A Primer on ABLE Accounts for Americans With Disabilities

Congress recently raised the age limit of diagnosis in order to qualify

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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Have you ever heard of an ABLE savings account? I hadn’t until a couple weeks ago.

The acronym stands for the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2014. It created special savings accounts that allow disabled Americans, including people with multiple sclerosis (MS), to save money without jeopardizing their public benefits such as Medicare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and food stamps.

People in these programs are generally limited to having $2,000 in liquid resources, such as cash savings, standard bank accounts, and some retirement funds. Money saved in an ABLE account doesn’t count toward that total.

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Save to pay disability expenses

Similar to the better-known 529 college savings accounts, an ABLE account — known in tax code lingo as a 529A account — can help pay for disability expenses. In addition to healthcare expenses, these include things such as housing, transportation, food, and personal services — things that help to improve one’s health, independence, or life quality.

ABLE accounts are offered in 46 states, and the distributions are tax-free if they’re used for qualified disability expenses. Contributions can be made by anyone — the account holder, family, friends — and in some states (not all), they are tax-deductible.

This year, the contribution limit is $17,000, but if a disabled person who is the account beneficiary is employed they can contribute extra from their earnings, up to the current poverty level for a single person. That’s $14,580 in most states this year, for an annual total of $31,580.

A big change should benefit people with MS

ABLE accounts don’t seem to be very well-known, probably because they’ve been available only to people who became disabled prior to age 26. But that’s changing. The big spending bill that Congress passed in December included the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, which raised the age threshold for disability to 46.

According to The New York Times, this could increase the number of people eligible for an ABLE account from an estimated 8 million to about 14 million. Since most people with MS are diagnosed when they are between the ages of 20 and 50 (I was diagnosed at 32), upping the age threshold can make a big difference to people with MS, especially those being treated with high-priced disease-modifying therapies.

Hurry up and wait

When it comes to financial programs, the wheels of government move as slowly as I do on my crutches. The new ABLE regulations won’t take effect until January 2026, so it will be a few more years before the threshold will increase to 46. But you can still open an ABLE account if you were diagnosed before 26.

If you were older when you were diagnosed, you can still begin researching these accounts to start contributions in three years. Obviously, that’s not great news, but something is better than nothing when it comes to savings and possible tax deductions.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Lisa Matthews avatar

Lisa Matthews

Hi Ed,
Thanks for sharing this very important news.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

And thanks for being one of my favorite readers!



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