Tag Archives: Autism

Support Autistic Artists

Wow, there's some great artists on this list--a lot of them working for Autism Acceptance! Headed to Etsy...

I’m getting ready to move in the very near future here. It’s the first time in my life that I’ll have complete control over how my place is decorated, and I’m pretty psyched about that part.

In my mind’s eye, I can already see a couple blank spaces on the wall that I want to fill. While I’m not sure I will, because budget–that didn’t stop me from engaging in my guilty pleasure: browsing Etsy.

Because it’s Autism Acceptance Month, I decided to check out autistic artists on the platform. Last year I got a pair of earrings that really spoke to me (words I never thought I’d say) from an autistic artist who communicates primarily through visuals. As April snuck up again this year, I realized I should be doing this more than one month out of the year.

Here are some of the artists I’ve found, and pieces of their work that I love.

CultureCrime

college money autism

CultureCrime is an Etsy shop run by Tiegan Hockman. After taking a break from her artistic talents for over ten years, inspiration finally struck again and she now has her art–which features various female subjects–in galleries and available via her Etsy shop. You can also check out her full website.

The one pictured above is called Our Lady of Student Debt. Which I figured was very apropos for this audience. 🙂

WhiteRabbitFlowers

black and white abstract art

WhiteRabbitFlowers’ Etsy shop aims to promote autism acceptance–not the desire to change people with autism, but the desire to accept autistic people for who they are, and recognize the great benefits our society gains from neurodiversity.

She has a lot of colorful paintings, but I’m drawn to this black and white. Her shop also has beautiful dream catchers, floral crowns and lip balms.

CadenceInspirations

autistic art

Cadence is a 9-year-old Australian girl who has produced a fair amount of art and writing for her age. Some of her work has focused on autism and spreading acceptance. I love this painting from her Etsy shop, but you can view even more of her work on her website.

HeAndSheSullivanSarah Neat Sullivan

Gah, I had such a hard time picking just one from this shop! Sarah Neat-Sullivan has a lot of work up on Etsy. Some of it’s related to autism. Some of it isn’t. She has jewelry, paintings, and art made from felt or stitching. It’s all pretty amazing, but the one I chose to show you is called On the Tip of My Tongue.

Those Blank Spaces

My budget may restrict me from filling those blank spaces right now, but when that’s no longer the case, I’m excited to turn to one of these artists to fill the void. In recent years I’ve moved from the mindset of simply spending the least amount of money possible to holding off on the purchase if possible (it’s not, always) until I am able to make a purchase that supports people or companies doing good things.

How about you? Would you rush out for that $10 poster at the mall?

Oh, god, how old am I?

Would you open up the Amazon app and get the $10 poster delivered to your door tomorrow because you pay extra for the speedy service so you won’t have to leave your house?

Or would you save up for meaningful art, letting the void just sit till your budget’s ready–forget aesthetics?

 

 

Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Monday articles that focus on the financial challenges and triumphs that people with autism face and achieve. When they are children, these things also tend to affect their family’s finances, as well.

Pinning for my nephew. They don't have Medicaid coverge in his state and it's really hard because of the services he needs with autism. Maybe another state could help them out better.

 

When you’re raising an autistic child, the largest expense you shoulder is healthcare. You learn that “healthcare” isn’t just doctor’s visits and the occasional dramatic visit to the ER. It’s therapy. Adaptive equipment. Communication devices. And more.

None of it’s cheap, and if you don’t have a good healthcare plan, a lot of it’s not going to be covered.

Even if you do have a good healthcare plan, some benefits will still not be covered. In many states, the most comprehensive way to get your child the services and equipment they need is through Medicaid, and many states allow disabled children access to Medicaid even if their parents’ income exceeds eligibility limits.

Want to find out how to shelter some of your savings from asset tests? Check out ABLE accounts.

Medicaid Coverage Saves Everyone Money

Medicaid coverage keeps kids out of institutions. Until the 1980’s, one of the only ways to get children with complex needs the services they required was through an institution. Whether a parent wanted to part with their child or not, they were often forced to.

This was also extremely expensive. Providing a child Medicaid benefits so they are able to live and thrive at home is far less costly than having them live in an intermediate care facility or nursing home.

Luckily, things have changed, but not all states are equal. Today we’ll be looking at Medicaid coverage options for children with autism across all fifty states–and Washington, D.C.

Before we get started, there’s some vocab I want to review.

State Plan

“State Plan” simply refers to the Medicaid coverage that anyone gets if they apply for benefits with their state. Eligibility is dependent on income limits–not disability or lack thereof.

ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, is the most proven method for successful early intervention for children with autism. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely expensive.

Until recently, most insurers denied the evidence in favor of this therapy. Some still do because of its cost. But most states have enacted laws recognizing, and forcing insurers to recognize, it as an evidence-based therapy.

That doesn’t mean all states provide coverage. There was a mandate issued by the Federal government in 2014 that arguably required its coverage under Medicaid, but some states have interpreted this mandate differently.

I want to take a minute here to acknowledge that not everyone is behind ABA–even within the autistic community. There are some autistic adults who are opposed to ABA therapy when it’s practiced with extreme rigor. However, there is also a general acknowledgement that there are ethical and non-ethical ways to practice ABA from the autistic perspective. You can get both sides of the argument here.

Level of Care

Required “level of care” indicates where a child would have been cared for prior to our culture’s shift towards keeping autistic children with their families. There are three levels commonly recognized in most states. In order from the least care needed to the most:

  • Intermediate Care Facility– Many parents may be surprised to learn that their child would have been institutionalized not so long ago. This level of care can, in some cases, be equivalent to the child who goes to outpatient therapy several times a week and has behavioral therapists in their home or community setting.
  • Nursing Home– This level of care would require skilled nursing/medical care on a regular basis. Today, you may have a nurse come into your child’s home and/or school to help provide these services.
  • Hospital– This level of care is required when you need more than a nurse. There may be monitoring of a condition or simply more advanced care needed on a regular basis.

In this guide, the lowest level of care required is listed. For example, if a state lists the required level of care as an intermediate facility, that will typically mean that those at a nursing home or hospital level of care are eligible, too.

Conversely, if the listed level of care is “nursing home,” those who are at an intermediate care facility level of care would not qualify for the listed program.

Waiver

A Medicaid waiver is simply a program that grants specific services to those who do not typically qualify for the State Plan. There are also waivers that provide services in addition to and including what’s available on the State Plan.

Wait List

You may notice that for most states, there is no reference to the wait list. This is done for two reasons.

  1. Medicaid programs are in flux at the moment. A wait list–or even a waiver–could change suddenly. It’s information we don’t have the capacity to update continuously.
  2. We want you to get in touch with the agencies that provide these waivers. Even if the wait list is too long for your child, state agencies may know of other programs or community organizations that could help in your unique situation.

Download Your Free Copy of Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In an attempt to make this guide thorough for all 50 states plus D.C., it is much longer than typical Femme Frugality content–11,000+ words. As such, we’ve turned it into a PDF for your browsing convenience. You’ll be able to find your state in our table of contents and easily jump to the appropriate page to get the information you need.

>>Click here to get your free copy of the PDF<<

 

 

This information in the above PDF is accurate to the best of our research as of April 22, 2018. It will be reviewed and updated annually. Intensive research was performed for each state program. The majority of states had a governmental agency or independent advocacy group provide information regarding their programs.

How Disableism Has Affected My Finances

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges autistic people conquer as related to their finances and careers. Today I’m so happy to introcude to you Kristine–a Norwegian money blogger at Frugasaurus–who is here to give us first-hand perspective on what it’s like to face disableism in the workplace as an autistic woman.

Didn't realize autistic people faced so many barriers to entry in the workplace! Passing on to my HR rep so my employer can be more aware of these issues.

Hi, there! My name is Kristine, and I mostly write about frugality, sustainability and personal finance over at frugasaurus.com. I am also autistic–diagnosed in my early twenties with what was then known as Asperger’s. A classic middle child in many ways, my two siblings demanded attention, so my parents were overjoyed to have a child who mostly sat in a corner reading books or solving jigsaw puzzles.

When Femme approached me about writing a post for Autism appreciation month, I was honoured. I had recently written a post about autism and personal finance, but to be honest, I also felt a bit apprehensive. As I do whenever I poke my head out about my diagnosis. I was only diagnosed as an adult, after all. My condition was not such that it warranted special education or speech training.

Still, my experience is also a valid one, so here follows some of my experiences regarding disableism.

Getting A Foot Inside

It starts with the most obvious yet insidious of adult milestones: Getting a job.

I had done “everything right.” At least as far as I understood it. Society and my family told me school was important, so I attended school. They told me science was a safe profession (they were non-specific as to what kind of science), so I studied science. Environmental chemistry, to be specific.

I was told my degree was highly relevant and sought after–it had been requested by the industry after all–and I had several relevant internships. I had followed the rules. Surely, a meaningful job would follow?

That is not what happened.

Privilege & Disableism

While the job market is challenging for everyone at the moment, it is even more so for people with disabilities. I am privileged in that I am white and educated, but lack privilege in that I am autistic.

It can manifest in multiple ways. For instance, my thinking can be rigid. I have internalised that lying is bad, so I do not embellish my CV. In a world where “everyone” embellishes their CV to get ahead, this puts me at a disadvantage before it even gets to the interview.

Once at the interview, if I am lucky enough to get one, there is the risk that I might come off as a little off. No matter how much I practice social skills, I still struggle in high-stress situations with unexpected questions.

In many ways, disableism means I have had to accept that I am never the preferred candidate, unless the job involves a windowless archive with near-zero social interactions (in which case you’re probably one of the only qualified candidates).

No Data, No Answer

As an example of this, I once dropped a grade at an oral maths examination, because the teacher wanted me to calculate the weight of the air in the classroom.

I told him I did not know the weight of a cubic meter of air, and asked if he could provide an estimate. He told me to guess.

I had absolutely no frame of reference for how much a cubic meter of air weighs. I had no way to guess. He insisted I guessed, and I told him I could not. I could have calculated the volume of the air in the classroom if that was what he wanted, but the way he framed the question meant I was missing a variable, and that made me shut down.

That is how my mind works. Trying to “help” me in quiz or Trivia Pursuit just annoys me. I either know, or I don’t.

Keeping Your Financial House in Order

Nearly four years after graduating top of my class, I still do not have a permanent position. People seem to like me just fine, and they compliment my work, but I lack that knack for “chit-chat” and water-cooler talk that makes for great networking. People bring their newborn in to work and I try to compliment them as protocol dictates, but really, I just want to know if they’ve had time to look at x and y work-related subjects yet.

This means I do not feel financially secure in my employment. I hoard savings for the next time a contract will expire and I’ll be back hunting for jobs. In the end, I realised that I would never feel safe with someone else in charge of my paycheck. If I wanted financial peace, I would have to build it for myself.

If you are disabled in some way, but do not receive social benefits, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you don’t look out for your own financial well-being, no one else will.

Note from Femme: In the US, if you are disabled and receive social benefits, the government hardly watches out for your financial well-being. Only recently have ABLE accounts allowed disabled populations to save without losing benefits. Other countries have more logical and less discriminatory social policies.

Oh, Brother of Mine

Mine is the story of autism from a highly educated and reasonably observant point of view.

My brother, on the other hand, might fit better into a different autistic stereotype. He lives a lot in his own world, doesn’t get the greatest grades, and really just wants to get on with his own life as a factory worker somewhere with rigid routines, playing video games at night and minimum amounts of fuss.

He is generous to a fault. More than once has he spent all his pocket money on gifts and tokens of affection, giving no regard to the fact that he has to eat tomorrow as well.

And I see the same struggles as he is trying his best to get a job. When and if he manages to get an interview, he is honest to a fault, and does not understand that an interview is a place to show off your best qualities.

I do hope he gets a job eventually. He may not be the most independent, but once you teach him something, he will work until you or the clock tell him to stop. In the right environment, he will be a great asset.

Just Pull Yourself Together

Probably one of the most hurtful comments to anyone with a disability–mental or physical–is the idea that it is all just in our heads, and that we can simply imagine away our obstacles with enough willpower.

If you feed off social interaction and feel invigorated at parties, that’s both incredible and alien to me. But please don’t try to assume I can do the same if I just “loosen up” or “let myself go.”

Social interactions with more than the select few people I feel comfortable with, can and will exhaust me. The office Christmas or summer party is my idea of a special hell, and no amount of practice can remedy that.

Act Natural

On a lighter note, I would suggest not trying to tell autistic people to “act natural” or to “be themselves.”

That might work for you, but myself and the other autistic people I’ve met laugh at this notion.

Acting natural for an autistic person might be sitting naked on the floor (because clothes itch or feel weird,) eating jello (smooth texture) while rocking back and forth or groaning repeatedly (“stimming”–repetitive behaviour that calms your down or shows joy/excitement.)

Trust me, I do not act “natural” in public, and you’re probably glad I don’t.

How Can You Create A Safe Space?

If you are hosting or employing autistic staff, hooray! Here are some easy tips to make them feel welcome and safe:

  • Make sure there is a retreat option. A place where we can be alone if we need a break. For most, this can simply be a bathroom that locks.
  • Many autistic people struggle with physical touch and eye-contact. Please do not force this.
  • Do not assume anything is “common knowledge.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made an ass of myself because no one thought to teach me the most rudimentary of behaviour.
  • Many autistic people appreciate honest, clear feedback on social mishaps. If you are in a position of trust, this could be relevant, but make sure it is in private and unambiguous: “Please welcome clients with a firm handshake,” (and then show them) not; “You’re greeting people a bit weird.”
  • If they want their work space organised a specific way, does it hurt anyone if you let them?
  • Educating yourself is great, but take the time to get to know the person in front of you as well. Meeting one autistic person means exactly that. You’ve met just one.
  • And please, do not make a public point out of behaviour you might find weird or if we excuse ourselves early. It’s not you–it’s us.

 

How to Invest in ABLE Accounts

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges autistic people conquer as related to their finances and careers.

Joining us this week is Tara Falcone, CFP®. Falcone is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, former Wall Street analyst, and founder of ReisUP LLC.

ReisUP is an early-stage financial services company dedicated to increasing investing education and access for everyday investors. Her mission is to empower people to “rise up” and play a more active role in achieving their financial goals. 

Totally sending this to my sister! How to invest in ABLE accounts.

Last week, we kicked off our Autism Acceptance Series by looking into a new financial vehicle: ABLE Accounts.

ABLE accounts allow disabled individuals–or their guardians–to stash away some money without having to worry about failing an asset test when they go to apply for state or federal benefits. These accounts can also be used to grow your savings tax free.

There are currently thirty-three states that offer ABLE accounts–plus DC. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll be looking at only Pennsylvania’s investment options today, though the same concepts can be applied in generality.

What are ABLE investment options?

The PA ABLE account has the following seven allocation options:

  • High-yield checking account
  • Conservative Investment Portfolio
  • Moderately Conservative Investment Portfolio
  • Moderate Investment Portfolio
  • Growth Investment Portfolio
  • Moderately Aggressive Investment Portfolio
  • Aggressive Investment Portfolio

“The Conservative and Moderately Conservative options invest 70-90% of their portfolios in cash and bonds, with the rest (10-30%) invested in a variety of stocks,” says Tara Falcone, CFP® of ReisUP LLC.

“The primary goal of these investment options is to preserve your principal, which is the money you deposit into your ABLE account, while offering limited to small returns on your investment. Small potential risk equates to small potential reward.

“The Moderate and Growth options’ portfolios are split roughly 50/50 between bonds and stocks. These investment strategies focus less on principal protection and more on generating a slightly higher return on the invested assets. Moderate potential risk means moderate potential reward.

“Finally, the Moderately Aggressive and Aggressive options are invested primarily in stocks (75-90%) with a small portion of the portfolios invested in bonds (10-25%). These options’ primary goal is to achieve the highest growth possible with little regard for principal preservation.”

Figure Out Why and How to Invest

Before making any investment, it’s important to identify why you’re investing, and what limitations your specific life situation may impose. Falcone advises looking at the following factors before choosing your allocation strategy.

Risk Tolerance

Investments are not stagnant. At times they’ll go up, and at others they’ll go down. Your risk tolerance is how much sleep you’ll lose over that fact.

“Generally, more conservative investment options are less volatile, meaning your account balance fluctuates less,” Falcone explains. “However, that also means it’s unlikely to grow as much since less risk yields less reward.”

“Meanwhile, aggressive options typically generate larger investment returns, but also subject your account balance to bigger positive and negative swings. This could put you at risk of not having sufficient funds to cover expenses when you need it.”

Time Horizon

How long can you let your money sit without touching it?

That’s your time horizon.

“If a beneficiary needs to access a large portion of his or her ABLE account every year to pay for qualified expenses, a conservative investment strategy is likely more appropriate,” explains Falcone. “If someone in this situation were invested more aggressively, they may discover that their account balance has decreased in a market downturn, leaving them unable to pay for current expenses.”

If, however, you’re saving to provide for your child after you’re gone, you may have a longer investing horizon.

“Someone with a longer investing horizon who doesn’t need to withdraw a large portion of their account for five or more years may want to consider a moderate or aggressive option,” says Falcone.

“The larger growth potential inherent in these investment strategies could allow that person to take greater advantage of the tax-free growth nature of ABLE accounts. In this case, the beneficiary should consider reallocating to a more conservative strategy as the time when they will need to withdraw money from their account approaches.”

Savings Ability

“In theory,” Falcone continues, “the more someone can deposit into their ABLE account every year relative to their expected expenses, the more aggressive they can afford to be from an investment perspective.”

Check out this example with Ella and Ari:

This is worth clicking through. An in-depth guide on how to invest in one of those new ABLE accounts for either you or your kid--whoever has a disability.

 

Overall Goal

There are two basic reasons ABLE accounts are so attractive. The reason you were drawn to it probably says a lot about your overall goal.

Reason #1: Savings isn’t counted for asset tests.

If you’re applying for government benefits like Medicaid or SNAP, savings in your ABLE account will almost never count against you. This is important when you’re trying to build up savings for medical equipment, therapies, or even just a basic emergency fund that you will need in the near future. In these cases, Falcone notes that a conservative approach is probably the best fit.

Reason #2: You’re taking advantage of the tax-free growth.

If you’re saving for your child’s future but don’t have a large enough nest egg to justify a special needs trust, ABLE accounts are particularly attractive due to their tax-free growth. Falcone notes that any time you’re making a longer-term investment, you can afford to be more aggressive.

It is possible that you’re taking advantage of both perks. You’re saving large sums of money for a date far off in the future, but are only able to do so because that savings won’t count against you in an asset test. In these cases, Falcone says you can yet again afford to be more aggressive.

Risk Capacity

While risk tolerance is how you feel about the volatility of your investments, risk capacity looks at the risk you can take on from a concrete, objective perspective.

“Due to the assets test that owners/beneficiaries of ABLE accounts must pass in order to qualify for Medicaid and other social programs, risk capacity is arguably the most important factor to consider in these unique circumstances,” notes Falcone.

“Asset tests often prevent families with disabilities from building substantial emergency funds that could cover expenses temporarily should the ABLE account balance drop in a market downturn. Therefore, even though someone may be comfortable with more investment risk, he or she may not be able to afford being exposed to such risk due to lack of other cash sources.”

If you have friends and family who want to contribute, but you also want to extend your investment time horizon, you may want to direct them to specific bills that they can pay rather than making contributions to the ABLE account.

Falcone points out that this keeps your money in your account as a long-term investment while keeping it out of your regular checking account where it would be counted in an asset test.

How should I invest with my ABLE account?

Wondering what you should do in your specific situation? Below you’ll find Falcone’s recommendations for some common circumstances individuals or families may find themselves in.

While this advice speaks to generic situations, it’s always advisable to talk with a professional about your own, unique set of circumstances before making any investment.

High-Yield Checking Account

  • Someone with no risk tolerance. They are not willing to put any of their funds at risk to earn even a small return.
  • Someone who needs the ability to withdraw funds immediately. Otherwise, withdrawal proceeds can take 3-10 days to reach the beneficiary in Pennsylvania, per the Program Disclosure Statement.
  • Someone who is already the beneficiary of a special needs trust or has some other fund/account/support to help pay for future expenses. They don’t need the benefit of the tax-free growth nature of an ABLE account, but want to shelter more funds from the asset test.
  • A disabled adult with current cash need, desire to shelter some assets from the asset test, and/or desire for some financial independence to purchase/pay for things on their own.

Conservative Investment Portfolio

  • Someone with very low risk tolerance.
  • Someone with no or insufficient emergency fund (i.e. low risk capacity.)
  • Someone with potentially large unexpected expenses.
  • Someone with a present need for cash (i.e. short investing horizon of less than 2 to 5 years.)
  • Someone whose primary goal is to shelter funds from the asset test, not earn a substantial return on those funds.

Moderately Conservative Investment Portfolio

This investor will display similar criteria to Conservative, but is willing to give up some principal protection for slightly more current income.

Moderate Investment Portfolio

  • Someone with moderate risk tolerance and moderate risk capacity.
  • Someone with high risk tolerance and low risk capacity. They’re comfortable with volatility, but can’t necessarily afford to lose money in the short-to-medium term.
  • Someone with low risk tolerance but high risk capacity. They’re not as comfortable with investment volatility, but can afford to take on some risk to earn a potential return.
  • Someone with infrequent but potentially large unexpected expenses.
  • Someone with a medium-length investing horizon of 5 to 20 years–perhaps a parent saving for their child’s future expenses, including education.
  • Someone who wants their money to earn a slightly higher return.
  • Someone who has access to other cash sources or temporary support in the event of a market downturn.

Growth Investment Portfolio

Will display similar criteria to Moderate, but is willing to take on slightly more risk for slightly more capital appreciation potential.

Moderately Aggressive Investment Portfolio

  • Someone with a high risk tolerance.
  • Someone with a high risk capacity (i.e. sufficient emergency funds or other cash/support sources.)
  • Someone with a long investing horizon and desire to benefit most from ABLE’s tax-advantaged growth. This could be parents who want to set aside funds for their child’s future needs and want those funds to earn a substantial return.
  • Someone who already has a special needs trust or is seeking an alternative to a special needs trust. One example is parents with a young disabled child or young adult.
  • Someone who has a low savings capacity now, but a large future capital or income need. One group that may fit this profile is parents wanting to establish a fund to pay for their child’s needs upon their death.

Aggressive Investment Portfolio

These investors will display similar criteria to Moderately Aggressive, but to a larger extent for each point. Even more comfortable with risk, even longer investing horizon, even greater future income or capital need, even more sources of additional support, etc.

Evaluate, but don’t mix and match.

Falcone advises against investing in multiple different portfolios at one time.

“Allocate 100% of your account balance and future contributions to whichever investment option you choose,” she says. “Mixing them changes the overall allocation and therefore the resulting investment strategy. For example, allocating half of your account to the Conservative option and half to the Aggressive option results in a combined portfolio similar to the Moderate investment option.”

She says the only exception would be if you needed some cash on hand in the high-yield checking account, but wanted to invest the surplus.

Falcone leaves us with these final words of wisdom:

“No matter which option you choose, make sure to re-evaluate your choice every year and make appropriate adjustments if your circumstances and/or goals have changed.”

ABLE Accounts for Autistic People

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Monday articles that focus on the financial challenges and triumphs that autistic people face and achieve. When they are children, these things also tend to affect their family’s finances, as well.

Pinning this for my sister who has an autistic daughter! Will help them actually be able to save money because they can't right now because of state asset tests. So messed up.

 

If you are on the autism spectrum, or your child is on the spectrum, it’s likely that you incur some costs that neurotypical people simply don’t. There may be therapies, adaptive equipment, nutritional supplements or even legal fees related to autism that end up in your budget.

Fortunately, in recent years these financial burdens have been acknowledged. With the passage of the ABLE Act, people with qualified “disabilities”–or their guardians–now have the ability to open an account built specifically to deal with these added expenses.

I was incredibly psyched when an advisor let me know Pennsylvania was rolling out theirs last year. Since PA is the state I’m most familiar with, the PA ABLE account will be the one we dissect today, but other states have similar options. You can view them at the end of this article.

What is an ABLE account?

An ABLE account is a tax-advantaged investment account. It serves as a way for those with “disabilities” to save for expenses related to their condition–in this case, autism. Families are also able to save for their minor children in this way, or through a power of attorney if their child is an adult in need of assistance.

ABLE accounts are 529 accounts, which means that most of the time the money you put in them is invested. If you’re familiar with these accounts for college savings, it’s a very similar thing except the scope of qualified expenses extends beyond just post-secondary education.

ABLE accounts are also advantageous because they don’t count against many state or federal programs that require asset tests, allowing people on the spectrum to save for future costs without worrying about losing their healthcare or other necessities.

How do you qualify for an ABLE account?

If you live in Pennsylvania, you’ve likely gone through the rigamarole of applying for SSI so you can get on Medicaid. If your income is low enough, you get SSI payments. If it’s too high, you don’t get the SSI payments, but SSI confirms that you have a disability so you can get state-sponsored insurance.

If your autism has been confirmed by SSI, you qualify. Other ways you can qualify are through entitlement to SSDI or a signed confirmation of disability from a physician. They must also certify that you received your diagnosis before age 26.

Invest in an ABLE account for your child's autism expenses and watch your savings grow tax-free.

What is a qualified expense for an ABLE account?

In Pennsylvania, qualified expenses are any expense related to the “disability.” That includes:

  • Tuition for school–Pre-K through post-secondary
  • Books and other supplies related to education
  • Mass transit expenses
  • Purchase of a vehicle
  • Modification of a vehicle
  • Moving expenses
  • Job training
  • Expenses related to gaining/maintaining employment
  • Health expenses across the realms of mental, physical, vision and dental
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Respite care
  • Therapies
  • Communication services/devices
  • Personal assistance
  • Nutrition management
  • Financial management
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

In addition, you can use it for these housing-related expenses tax free, though withdrawing money for any of the below may impact your SSI benefits:

  • Primary residence expenses
  • Rent
  • Mortgage payments
  • Property taxes
  • Home improvements or modifications
  • Utilities

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You can use the money for anything related to the associated “disability,” and it doesn’t necessarily have to be deemed medically necessary. Just remember to keep good documentation about what you’ve spent the money on. If the IRS ever audits you, they’re going to want to see receipts.

Check out other qualified expenses under PA ABLE.

How much can I save in an ABLE account?

You can save $15,000 per year. If you have family or friends that want to contribute, their generosity counts towards that $15,000. There are some federal exceptions to this cap–for example, if you bring in income, you’re allowed to save more–but states are still trying to work out their own rules which may be more restrictive than the federal policy, which just changed at the tail end of 2017.

The max amount you can have in an ABLE account at any given time is $511,758 in the state of Pennsylvania. This max number will vary from state to state. If you are a parent or guardian who is saving for a child, once you reach this point you may want to talk to a professional about a trust or even a special needs trust.

What are the tax advantages of saving in an ABLE account?

You contribute money after you’ve already paid taxes, so contributions won’t lower your AGI on your taxes. However, the money is allowed to grow tax-free, and as long as your withdrawals are made for qualified expenses, you won’t have to pay taxes when you take the money out.

If you spend the money on an unqualified expense, though, you will be hit with a penalty.

With the new tax law, you will be able to apply your ABLE contributions to the federal Savers Credit. The details are still fuzzy, and there may be some retrictions, but this is actually one good aspect of the legislation, which has otherwise set into motion threats to the health and well-being of the disabled.

You don’t necessarily have to live in a state to purchase its plan. For example, PA ABLE is available to people in all 50 states–not just Pennsylvania. On this particular plan, you might end up paying state taxes on your gains if you’re from out of state. Pennsylvania residents are exempt, and also won’t pay state taxes upon a qualified withdrawal.

Pennsylvania residents also benefit from exemption from the PA inheritance tax. Check with your state to see what benefits may be available.

Stop worry about asset tests and start building savings with an ABLE account.

Will an ABLE account mess up my state or federal benefits?

ABLE accounts are not considered for SNAP benefits or any other federally-distributed benefits with means-based tests, save for SSI.

Typically, SSI limits your assets to $2,000, but ABLE accounts are a little different. They won’t count the first $100,000 in your ABLE account against you for SSI qualification or the determination of your dollar-amount benefits.

Separately, the state of Pennsylvania has passed legislation that prohibits your ABLE balance from being used in any asset tests related to health or disability. They’re also not allowed to use it for SNAP per the USDA’s issued guidelines.

What about financial aid for college?

In the state of Pennsylvania, PA ABLE savings will not count on applications for state-based financial aid.

Because ABLE accounts are not supposed to be counted on federal means-based tests, the general assumption is that these savings should not be included on the FAFSA. However, as far as can be told the US Department of Education has not issued any guidance on this to date. You may want to call the Federal Student Aid Information Center to get the most up-to-date information.

Do not count ABLE savings on other children’s FAFSA applications.

What are the fees?

You can avoid all administrative fees by getting your documents delivered electronically. Investment fees are between 0.34% and 0.38% depending on which option you pick.

Picking an option–from conservative to agressive–is something we’ll be tackling in a future post. Saving for college with a 529 is one thing, but saving for expenses related to autism that come up as a part of your daily life is quite another all together.

Rent isn’t something you’ll be paying in 30 years–it’s something that’s due now. If you need an iPad to communicate,  you’re not going to wait for 15 years of appreciation on your investment before you start to exchange information with the world.

But that isn’t to say the most conservative option is the best choice each and every time. It’s complex, and something we brought an expert in to cover.

functional fashion modern frugal mom

Are ABLE accounts worth it?

While the fees may not be the lowest, the account is tax-advantaged and allows you to use your money before retirement age. It also allows you to save for future expenses without disqualifying yourself from certain federal and state means-tested benefits.

If you’re a parent, you may not be sure if your child will go to college or not. An ABLE account gives them the flexibility to pursue whatever occupational or educational path they want and are able to when they get to that point in their life.

Or, if you come up against a financial emergency between now and then because of your child’s medical, communication or educational needs, you have the money there to save you from financial distress while still providing the best for your kid.

Overall, it’s a much-needed solution that many individuals and families will be able to use to their advantage. With so many frustrating lines of red tape around every corner, it’s good to see that this issue is getting some recognition and legislation.

Other states with ABLE accounts

Note that not all state plans are created equally. Don’t pick a plan simply because it is based in your state or think that because your state doesn’t offer a plan, you’re not eligible. Fees, residency requirements and state tax advantages are all going to vary. Do further research before opening any financial account.