Frequently Asked Questions
ABLE History and Background General Eligibility Medical Criteria, Certifications and Improvement
Enrollment Contributions Qualified Disability Expenses Other Considerations
ABLE History and Background
For more information on this topic, please visit our History of the ABLE Act and About ABLE Accounts website pages.
The ABLE Act was passed on December 19, 2014 and amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities, meaning ABLE investment earnings grow tax-free when used for qualified disability expenses (QDEs). By making tax-advantaged savings accounts available to cover qualified disability expenses, this law aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities. The funds contributed into these accounts will not negatively impact the person’s eligibility for most means-tested, federally-funded benefits such as Medicaid. The funds in these accounts supplement, but do not replace, benefits provided through private insurance, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the beneficiary’s employment and other sources.
Millions of individuals with disabilities and their families depend on a wide variety of public benefits for income, health care, food and housing assistance. Many of these benefits require meeting a means or resource test that limits the eligibility of individuals with more than $2,000 in liquid resources such as cash savings, non-ABLE checking and savings accounts, and some retirement funds.
For the first time in public policy, the ABLE Act recognizes the extra and significant costs of living with a disability. ABLE accounts allow eligible individuals the opportunity to save and fund a variety of qualified disability expenses without endangering eligibility for certain benefits that are critical to their health and well-being, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
For more information, visit Tools: ABLE Basics/General.
No. While the original law passed in 2014 did stipulate that an individual had to open an account in their state of residency, this provision was eliminated by Congress in 2015. This means that regardless of where you might live, and whether or not your state has decided to establish an ABLE program, you are free to enroll in any state’s program provided that the program is accepting out-of-state residents.
For a map of states to help you determine which state ABLE programs accept out-of-state residents, refer to the individual state pages on our Select A State Tool.
There have been quite a few changes affecting ABLE accounts in the last five years. Here are a few:
- The annual contribution limit have changed. Find current contribution limits here.
- Employed individuals can contribute the lesser of earnings into their ABLE account each year so long as they do not have a retirement plan available to which they or their employer contributed in the same calendar year. This is in addition to the annual contribution limits.
- Owners of both an ABLE account and a 529 college savings account (or if a family member is the 529 College Savings account beneficiary as defined by the law), may transfer funds from the 529 College Savings account to an ABLE account without incurring tax or penalty. However, the funds transferred from the 529 college savings account count toward your annual contribution limit for the tax year.
Contributions to an ABLE account are included in the IRS Retirement Savings Contributions Tax Credit (i.e., Saver’s Credit). For low- to moderate-income wage earners, contributions to an ABLE account may qualify the individual for a tax credit of up to $2,000. There are additional requirements that must be met to be eligible for this non-refundable credit. Visit the IRS website to find a free tax preparer.
For more information on this topic, please visit our ABLE Basics/General Tools.
No. The ABLE NRC does not administer ABLE accounts nor do we have information regarding a specific individual’s ABLE account. Please contact a state plan directly for information about opening and managing an ABLE account.
To view states that currently have an ABLE program, please view the state map on the ABLE NRC website. Some states have a rule that you must live in their state to open an ABLE account, but most do not. To help you choose the ABLE program that's right for you, you may find these tools helpful: State Comparison Tool
Search by Program Feature
Select A State Map
No, you are limited to one 529 ABLE account. Other types of 529 accounts, such as a 529 College Savings Plan, are different in that you may hold more than one.
For more information, visit 10 Things You Should Know.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) counts shelter costs that someone else provides or pays as “unearned income” which reduces the SSI payment as much as one-third. An ABLE account owner, however, is in a unique position where contributions made by others into their ABLE account can help pay for housing and related expenses without an impact upon SSI or other means-tested benefits.
Housing expenses are considered a qualified disability expense distribution from an ABLE account. The following housing and related expenses are identified in the SSA POMS and include: Mortgage payments, including property taxes required by the mortgage holder, real property taxes, rent, heating fuel, gas, electric, water, sewer and garbage removal.
As a best practice, when third parties such as a special needs trust (SNT), parent or relative make contributions to the ABLE account, the money must not be given directly to the ABLE account owner. It is suggested that automatic bill payments be set up on predetermined dates to pay for these recurring expenses. It is not appropriate for a parent to pay housing expenses directly and then reimburse themselves from the ABLE account. When withdrawals are made for housing and related expenses, the withdrawal and payment must be made in the same month or it is counted as a resource along with other resources.
For more information, visit Qualified Disability Expense Fundamentals and Social Security’s Updated ABLE Guidance: A Deeper Dive.
No. The FAFSA application instructions specify that 529 ABLE accounts are excluded as investments or savings.
For more information, visit the FAFSA website.
When the account owner passes away, the funds in the ABLE account can be used for any outstanding qualified disability expenses, including funeral and burial expenses. The ABLE plan can advise you on what is needed such as a death certificate or whether there is a special form to complete.
It is up to the individual state, whether or not to file a claim for Medicaid recovery of funds which were paid on behalf of the account owner since the account was opened. If someone has never received Medicaid, this is not an issue. If the state pursues a claim, In addition to allowing for the repayment of outstanding QDEs, including funeral and burial expenses, Medicaid buy-in premiums paid since opening the ABLE account will be reimbursed. Thereafter, the remainder of funds are payable to the Estate or to a successor designated beneficiary if one was appointed before the death of the original account owner.
For more information on this topic, please visit Step 2 on the Roadmap to Enrollment: Eligibility.
Individuals of any age are eligible to open an ABLE account if they have a disability with onset prior to their 26th birthday and
meet the severity of disability requirement in one of two ways: 1) receiving SSI or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or 2) possessing a disability certification signed by a licensed physician stating that the individual's disability meets the "marked and severe" functional limitations standard stated in the ABLE statute and that the individual's disability occurred prior to their 26th birthday. Please see Sample Disability Certification
The ABLE account may be established by a person selected by the eligible individual; or
If an eligible individual (whether a minor or adult) is unable to establish his or her own ABLE account, an ABLE account may be established on behalf of the eligible individual by: the eligible individual’s agent under a power of attorney or, if none, by a conservator or legal guardian; spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent of the eligible individual; or a representative payee appointed for the eligible individual by the Social Security Administration (SSA), in that order. An account opened by a representative payee appointed by SSA must meet all of the SSA account rules and requirements.
For more information, view the Webinar: Opening an ABLE Account: Key Decisions for Success
Yes, an ABLE account can be opened for a person with a disability regardless of their age. Even though you may be over the age of 26, if disability began before age 26 and you meet the other criteria, you are eligible. If you are not currently receiving a disability-based benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA), it is recommended that you ask your physician to indicate specifically whether or not you meet or equal the disability criteria outlined in the Listing of Impairments.
The eligibility criteria for setting up an ABLE account is two-pronged. It requires:
Disability to be established before age 26, and
Either receiving Social Security benefits from SSI and/or SSDI or
If not receiving SSI or SSDI benefits, meet SSA’s definition of disability and criteria regarding significant functional limitations and have a disability certification from a licensed physician.
The definition of disability for Section 529A was clarified under final regulations and is applied without regard to whether or not the individual is working or engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Not exactly. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that your disability began before age 26 and awards you a disability-based benefit, you can immediately open an ABLE account.
When SSA determines the date disability began, they are required to consider both medical and non-medical factors which could result in a disability onset date which is later than the date in which disability actually began. Various technical factors, such as substantial gainful activity (work), insured status, savings or even a parent’s earnings can result in SSA establishing this date much later than when the onset of the disability occurred.
If disability began before age 26, but SSA has established a date after age 26, your physician will need to give you a disability certification stating that your disability began before age 26 and that you meet the SSA definition and criteria regarding significant functional limitations. SSA staff are not responsible for determining when the disability began for an ABLE account
. According to SSA, SSA staff have been advised to direct ABLE eligibility inquiries to the state.
Please see Sample Disability Certification
Medical Criteria, Certifications and Improvement
If an individual is not receiving a disability-based benefit from SSA, they must possess a disability certification, which includes the individual’s diagnosis, which is signed by a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, a doctor of dental surgery or dental medicine, and, for some purposes, a doctor of podiatric medicine, a doctor of optometry, or a chiropractor. Please see Sample Disability Certification
. The disability must:
meet the "marked and severe" functional limitation standard stated in the ABLE statute
have occurred prior to age 26, and
have lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.
The IRS and the Treasury Department use the Social Security Administration Listing of Impairments which describes each of the major body systems that cause marked and severe functional limitations. Most of the listed impairments are permanent or expected to result in death, although some refer to specific periods of time for which an impairment will meet a listing.
In addition, SSA maintains a list of “compassionate allowance conditions” which are so severe that they are deemed to meet the requirements without a physician’s diagnosis provided the condition was present before age 26.
Each qualified ABLE program determines what is needed to establish eligibility to open an ABLE account. For example, an ABLE program could require an individual to provide a copy of a benefit verification letter from SSA and allow the individual to certify, under penalty of perjury, that blindness or disability occurred before age 26.
For more information, visit Understanding Eligibility
, Webinar: ABLE Myths vs. Facts
and Webinar: Advantages of ABLE for Those Not Receiving Public Benefits
If a beneficiary no longer meets eligibility requirements, and they no longer qualify for an ABLE account, their account will remain open and they can continue to use the account until the end of the calendar year. After the end of the year, they stop being eligible, no new contributions are permitted and account withdrawals will be treated as non-qualified withdrawals. Distributions from an ABLE account during a period when an individual is no longer an eligible individual are possibly subject to taxation. The earnings portion of the distribution may be taxable. Non-qualified withdrawals may affect eligibility for SSI and other federal benefits.
For more Information, visit November 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter: Top Three Questions.
SSA has two definitions for disability: one for a child under the age of 18 and another work-based definition for an adult age 18 and over. The ABLE regulations use the language in the SSA childhood definition of disability for ABLE eligibility.
When an SSI beneficiary reaches age 18, SSA conducts a review, called a redetermination, to determine whether or not they meet the different medical criteria under the adult definition of disability which also measures impairments against the ability to work at a specific level. In addition, SSI looks at non-medical rules such as the person’s income, countable resources and living arrangements. If the person is determined eligible, SSI payments continue. If they do not, SSI payments terminate.
If SSI payments terminate because they do not meet the adult definition of disability, the young adult may continue to be eligible for an ABLE account if their medical doctor completes a disability certification stating that they continue to meet the SSA medical criteria for those under age 18. The under age 18, non-work definition of disability requires a physical or mental impairment or a combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations and has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months.
When a redetermination is conducted and SSA determines a youth is no longer SSI eligible, there may be other options for SSI payments and Medicaid to continue while the person is participating in an approved special education, a vocational rehabilitation program or employment service program. This is called Section 301 and it provides stability for SSI recipients turning 18 as they continue high school or graduate to a college, job training, apprenticeship or employment as written within the approved Individual Education or Work Plan.
It is important that SSA be informed that the youth has been enrolled and is actively participating in a program before the redetermination is conducted. This may help the person to continue to receive SSI payments until the program ends or until the time it no longer increases the likelihood that the youth will not return to the disability rolls.
For more information on this topic, please visit Step 4 on the Roadmap to Enrollment: How Do I Open an Account?
For information on how to enroll in an ABLE program, please refer to the ABLE NRC Roadmap to Enrollment which includes short videos, as well as a five-step guide. The five-step guide will help you: 1) learn more about ABLE, 2) determine who is eligible, 3) learn what you can use the funds for, 4) learn how to open an ABLE account and, finally, 5) learn how to manage an ABLE account.
To view states that currently have an ABLE program, please view the ABLE NRC state map. Some states have a rule that you must live in their state to open an ABLE account, but most do not. To help you choose the ABLE program that's right for you, you may find these tools helpful:
State Comparison Tool
Search by Program Feature
Select A State Map
For more information, visit Get Started or How Do I Open an Account.
Regardless of where you live, and whether or not your state has decided to establish an ABLE program, you are free to enroll in any state ABLE program provided that the program is accepting out-of-state residents and you meet the requirements for opening an account. You may find the comparison tools on the ABLE NRC website helpful to make your decision easier. The Roadmap to Enrollment is also helpful and contains step-by-step information from eligibility to enrollment to help you understand ABLE accounts better.
In addition to looking into your state program, we encourage you to explore other state ABLE programs. There are a variety of reasons for taking this extra step. Some ABLE programs provide residents with a state income tax deduction on contributions made to ABLE accounts opened in that state (although all contributions are made with after-tax dollars). Other states may offer debit card or checking account options that can make it easier to use ABLE account assets for qualified disability expenses. For helpful information and resources, visit the ABLE National Resource Center website.
For more information, visit the Roadmap to Enrollment.
At this time, residents of Maine may open an ABLE account at a Bank of Bangor branch. The other ABLE plans have a website where an ABLE account can be opened online. However, some states allow for a paper application, as requested.
For more information on this topic, please visit Step 2 on the Roadmap to Independence: Building a Circle of Support and Strategies for Funding an ABLE Account Webinar.
The ABLE Act allows any “person” to contribute to an ABLE account. The Internal Revenue Service does not refer to a “person” in the usual sense of a living human being. Rather, a person includes an “individual, corporation, partnership, trust or estate, joint stock company, association, syndicate…guardian…” A special needs trust is also a “person” (IRC 7701(a)(1), Reg. 301.7701-1(a)) and a pooled trust is a “person” who may contribute to an ABLE account. The ABLE Act allows contributions by the first party (i.e., account owner) as well as a third party (family, friends, co-workers, etc.).
Learn More: “Strategies for Funding an ABLE Account”
The total annual contributions by all individuals – family, friends, an employer or a 529 rollover can be found here. The total amount that the ABLE account can grow to is subject to the individual state and its limit for education-related 529 savings accounts. You can find up-to-date information on the total amount for a state ABLE program by using the ABLE NRC state comparison tools:
Compare State Programs
Search by ABLE Program Features
ABLE Program Map Tool
For individuals with disabilities who are recipients of Supplemental Security Income, the ABLE Act sets some further limitations. The first $100,000 in an ABLE account is exempt from the SSI $2,000 individual resource limit. If and when an ABLE account exceeds $100,000, when combined with countable resources that then exceed a beneficiary’s resource limit, the SSI cash benefit would be suspended until such time as the account falls back below the resource limit. It is important to note that, while the beneficiary’s eligibility for the SSI cash benefit is suspended, it has no effect on their ability to receive, or eligibility to receive, medical assistance through Medicaid.
No. ABLE is not a tool to shield earnings, but it is a tool to increase assets/resources. ABLE is a protected savings opportunity for maintaining eligibility for means-tested public benefits such as SSI and SNAP. Earnings affect benefits the same as they always have, whether or not they are deposited into an ABLE account.
Learn More: ABLE Best Practices for Working-age Adults
Qualified Disability Expenses
For more information on this topic, please visit our archived webinars on Qualified Disability Expenses.
ABLE account funds may be used for qualified disability expenses, or QDEs, which may include any expense related to the beneficiary as a result of living a life with a disability. Examples of these expenses may include education or other expenses which help improve health, independence and/or quality of life.
Examples of qualified disability expenses include, but are not limited to:
Employment training and support
Assistive Technology and related services
Prevention and wellness
Financial management and administrative services
Expenses for oversight and monitoring
Funeral and burial expenses
Basic living expenses like food
Other expenses approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury
For more information, visit Webinar: Qualified Disability Expense Fundamentals.
Vehicle purchase, titling, registration, repairs and insurance are qualified disability expenses for the ABLE account owner who uses the vehicle for transportation or who is transported in the vehicle. When the vehicle is owned by the account owner, then payments towards the purchase, including a payment of the remaining balance of the loan after the account owner’s death, would be a QDE.
Transportation expenses for UBER, LYFT, a taxi, bus or train services are also qualified disability expenses. They would not replace, but could supplement, benefits provided by other programs.
Yes. Housing expenses and housing-related expenses include mortgage, rent, real property taxes, heat, fuel, gas, electric, water, sewer and garbage services. Distribution and payment for these expenses must occur within the same month. If the distribution is retained into the following month or months, it is counted as part of resources by the Supplemental Security Income benefits program and means-tested benefit programs. For additional information on how using ABLE accounts for housing expenses may impact other federal benefits you may receive, please check out https://www.ablenrc.org/determining-whether-something-is-a-qualified-disability-expense-qde/step-4/.
Yes, you can use your ABLE account in conjunction with other types of trusts and accounts.
Determining which option is the most appropriate will depend upon individual circumstances. For many individuals and families, it may make sense to have both an ABLE account and a special needs trust. The ABLE National Resource Center partnered with the Special Needs Alliance to prepare a comparison chart of ABLE Accounts and Special Needs and Pooled Trusts
so that individuals can choose which option best meets their needs.
Yes, rollovers may be made from a 529 QTP account to a section 529A ABLE account if the owner of the ABLE account is the beneficiary (i.e., the student or future student) of the tuition account or is an eligible member of the family. The amount rolled over is limited to the annual contribution amount of $18,000 (2024) for all contributions to the 529 ABLE account. As an example, if there is $34,000 in the 529 QTP and the entire amount will be rolled over into a 529A, contributions will need to be made over several years. ABLE account owners who work and do not have deposits made to a retirement plan in the calendar year may deposit more into their ABLE account. There are requirements for working and making increased contributions from employment income under the ABLE to Work Act
Learn more: There are no tax consequences if you change the designated beneficiary of the 529 QTP account to another member of the beneficiary’s family and it is rolled over into the ABLE account (or another QTP) within 60 days after the date of the distribution. There is an expanded list for members of the beneficiary’s family identified in 2022 Publication 970 (irs.gov)
on pages 53-54.
Note: The ABLE to Work Act provision of the TCJA
and the 529 Qualified Tuition Plans(QTP) rollover provisions are due to sunset 1/1/2026. Therefore, now may be the time to begin the process of rolling over 529 QTP funds / college savings funds into an ABLE account if it is not certain that a youth will make use of the 529 QTP funds for continued education. Keep in mind, ABLE funds may be used to pay for education in addition to qualified disability expenses (QDEs) like food, housing and transportation. An ABLE account, therefore, offers flexibility that may better meet the needs of a person who has a disability.
Yes. This person is called a “successor account owner” and would take ownership of the original account after the original account owner passes away. The ABLE plans have a form which must be completed and processed while the original account owner is alive, and it will not take effect until after death.
The successor account owner must meet certain criteria of the ABLE plan as noted in the plan disclosure booklet. These may include:
The successor account owner must qualify as an ABLE-eligible individual as of the date of the designation, as well as at the death of the primary account owner. The successor must be a sibling, a stepsibling or a half-sibling of the account owner, whether related by blood or by adoption.
Only one successor account owner per account may be designated; and
The successor account owner must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
After the ABLE plan pays for any outstanding qualified disability expenses of the deceased account owner, including funeral and burial expenses, and after expiration of the state Medicaid statute of limitations or payback, any remaining ABLE funds are then distributed to the named beneficiary. ABLE plans are under no obligation to determine if Medicaid claims could be filed by multiple states.
As a promising practice, an ABLE account owner, who is nearing the end of life, may wish to rollover or use a program-to-program transfer of funds. The rollover must be made to an eligible individual who meets criteria, as shown above. State ABLE plans may differ in how they administer their program but, when possible, program-to-program transfers are recommended so that the receiving program has all information on contributions and accumulated earnings, which will prevent the funds from being counted as income.
Finally, for purposes of the annual contribution limit, 529 ABLE to 529 ABLE program-to-program transfers or rollovers are not counted towards the annual contribution limit. Only one rollover or transfer may be made every 12 months.
At age 18 in most states, a minor reaches the age of legal adulthood which is also called the “age of majority”. In a few states, this age may be up to the age of 21. At this age, a young person who does not have a legal guardian:
can open their own ABLE account,
can designate someone to open the account for them or,
have an account opened by a parent, legal guardian or conservator, someone who holds a power of attorney, a spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent or representative payee, in that order.
The account owner can also designate a family member, friend or someone within their circle of support to help them to manage the account. If the account was opened when a child was a minor, control of the account may legally transfer to the person with a disability when they reach legal adulthood. Contact your ABLE plan before this age so that you can be prepared and lay the foundation for any changes that may occur. Discussions, guided support and decision making, along with opportunities to learn basic money and benefit management skills, will be helpful in this transition.
to find additional information on “age of majority” on the website of the Center for Parent Information and Resources, parentcenterhub.org.
In advance of the young adult reaching the age of majority, usually age 18, the provider or state agency RP (referred to as RP below) or guardian should begin preparing the young adult by providing financial education. This can be coupled with the offering of opportunities for the youth to spend their money on items they need and want and to save regularly. The ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC) posts financial education materials
that include links to financial service providers, games, tools and educational webinars and podcasts to help support youth in learning the skills of money management.
The Decision Guide Managing Your ABLE Account
shares information about the skills needed to manage an ABLE account. Resources on building financial knowledge, how to establish a circle of support, and how to save and invest or both are provided.
As part of this education process, an RP or guardian may choose to begin by giving the young adult small and then larger sums of money and certain responsibilities or bills to pay with the funds. Some ABLE plans have debit cards which can be issued to allow access to the ABLE funds. Debit cards may allow restrictions to be placed on usage of the card for certain items or services, if needed. For example, a limit of up to $30 may be set for eating at a restaurant when paying with an ABLE debit card.
If financially feasible, the RP or guardian may decide to direct deposit benefit funds in a checking account and use the ABLE account for other funds.
It is suggested that the RP/guardian contact the state ABLE plan to discuss what procedure the plan uses for the young adult to assume control of the ABLE account when the young adult reaches the age of majority, or what the process is to make a change in the representative payee.
In addition, it is recommended that the RP/guardian and the youth meet with SSA together to
prepare for the age 18 redetermination. During the redetermination, SSA will determine if the young adult meets the adult definition of disability and whether they can become their own payee. If the youth is found to continue to be eligible for SSI and found to be capable of managing their own funds, direct payment of benefits to the young adult would begin. The RP should remove themselves from the ABLE account unless the youth chooses to allow them to remain. If the RP fails to remove themselves from the ABLE account, the young adult can remove them. Starting the process of finding a new representative payee in advance of the need may help with this process. A previous RP may be removed from the ABLE account and a new RP may be named on the ABLE account if SSA determines that the youth cannot manage their own funds at age of majority. Planning for who has control of the funds may eliminate the need to return benefits in the ABLE account that would later be reissued by SSA.
Advocate for keeping all funds in the ABLE account following a change of an RP. SSA determines if any conserved benefit funds in the ABLE account may need to be returned to SSA when there is a change of an RP. Removing benefit funds from an ABLE account and returning them to Social Security is considered a qualified disability expense. This can be discussed with SSA and decisions regarding the need to return funds to SSA for later disbursement will be made on a case-by-case basis. The ABLE NRC recommends that advocates and members of the youth’s circle of support help youth request that their local SSA representative allow the ABLE funds to remain deposited in their ABLE account.
These steps will prepare the young adult to avoid having an excess resource when SSA reissues funds that were removed from the ABLE account. There is a limit of how much may be deposited into an ABLE account each calendar year. If all the funds cannot be re-deposited into an ABLE account, it could result in excess resources. If the funds are held into a future month or months, this could impact benefit payments for one or more months. This means that the youth may not be eligible for SSI because they would have too much money outside of their ABLE account. The youth may need to spend those extra funds to remain eligible for SSI.