The March/April issue of our AchievABLE™ Newsletter contains stories on the following:
- Get Empowered During National Financial Literacy Month
- Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador Cheryl Walfall-Flagg
- AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions: March/April 2021
- ABLE Updates
Get Empowered During National Financial Literacy Month
April is National Financial Literacy Month. Nonprofits, government agencies and businesses nationwide celebrate the month by urging all Americans to increase their knowledge of personal finances. The ABLE National Resource Center (ABLE NRC) recognizes Financial Literacy Month as an opportunity to emphasize tools and resources that can people with disabilities achieve financial stability and wellness.
National Disability Institute’s (NDI) Financial Resilience Center provides resources to help those with disabilities and chronic health conditions navigate financially through the COVID-19 crisis, including assistance to help you manage your finances. Its partnership with LifeCents provides access to free online financial wellness training, while AFCPE offers free professional financial counseling.
Personalized Financial Wellness Training
LifeCents offers self-paced, online financial wellness training (free of cost!) that empowers you to acquire knowledge, build habits and gain confidence to make smarter everyday financial decisions. LifeCents can help you navigate your current financial situation, break bad financial habits and establish better ones and empower you to achieve your financial goals. Get started with your personal financial wellness plan.
Virtual Financial Counseling and Coaching
Professional certified financial counselors and coaches are available through AFCPE to help you manage the financial challenges you might be facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. These financial professionals are available nationwide to offer you trustworthy virtual financial counseling or coaching sessions – free of cost to you! Sign up with a financial professional to take charge of your finances now.
Take the America Saves Pledge
Individuals that make a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. Take the America Saves Pledge today as a first step in your savings journey toward creating a better financial future for yourself and your family. Make a plan, set a goal and pledge to yourself to start saving today.
Spotlight on ABLE BIPOC Outreach Ambassador Cheryl Walfall-Flagg
Cheryl and her husband live with their three boys in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her 19-year-old son, Sean, has been an ABLE account holder since 2017. Her husband, as legal guardian, recently opened an ABLE account for his 14-year-old nephew Davante. In addition to being big Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, Sean and Davante are both on the autism spectrum and meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disability criteria, which makes them ABLE-eligible.
A founding member of the ABLE NRC’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Outreach Ambassador Program, Cheryl has been working with ABLE NRC since 2018. As a mother, she understands the positive impact an ABLE account can have on her kids’ finances and future lives, especially as young Black men with autism. In her role as an Ambassador, she is working hard to make sure that other parents of children who have disabilities, and in particular parents in the BIPOC community, are aware of the increased financial stability that an ABLE account can provide.
Cheryl has also been raising awareness on ABLE accounts through her work for a North Carolina nonprofit. Families & Communities Rising, Inc., oversees Head Start and Early Head Start programs in addition to other family and community services for early childhood social-emotional health, prevention of child abuse and neglect and respite care.
In order to gain the kind of knowledge she needs to support her own children and better serve children and families, Cheryl participates in a variety of advocacy and family support groups. She is also a parent member of Rethinking Guardianship, a North Carolina Statewide Workgroup whose goal is to educate North Carolinians about adult guardianship and alternatives to adult guardianship. These groups serve a primarily marginalized or BIPOC population, individuals with disabilities and their families, who may be low- to moderate-income, many of whom qualify for an ABLE account.
Cheryl has been a key resource on all things “ABLE.”
One strategy Cheryl is piloting is integrating the ABLE Employer Toolkit and ABLE Service Provider Toolkit into the resources offered by North Carolina’s Head Start programs. These resources make it easy for employers and service providers to inform their employees and customers about ABLE accounts. As both an employer and as a service provider, Head Start programs can benefit from both of these toolkits for their staff and families they serve. ABLE NRC applauds Cheryl’s efforts and looks forward to sharing this strategy that Head Start programs and other service providers across the country can use.
Using her personal experience and knowledge to help others, Cheryl states, “Our boys face many struggles because as young Black men with autism; their education, health, social well-being and earning power are impacted by how society views and treats them. We are changing that trajectory through academic, social and financial education, empowering them to reach their highest potential. BIPOC families and individuals who face similar struggles need to know that there is an opportunity to achieve a better life experience with an ABLE account.”
AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions: MARCH/APRIL 2021
1. Do I need to pay a financial advisor to invest my ABLE funds?
No, while it is not necessary to have a financial advisor to invest in an ABLE account, it is important to understand goals and expected use for the money in the account when making investment versus savings choices. To learn about investing, FINRA has a variety of resources to help to learn to invest or to choose an investment professional. The ABLE NRC website includes a Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board Investor’s Guide to ABLE programs. If a decision is made to use an investment professional, like a financial advisor, research their background on the Securities and Exchange Commission Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website.
ABLE accounts offer the opportunity for people with disabilities to deposit money into the account and make the choice to set aside at least a portion within the investment account options held within the account. Interest earned within the ABLE account is not taxable and does not impact benefits when ABLE funds are spent on qualified disability expenses (QDEs). People can typically choose among several investment options with an ABLE account and can also put funds into ABLE savings or checking options.
People can explore the ABLE investment options and fees by using the ABLE NRC comparison tools. By clicking on the Program Name, you will be directed to the ABLE plan website. The Account Disclosure Documents detail the investment options available for that ABLE plan. Most ABLE plan sites also list the past performance of their ABLE investment portfolios. It is important to carefully consider options before making investment selections because change in ABLE investment selections may occur only twice per year.
You can contact the ABLE plan you are interested in and ask which supports they offer regarding investment options. For example, the Massachusetts Attainable ABLE plan and the Virginia ABLE America plan offer financial advisement services for their ABLE account owners. Please note: It is important to understand that monthly fees and administrative costs, which vary from ABLE plan to ABLE plan, may lower investment returns.
2. Can stimulus, unemployment insurance and tax refunds be deposited into an ABLE account?
Yes, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 provides stimulus payments, extends unemployment payments and proposes changes to the Earned Income Tax and Child Tax Credits, all of which may be deposited into an ABLE account. As information is released, updated guidance will be posted on National Disability Institute’s Financial Resilience Center website. This website also offers financial education through LifeCents and free financial counseling or coaching services through AFCPE. These services are designed to provide disability-specific information and guidance around money management, good credit development and financial stability to help you or others make smarter financial decisions.
Remember, by NOT placing the savings in an ABLE account and placing them in another type of account, or retaining them, may impact benefits eligibility when the resource limit for means-tested benefits is exceeded. ABLE accounts are a safer option for savings!
If you would like to learn more to increase your knowledge in this area, check out the “ABLE Updates” in this issue.
3. How can ABLE account owners find employment to help them to save more money in an ABLE account?
The availability of ABLE accounts has inspired dialogue around people with disabilities learning the skills necessary to manage their money and invest towards their future goals and financial stability, rather than spending down to maintain resource limits. ABLE account owners are encouraged to form a circle of support to help them gradually take on more responsibility as they learn to manage their monies. Many ABLE account owners have been surprised to learn that there are supports specifically designed to help them work to their fullest ability. There are even employment supports that help ABLE account owners who have never received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), to secure employment.
Local Developmental Disability Offices have contracted with local providers to assist people in finding competitive employment within their communities. By working, people may accrue work credits that qualify them to receive disability and retirement benefits based upon their own work record. This year, each time a person accrues $1,470 in employment earnings, they have earned one quarter of coverage. When a person is under the age of 24, they only need six (6) work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
Vocational Rehabilitation and American Job Centers may approve employment training towards credentialed or degree programs for in-demand occupations that help people with disabilities secure competitive employment.
For those who receive SSI and/or SSDI, there are Social Security Administration work supports that can help people work to their fullest ability, earn and save more, while retaining benefits, including Medicaid and/or Medicare for a period of time and in some cases, indefinitely. WISE information events can help people learn work support basics while they are gearing up towards employment. When an SSI and/or SSDI beneficiary is ready to start work, they can request free WIPA benefits counseling services to learn about the specific work supports they are eligible for, given their age, employment level and past work history.
Employment Network (EN) providers can also help people with disabilities, who receive SSI and/or SSDI, to find employment, assist in reporting wages, using work supports and retaining protection from continuing medical review, while demonstrating timely progress towards education and employment. If interested, contact an employment network, such as the American Dream Employment Network (ADEN), and ask how they can help you to work to your fullest ability.
The sooner a person with a disability engages in employment, the more work supports they can utilize to reach their goals towards affording monthly expenses and saving regularly in ABLE accounts to enhance their health, independence, quality of life and increase their financial stability.
- One of our Top 3 Questions this month involved ABLE and stimulus funds. If you want to broaden your knowledge in this area:
- Florida’s ABLE United published the blog, Help Stimulus Funds Go Further with ABLE United, along with the fact sheet, Stimulus Payments and ABLE Accounts FAQs.
- Virginia’s ABLENow published the article, Disabled Recipients of Stimulus Aid Are Urged to Save in ABLE Accounts, which links to The New York Times article, Disabled Recipients of Stimulus Aid Are Urged to Save Some in Special Accounts.
- California’s CalABLE teamed up with National Disability Institute, ABLE NRC’s parent company, to provide tools and resources in the AchievABLE Corner to maximize the potential of an ABLE account. The ABLE NRC document, ABLE Accounts: Opportunity to Build Financial Resilience, contains a variety of resources and practical steps you can take to plan ahead and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your finances.
- Check out the free Savings Goal Calculator to estimate how much money you need saved to your ABLE account each month in order to arrive at a specific goal.