Reader’s Perspective: Question and Answer with Deborah Goodkin, Managing Director of the Enable Savings Plan

By Paul Curley | | February 10, 2017

How can an adviser, accountant or estate planner use an ABLE account to help their clients?

This article features an interview with Deborah Goodkin, Managing Director of the Enable Savings Plan with First National Bank of Omaha. With locations in Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas, First National Bank of Omaha oversees $20 billion in assets with the support of its 5,000 employee associates. Based on this data, and the experience as a sixth generation family-owned business, the firm is the largest privately-owned bank holding company in the United States. Since 2010, Deborah has been with First National Bank of Omaha and is currently responsible for all aspects of development, implementation, and management of the Enable Savings Plan. In support of this effort, Deborah’s experience in the financial industry includes starting proprietary mutual funds for TIAA and overseeing college savings plans at First National Bank of Omaha (NEST, Nebraska’s 529 College Savings Plans), TIAA-CREF, Citigroup, and Legg Mason. Last but not least, thank you Deborah for your time, insight and support for working with me on the article. Please read the question and answers to learn about her perspective on ABLE programs, and hope that the article provides you with an opportunity to learn more from your peers.

Question 1 (Paul Curley, Editor of the 529 Dash): What is an ABLE Account?

Answer 1 (Deborah Goodkin of First National Bank of Omaha): The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law in December 2014 to authorize eligible individuals with disabilities to open tax-exempt savings accounts to save for disability-related expenses without impacting their eligibility for resource-based benefits. Prior to the act, people with disabilities generally became ineligible for federal benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income if they had more than $2,000 in assets in their name. There are currently 17 ABLE plans open to the public.

Nebraska’s ABLE program, called the Enable Savings Plan, was one of the first ABLE plans to launch. It is available nationwide, making disabled individuals living anywhere in the country eligible to open an Enable Savings Plan account. Enable provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to save for their future and pay for their long-term needs and every day expenses in a tax-free savings account. Enable provides an affordable, simple, and straightforward way to help individuals with disabilities move towards financial independence.

Question 2: How does this improve the lives of eligible users?

Answer 2: We worked closely with individuals with disabilities as well as disability advocates to design a plan that would best serve the larger community’s needs, goals, and dreams for the future. First and foremost, Enable allows disabled individuals to save larger amounts of assets and keep their benefits. Specifically, account owners can save up to $14,000 annually, and total assets can grow to $100,000 without impacting their resource-based benefits. Because of this, eligible users can save for massive expenses that require prolonged saving, such as a new wheelchair. At the same time, Enable offers convenient options to pay for smaller everyday purchases. For example, we recently launched the Checking Investment Option, which allows account owners to pay for qualified disability expenses by check or debit card. By making long-term savings and everyday payments possible and easy, Enable helps individuals with disabilities move towards financial independence.

Question 3: What can assets be used for?

Answer 3: Assets in Enable accounts can be withdrawn to pay for Qualified Disability Expenses. These expenses include basic living expenses and are not limited to items for which there is a medical necessity or which solely benefit a disabled individual. Qualified Disability Expenses include but are not limited to expenses related to the account owner’s:
— Education (including tuition for preschool through post-secondary schools)
— Housing
— Transportation
— Employment training and support
— Assistive technology and related services
— Personal support services
— Health, prevention and wellness
— Financial management and administrative services
— Legal fees
— Expenses for oversight and monitoring
— Funeral and burial expenses
— Other expenses to enhance the account owner’s quality of life

Question 4: How can an adviser, accountant or estate planner use an ABLE account to help their client?

Answer 4: For the longest time, individuals with disabilities have been told not to save since doing so would threaten their benefits. Advisors, accounts and estate planners can play a key role in educating and reassuring potential Enable account owners that saving is now possible and safe.   
If a disabled individual receives an inheritance, estate planners can recommend investing the money in an Enable account. Doing so will allow the client to keep the money in his or her name, without losing their benefits. Accountants and advisors can also recommend Enable accounts for earnings received from a client’s job, monetary gifts from parents and grandparents, and so on.

Question 5: Where can advisers go to learn more?

Answer 5: We offer an educational PDF written specifically for advisors that can be accessed here. Furthermore, the Enable U page on our website offers other informative resources, such as a product summary brochure for the Checking Investment Option. If advisors have any questions, we encourage them to email us at or give us a call at 1-844-ENABLE4 (1-844-362-2534). Our client service representatives are available Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., CT.

Question 6: Any other questions I should have asked?

Answer 6: 

Question 1: Are Enable contributions tax deductible? Depending on the state you live in, contributions made to an Enable Savings Plan account may be eligible for state tax benefits. For example, Nebraska taxpayers can deduct up to $10,000 of their contributions to an Enable Savings Plan account ($5,000 if married, filing separately).

Question 2: Is Nebraska partnering with other states to provide customizable Enable Savings Plans?
Having built an infrastructure and plan directly with the disability community, Nebraska is partnering with other states for customizable state Enable Savings Plans, helping to ensure low cost, high quality investment options. In fact, Nebraska recently announced its partnership with Alabama and Enable Savings Plan Alabama will be launching soon. We feel encouraged to see other states realize the importance of Enable and we hope to partner with even more states in the near future.

Editor’s Final Note: Thank you Deborah Goodkin for your time and insight for this article. Also, I would like to provide a special thank you to the readers for learning from your peers, for your support and your engagement.