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ABLE Accounts in Virginia: A Savings Plan for People With Disabilities

Virginia's ABLE program, ABLEnow, helps those with special needs save money while remaining eligible for disability benefits.

Updated by , Attorney

Both residents and non-residents of Virginia can enroll in Virginia's ABLE program, called ABLEnow.

ABLE accounts are bank accounts that allow people with special needs to save money without jeopardizing their disability benefits. ABLE accounts come from the federal ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act, but they are established and managed on a state level.

Most states have ABLE programs, and each state has slightly different rules and procedures for opening and using an ABLE account. Below is an overview of the federal rules, as well as the features specific to Massachusetts' ABLE program.

Save Money Without Losing Disability Benefits

When people with special needs apply for disability benefits, they must show that they do not have enough money to support themselves independently. Money saved in a traditional bank account counts against the ability to qualify for disability benefits.

As a result, people with special needs are not able to build savings with the money they earn or that they receive through inheritance or gifts. On a day-to-day basis, this means that people with special needs must live with very little money if they want to receive government aid.

One workaround for this issue is to use a special needs trust which provides a place to save money that can be used for the benefit of the person with special needs (without affecting eligibility for benefits). But special needs trusts must be controlled by a trustee—not by the person with special needs who benefits from the trust. Not only does this leave a person with special needs with little control over his or her finances, it also limits the person's independence.

ABLE accounts fill this gap by giving people with special needs the opportunity to manage a modest bank account without penalty against their eligibility for SSI, Medicaid, or other government benefits.

Federal Rules for ABLE Accounts

The basic rules for all ABLE accounts come from the federal ABLE Act. (Read the federal act here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/647/). When states adopt and implement the ABLE Act, they must follow the federal rules and can also add their own rules and regulations. Here are some of the federal rules:

  • Disability qualifications. To qualify to use an ABLE account, an individual must have a disabling condition that began before age 26.
  • Only one account. Each person can only have one ABLE account.
  • Anyone can put money in the account. Anyone can contribute money to an ABLE account, including the owner with a disability.
  • Contributions are capped annually. The limit for 2023 is $17,000.
  • For many, the account cannot exceed $100,000. For those who qualify for SSI, the balance of an ABLE account cannot exceed $100,000. For those who do not qualify for SSI, see the state rule, below.
  • Use of funds is limited. Funds in an ABLE account must be used for Qualified Disability Expenses (QDE)—expenses that are "related to the blindness or disability" of the account holder.
  • Account funds are not taxed if used properly. The income earned from the funds in ABLE accounts is not taxed. Contributions are made with post-tax dollars, and distributions made for QDE are tax-free.
  • Unused funds pay Medicaid. When a person with a disability dies, any funds remaining in an ABLE account will be used to reimburse Medicaid for services the person received from that program.
  • Read more about the federal rules for ABLE Bank Accounts.

When individual states adopt the ABLE Act and provide ABLE accounts for their residents, they may also make rules and policies about:

  • Minimum amounts required to open an account
  • Fees
  • Availability of accounts to non-residents.
  • State income tax deductions for contributions
  • Account rollovers
  • Debit cards
  • Investment portfolios

ABLEnow—Virginia's ABLE Plan

Virginia was the first state to pass ABLE legislation after the federal act was passed by Congress. Here are some details about Virginia's ABLE account.

  • Common name: ABLEnow
  • Website: https://www.able-now.com/
  • Statute: Code of Virginia §23.1-700 through § 23.713
  • Program manager: Virginia529
  • Investment manager: Vanguard and Fidelity
  • Account limit: $550,000 ($100,000 to maintain eligibility for SSI)
  • Open to out-of-state residents: Yes
  • Minimum amount to open an account: $0
  • Debit card available: Yes
  • Investment options: Four investment options with varying risk. The first $2,000 is made to a deposit account that is linked to your ABLEnow card, and then you choose how to invest your remaining funds.
  • Expense ratios: Ranges from 0.11 to 0.14% (depending on your investment porfolio)
  • Account fee: $3.25 monthly fee (waived after account balance reaches $10,000)

Employed individuals can contribute more. In addition to the $17,000 (in 2023) annual contribution, if the disabled person is working and not contributing to a defined contribution plan, deferred compensation plan, or annuity, the person can also contribute an additional amount to the ABLE account: up to the lesser of 1) their annual salary before tax or 2) $13,590 (in 2023; this number is tied to the federal poverty level and is adjusted each year for inflation). Read more about this option, called the ABLE to Work contribution.

Virginia income tax deduction. If you pay Virginia income tax, you might be able to take an annual tax deduction of up to $2,000 for your ABLEnow account contributions.

More Information

You can learn about and compare ABLE accounts across the country at the website for the ABLE National Resource Center.

An ABLE account is just one planning tool for people with special needs. You might also be interested in learning more about Special Needs Trusts or Estate Planning in Virginia on Nolo.com.

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