The tax laws have long encouraged Americans to save for college for their kids or to save for their retirement, but for families of those with disabilities, there was no tax-advantaged way for them to save for those individuals. The recently enacted Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 contains an important new provision which changes that.
The new law, which applies for tax years beginning January 1, 2015, permits States to create “Achieving a Better Life Experience” (ABLE) Programs. Here are some of the key features of ABLE accounts:
- ABLE accounts can be created by individuals to support themselves or by families to support their dependents.
- There is no federal taxation on funds held in an ABLE account. Assets can be accumulated, invested, grown and distributed free from federal taxes. Contributions to the accounts are made on an after-tax basis (i.e., contributions aren’t deductible), but assets in the account grow tax free and are protected from being taxed so long as the funds are used to pay for qualified expenses.
- No federal tax benefits are provided for those who contribute to an ABLE account.
- Money in an ABLE account can be withdrawn tax free if the money is used for disability-related expenses. Expenses qualify as disability related if they are for the benefit of an individual with a disability and are related to the disability. They include education; housing; transportation; training; health, prevention, and wellness costs; plus assistive technology and personal support services.
- Distributions used for nonqualified expenses are subject to income tax on the portion of such distributions attributable to earnings from the account, plus a 10% penalty on that portion.
- Each disabled person is limited to one ABLE account, and total annual contributions by all individuals to any one ABLE account can be made up to the gift tax exclusion amount ($14,000 in 2014, which is adjusted annually for inflation). Aggregate contributions are also subject to the State limit for education-related Section 529 accounts (currently $350,000).
- An ABLE account can generally be rolled over only into another ABLE account for the same individual or into an ABLE account for a sibling who is also an eligible individual.
- Eligible individuals must be blind or severely disabled, and must have become so before turning 26, based on a marked and severe functional limitation or receipt of benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) programs. An individual doesn’t need to receive SSI or DI to open or maintain an ABLE account, nor does the ownership of an account confer eligibility for those programs.