The ABLE Youth Transition Toolkit
ABLE Accounts and Youth Transition Planning for Parents, Family Members, Caregivers and Youth Service Providers
The ABLE National Resource Center and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: the Collaborative (NTACT:C) partnered to provide this ABLE Youth Transition Toolkit which is specifically designed to educate parents and other family members, caregivers, vocational rehabilitation professionals, special educators and other disability youth service providers on the benefits and uses of ABLE accounts. This toolkit provides information, resources and best practices related to Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts that can be used to increase financial health and wellbeing of students and young people with disabilities including those residing with their family, those in a guardianship situation and/or living with supports or independently in the community. The content may be used by or shared with transition age youth as they set out on their unique path to adulthood.
This section answers your basic ABLE questions:
An ABLE account is a savings and tax-free investment account option for eligible people who have a disability that began before age 26. Note: On January 1, 2026, the age of disability onset will be expanded to include people who have a disability that started before age 46.
Opening and using an ABLE account can be a game-changer. Having savings can help students and young people with disabilities as they move forward from childhood to more independence as an adult.
Many transition age students and young people who have a disability experience extra and significant costs when living with a disability as they transition from school into adult life. Additional costs may include housing, transportation, assistive technology, caregiver assistance and items not covered by Medicaid waiver programs. An ABLE account is important because it allows a person to enhance their independence and contribute to their financial wellbeing and stability through saving without impacting their eligibility for means-tested benefits.
During the years of transition, certain aspects of a young person’s future can be mapped out. An important factor in laying the groundwork for the future is gaining the knowledge and skills to maximize that young person’s independence and self-sufficiency. This may include things such as pursuing further education; exploring career opportunities, employment and related services and support; and finding stable housing, transportation and health insurance. This may also include the need to maintain services provided by certain government benefits programs that are critical for many, but not all, transition age youth.
For example, an ABLE account can help provide security and confidence that saving more than $2,000 is possible without impacting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid benefits.
Many transition age youth with a disability are excellent candidates for an ABLE account if:
They have disability that began before age 26* and:
- They receive a benefit from SSA that is based on their disability. This may include SSI, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) or Disabled Widows or Widowers Benefits (DWB); or
- If they are not receiving a disability-based benefit from SSA the person can ask a doctor to sign a disability certification stating that their disability is severe and began before age 26.
*The age for a qualifying disability is changing to before age 46 effective 1/1/2026.
Excellent candidates for an ABLE account include students or young adults with disabilities who:
- Are about to turn age 18 and may be eligible for SSI. At the age of 18, parental income and resources no longer count.
- Are under or over age 18 and have more savings in a non-ABLE account than what is allowed by SSI, Medicaid or Medicaid home and community-based waiver programs.
- Have a goal to live independently in their own home, apartment, college dorm or live with family.
- Are in foster care or extended foster care and some or all benefits received can be saved for future goals when they transition to other living arrangements such as independent living or supported living. These may be goals that family ordinarily would help with or goals for items or services that could provide a safety net if unanticipated emergencies arise. These may be for food, housing and related costs such as deposits or utilities, medical care not covered by insurance, transportation or other needs not covered by other programs.
- Have employment goals now and for the future and need a place to save employment income so that they do not lose their benefits due to saving money.
- Are under the age of 22, attending school regularly and are using the SSI Student Earned Income Exclusion work support and need a place to save their extra income.
- Are participating or would like to participate in youth and/or adult vocational training programs or higher education programs.
- Have a circle of support which may include family or friends who would like to contribute money towards future goals without impacting benefits which may be needed at some time in the future.
One ABLE account may be opened in the name of the person who has the disability. Anyone, including the account owner, can deposit money directly into the ABLE account.
An ABLE account may be opened at any age. A parent, legal guardian or conservator may open an ABLE account for a minor and help manage the account or the account may be opened in this order: holder of power of attorney, spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent or a representative payee. In most states, at age 18, a minor reaches the age of legal adulthood, called “age of majority,” where they become responsible for themselves, their actions and their decisions. Contact your ABLE plan if the account was opened before this age so that you can be prepared to lay the foundation for any changes that may occur.
Early and ongoing discussions, guided support and decision making, along with opportunities to learn basic adult skills, will be helpful in this transition.
At the age of legal adulthood, if there is no legal guardian or conservator or someone with power of attorney, a person can open their own ABLE account or ask a trusted friend, family member or someone within their circle of support to open the account for them or help them to manage the account, or the account may be opened in the same order as shown above.
When there is guardianship, conservatorship or a power of attorney involved, you may wish to consult an attorney-at-law, your local probate court or state ABLE plan if you have questions because rules may differ by state.
Depending upon the ABLE plan selected, the ABLE account balance limit ranges from $235,000 to $550,000.
When thinking about the ABLE balance limit, it is important to keep certain things in mind if a student or young person with disabilities is receiving means-tested benefits.
- The ABLE Act states that funds in an ABLE account will not affect eligibility for federally-funded benefits such as FAFSA, HUD, SNAP, SSI, SSDI, Medicaid or Medicare. ABLE funds up to $100,000 are not counted towards the SSI resource limit.
- For an SSI beneficiary, if the ABLE account balance is more than $100,000 and, when combined with other resources, is more than the SSI resource limit, SSI payments are stopped though Medicaid continues. SSI payments may start again when countable resources fall below the SSI resource limit. Different rules apply if non-ABLE resources alone cause the individual to go over the SSI resource limit.
- Social Security Disability Insurance does not have a resource limit. So, people who receive SSDI benefits may save up to the ABLE plan’s balance limit. Any amount of ABLE savings does not count towards any type of Medicaid or Medicare Savings Plan resource limit.
The money saved in an ABLE account may be used for a broad range of qualified disability expenses (QDEs) which help improve health, independence and/or quality of life. These QDEs are meant to supplement or enhance - but not replace - services and supports provided by other programs.
ABLE funds can be used by transition age students and young people with disabilities who may need affordable housing, transportation, education, employment, assistive technology and respite and basic living expenses. So long as an item or service enhances the health, independence or quality of life of an individual with a disability, it is a QDE. Except for large categories of QDEs, they are largely undefined by the IRS due to the personal nature of QDEs.
For students and young adults with disabilities, an ABLE account is a way for them to save money without the risk of losing critical benefits such as qualifying for student aide under a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if they choose to further their education. Money can be saved in an ABLE account so that their eligibility for benefits continues. Even if a young person does not need benefits now, they may need benefits in the future so this is an important point to consider.
Additionally, and importantly, an ABLE account offers students and young people with disabilities an opportunity to learn money management and saving skills. Family members or caregivers and service providers can begin financial education early and introduce programs or resources which are age appropriate like those in FDIC: Money Smart for Young People. Allowing access to small amounts of funds with an ABLE debit card can begin the process to teach the young adult money management skills as an opportunity to make decisions and learn. Some ABLE debit cards have purchase restrictions which can be set which may be helpful in the learning process of prioritizing needs and wants.
This can help support their future goals that could include:
- Financial stability
- Independent living
- Employment and career development
- Saving for retirement
Youth service providers, family members and caregivers, as appropriate, can support these goals by teaching young people with disabilities about the multiple intersections of ABLE accounts with:
- Academia: Helping them to learn how to apply for college or other postsecondary education and secure financial aid if needed. If application fees, supplies and services, such as a tutor or laptop computer, are not covered by other programs, a student can be advised that the ABLE account can fund these as a qualified disability expense.
- Employment: Helping to write a resume and complete and submit a job application. If receiving public benefits, how to find a free benefits counselor to understand how income can affect benefits or how resources/savings in an ABLE account is disregarded by most federally-funded benefit programs.
- Health care: Helping enroll in Medicaid or Medicare or both, or select or enroll in another health plan provided through an employer or parent and pay for out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays, deductibles or premiums as a qualified disability expense from an ABLE account.
- Planning for living expenses: Helping find suitable housing such as a home or apartment or supported living arrangements, purchasing food and preparing meals. Teaching that basic living expenses are qualified disability expenses from the ABLE account.
- Financial: Help with developing a budget, paying bills on time or setting up electronic payments from the ABLE account. Additionally, prioritizing needs and wants and developing a credit history or applying for and using credit cards. In terms of budgeting, teaching to save each month in the ABLE account for future needs, unanticipated emergencies and for future retirement.
- Community access: Help with obtaining a driver’s license or getting around in the community and navigating transportation and paying for these expenses as qualified disability expenses from the ABLE account.
- Saving for retirement: Helping understand ABLE savings and growth options to plan for a secure financial future.
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Click below for more information and guidance on ABLE accounts for:
Best Practices For Both Service Providers And Family Members:
Active engagement is important and can take place through a range of discussions, activities and experiences that help students and young people with disabilities map out their goals. Saving money in an ABLE account can be a very concrete way for people to meet their goals towards self-sufficiency.
Working and saving money is one of the best ways for a person to be able to plan for an enhanced quality of life. A young person who is working may be able to deposit more money in their ABLE account if they qualify under ABLE to Work rules. Work supports provided by public benefits such as SSI, SSDI, HUD, SNAP, TANF and Medicaid can be included with employment planning and improve outcomes for students and young people with disabilities.
For those who receive public benefits, a successful strategy includes using Social Security work supports, combined with employment, to enable a person to save more in an ABLE account.
Saving, spending, and budgeting help students and young people develop important self-determination skills. ABLE accounts can increase self-determination by providing them with a voice and agency when it comes to making financial decisions. Learning the specifics of how an ABLE account can be used to make day-to-day life better and/or help them realize their long-term goals can be a step to achieving a higher level of financial skill and ability.
It is important to remember that ABLE savings do not replace services and supports provided by other programs. ABLE savings are meant to supplement existing services and supports. This may include paying for extra health care needs, education or employment-related expenses, transportation and assistive technology. The ABLE account may also pay for items or services not ordinarily covered by special needs or pooled trusts such as food, shelter or utilities.
Money paid to an SSI recipient directly from a special needs trust (SNT) is counted as unearned income and reduces the SSI monthly payment. It is also counted as unearned income when it pays for food or shelter expenses. However, if the money from an SNT is transferred directly into an ABLE account, the ABLE account owner can then use those savings to pay for qualified disability expenses without a reduction to their SSI payments—even if it is used for food or shelter.
This means that an ABLE account owner, who could not meet his or her share of living expenses on their own, may be able to meet them by supplementing the payment from their ABLE account to which parents, caregivers or others have contributed. Likewise, if an SSI recipient is able to pay for their share of living expenses (for example in a parent’s home because the student or young adult works), the parent can, as a savings strategy, deposit those funds in the ABLE account as a contribution. If ABLE funds will be used to pay or supplement housing expenses, they must be withdrawn and used within the same month or the money will count as a resource if held over to another month.
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Other Transition Age Youth Resources on the ABLE National Resource Center Site:
- Supporting Employment for Transition Age Youth Webinar:
- SSA Updates Youth Transition Resource
- ABLE Account and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- ABLE and Student earned Income Exclusion Work Support for Transition Age Youth
- Using an ABLE account to Support Youth from Transition to Independent Living webinar:
- The Use of ABLE Accounts to Support the Transition from School to Independent Living
- Youth – Technical Assistance Center (Y-TAC) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Toolkit
- ABLE Special Needs and Pooled Trust Comparison
- ABLE Fact Sheet and Road Map
- ABLE Accounts: Tax Benefits for People with Disabilities
- ABLE Ambassadors – Account Owners and ABLE Ambassadors – Family Members
- Supporting Youth Independence through an ABLE Account, By Brian Ingram
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Learn from ABLE Ambassador Account Owners and Parents of Account Owners on How an ABLE Account Can Support Transition and Life Goals:
“I was ecstatic when I first learned about the ABLE Act and the financial freedom it offered. It was an immense relief knowing that I can save for medical school while not having to worry about losing my Medi-Cal coverage or having to take out astronomical school loans. Because of my ABLE account, I will have a better and more financially secure future. After medical school, I plan to continue to use my ABLE account to save for a house, emergencies and retirement.”
Rachel is a savvy saver who planned to use her ABLE savings to pay for college before she was awarded a Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship. She says in her blog: It makes my heart happy to be a college girl. I want to be an independent woman. I have Down syndrome, but I am not Down syndrome. I am Rachel.”
She is saving now for a future pink house!
Cheryl and her husband have a son who has an ABLE account and her husband is the legal guardian of a nephew who also has an ABLE account. 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.”
“The first thing to know is that the account is easy to set up. I’m not a financial or a mathematical person. I’m just a mother looking out for her son’s future. The other thing is to start to plan sooner than later. Many parents are so consumed with their child’s disability issues and are in survival mode – trying to figure those day-to-day things out, we have to take that one step back. Do that piece of financial planning for the future. The ABLE account is one easy, simple way to get that done. It is one simple thing you can do.”
“We opened an ABLE account for Kenley as soon as it was available in Nevada. We chose it because, as an adult, it will give her financial agency—a sense of personal empowerment over her money. She can choose to use the funds in the ABLE account to support herself and enhance her life without jeopardizing her means-tested benefits.”
“I know we’re not alone in wanting our daughter to have a bright financial future, so we want all parents of children with disabilities to know about the tools and resources available to help them prepare for and enter the world of work. We feel lucky these tools are available to support Kenley as she steps closer and closer to her dream job—and becoming a proud, contributing member of the workforce and community.”
Davinna found that an ABLE account was the solution to many of her concerns as a parent. “They [transition age youth with disabilities] have to have their own account when they come of age. As a parent of any child, disabled or not – you want them to be successful and know that if anything happens to you, they have a safety net. My focus changed from saving for college once Shon had his disability. The ABLE account has allowed me to relax and not worry about how saving money will impact the benefits he needs. This (Dushon’s MiABLE account) will take care of whatever needs he has. I can relax and take a breath. That is real.”
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