The National Advocate for People with Down Syndrome Since 1979

National Down Syndrome Society
666 Broadway, 8th Floor
New York New York 10012

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act

ABLE Act Overview

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2013 (S 313/HR 647) was introduced in the 113th Congress on February 13, 2013, by a bipartisan, bicameral set of Congressional champions including Senators Robert Casey, Jr., (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), and Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Pete Sessions (R-TX). On December 3, 2014, the ABLE Act passed in the US House of Representatives (404-17). Two weeks later, on December 16, the US Senate voted to pass the ABLE Act as a part of the Tax Extenders package. On Friday, December 19, 2014, President Obama signed the Tax Extenders package, making the ABLE Act the law of the land.

The ABLE Act amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The bill aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation. The bill supplements, but does not supplant, benefits provided through private insurances, the Medicaid program, the supplemental security income program, the beneficiary’s employment and other sources.

An ABLE account may fund a variety of essential expenses for individuals including medical and dental care, education, community based supports, employment training, assistive technology, housing and transportation. The ABLE Act provides individuals with disabilities the same types of flexible savings tools that all other Americans have through college savings accounts, health savings accounts and individual retirement accounts. The legislation also contains Medicaid fraud protection against abuse and a Medicaid pay-back provision when the beneficiary passes away. It eliminates barriers to work and saving by preventing dollars saved through ABLE accounts from counting against an individual’s eligibility for any federal benefits program.

Following the passage of ABLE at the federal level, states must pass their own ABLE bills to establish state ABLE programs for their residents.  To learn more about implementation of ABLE in the states, visit the NDSS State ABLE webpage.

ABLE Accounts: 10 Things You Must Know

 1. What is an ABLE account?

ABLE accounts, which are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families, will be created as a result of the passage of the ABLE Act of 2014. Income earned by the accounts will not be taxed. Contributions to the account made by any person (the account beneficiary, family and friends) will not be tax deductible.

2. Why the need for ABLE accounts?

Millions of individuals with disabilities and their families depend on a wide variety of public benefits for income, health care and food and housing assistance. Eligibility for these public benefits (SSI, SNAP, Medicaid) requires meeting a means or resource test that limits eligibility to individuals who report no more than $2,000 in cash savings, retirement funds and other items of significant value. To remain eligible for these public benefits, an individual must remain poor. For the first time in public policy, the ABLE Act recognizes the extra and significant costs of living with a disability. These include costs related to raising a child with significant disabilities or a working age adult with disabilities, for accessible housing and transportation, personal assistance services, assistive technology and health care not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. 

For the first time, eligible individuals and families will be allowed to establish ABLE savings accounts that will not affect their eligibility for SSI, Medicaid and other public benefits. The legislation explains further that an ABLE account will, with private savings, "secure funding for disability-related expenses on behalf of designated beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, Medicaid, SSI, the beneficiary's employment and other sources."

3. Am I eligible for an ABLE account?

Passage of legislation is a result of a series of compromises. The final version of the ABLE Act limits eligibility to individuals with significant disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. If you meet this criteria and are also receiving benefits already under SSI and/or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. If you are not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI, but still meet the age of onset disability requirement, you would still be eligible to open an ABLE account if you meet SSI criteria regarding significant functional limitations. Once finalized by the Treasury Department, the federal ABLE regulations will explain further the standard of proof and required medical documentation. (Proposed regulations were issued in June 2015. Click here for NDSS' comments on the proposed regulations.)  You need not be under the age of 26 to be eligible for an ABLE account. You could be over the age of 26, but must have documentation of disability that indicates age of onset before the age of 26.

4. Are there limits to how much money can be put in an ABLE account?

The total annual contributions by all participating individuals, including family and friends, is $14,000. The amount will be adjusted annually for inflation. Under current tax law, $14,000 is the maximum amount that individuals can make as a gift to someone else and not pay taxes (gift tax exclusion). The total limit over time that could be made to an ABLE account will be subject to the individual state and their limit for education-related 529 savings accounts. Many states have set this limit at more than $300,000 per plan. However, for individuals with disabilities who are recipients of SSI and Medicaid, the ABLE Act sets some further limitations. The first $100,000 in ABLE accounts will be exempted from the SSI $2,000 individual resource limit. If and when an ABLE account exceeds $100,000, the beneficiary will be suspended from eligibility for SSI benefits and no longer receive that monthly income. However, the beneficiary will continue to be eligible for Medicaid. States will be able to recoup some expenses through Medicaid upon the death of the beneficiary.

5. Which expenses are allowed by ABLE accounts?

A "qualified disability expense" means any expense related to the designated beneficiary as a result of living a life with a disability. These include education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal support services, health care expenses, financial management and administrative services and other expenses which will be further described in the federal ABLE regulations once they are finalized. (Proposed regulations were issued in June 2015. Click here for NDSS' comments on the proposed regulations.)  

6. Where do I go to open an ABLE account?

Each state is responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program. If a state should choose not to establish its own program, the state may choose to contract with another state to offer its eligible individuals with significant disabilities the opportunity to open an ABLE account. To learn more about the implementation of ABLE in the states, visit the NDSS State ABLE webpage.

After President Obama signed the ABLE Act in December 2014, the Secretary of the Department of Treasury began developing regulations that will guide the states in terms of: a) the information required to be presented to open an ABLE account; b) the documentation needed to meet the requirements of ABLE account eligibility for a person with a disability; and c) the definition details of "qualified disability expenses" and the documentation that will be needed for tax reporting. Proposed regulations were issued in June 2015.  (Click here for NDSS' comments on the proposed regulations.) Although the regulations have yet to be finalized, in March 2015, the Treasury Department and the IRS gave states a green light to establish ABLE programs prior to issuance of the federal regulations. Click here to read the statement from the Treasury and IRS.    

7. Can I have more than one ABLE account?

No. The ABLE Act limits the opportunity to one ABLE account per eligible individual. 

8. Will states offer options to invest the savings contributed to an ABLE account?

Like state 529 college savings plans, states are likely to offer qualified individuals and families multiple options to establish ABLE accounts with varied investment strategies. Each individual and family will need to project possible future needs and costs over time, and to assess their risk tolerance for possible future investment strategies to grow their savings. Account contributors or designated beneficiaries are limited, by the ABLE Act, to change the way their money is invested in the account up to two times per year.

9. How many eligible individuals and families might benefit from establishing an ABLE account?

There are 58 million individuals with disabilities in the United States. To meet the definition of significant disability required by the legislation to be eligible to establish an ABLE account, the conservative number would be approximately 10 percent of the larger group, or 5.8 million individuals and families. Further analysis is needed to understand more fully the size of this market and more about their needs for new savings and investment products.

10.How is an ABLE account different than a special needs or pooled trust?

An ABLE Account will provide more choice and control for the beneficiary and family. The cost of establishing an account will be considerably less than either a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or Pooled Income Trust. With an ABLE account, account owners will have the ability to control their funds and, if circumstances change, still have other options available to them. Determining which option is the most appropriate will depend upon individual circumstances. For many families, the ABLE account will be a significant and viable option in addition to, rather than instead of, a Trust program.

Take Action

Help get the ABLE Act passed in your state. Click here to see the status of ABLE in the states. Contact NDSS Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy, Heather Sachs, at for more information.

Also, thank your US Senators and Representative who sponsored the federal ABLE Act. You can find out if your two Senators and Representative cosponsored the ABLE Act of 2013 by clicking the links below:

Senate ABLE Act Cosponsors
House ABLE Act Cosponsors

You can find out if your two Senators and Representative cosponsored the ABLE Act of 2011 by clicking the links below:

Senate ABLE Act Cosponsors
House ABLE Act Cosponsors

NDSS Resources

External Resources


  • Buddy Walk
  • NDSS Yourway
  • My Great Story
  • NDSS DS-Ambassadors