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What Expenses Can ABLE Accounts Pay For?

Mar 5, 2020 | Blog

In passing the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014, Congress created a new way for potentially millions of individuals with special needs to save for disability related expenses without jeopardizing their eligibility for federal public benefit programs. In fact, these savings plans, popularly known as ABLE accounts, may be used for an even broader array of products and services than many beneficiaries may realize – including housing expenses, bus fare, financial management services or even, potentially, a smart phone.

The ABLE Act itself defines “qualified disability expenses” as “expenses related to the eligible individual’s blindness or disability which are made for the benefit of an eligible individual who is the designated beneficiary.” It then goes on to list a range of categories of potential uses for funds set aside in ABLE accounts, including:

“Education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, legal fees, expenses for oversight and monitoring, funeral and burial expenses, and other expenses, which are approved by the Secretary under regulations and consistent with the purposes of this section.”

In subsequent proposed regulations released in June 2015, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reiterated that the term “qualifying disability expenses” should be “broadly construed” to include any benefit related to the designated beneficiary “in maintaining or improving his or her health, independence, or quality of life.”

This means that there is no requirement that the benefit be medically necessary, such as is the case when determining health care services covered by Medicaid, or that it benefits no one but the designated individual. As an example, the regulations specify that a smart phone could qualify as a covered expense, provided that it serves as “effective and safe communication or navigation aid for a child with autism.”

Originally, the proposed regulations would have also required states to establish safeguards for ensuring that ABLE funds are only used for qualifying expenses, presumably by requiring beneficiaries to obtain pre-approval before distributing funds. In response to a backlash from disability advocates, many who feared that such requirements would be unduly burdensome, the Treasury Department and IRS rescinded this requirement in a notice issued November 2015. As things stand now, you don’t need to get approval to withdraw funds and pay for a qualified disability expense.

The Obama administration, however, never issued final regulations, although the IRS has stated that “Until the issuance of final regulations, taxpayers and qualified ABLE programs may rely on these proposed regulations.”

To protect against future inquiries from the IRS, the ABLE National Resource Center recommends that beneficiaries maintain detailed records of expenses paid for by ABLE account assets, as well as how these expenses relate to their disabilities in case the expenditures are ever questioned by the IRS. Misuse of ABLE account funds could result in tax penalties and possible loss of public benefits.

Some materials, in whole or in part provided by the Academy of Special Needs Planners, an independent 3rd-party. The information contained here does not purport to be a complete description of the topics referred to in this material. As of the date published the information is considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete due to ever changing legal constructs and state specific differences. Please note, changes in laws may occur at any time and could have a substantial impact upon each person's situation. While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Saybrook Wealth Group, we are not licensed to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.