Pennsylvania launched its ABLE program in April, and I was the second person to open an account.  It was so easy to do, let me explain how the ABLE program allows Pennsylvanians with disabilities to plan for their financial independence.

What’s ABLE?

ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience – and it’s a program that so that people with disabilities can save money safely. By safely, I mean that the monies you have in an ABLE account do not count as an asset. Moreover, that’s important because if you are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you can’t have more than $2,000 in your checking and savings accounts. Also, if you have more than $8,000, you can’t receive waiver services. (There are also limits as to how much you can have in order to receive food stamps and Medical Assistance.)

Who can set up an ABLE account?

Anyone who has SSI or is qualified to receive SSI and who acquired their disability before the age of 26 is eligible to set up an ABLE account.

Why would you want to set up an ABLE account?

Because you can save money for things, you may want!  Moreover, you can plan for your future.  For example, I used my ABLE account money to pay for a home repair. My attendant crashed my wheelchair into my bedroom wall and I wanted to fix the holes. I was able to hire a repair man to fix the holes and repaint the wall. I also bought a new computer with my ABLE funds and am now saving for a new printer. There are lots of “qualifying” expenses like technology, transportation, education, and housing.

How much can you save?

You can save up to $14,000 a year to a maximum of $100,000. You can put your own money into your ABLE account, like from your job – and your friends and family can add money to your ABLE account, too.

Pro Tip: People should contribute to your ABLE account directly and not give the money to you to deposit because those dollars will count as your asset before it goes into your ABLE account.

Setting up an ABLE account is easy.

You can go to the website, www.PAable.gov and click on the ‘Enroll’ tab. You just must follow the directions. It only costs $25 to open an account.

Spending money from the ABLE account is easy, too.

I use a debit card to make purchases from my ABLE account and am required by law to keep detailed records of purchases. When using your account remember to keep receipts because the IRS could audit your account – so it’s important to keep a file on what you spent your ABLE money on and when you made your purchases.

Who Should Have Access

Under federal law, I am the official account owner and can elect to have sole control over the account and its funds. However, I have chosen to name my mother as a trustee of my ABLE account to help prevent identity left. I live with two friends in my own home and attendants help me with everything. I can’t use my hands independently (except to drive my power wheelchair) so I need help in accessing the information in my ABLE account. That means I’m telling my attendants my password. So, I’m adding a level of extra protection by giving my mother access to the account so we can be sure the funds are spent as I dictate.

Pro Tip: You are in control and can manage your account interdependently. Choosing a trustee can add an extra layer of security to have a trusted advisor added to your account. However, you are in control – don’t allow someone to pressure you into making them a trustee.

Good luck opening (and using) your ABLE account!  It’s liberating to be able to save and make decisions yourself!

–Michael Anderson

Arc of Philadelphia, Legislative Advocate

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