Penny Forward Transcript Episode 27 Miranda Kennedy

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Male Announcer: Welcome to the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families, and friends who share an interest in financial independence. Join us now, as we get to know people like us, who are working toward their own success. Here’s your host, Chris Peterson.

 

Chris: My guest today is Miranda Kenedy. She’s the director of the Able National Resource Center, and she’s here to talk to us about Able accounts. We’ve got a lot to go through today, so let’s just get started, Miranda. Who is the Able National Resource Center?

 

Miranda: Well thank you, Chris, for having me. I’m happy to be here with you today, and yeah. Let me tell you about the Able National Resource Center. We are the leading comprehensive source of objective, independent information about federal and state related Able programs and activities. And that includes guidance on tax advantaged Able savings accounts. It’s really our mission at the Able national resource center to educate, promote, and support the positive impact that Able can make on the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities and their families. And to do this, we bring together the investment and support, and the resources of some of the country’s largest and most influential national disability organizations in an effort to excellerate the design and the availability of Able accounts to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and their families. It’s also important to note, we do not oversee Able programs or Able accounts. We are here to educate, share best practices, resources, and so forth.

 

Chris: Very good. And you’re managed by the National Disability Institute, and who are they?

 

Miranda: That’s correct. So the National Disability Institute is our parent organization, and NDI, really, we collaborate, and inovate to build a better influent financial future for people with disabilities and their families. So NDI really … it’s the only national nonprofit that’s focused entirely on increasing the financial capability of people with disabilities. At National Disability Institute, we envision a society in which people with disabilities really have the same opportunities to achieve financial stability and independence as people without disabilities. So, it makes perfect sense that NDI would take on and manage and operate Able National Resource Center. Because those missions align perfectly.

 

Chris: Absolutely. And I bet a lot of people didn’t know that you existed. So now they do. So, let’s get right into it then. Tell us, what is an Able account?

 

Miranda: So, Able accounts are tax advantaged savings and investment accounts for people with disabilities, where the disability began before age 26. Now you can be 50 or 60, but your disability at this time has to have begun before age 26, and there’s other criteria as well. We have that information on our website, but Able Accounts were created as a result of the passage of the Steven Beck Jr. Achieving A Better Life Experience, or Able, Act of 2014. And it’s important to know, for an Able account, the person with the disability is the Able Account owner. And Able investment income is not taxed or treated as income by means tested benefits when the funds are spent on qualified disability expenses, and that’s a broad aray of expenses. Contributions into an Able account can be made by any person, so they can be made by the account beneficiary, their family, their friends, a special needs trust or pool trust can put funds into an Able account, and Able account funds that are contributed into the account have to use post tax dollars, and they won’t be tax deductable for purposes of federal taxes. However, some states may allow for state income tax deductions for contributions into an Able account.

 

Chris: So I think you started to answer this already, but what are some of the advantages then of having an Able account?

 

Miranda: Well, first of all, it’s very easy to open an Able account online. We have comparison tools and information, road maps to guide folks how to do that. There’s forty-three states and DC have Able programs. We have that information on our site. And the account can be opened with an initial contribution of anywhere from 25 to 50 dollars, which is significantly different than some other protected savings vehicles like special needs trusts or pool trusts that might require the assistance of an attorney, and thousands of dollars to open an account. So for 25 to 50 dollars, you can open an Able account, and that account can be opened by the Able eligible person with a disability, by a person that that person selects, it can be the person’s agent under a power of attorney, or a conservator, or a legal guardian, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a representative payee from SSA, in which case they would be subject to all applicable SSA rules, so it could be opened by any of those folks. Some of the other advantages, you can put up to 15 thousand dollars a year into an Able account, and you can put in more above that amount from your work earnings, up to 12,760 dollars above that 15 thousand  dollars a year if you live in the United States. In Alaska or Hawaii, it’s more than that, ’cause the cost of living is higher. And you can put those additional funds, above that 15,000 dollars, if you don’t have an employer funded retirement account. So there’s really some flexability there. And here’s a piece that’s really important, Chris. For those who are on federal means tested benefits, which might be some in the audience who are listening right now, this is really crucial. Able savings, up to a hundred thousand dollars, does not count towards the SSI, supplemental security income, resource limit of two thousand dollars for any individual. And any amount of Able savings does not count for other programs such as a free application for a federal student aid, housing benefits, SNAP benefits, medicade, including medicade wavers, and Able accounts really work well even for people who have a special needs or pool trust also. So that’s some of the other real advantages there. And that’s really crucial. If you think about that two-thousand dollar asset limit that’s been in place since 1984, Chris. The average amount that’s in an Able account right now is well over seven thousand dollars. So folks are able to save that in their own name, whereas before, that was not the case. You know?

 

Chris: Yeah. And seven thousand dollars for somebody that’s making seven hundred dollars a month is a pretty big deal. So, are there any disadvantages to having an Able account?

 

Miranda: So, there aren’t many disadvantages. You know, if you’ve done your reading and understand how an Able account works, and we have a lot of that information on our website, resources, tools, there really isn’t much of a down side. It is important to know there are some nominal fees associated with Able accounts, so you need to factor that in, but those aren’t more than you’d find elsewhere. And additionaally, Able account funds that are invested, those grow tax free. And that’s really a significant benefit. You can make your money make money. But there’s also potential to lose that money, just like any investment option. So it’s important to know that and factor that in. An Able account really offers the opportunity for dialog for Able account owners in terms of, you know, managing your own money wisely. For folks who are on federal means tested benefits and who may not have had that opportunity before. Able account owners are really encouraged to build a circle of support that can help to invest in those Able accounts and determine how the funds will be used, continuing to develop money management skills, spending plans, setting smart savings and spending goals, and really maximizing Able growth over time. You know, you can use the Able account in the shortterm, for shortterm needs where you want to be able to save above that two-thousand dollar asset limit, and you don’t want to be held down to that, but you can also really … the real opportunity is in building some wealth.

 

Chris: So what are some of the alternatives to opening an Able account? What else would you do?

 

Miranda: You know, if you have a disability but you’re not receiving any means tested benefits, you can certainly put your money in other investment vehicles, but you will pay taxes on any earnings, and that’s not the case for an Able account. If you are receiving means tested benefits, you can have a special needs trust or a pool trust like I mentioned before, and those are protected savings vehicles, but as I mentioned, you know, those are more expensive to set up, require permission from a designated trustee, other than the person with the disability, to access those funds to be released for very specific purposes. With an Able account, you can use a prepaid debit card in many instances, which allows for a lot of flexability, and just really having that sense of agency and atonomy over your own money and funds makes a difference. But, however, it is important to think that, unlike an Able account, you can put more than fifteen thousand dollars a year into a special needs trust or pool trust. Okay? So there are differences. We actually have a comparison chart on our website. It’s accessible. You can check that out, I can share that with you, Chris, to link that for your folks who are listening. But, you know, the other thing to think about too, like I mentioned, you can pull money from your special needs trust or pool trust into your Able account. Because those trusts won’t pay for things like … They won’t cover things like food. But an Able account can.

 

Chris: When should someone who is blind open an Able account?

 

Miranda: I’d say, based on the folks we’ve met who are blind who have Able accounts, as soon as possible. (Chuckle.) Is what they would tell you. Because that really allows the contributions to grow through Able investment portfolios if you’re going that route. Able funds, they don’t impact eligibility for programs and services that someone might need in the future, so that’s important to consider. It’s not gonna count against you if you have that need, and I will tell you, Chris, that All eligible folks who’ve bought into Able accounts and are really using them actively, they all wish that this had been around sooner, and/or, that they had opened their account as soon as they heard about it. That’s the feedback we get from … we have a codray of Able ambassadors who are account owners and family members who we work very closely with. They advise our center. I’m meeting with them this Saturday. (Chuckle.) But we hear from them and they frequently say, “I wish I’d opened it sooner. I’d have more invested.” They try to find opportunities and ways to contribute even small amounts into their Able account on a regular basis. And they say that even small investments into it can really make a difference over time. And I’m sure with the podcast and the work that you’re doing, that probably lines up with some of the advice you give folks.

 

Chris: It actually does, and I have an Able account myself. And one of the neat things about it is it makes it very easy for your relatives to give you gifts of money that go directly into your Able account so you can invest them and have them grow beyond the hundred dollars or something that Grandma gave you for Christmas.

 

 

Miranda: And you make a great point, Chris, about that. And it’s great that you’re an Able account owner and you’re here sharing this information with others. You know, it does make sense, you can contribute directly into the account. You can give folks links to do that if you’re saving towards a specific purpose, people can do that, and especially for folks who are on means tested benefits, if they are, there’s been a lot of concern around it. “Gosh, I can’t give someone 25 bucks or a hundred bucks. It might mess up their benefits.” Right? And with an Able account, putting money into an account for someone, it’s not gonna do that. You no longer have that concern.

 

Chris: That’s absolutely true. And it’s really easy. Really easy. So, if I’m a parent of a blind child, should I consider opening an Able account for them?

 

Miranda: Absolutely. A parent or guardian can open an Able account in the name of the child who is blind. Yes. That’s absolutely true. And the account owner is the child, but the parent can be operating that. And there’s information on authorized legal representatives, that you’ll find in any of the disclosure documents from any of the Able programs. So those are chalk full of good information. You know, even just checking out the table of contents, you can find details on that, and how that looks and what to do around that. And we have lots of stories of parents among our ambasadors who talk about the strategies they’re using for their young child, or those they have guardianship over.

 

Chris: Cool. How about if I’m a young adult, and my parents didn’t open an account for me? Would it be worth having an account for myself when I turned 18?

 

Miranda: Definitely. You can open an account at any age for yourself if you qualify, and it’s a really good strategy, I would say for college students who are learning money management skills, who are trying to save towards different expenses that they might have, those qualified disability expenses, there’s broad categories, and they’re pretty flexable. And Able funds can be used to cover expenses that the Commission for the Blind and financial aid might not cover. For example, vision devices. So, college students can definitely get a benefit from that.

 

Chris: How about older adults?

 

Miranda: So yeah. We’ve definitely seen many seniors who have a disability that began prior to age 26 who are opening Able accounts in order to reduce their countable resorces to qualify for funding that supports them in the community, or even in nursing facilities. Actually, one of our older Able account owners who’s an ambassador with our center is in her mid sixties. She is blind. She’s a former US department of Justice assistant attorney who was at the signing of the ADA. And one of the things she says, “Gosh, I wish I had known I didn’t have to wait until the state I live in opened an Able account to open my Able account.” There’s programs across the country that are open to non residents. So if you happen to live in one of the few states that doesn’t have an Able account, you can still open an Able account. And that’s one of the lessons that she learned. And she’s also talked about the accessibility of the Able accounts as well. And, like I said, you know, she helps us demonstrate, you don’t have to be under the age of 26, you just have to have acquired your disability before the age of 26. ‘Cause she’s someone in her sixties who’s blind.

 

Chris: So what if I am an adult, and I’m making money from SSI and other benefits, and I’m not working. Should I consider opening an Able account?

 

Miranda: Absolutely. Often family members want to provide support, and an Able account really allows for just that. Family members can deposit funds directly into an Able account, like we just talked about, without impacting eligibility for means tested benefits like SSI that you mentioned or medicate, that the person might rely on to meet their basic needs. But the Able account can allow them to not be held down to that poverty level existance, really.

 

Chris: How about if I’m working part time?

 

Miranda: So, yeah. An Able account who works part or full time who doesn’t participate in an employer retirement plan, this is key, they can contribute additional funds from their earnings like I mentioned before, above that fifteen thousand dollar amount for those who live in the continental US, up to an additional 12,760 dollars, and for residents of Alaska and Hawaii, they can contribute more than that. And that’s really important to know because if you don’t have, especially if you’re working part time you might not have, an employer retirement account that’s funded, and this allows you to plan for long term. And put some of the money into that. And allow that to be invested, and again, to grow tax free. Which is the really key insentive and support there.

 

Chris: This also can help you with a transition from not working to working, since one of the qualified expenses is housing, and you might need to move to take a job. Someone I worked with recently had that experience.

 

Miranda: I’ll interject there too, if you don’t mind, Chris. Not just housing, but any employment related expense. If someone needs additional job coaching or services, or anything employment related that might not be covered by other supports, Able account funds can absolutely be used towards that. Including transportation, purchasing work clothes, any adaptive devices someone might need, things along those lines.

 

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Chris: So if I’m working full time and I have access to a 401 K or another retirement plan and stuff, is it still worth me considering opening an Able account?

 

Miranda: Oh, it is. We’ve known a number of Able account owners, again, who are blind, who are not receiving any federal means tested benefits, and where they’re working full time, where they use this approach. And interestingly, we’ve had a number of people who are blind who are lawyers or financial advisors, who have their Able account as both an emergency fund, and an additional retirement account. Even if they’re not adding in above that fifteen thousand dollars because they do have an employer funded retirement account, they can still use this. That 15000 dollars ayear, that can still really grow. And especially over time. The  earlier you start, the more benefit you might get.  And there’s a lot of flexibility with the account that you don’t find with a retirement account, in that funds can be pulled out at any time for a qualified disability expense, which is really broad. Whereas you might get a penalty for pulling out funds from a retirement account early. If you wanted to use your Able account as a retirement account but then some other need cropped up, like things do in life, none of us were expecting a pandemic, right? Then you can access those funds. And that just really allows you so much more flexability. And as I’ve mentioned before, if a person’s working full time, and using social security administration work supports, they’re likely to have the ability to save even more within the Able account.

 

Chris: That’s actually a stratejy that I use myself, as someone who’s employed full time. Kind of what you described. I use it as an emergency fund, or if I don’t take anything out of it, it will be another retirement account. So I’m glad that you confirmed that that’s a good way to go.

 

Miranda: I’ll give you the stamp of approval on your strategy, Chris. People ask me stuff like that all the time. “Hey, this is what I’m doing. Is this right?” And I … Yeah. That’s spot on, Chris. And good advice for your listeners.

 

Chris: Yeah. Thank you. So, I believe you touched on this earlier, but I want to go back to this point. Is everybody who’s blind eligible to open an Able account?

 

Miranda: If the blindness or another condition that would qualify began before the age of 26, the person is categorically eligible for an Able account. There is Able age adjustment legislation that’s on track right now, we’ll see if it passes, that would raise that age to prior to 46 instead of 26. So that might change, and it might change this year, but yes. Right now, if the blindness or another disability condition that would qualify happened before age 26, they would be eligible.

 

Chris: Okay, so let me make sure I understand that then. If I was blind before age 26, then I’m eligible, and if I became blind after age 26, then I’m not, unless there was some other disability that I had before age 26 that might also have made me eligible. Is that right?

 

Miranda: Yup. That’s it.

 

Chris: Does it matter if I’m collecting benefits or not?

 

Miranda: It does not. But you do have to be eligible based on the criteria. We have road maps for eligibility on our website, and information and guidance on that. We also have a disability certification form that someone can use and present to their doctor for their signature, and hold that on file as proof of eligibility if they don’t meet the other criteria. If they don’t currently have benefits that they’re receiving based on their disability. So that disability certification form is on our website, and someone could use that and hang on to that on file. And the disclosure documents for the Able programs will provide guidance on that as well, Chris.

 

Chris: Okay. And does it matter if I’m working or not working?

 

Miranda: Nope, it doesn’t.

 

Chris: So, I guess the question that a lot of people are going to ask, even now after we’ve covered all this information, is, “Why should someone who’s blind consider opening an Able account? What is in it for me?”

 

Miranda: Well, there’s that tax free growth, which is significant, and the flexibility we’ve talked about, but I’ll make another point. Really, there are many expenses, obviously, as you know, as your audience knows, that are specific to visual impairments, that are Able qualified disability expenses. So any SSA blind work expenses, you know, supporting a support animal. You know, vet bills. Feeding that animal. Any transportation that you might need. Paying for Lyft or Uber. Things like that. Smart home technology expenses to know who’s at your door, and all of those types of things would be covered. Vision devices that may not be covered by grants or benefit programs can be covered. And it’s really meant to be a broad array of living expenses as well. Any expenditure out of your Able account needs to benefit the Able account owner, but it also doesn’t have to just benefit the Able account owner. You know, you mentioned housing before. Someone else could live in that house with you. (Chuckle.) If you need to make adaptations to the home, upgrades, anything along those lines, it’s just so flexible. And like we’ve talked about before, you know, using it as a retirement fund, and then also having it as a rainy day emergency fund, can really increase the flexibility, and make it so that someone who’s blind would want to consider opening an Able account.

 

Chris: I want to pause a second to briefly explain what “tax free growth” means for people who may not be familiar with that term. What it means is that as you make money off of the money that’s in your Able account, if you ever pull that money out and spend it on a qualified expense, that doesn’t count towards your taxes. So that’s a big deal, because other types of investing do count towards your taxes. And that can really eat into the returns you get from investing.

 

Miranda: Thanks for making that clarification, Chris. And I think, you know, we talked about this. In terms of long term, if someone is using it as a retirement account but they needed to pull it early, because things come up. Maybe you’re living through a pandemic and there are things you need to pay for that you wouldn’t have had to pay for otherwise. You know, if you had to pull money out of your retirement account, the hit you would take on taxes pulling that money out would be quite painful, right?

 

Chris: It is. It’s very painful. I’ve actually had to do it once or twice, and it really isn’t something that you want to do unless it’s a major emergency.

 

Miranda: You’re not alone. I had to do it once also. And it was wildly cringeworthy.

 

Chris: Yeah. And you don’t realize it until your tax bill comes due at the end of the year, and that’s when the cringe happens.

 

Miranda: Yeah.

 

Chris: So, where can people find more information about Able accounts now that I hope we have convinced them that this is something they really want to be looking into?

 

Miranda: Well, in news that probably won’t shock anyone who’s been listening along, I’m gonna tell you to check out the Able National Resource Center. It’s

www.ablenrc.org

 

and as I mentioned before, we’re the leading comprehensive, objective resource on Able accounts. You know, there’s 43 state Able programs plus DC. There’s actually other programs that are gonna be launching this year and next. But they are selling a product. You know, they operate an Able program, they have Able accounts you can open with them, and they’re great. We actually have comparison tools so you can compare and figure out which Able program you might want to go with. We always encourage people to look at their home state first, but others might be a better fit for you. We have those kinds of resources. We have best practices. We have podcasts you can listen to or archived webinars. We’ve got road maps that people can follow. And we tell stories of actual living people, Able account owners and family members, and what they’re doing with their Able account. What strategies they’ve figured out that can be shared with others. So there’s just a lot of really good information on our website, and we’re not trying to sell you anything. We’re just trying to make sure people are aware of the opportunity of an Able account, and if it’s gonna be a good fit for you, how to go forward with that. We just want to make sure people have the information. And then if they want to select an Able program, they can. Also, by the way, if you want to change the Able program you’re with, from one state’s program to another, you can do that. There’s a lot of flexibility here, Chris.

 

Chris: How about financial advisors? Do they know about this and can they help?

 

Miranda: We actually get a lot of requests from financial advisors emailing us and using our website as they’re working with clients, so if you’re working with a financial advisor, it’s entirely possible they’re also using our website or our resorces or emailing us with questions. I do want to mention that there are two Able plans specifically that offer financial advisement services that are a bit more taylored than some basic financial advisement that is offered by all of the programs, where they might have five different investment options. But those that offer a little bit more specific advisement services, and that might come with a higher fee, but the Massachusetts Able plan with Fidelity Investment and the Virginia plan with American Funds, they have differentiated themselves by offering more taylored financial advisement services. If folks are looking for more support in that area, if you have that, or what you need is just some basics and some different options from competitive to lower risk, low risk to aggressive, all the plans offer options along those lines.

 

Chris: I’m actually in the Massachusetts plan, and one of the things that I really liked about that plan was, while the fees were a little bit higher on the investments themselves, a lot of states require you to put aminimum of 20 or 25 dollars either per month or per year, into your Able account. And I didn’t want to have to do that. I wanted to be able to do it on my terms, and Massachusetts is kind of unique in that way. And the Fidelity site that you manage it through is very, very good.

 

Miranda: You know, there’s a lot of … I tell you. The different programs, they all have their different strengths, and some of them differentiate themselves in different ways, like what you talked about with Massachusetts. I would advise your listeners, we don’t tell anyone who the best Able plan is because it really depends on your circumstances. So that sounds like you found the best one for you, Chris. But one of the pieces of advice I always give folks is “check out your home state first.” Because there might be state level legislation that has passed, and that’s the case in a number of states, that can help insentivize folks, if you’re a resident of that state, to open an Able account with that state. Interestingly, Wisconsin doesn’t currently have an Able program, but they have passed state level legislation so that if you’re a resident of that state and you open a plan, an account in another state, you still get those insentives. So you want to check out those insentives and see if your state might allow for that. I’d say that’s probably one of the first things to do in terms of a tip, because that might help your financial situation quite a bit, if that’s the case. And even if that is the case, there still might be another plan that you feel is a better fit for you. And again, we have comparison tools, people can easily shop the Able programs from our website. We keep that information up to date.

 

Chris: Yeah. I agree with that entirely. And in fact, there is a five-part series on Able accounts on

pennyforward.com

in which I say the exact same thing. Most of the research I did to put that together was through the Able National Resource Center, so I appreciate that information very much. I tried to distill it down into something that’s a little bit less overwhelming than the Able NRC site can sometimes be if you’re new to all of this. Are there other organizations that can help people to understand, or help people to set up an Able account?

 

Miranda: You know, we’re working to increase the awareness out there, among those kinds of organizations and provide them tools, like our service provider tool kit, or our employer tool kit, that they can use so you don’t have to get a PH.D. . in Able accounts, right? So those are some resources we have on our site that we’re sharing with those kinds of organizations. And there are many disability providers, for instance, centers for independent living, if you’ve got a disability resource coordinator through your work force system or potentially residential case managers, or others who are helping their customers open Able accounts to save their money rather than spending down to retain eligibility for means tested benefits when someone has too much funds in that. It’s also important if you’re working to connect with your certified work insentive coordinator, and let them know, “Hey, I’m thinking about, or I want to, or I have, opened an Able account, and how does that fit in with my benefits planning?” If you’re receiving those benefits, especially if you’re working.

 

Chris: That’s good to know. So, how can someone who’s blind set up an Able account? Is the process accessible?

 

Miranda: So, most Able plans have taken steps to ensure accessability at all levels. As you can imagine, they’re serving people with disabilities, they need to make things accessible. But for people who are blind, that would include screen reader accessibility, the account can be opened with the use of a screen reader, statements are accessible, and in some cases, when opening the account, a person can select the option for electronic correspondence, so their reading  device can be used. You know, people should really reach out to the Able program administrator with whatever state Able program they are choosing to go with if they have any concerns or questions or requests. Often times they do have email addresses, many times they also have customer service phone numbers that you can reach them on. Off of our website, we can link you to any of the state Able programs. Their main website, their documents, information on them, that’s all in our comparison tools. So if you even want to check out your home state. I would say this. Here’s a tip for folks. Don’t just google “Able plans” or “able programs.” Some of the state Able programs are really high up on the Google analytics, which means they’ll pop up first. And if they’re national, they’ll look like they’re your home state. That might not be the case. They might take residents of your state, but it might not be your state’s plan. It might be another state. So it’s probably a better option to just go through the Able National Center site, and we can get you directly to that state’s website, you’ll know it’s operated by that state, and not another state that also would include residents of yours. I hope that was clear, Chris, but I do feel like that was an important point, and one that can bring up some confusion for folks when they’re just googling this instead of going to sites like ours.

 

Chris: It is important, and I’ll say it in a different way too. The programs that are administered by states, often times, they’re run by for profit companies that are trying to sell you an Able account. And you should have one, that’s not bad, but they might not be selling you the right one. And some of them can be kind of aggressive about it. So, it is a good idea to look at information sources that are not biased. And if the Able NRC website is a little bit overwhelming to start with, then go  to

pennyforward.com

which is also not biased. We’re not trying to sell you anything. We have links to specific parts of the Able NRC website to help you get where you’re trying to go, which I found a little bit overwhelming when I was first researching this. Are there other organizations that can help you with, say, the paper work, or figuring out how to fill out the application, or anything like that?

 

Miranda: You know, … And I also want to say thank you, Chris, for serving as that intermediary and having the breakdown and helping connect people directly to those spaces on our website that might be the most applicable for them. Thank you for doing that. In terms of your question around folks helping fill out the paper work, it’s pretty straight forward. You’ve done it yourself. I would say it really only takes ten minutes or so to fill out the information on line. You do want to read through the disclosure document, and that’s gonna take longer. But that will be a really important document. That will bring you up to speed on all things related to your Able program and your Able account, how it works, the savings or investment options, if they have prepaid debit cards, all the information. How to contribute to that account, what it can be used for, those disclosure documents are really rich with information, and you’ll be up to speed on a lot when you’ve gone through that after you’ve selected the program you want to go with. In terms of opening the account, you know, having the information, some of your personal information’s really what’s gonna take the time if you don’t have that on hand, and you can always call or email the customer service for the Able program you want to open with if you need additional support in opening that account.

 

Chris: Well, I can confirm that it took me about ten minutes, and it felt a lot like opening a checking or savings account really, as far as the experience was, so she’s absolutely right about that. I’m sure that there are going to be people that are listening to this that are going to say, “I’m low income. Where am I gonna find money to put into my Able account?”

 

Miranda: You know, that’s a really great question. And like we said, I mean I think that’s one of the gifts of, it’s only 25, maybe 50 dollars to open the account. There are some nominal fees, and I think especially if you’re low income, keeping that in mind, what we’ve seen from Able account owners who are low income, this is an opportunity to start saving towards things you need. And have your family, your circle of support, potentially contribute to those items if you’re on benefits. But if you’re low income, I would say another piece of advice would be to always file your taxes. A lot of people don’t if they don’t feel like they owe taxes, but you might be eligible for an earned income tax credit or other tax credits. And you could use the money you would get from that to open an Able account. We’ve seen folks who’ve done that. Also the economic impact payments, the stimulus payments that are going out, we’re finding a lot of folks who are using all or some of that money to open an Able account, not have to worry about it impacting their benefits, being able to save more long term instead of feeling like they have to spend that money, so those are just a couple of examples. We’ve got some information on our website as well on how to find funds to put into your Able account and do that. So those are things to take into mind. Don’t feel like you have to have a whole lot of money to open an Able account. And if you grow it steadily, you can really save up towards things you need that will in fact help you achieve a better lifeexperience like the name of the program itself. And that’s really, for low to moderate income folks, that’s really an opportunity that didn’t exist before. Where you had to feel like you had to stay below that 2000 dollar threshold, and it also might be an opportunity to explore work and transitioning off of benefits if that’s a possibility for you. And how an Able account can support that. Because we do know employment is one of the best ways to increase your economic and financial picture, right, Chris?

 

Chris: Oh absolutely it is. So, let’s talk a little bit about contributing to an Able account. Are there minimums I have to contribute, and are there fees involved that I have to pay, or is this gonna cost me anything?

 

Miranda: So, you know, it’s up to the individual how much to contribute. There is an annual fee of probably approximately 45 dollars depending on the program, but that’s probably an average. So really, you want to have enough to cover that fee, and to save to meet qualified disability expenses as a goal. You know, a plan can be opened with as little as 10 or 50 dollars, depending on the plan selected. I mean you referenced one where, you know, … it’s nothing. But there are other fees associated with it. I would say keep in mind, if there is an inicial contribution fee, you need to know that, but also you need to know what other fees are associated. So look at all of that. And our comparison chart on our website, it’s got 12 or 13 questions, and it talks about what that initial amount to open the account would be, but then it also talks about what other fees might be associated with it. So don’t get confused about that. And especially for some where maybe the inicial amount is very low, take a good long look at the fees. Because maybe they’re higher. You just want to be savvy, and really, what we are trying to do on our website is break it down, make it very transparent, so you’re helped along in those decisions and there’s a lot of transparency.

 

Chris: Why do I have to pay fees at all? If I’m somebody that’s on a low income and I’m trying to save up, aren’t they just gonna eat into my savings?

 

Miranda: You know, the fees are lower than other fees you would find with other accounts. And again, the Able account, you’re gonna find there’s not that potential to impact, or cause you to lose, benefits you might need to survive and live. If you really are gonna be staying well below that 2000 dollar asset limit, it might be that an Able account isn’t the right vehicle for you. Maybe this doesn’t make sense. And that’s okay. Maybe it’s not now, maybe it will be later. We really just want you to have the information about it so you see what the opportunity is, and if it would work for you, you know, you can use it  and make the most out of it. But even thinking about, you know, sometimes there’s crowd sourcing that takes place to help someone save towards a goal or an expense or something they really need, and that can impact your benefits. So even a one-time instance, you know, graduation or a life goal you’re saving towards, being able to have your circle of support put funds into your Able account that wont jeopardize those benefits and that can grow, that’s an opportunity there. But really, it depends on the individual’s circumstances. It might not be the right vehicle for you, but we want you to know about it so that you’re making an informed decision. And if you’re choosing not to open an account, you know why you’re not choosing it. Instead of being in the dark about it.

 

Chris: Well thank you for that explanation. We’re almost out of time, so I have one last question. And this might be a hard one to answer. But how much could I earn from investing in an Able account?

 

Miranda: That’s a great question. I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know all things, but I will say investment earnings really vary, depending upon what the portfolio is that’s selected within the Able plan. Most plans post their investment results at their website, so you can check it out there, when you’re looking at specific plans. Across the board, you know, it really depends on how investments are doing. I will say we’ve definitely seen people where they take a longer term approach and you decide whether you want to be more conservative or more aggressive depending on where you are in your life, what your goals are, and moving forward. But it’s like anything. I mean what you’re doing here, Chris, with your Penny Forward podcast, is helping people understand about savings and investing and the behavior and how to make good choices. So for those folks who are listening, I’d take all of that information into account, and when you’re thinking about your Able account, you can apply it there. Wouldn’t you agree, Chris?

 

Chris: I would agree, and I would only say that in general, people that invest over a long term, and I’m talking years or decades here, earn much more than they would if they just put that money into, say, a savings account.

 

Miranda: Oh absolutely. I mean we’ve seen where it’s been, you know, easily 10 percent growth, but you can’t factor that in, because sometimes the economy takes dives, you have to factor that in as well. But over the long term, this is how folks who have wealth have built that wealth. They’ve made their money make money for them. And that tax advantaged, that tax free growth in your Able account, that’s huge.

 

Chris: It absolutely is, and being able to invest and have your money grow, you know, like the rich people have it grow, while you’re collecting benefits and not having it effect your benefits, that is not something that existed when I was growing up, and I sure wish that it had. So I hope that everybody gives this a lot of consideration, because I think that it’s a great opportunity. And again, Miranda’s not selling anything to you, I’m not selling anything to you, we just want to make sure that the right information gets out to you. Because a lot of times people just don’t know. And in their attempts to answer our questions, sometimes they’ll be honest with you and say “I don’t know,” and sometimes they feel uncomfortable with saying “I don’t know,” and so they might accidentally give you the wrong information. So I hope we were able to give you as much of the right information as we could here, so that you can look into this, and see if this is right for you. Miranda: thank you so much for taking the time to be here.

 

Miranda: Thank you so much for having me, Chris, and I wish you and everyone who’s listening a good day, and I hope you’ll be checking out

ablenrc.org

and maybe hopping on some of our webinars, listening to and checking out some of our resources, I do think going through your series would probably be a great strategy to make sure folks are landing on good tools and resources on our site. Thank you, Chris.

 

Chris: Thank you, Miranda. And again, that series is up at

pennyforward.com

just click on Able Accounts, and it has all kinds of links throughout it to Able NRC, and to the social security administration, ’cause they have some documentation on how that effects your benefits, and also medicade, so I hope that helps everybody to figure out where they go from here. Again, Miranda, thanks for being here, and I hope that you’ve all enjoyed this extended version of the Penny Forward podcast.

 

Male Announcer: We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families, and friends who share an interest in financial independence. Visit

pennyforward.com

to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, from all of us in the Penny Forward community, thanks for listening.

 

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