Panel Paper: ABLE Accounts and the Financial Lives of Low- and Moderate-Income Individuals with Disabilities

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8216 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Genevieve Davison, Sam Bufe, Stephen Roll, Olga Kondratjeva and Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Washington University in St. Louis


Households with members who are disabled often find themselves in difficult financial situations. The need to pay for long-term treatment and care combined with stringent asset limits for programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) places a unique financial burden on these households. The passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 provided these households access to ABLE accounts: tax-advantaged savings accounts that are not considered in the calculation of assets for SSI qualification. While these accounts have the potential to greatly improve the financial security of these households, take-up of these accounts has been low. In this paper, we use survey data to analyze the financial needs of low- and moderate-income households with members who are disabled, examine the rate and predictors of ABLE account takeup, and discuss the role ABLE accounts could potentially serve in improving the financial security of these households.


This paper uses data from the 2018 Household Financial Survey, which was offered to TurboTax Freedom Edition filers after they completed their taxes. This survey, which was completed by more than 13,000 respondents, includes a wide array of questions related to household characteristics, financial circumstances, disability, and usage of ABLE accounts. Responses from this survey were also linked with administrative tax data from TurboTax for consenting households.

Preliminary Results:

Nearly 20% of our respondents stated they had a person with a disability in their tax household. These respondents consistently reported lower levels of financial security and financial inclusion than the rest of our sample. These households were less likely to be banked, and, even after controlling for banked-status, reported having substantially lower levels of liquid assets than households that did not have members with disabilities.

Despite the apparent need for accounts tailored to the needs of households with members who are disabled, familiarity with and usage of ABLE accounts was very low. Among households with a member who is disabled, less than 1% reported actively using an ABLE Account. We observe that certain household characteristics are good predictors of ABLE Account familiarity, including race, geography, and assets.


This paper provides important insights about the financial needs of an often overlooked segment of the population. While the passage of the ABLE Act of 2014 was a key step in improving the financial lives of households with disabled members, the findings from this research suggest much more can be done. Although ABLE accounts have the potential to improve the financial security of households with members who are disabled, take-up of these accounts is extremely low, indicating a potential need for changes in policy design or implementation in order to provide households with disabilities the benefits they are allowed under the law. We discuss several potential approaches policymakers may consider when looking to expand ABLE account access.