in and of itself enough, or do you have to meet a higher bar? I suppose with those functional limitations from the SSA.

Mary: That’s a great question. So I, I really, I will always say to people, you know, I, I can’t tell you whether or not you’re eligible for an ABLE account or not. You really have to, um, part of when you’re opening an ABLE account is you’re essentially self certifying that you meet the criteria and so, I always tell people, you know, you do.

You should have in your records at home, you don’t need it to open the account, but you should have a letter from an MD just stating what the disability is and then again, referring people to that SSA Blue book. I believe that autism is in there as a, you know, qualifying, um, diagnosis. But again, that’s not in my wheelhouse to say whether or not someone will qualify or not.

They need to, you know, refer to that SSA Blue book and then, like I said, be able to get, um, a diagnosis from a physician saying that, you know, they do indeed have this, whatever the disability might be. This might be a good place to mention it. And, and I believe it’s available in every state that I would always highlight as a, as a resource for who are getting the benefits is, I believe every state offers through an organization within the state, social security benefits counseling. And typically it’s through a grant funded program. But each state offers that and it’s a great thing to tap into because these individuals are certified to help folks, you know, just make sure that you know, they’re doing what they need to do with their benefits and you know, not in danger losing them, especially if they have, you know, a concern about saving, you know, because they’ve been sort of in this mindset of not being able to save and not, um, you know, being aware that now that they can save in an ABLE account.

So that’s a great resource. The benefits counseling that’s offered. And I believe every state has a program that offers.

Brynne: That’s really great. I’m gonna try to find a link and include that in the show notes for you guys. I’ve dropped Oregon’s name a couple times already, so I guess I’ll ask an Oregon question.

So in Oregon I noticed that there’s two different kind of programs or plans with ABLE, they have their Oregon Able savings program and then there’s Oregon able for all. And I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what those two different programs are and kind of what people should look for in states like Oregon, where there are two programs.

Mary: Sure. That’s a great question. So we work, they, we partner with both of, both of those, obviously with the state of Oregon. And so the Oregon Able Savings Program is actually an in-state able program for, uh, Oregon residents. So you have to be an Oregon resident in order to open an Oregon Able Savings program, and I believe actually anyone who is paying Oregon an income tax, if they contribute to that Oregon able Savings plan, they can also receive, uh, a tax credit as well.

It’s a progressive income tax credit. Um, I think it has, you know, more of an impact for low to moderate incomes savers. So that’s for an in-state Oregon resident. And then Oregon’s able for All is actually a nationwide program that we offer. Um, so you don’t have to be an Oregon resident in order to open an ABLE account there.

Um, and so we, we partner, um, on both of those programs. So one is for an in-state resident and the other one is, is Nationwide program.

Brynne: Gotcha, gotcha. And if you were an Oregon resident, you would definitely wanna sign up for that state program, like there would be no weighing advantages or disadvantages versus like the national program and the state program?

Or am I off base there?

Mary: Um, again, personal choice. Yeah. I can’t really, I can’t really you know, weigh in on that. I think someone has to make that decision themselves by looking at both, you know, they would certainly have an option on both ends. So they would, you know, just determine that based on what makes the most sense for them.

Brynne: Gotcha, gotcha. There’s only four states left that don’t administer their own programs, and a lot of that is just because of the cost of getting these programs up and running. For some states, especially states with lower population levels, the math just doesn’t add up. It would cost them too much to service these accounts.

So you know, they recommend you go to other states. I think those states are the Dakotas, so North and South Dakota, Idaho, and then Wisconsin. First of all, I’m wondering if that’s accurate. And second, I’m wondering if there are other states that quotation marks have a program, but it’s not like up off the ground running yet.

Like you can’t open an account yet.

Mary: Yeah, no, that, that is accurate. So Idaho, the Dakotas north and south, and then Wisconsin as well. So there’s, there’s four states currently that don’t have programs. However, uh, they could open an ABLE account, you know, with another state that would allow them to do that. And, um, Wisconsin actually has passed a legislation.

They just don’t have the program up and running yet, but that is certainly in the pipeline. Um, so that’s on the horizon, which is exciting. And this might be a good point actually, just to even say, you know, just to throw out some numbers, there’s actually 131,000 ABLE accounts now nationwide, which is exciting.

Really exciting. And um, a little over $1 billion saved in ABLE nationally and average balance, I got some of the, I got these figures from NAST. Um, it’s about $8,600 is the average able account balance currently. So certainly growing and continuing to, you know, gain adoption, um, which is really exciting.

Brynne: That is exciting. So you brought up like the average balance is that $8,600. Our understanding of how people are using these accounts is primarily as checking accounts, right? Where, you know, you’re not earning a lot of interest on your money, but your money’s liquid and there’s no risk because it’s a checking account, it’s not, uh, you’re not investing it.

And so our understanding is that the vast majority of people are using this as a checking account, just kind of for their day-to-day needs as a way to shelter their money. But there is also this investment aspect of ABLE accounts. I’m wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about that aspect of these accounts and when taking your account from a checking account to kind of that investment vehicle might make sense.

Mary: Yeah, so actually, you know, currently with the interest rates, um, with the, you know, Fed raising the rates currently, you know, many roughly in a rough sense, many of the sort of cash options in the ABLE accounts, they’re actually paying like 3.85%, um, which is pretty good. Again, I think it’s individual. I think people use these accounts you know, for short-term needs, but also for long-term planning as well.

I, in the past have done, you know, some webinars with, you know, special needs financial planners and they talk a lot about how they use ABLE, um, in a financial planning or estate planning process with individuals that they work with, because, You know, and I would always say this as well, it’s not an either or, right?

Everybody, you know, you have a, a tool, a toolkit, and you need many tools in the toolkit and ABLE is just one of those. And so people that might be planning, you know, it can actually work really nicely with if somebody was, you know, having an able account and maybe they had a special needs trust, they can actually work really nicely together and compliment each other.

There are things that you can do with ABLE that you can’t do with the trust, and one of those is housing. You can actually pay your housing expense directly from an ABLE account, but can’t do that with a trust. So, you know, you could even move money from the trust into ABLE and then pay that housing expense.

So it’s, it’s a tool in the tool chest for someone who has a disability. And you know, certainly you can use it for those everyday items. You know, I think we didn’t even really touch on that yet. We should probably talk about what some of the qualified expenses are. It has a broad range of things that you can use it for really everyday things that you’re already spending money on, like clothing and food and, you know, basic living needs such as those.

Um, education. You can use it for education, uh, educational expenses, um, healthcare needs. You can use it for housing, you know, pay your rent, pay your mortgage. We have a great story, um, in Oregon that a woman who has one of our ABLE accounts in Oregon, she was able to save for a down payment on, on a house and purchase a home, which is fantastic, really, um, exciting and still keep her benefits.

So, um, transportation, I don’t wanna forget some of these, but transportation. And that includes not just buying a vehicle, but also Uber and Lyft. You can use it for that as well. Employment training. So there are so many things that you can use your able account for everyday things like I’m mentioning. So just really, I feel like, really empowers people to save.

And again, it’s all based on your personal savings profile and what you’re looking to do with it. But if you are getting, obviously those federal benefits, it really opens up that opportunity to save and not have an impact on those benefits. And I’m a big fan of, you know, again, that sort of cadence of saving.

And in the 529 college savings space, we would talk a lot about that. Every little bit matters. Um, and, and if you can do it regularly through an employer, Or regular contribution, monthly contribution of $25, $50 a month. It really does add up over time. And you’ll see that compounded growth, you know, over, you know, five, 10 years.

And you’ll really be surprised how much you’re really saving in a program, you know, like, like ABLE. So it’s win-win. There’s so many great benefits that come with this and it really is helping people to achieve more financial wellness.

Brynne: For sure. Like every time I’ve had a big financial goal that feels like insurmountable, like I’ve gotta save up five figures for something, or I’m trying to pay off debt.

I’m always constantly reminded about how much those small steps really matter. Even just throwing $10 at an account, even just throwing 25 bucks at a credit card account or a medical bill. Those small steps really do add up.

Mary: I mean, it’s a bit like, you know, putting money in a jar, right? If you, if you have a regular cadence to it, it’s gonna really add up over time and be very powerful.

And, you know, no amount is too small. We would talk about that, you know, again, in, in the, in the 529 college savings, I mean, it, it, it can pay for books for a semester or whatever it might be, that is, is gonna really that cadence, that regular, that reg, whatever it is. Whatever you can afford, that regular cadence of saving is very, very impactful.

And so it really adds up over time. And certainly I know there’s studies in the 529 college saving space that that show that individuals and families that save in a 529, those kids are X percentage, more likely, a higher percentage, more likely to attend college because they know that they have this savings vehicle that they’re saving in to help them to achieve that goal.

Joyce: And a tip that I always say, how I started with my saving journey and my debt free journey was just to start. Don’t wait till January. Just start. I started with $20 every Friday and then went on from there. And then that $20, you won’t miss it, and then you increase it, you won’t miss it.

And then once you see the big picture, how much you have saved, then you up the game and then you get this confidence of saving more. But just start, don’t wait, just start. Like that’s the thing that I always say.

Mary: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Don’t, you don’t, you know, everyone has New Year’s resolutions, right?

But you don’t need to wait for New Year’s, right? It’s sort of like the, you know, getting in shape and trying to go to the gym or New Year’s resolution for that. Like, just, just start, just do something, start walking, do whatever. And saving is, is, it’s the same, you know, whatever you can do, whatever you can afford, it all matters and, and it will build over time.

And really, you know, help you to achieve whatever your goal is or whatever you’re using those savings for.

Brynne: For sure. And I feel like a huge part of that for a lot of people too is automation. Setting up those contributions to come out of your checking account or wherever you’re contributing from on a monthly or a weekly or biweekly basis.

And what we find in personal finance is that when we automate those processes, we’re way more likely to follow through because we don’t have to think about it. It’s not an extra step. You only feel the pain once when you set up the automatic contributions rather than feeling the quote unquote pain of saving every single time that you wanna make a contribution.

And of course you can make contributions beyond your automated systems that you have set up, but simply having that automation makes it so much more likely that it’s actually gonna happen. Your computer follows through. You don’t have to follow through.

You can allow yourself to be human a little bit.

Mary: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I, and, and at Vestwell, that’s, that is our whole mission. You know, we are empowering people in making it easy to save by, you know, partnering with the state auto IRA programs through payroll deduction, because again, research shows if you do it through your employer, it’s.

What you just said, it’s kind of, you set it and then you forget it, right? And you just keep saving, whether it’s for retirement, whether it’s, you know, 529 college savings or your ABLE account, if you can do that through your employer, that’s so powerful and you’re just gonna save additional amounts with greater ease because it’s that it’s on autopilot, essentially.

And so that is our mission and that’s what we’re doing with the platform, is just really making it easy for folks to save in those three distinct areas.

Brynne: One area where some people used to have a question mark about is this an eligible expense or not was food. And I feel like over the past couple years that’s become particularly important because even though a lot of states have expanded their SNAP programs or their food stamp programs, the amount you get from that program may not necessarily be enough to cover your monthly grocery bill anymore with everything that’s been happening with inflation.

Again, that’s gonna depend on your state and your household size and everything, but I’ve heard these rumblings of rumor that food is officially now one of the things you’re allowed to spend your ABLE account money on it, and I was just wondering if that was true or if that’s always been, or these are my grape vine questions. So I’m not sure how much accuracy is in them.

Mary: It is, yeah, that it is, it is a qualified expense. And the other thing just to know is that if you do get those SNAP benefits and you have an ABLE account, it doesn’t impact SNAP benefits. So that’s something, you know, good to know as well.

And also the other, this is a good maybe place to mention this is um, HUD. It’s probably on the ABLE National Resource site a few years back came up with guidance around people who are in federal housing. There’s no impact. So if you have an ABLE account, there’s no impact on your federal housing as well.

Brynne: Definitely, definitely. That’s a huge one, especially because you can use this money for your housing costs. And another big one, I feel like there was definitely a question mark on this one for a few years, but I think, uh, a couple years ago now, they came out with an announcement clarifying that the ABLE account does not count as an asset on the FAFSA, and that was huge because usually assets held in the child’s name carried like a higher weight on the FAFSA when it came to determining eligibility, and the ABLE account is inherently in the disabled person’s name.

They don’t count towards FAFSA eligibility.

Mary: Yeah. So it never has. And they came out with guidance on that, that the federal application for federal student aid, which is the FAFSA that everyone fills out in order to, um, determine eligibility, if you have an ABLE account, it’s specifically excluded as an asset.

And actually that’s a good point too, to mention all these points that I’m kind of thinking about as we’re talking. An ABLE account is always in the individual, uh, with the disability. They’re the account owner, it’s in their name, so they’re the owner on the ABLE account, which differs from a 529 college savings plan where typically it’s a parent or you know, a relative grandparent, um, that’s the owner and then the beneficiary is the student.

So it differs that way, but yeah, that’s correct. A fafsa, um, on the FAFSA enable account is not counted as an asset, which is huge. But this is a good point to say even if you have a 529 college savings, It’s only counted at a rate of about 5.6%.

So even as a parent asset, you know, it’s, it’s relatively low. When we would get that question a lot, is it gonna affect my financial aid eligibility or, you know, how much? And it, it really has minimal impact. And we always encourage people to save in a 529 because there is really minimal impact and you should be saving.

But they calculated at about, roughly, like you said, about five, 5%, 5.6%. But ABLE has that added benefit of um, not being an asset that is counted.

Brynne: I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about the tax advantages that people can expect when they do end up using their ABLE accounts as an investment vehicle.

Mary: Sure. Uh, so it is tax advantaged, uh, meaning the earnings that you earn on your able account again, and I would recommend everyone check, uh, their individual state’s tax, you know, information or consults, um, a tax professional, but they’re federal income tax free and state income tax free as well. As long as you’re using it for qualified disability expenses and their tax advantaged, meaning that you’re not gonna pay taxes on those earnings that you’re making in the account as long as you’re using it for a qualified disability expense, which differs from just a regular checking or savings account where that money obviously does get reported to the IRS and, and you’re gonna pay taxes on it.

So in an ABLE account, as long as you are using it the way it’s intended, you’re not gonna pay um, taxes on those earnings. There are some states that offer a state tax deduction, that’s another benefit. That saver’s credit that you mentioned, Brynne, is another great one where someone can take a saver’s credit based on, um, whether they’re single or married, filing jointly.

They can take a saver’s credit on their tax return for a contribution to their able account. And the other one we should mention is ABLE to work, which is a big one. And this might be a good point to mention sort of contribution limits. And what that looks like and how able to work helps someone with a disability who’s working contribute more an additional amount into their account.

So currently the amount that you contribute annually is $17,000. But if you’re working, um, currently an individual who is working, uh, who has an able account, they can actually contribute over up to essentially the federal poverty limit. For most of the states, which is about $12,880 currently. So potentially they could contribute that additional $12,880 on top.

So to put them 20, what is that, $20,000, $28,000 and change? As an additional amount that they could put into their able account if they’re working. And just the one thing to keep in mind with that is that if you do take advantage of able to work, you also can’t participate in your employer’s retirement plan.

It’s kind of an either or. You have to pick, you can’t. Um, you have to either pick, choose the retirement plan to participate in it, or choose that you wanna contribute that extra amount through able to work, but another great benefit that you can take advantage of to be able to save that additional amount into your ABLE account, especially with able, you know, it, it has a lot of, um, different components to it and there’s a lot to learn and it really does take you hearing it more than once.

You know, I think I’ve heard people throw out, you know, you have to hear it seven or nine times because you just, you continue to learn and pull out pieces of information that you might have not have heard the first time around. So it’s one of those things where the more you can educate yourself and become aware and make an informed choice about what’s the best plan for you, it really does, you know, behoove you to just do the education and go on the sites and learn as much as you can and, and try to find podcasts such as this one to learn more about ABLE and, and how it can benefit you.

Brynne: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. I did think of one other question on the investing side. I know one thing that people get concerned about with investing with ABLE accounts is that a hundred thousand dollars cap for SSI asset sheltering. So with ABLE account, the assets are sheltered from SSI, but only up to that a hundred thousand dollars limit.

I’m wondering if the tax advantages end at the hundred thousand dollar cap? Or if it’s still a viable investment vehicle after that, even though you lose the sheltering aspect of it for SSI purposes.

Mary: Yeah. So again, I would recommend people, I can’t give, um, tax, you know, advice, talk to a tax professional or find a resource, um, in your community that potentially that offers as a free resource tax, um, planning or, or, you know, help with your taxes.

But yes, to clarify, You can save up to a hundred thousand, in an ABLE account with no impact on your SSI. But then once you go over that, there will be some impact to your benefits. So you always wanna be aware of that if you are getting those benefits. And again, maybe have other tools that you are using to help plan, you know, for that.

If you are getting those benefits, you should certainly be aware of the SSI benefits that you can save up to $100k with no impact on the benefits, the tax advantages, you know, um, that’s on total earning in the account. You know, you, you don’t pay taxes on the distributions as long as you’re using them for a qualified disability expense.

But yeah, something you should definitely be aware of if you’re getting that benefit.

Brynne: I echo you, Mary. Definitely sit down with a tax professional and probably even a just a general financial planning professional. We always talk about how important that is, especially when you’re looking at something like disability finances where there’s so many extra nuances and those nuances change based on your state of residence a lot of times.

One other thing that might be worth pointing out is that as you’re sitting down with those professionals, I know you mentioned that you guys offer, uh, employer IRAs. I know that with Roth IRAs, it operates on a similar tax advantage.

It doesn’t shelter your assets from these programs like SSI or SNAP. But if you like that backend tax advantage, where that’s something else, that, another tool that might be worth discussing with your financial planner.

Mary: Definitely, yeah. Um, definitely find resources and professional help to help you to determine, you know, what’s gonna be the best option for you.

And I know something we talked about kind of in that financial wellness or literacy space is the education piece of having people who aren’t familiar with ABLE and kind of how can they learn more. And we talked about ABLE National Resource as being a great site for folks to learn more. Also, the NAST site, the ABLE Today. NAST actually just partnered with a financial wellness company and they came out with videos that are, you know, just helping folks to, they’re really learning modules to understand what ABLE is and what the benefit is.

So, definitely want to make people aware of that, that that’s a great resource if you aren’t familiar with able at all and just wanna, you know, learn more and, and see how it may fit within your, you know, your personal profile, those learning modules that they partnered with, I believe it’s ENRIC, um, to produce.

It’s a great, a great place to go to just learn more about ABLE and, and how it might help you or an individual and your family.

Brynne: Totally, totally. And we’ll include a link, uh, to both the ABLE National Resource Center, but also this really cool new resource that we keep referencing the ABLE Today site as well.

The last time we talked about ABLE with anybody, the newest program was Hawaii. That was like the latest state to open up to the masses. Have there been any new ones since, or is that still the latest state?

Mary: That is the latest state, like I mentioned earlier, washing, um, uh, Wisconsin, I’m sorry, uh, just came on board with their legislation, but the program’s not up and running yet.

Brynne: Mary, we like to end these things by just acknowledging that we don’t know what we don’t know. Is there anything that we haven’t covered yet today that you think is important for, for listeners to know as they consider opening an ABLE account?

Mary: I think you know, all the resources that we mentioned are a great starting point.

If you know nothing about able, you start to visit some of those sites we mentioned: ABLE National Resource, the NAST site, ABLE Today listen to, they, uh, they both offer webinars and even if, you know, you sign up for the time and you can’t join at the time they typically send the recording, just start to immerse yourself and get educated and, and see if this is an option for you, if it might work for you or a loved one that might, you know, be, uh, qualify and, and, you know, need an ABLE account.

Maybe talk to individuals that have, you know, have ABLE. The other site I wanted to mention, which is helpful is, um, social Security has a POMS document. It’s their Program Operation Management System, I believe. And that extensively goes into able, um, I mentioned the Spotlight series that they have, but the POMS Document really has a wealth of information about able as it relates to social security.

So that’s another resource, um, to go to as well. And I guess, you know, just, I hope that able, as it, as it continues to gain speed, puts more faces out there of, um, who, who has benefited from these accounts. I think the personal stories are really impactful and, and show what a difference it’s making.

So I hope that we’ll see more of that. I feel like, um, a good analogy for me with that is the ALS ice bucket Challenge. When that came out and it just really put a face to ALS. And Pete Fredis really did that. And so I think ABLE needs that as well. And I think that if we can start to share more of these personal stories and the impact, um, that’s really gonna help ABLE as well.

So really just education and awareness. You know, do whatever you can to find the resources to do that. And, um, get up to speed on, on, you know, the program and, and the benefits to it.

Brynne: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. And thank you so much for being here with us today. We appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience with us so much.

If people wanted to learn more about Vestwell or opening up an ABLE account, would you recommend they go to their states’ website to open up that ABLE accounts, and then they’ll interact with you guys on the platform once they’re there? Or are there specific Vestwell pages that people should check out?

Where should people find you?

Mary: People can, you know, depending on the state that they’re in, can go to, if it’s one of the states that, you know, we, that we work with can go to that individual state. You can also go to Vestwell.com, um, to see, you know, what we offer and what we do, and looking to see what, what state program might work for you as a good first step.

And then if you’re interested in one of our programs, you can certainly go to that state specific program and sign up there.

Brynne: Thank you so much to Mary and thank you to all of you for tuning in with us every week. Next week, we’ve got a super special surprise guest for you guys, and we think you’re gonna be excited about it.

Okay, I can’t keep it a secret. It’s Temple Grandin. It’s going to be a great episode. So be sure to subscribe to Mom Autism Money on whatever listening platform you’re using, whether that be Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher. That way you’ll be able to be automatically notified when the episode goes live.

It’s one you are not going to want to miss. All right. See you all next week.

Joyce: Bye!

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