September/October 2020 AchievABLE™ Newsletter

The September/October issue of our AchievABLE™ Newsletter contains stories on the following:

ABLE NRC WEBINAR: “Increasing ABLE Account Savings Through Employment during COVID-19”

Join the ABLE National Resource Center on Thursday, October 29th from 2:00-3:15 p.m. ET for our National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) webinar on Increasing ABLE Account Savings Through Employment during COVID-19.

Register to learn more about ABLE accounts, employment strategies and resources.


American Dream Employment Network Webinar: “Get the Facts and Move Beyond Fear: A Webinar for Social Security Beneficiaries Who Want to Return to Work”

Are you a Social Security disability beneficiary and want to know how working will affect your benefits? Are you afraid of losing benefits or medical coverage if you return to work? Join this free webinar from the American Dream Employment Network (ADEN) “Get the Facts and Move Beyond Fear: A Webinar for Social Security Beneficiaries Who Want to Return to Work” on October 22 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. ET.

Are you a Social Security disability beneficiary and want to know how working will affect your benefits? Are you afraid of losing benefits or medical coverage if you return to work?

Register to learn about important topics that will help you return to work and explore a better financial future.


Ambassador Highlight: Tim Elliot

2020 ABLE NRC Ambassador Tim Elliott is a disabled veteran who mentors individuals with disabilities and teaches them how to advocate for themselves. Living in Brooklyn, New York, Tim has an ABLE account with the NY ABLE program. As part of Tim’s work as a Program Outreach Specialist for the Office of Home and Community Living with New York’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), and through his advocacy work, Tim has been spreading the word about ABLE accounts, especially to people who cannot afford to set up a trust fund.

In Tim’s own words:

Life Before Disability

My life as a disabled person didn’t start out like most individuals. I was a healthy 21-year-old in the beginning stage of my naval career. I was looking forward to making the military my career, going from a reservist to a full-time service member, successfully graduating from Aviation Electronic Technician School in Tennessee and moving on to Norfolk, Virginia and hoping to go out to the fleet to serve.

Life After Disability

I was only a year into my naval career before I became disabled, paralyzed from the shoulders down, by what the doctors determined to be either Transverse Myelitis or Spinal Meningitis.     Whichever one, my life was changed forever. More than 30 years later, with some movement back, it’s still a struggle. Besides the physical and mental struggles of living with a disability, another obstacle is financial instability. The feeling of having to jump through hoops not only to qualify for disability benefits, but having to fight to keep the little that you get, just adds to your frustration. Although I’m lucky to have worked a part-time job for the past 19 years and a full- time job for the past six years, there is still the stress of keeping Medicaid benefits. Medicaid Buy-In solved the income limit concern, helping me to maintain Medicaid. Then the ABLE Act finally became an option that addressed Medicaid resource limits.

ABLE allows an individual to save up to $15,000 a year without losing their benefits. I’ve used mine to pay rent when I needed to use my main account for something else. I’ve also used it for travel and personal aide services. ABLE is a great tool for the disabled, but has a lot of room for growth. Getting more individuals to establish ABLE accounts is not just about educating and promoting the account. I suggest that the ABLE debit card companies could add incentive options for qualified disability purchases for ABLE account holders. Credit card companies get people to sign up for their cards by attaching incentives to them (reward points that can be exchanged for gift cards or cash, discounts at with certain merchants, exclusive perks with the banking institution affiliated with the card). These are tangible benefits a person can access more immediately than an investment option. Investment options are a great benefit of an ABLE account, but investing takes time to be of benefit to the account holder.

ABLE gives the disabled community an opportunity to begin to take control of their lives financially along with Medicaid Buy-In. For individuals that are working, ABLE deposits can only be made after taxes are taken from their paycheck. Some type of tax incentives would make ABLE more attractive to the disabled community. Asking for incentives like discounts or tax incentives may seem like we’re asking for special treatment, but when you have limited employment opportunities, limited income, limited housing options, limited transportation and less than quality food choices that are affordable, on top of worrying about maintaining working adaptive equipment and quality homecare, these incentives would be a hand up not a hand out.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a great first step for the disabled community, but it was only a first step. In order for the disabled community to have real lives like everyone else has the opportunity to live, we have to be allowed to play on the same field. We are tired of being spectators in the game of life. We need politicians to acknowledge our existence at all times, not just for election or re-election photo ops. Let’s expand the ADA for not only private organizations or local and state governments, but also the federal government. As a former employee of the federal government when I served my country, how can you ask me to serve when I’m able, but not grant me the same human rights once I can no longer serve?


Ambassador Highlight: Mike Zybura

2020 ABLE NRC Ambassador, Mike Zybura lives in Township, Michigan and opened a MiABLE account for his 13-year-old son, Colin, who has autism, so that he could help him maximize his independence and secure his financial future.

In Mike’s own words, “I have always been an advocate for fiscal responsibility and have never had a problem spouting the virtues of investing early and often to anyone that is willing to listen (or even if my audience is unwilling to listen). Very few people will ’fall into’ financial security during their lives. The person in charge of their financial future is typically going to be the man or woman in the mirror.

You would think I’m a financial advisor, but I’m not. I’m a simple man with a simple life and a simple plan. My ’simple plan’ was made decisively more difficult when my wife and I added a special needs son to the mix about 10 years ago. We thought ‘simple’ went out the window with all our other plans and dreams.

We were stuck in idle, feeling sorry for ourselves. Now what do we do? We assumed our son would never be able to take care of himself and that the duty to care for him emotionally and financially would be solely our burden to bear. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t. What I do know is that our son has made remarkable strides and is accomplishing things we didn’t think he could or would at this point. The sun shines brighter for us these days. He’s a joy and we remain extremely optimistic about his future. However, this doesn’t mean we can abandon our updated plan.

Once my wife and I climbed out of our dark hole of self-pity, we searched for options and one stood out far and above all others – the ABLE Act. This was our vehicle to get us moving in the right direction.

So it adds up – a parent with a special needs child that constantly tries to educate people on investing for the future and the ABLE Act. National Ambassador to promote the ABLE Act? Sign me up!”

What the ABLE Act Means to Me By ABLE NRC Ambassador Mike Zybura

I have always had an internal plan of how I was going to financially prepare for the future. I never wrote it down. To me, it was simple. Time and money! That was it. Start investing early, automate the contributions to my financial goals (retirement, college, emergency), put away enough that I felt it, but not so much that it left me cash-strapped each month.

The plan was easy to follow as long as my wife and I were afforded enough time to let the eighth wonder of the world – compound interest – do its job with our investments (time) and were blessed with good, stable jobs (money).

Time and money! Piece of cake plan.

By the time we would hit retirement, we would have 20-25 years of life to fund. We’d be reasonably prepared considering our savings discipline, my wife’s teacher’s pension and Social Security. The house and college would be paid off. The kids would be doing their own things, knowing mom and dad were there in a pinch.

And it was going according to plan, at least for a few years.

In 2010, our only son Colin was diagnosed with Autism. Of course, we knew something was wrong. He didn’t really play with other kids, he played near them. He didn’t talk very much, a word or two here and there. Eye contact wasn’t great. He screamed a lot! He was missing all the typical developmental benchmarks three-year-old kids should hit. Did I mention he screamed A LOT? Regardless, I always felt he would snap out of it. I was wrong. He hasn’t.    He won’t.

Fast-forward about seven years and our financial plan was a mess. We were still contributing to our retirement accounts, but nowhere near the amounts needed. We were putting a little away monthly for the kids’ college funds. Again, it wasn’t nearly enough. And forget the emergency fund, this was the emergency.

Upon receiving the diagnosis, we immediately sought out ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis) for Colin. Unfortunately, the state of Michigan did not mandate coverage for ABA therapy. And as bad luck would have it, neither one of our employer plans covered it. Before we knew it, our credit card balances totaled over $50,000. (Before marriage and kids, I never carried a credit card balance.) I had no plan for this predicament. Something needed to change in our favor. I was worried we would soon be at a point of no return.

Thankfully, things did change. Michigan finally passed legislation mandating ABA therapy coverage on fully-insured plans. YES! This gave us an extra $3,000 each month. We could start whittling away at our debt, which we did in earnest.

But the enormous obstacle remaining in front of us was the future of Colin. It’s hard enough to save for your own retirement. Try saving for your child’s entire life, half of which will unfold after your death. To say this is overwhelming is to put it mildly.

We could win the lottery. I could ask for a 400 percent raise at work. We could receive an unforeseen inheritance. None of this, of course, is likely. We are on our own in this world and, to be frank about it, I would not have it any other way. My family is my charge, my responsibility.

We looked at insurance policies and other options, but it all felt like gambling to me.  We needed something built for us. Then I stumbled upon the Michigan ABLE Act. I don’t even remember how I learned about it. I just immediately knew it was exactly what my wife and I were looking for.

The ABLE Act allows you to invest after-tax dollars that grow tax-free as long as distributions are used for qualified purposes. It was like a dream come true! It isn’t free money. The onus to contribute still lies with us. But it allows us to control our son’s financial future much more than we could have otherwise. He can live off our incomes while we’re alive, get his piece of our inheritance, then use the ABLE funds when/if necessary.

The ABLE Act allows us to hope for the best while planning for the worst.

My immediate family is the MOST IMPORTANT thing in my life. My greatest insecurities revolve around whether or not I am doing a respectable job as husband and father. I’m not exactly sure how I’m doing so far.

But one thing I do know for sure is that the ABLE Act has provided an opportunity to take care of the financial end. I encourage everyone to strongly consider researching and, hopefully, opening an ABLE account for you or a loved one. You’ll be glad you did!

Good luck!


AchievABLE™ Top 3 Questions: September/October 2020

Question: I understand the ABLE contribution limit is $15,000 per calendar year. I am employed and just learned about the ABLE to Work Act and I think that I can deposit additional money, from my earnings, into my ABLE account. Can you tell me more? Is there anything special I need to do?

Answer: You are correct. The annual ABLE contribution limit from all contributions is $15,000 per calendar year. But, if you are an employed ABLE account owner and you have not contributed to a defined contribution plan, an annuity contract or a deferred compensation plan this year, you can contribute more!

You can deposit up to an additional $12,490 of your earnings into your ABLE plan if you live in the continental U.S. The amounts are higher for Alaska or Hawaii residents, $14,380 or $15,600, respectively. Just remember that you may need to register with your ABLE plan to save the additional ABLE to Work Act earnings and, if you are no longer employed or if you move to a state where the ABLE to Work limits are different, you need to let your ABLE plan know. The ABLE to Work Act amount limit may change each year.

Question: I receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Where can I find work supports through Social Security that allow me to keep more of my earnings so that I can save more in my ABLE account?

Answer: The SSA Redbook details the SSI and SSDI work incentives that may reduce countable income through income exclusions or disregards. When you tell SSA that you are working, they may apply work incentives based upon the type of disability benefit (s) you receive and whether you are an employee or are self-employed.

SSI beneficiaries who work may see a reduction in their monthly SSI payment due to their earnings. Deductions are first applied and then countable income may reduce the SSI payment, one dollar for every two dollars earned; these work supports result in increased    total monthly income.

The effects of earned income on SSDI benefits, however, is quite different. After a nine-month trial work period, earnings are subject to countable income rules which may or may not allow a cash benefit to be paid depending upon the person’s countable earnings. It’s important to reach out to a Benefits Planner for free advice and counseling to understand how working affects SSI, SSDI and all public benefits received and to learn what work supports, including Medicaid and Medicare insurance a person may be eligible for when they work. Visit the Ticket to Work website to learn more.

Question: I have work expenses that Vocational Rehabilitation and my Employment Network will no longer pay for. Can I use some of my ABLE savings to pay for items I need to continue my job?

Answer: Yes, out of pocket expenses such as attendant care, transportation and the lease or purchase of assistive technology are all ABLE qualified disability expenses. In many cases, these expenses may also qualify as Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) or Blind Work Expenses (BWE) which reduce the earnings SSA counts if a disability benefit is received. A Benefits Planner, a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Project or Certified Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) can help an SSI and/or SSDI beneficiary plan for these expenses, submit a request to SSA and explain the process of reporting expenses to SSA. Using an ABLE account may help a person afford their employment expenses, increase their employment level and their ability to save regularly within an ABLE account. To learn more about ABLE accounts and work, listen to the ABLE NRC’s archived webinar “ABLE Best Practices for Working Age Adults” or find a benefits planner, who is also called a WIPA or CWIC, on the Ticket to Work website.


Check out our New ABLE NRC Materials!

ABLE to Save Podcast Series

Podcast topics covered include:

  • The Promise and Future of ABLE Accounts
  • ABLE Accounts and Social Security Beneficiaries
  • Perspective on ABLE Account and Trusts
  • Perspective on ABLE from a Parent and Financial Leader
  • ABLE Accounts and Employment Success
  • Perspective on ABLE from a Working-Age Account Owner and Service Provider

Listen to Podcast Series

ABLE Service Provider Toolkit

Coming Soon to the ABLE NRC Website!

In October 2020, ABLE NRC will launch our “ABLE Service Provider Toolkit” with new resources for Service Providers to use with ABLE-eligible customers. Stay tuned!