Guest Article by Kathleen Oberneder, ChSNC®, Financial Advisor – Chartered Special Needs Consultant®

Mom Kathleen with 3 daughtersWisconsin residents with disabilities and their families have been able to benefit from ABLE savings accounts since 2016, still very few people know about this valuable tool and the number of people opening accounts is much lower than expected.  As of 1st Quarter 2018 there were 20,653 accounts with $98.6 million in assets invested nationally.   These ABLE Accounts are being used to benefit the lives of individuals with disabilities.  Would an ABLE account be a benefit to you?

As a Financial Advisor in Wisconsin who specializes in helping individuals with disabilities, and/or parents of those with special needs to plan, the ABLE Accounts have been a beneficial tool.   I have a personal connection to my professional specialty.  I have three girls, and my youngest Emily has Down syndrome.   I worked in the Financial Services industry for 10 years prior to her birth.  Although she was born in 2011, several years before the ABLE Accounts became available, I knew that I wanted to change the trajectory of my career as an Advisor to focus on families like mine.   I needed to know how the financial industry was serving families whose financial plan would require financially providing for a child throughout my entire lifetime, and Emily’s too.  I felt so fortunate to know that the ABLE Accounts became a reality during Emily’s young life.   We are using her ABLE Account to save for college, just like we put money away each month in her sister’s 529 Education Savings Accounts.

I have spent the past three years conducting many presentations, writing articles, and educating attorneys, accountants and clients on how these accounts fit into Special Needs Financial Planning.   During this time, I have found that there are more ABLE naysayers than supporters.  There are more questions than understanding, and greater hesitancy to enroll in an account based on some of the features of the accounts like the Medicaid Payback.   It is my hope in this article that as an individual looking to plan for yourself, or a loved one with a disability that you hear from those who are using the accounts, how and why they chose to enroll and what their intent to use them today and, in the future, will be.

ABLE Accounts aren’t just for families. One best kept secret about ABLE is how self-advocates can open and use them on their own.

The Arc Wisconsin has created an excellent article explaining the six steps to setting up your ABLE Account in Wisconsin.  I won’t spend time here discussing how the accounts work, how to choose an account, and what the accounts can be used for.   However, I do want to direct you to the ABLE National Resource Center to introduce you to the 2018 ABLE Advisors.  Here you can meet the Three Self Advocate Advisors, Al, Rachel and Edward.  Al, who is blind, is an attorney in Massachusetts. He is using his ABLE Account as a retirement account.  His Law firm does not offer a Retirement Account like a 401(k), so his ABLE Account is his means of setting aside is money for him to have when he decides to stop working.   Meet Rachel, she is an ABLE Account Owner who is saving for college and her dream of owning a pink house.  She is 18 years old and has Down syndrome and happens to be a savvy saver.  She plans to use the savings in her ABLE Account to pay for her college tuition.   Edward is an independent living specialist in Tennessee.  He was involved in a hit and run accident which left him quadriplegia with an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C5 and C6 levels.  He opened his ABLE Account because it allows him to work and save money, which he plans to put towards accessible housing.

ABLE Resource Center logo

Of course parents like myself are seeing the benefits of ABLE Accounts, too.  You can learn about Larry’s story, and other parents who are members of the Parent ABLE Advisors through the ABLE National Resource Center.   Larry’s son was diagnosed with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder at a young age.   Larry and his wife had been saving in a traditional education savings account prior to his diagnosis.  They took advantage of the changes made to the ABLE Accounts in 2017 which now allow for rollovers from a traditional college savings account into an ABLE Savings Account. (not to exceed the annual maximum contribution limit).


As you can see, it’s one thing to know the ABLE Accounts are available to residents in the state of Wisconsin, and across the country, but it’s another to really see and learn how people are using them.  Whether you have a disability, or you have a loved one with a disability, these accounts are useful.  Take some time to learn about how these accounts can be a beneficial tool to allow you, or your loved one to lead a more financially independent life.   I look forward to watching these accounts grow over the years, but most importantly seeing the benefits for my clients, and my family.

Securities offered through J.W. Cole Financial, Inc. (JWC) Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through J.W. Cole Advisors, Inc. (JWCA). Crescendo Wealth Management, LLC and JWC/JWCA are unaffiliated entities.