Choosing The Right 529A Plan For A Special Needs Beneficiary

Leveraging the success (and the systems and infrastructure) of tax-preferenced 529 college savings plans, in 2014 Congress passed the “Achieving a Better Life Experience” (ABLE) Act, which created a new “529A” version of the accounts, designed specifically to allow families to accumulate assets on a tax-preferenced basis for special needs beneficiaries. Which for some families may be a more cost-effective (and tax-favored) alternative to a special needs trust, and for others may at least supplement a special needs trust for a portion of the assets the family sets aside.
The caveat, however, is that similar to 529 college savings plans, the new ABLE accounts are established on a state-by-state basis, with everything from the costs to the state tax deductions varying from one state to the next. And because 529A plans are more likely to be used transactionally on an ongoing basis for their special needs beneficiaries… they’ll less likely to grow to a significant size. Which has resulted in some states deciding not to even offer the accounts. Making the process of selecting a 529A plan far more of a state-by-state evaluation effort than even traditional 529 college savings plans.
In this guest post, Andrew Komarow and Craig Breitsprecher of Tenpath Financial Group, an advisory firm with a specialization in working with families that have special needs beneficiaries, explores the current landscape of 529A plans, the key criteria to compare one ABLE account to the next, and what advisors should be mindful of in helping clients to select a plan. Including the fact that very few 529A plans are even designed to work with financial advisors directly in the first place, with only one broker-sold plan and no fee-based options. But with at least some potential workarounds for RIAs through their own custodial platforms.
And with potential legislation under consideration in Washington that might further increase contribution limits, expand age limits, and overall make 529A plans more appealing, ABLE accounts may increasingly need to become part of the financial advisor’s “quiver” of tools to use with clients. At a minimum, though, it’s important to be aware of the options that exist today, and what it takes to ensure that clients who do have a special needs beneficiary pick the plan that’s best for them.
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