UNBELIEV-ABLE: DO YOU QUALIFY FOR THIS SSI LOOPHOLE?

Because Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is income-based, there are many financial restrictions in place for people receiving benefits. Outdated asset limits can force beneficiaries into situations where they have no safety net, and many disabled Americans feel financially helpless as a result.

The $2,000 asset limit for SSI has long been under fire. From the #LetUsMarry movement, which calls attention to the fact that many disabled people can’t get married for fear of losing their Social Security benefits; to Demolish Disabled Poverty, which (among other things) advocates for an inflation-corrected ceiling for SSI resource limits, disability rights activists have been calling for change for decades.

Dealing with such strict financial limitations is an incredibly stressful way to live. Knowing that your benefits will be reduced if you make more than $85 a month, and that you can be penalized for so much as accepting groceries or shelter from other people…it can feel like these laws are designed to enforce poverty.

What many people don’t know is that even with SSI restrictions, you have options. For instance: in 2014, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law. This revolutionized savings for everyone who qualified for disability before the age of 26 by allowing them to open tax-advantaged ABLE savings accounts where the first $100,000 is not considered a “resource” for SSI purposes —that is, if your ABLE account contains over $100,000 in savings, only the excess counts against you.

There are some restrictions on the amount of money that can be added to an ABLE account at a time. Any person can contribute to the account; however, an individual’s contributions throughout the year cannot exceed $15,000 (the cap for gift tax exemption). If the beneficiary is working, they may contribute up to $12,760 if living in the continental U.S. (amount differs for Alaska and Hawaii).

ABLE accounts can be used for a variety of qualified disability expenses, or QDEs. These include but are not limited to: housing, food, education, assistive technology, transportation, and legal fees.