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Special Planning for Special Needs Individuals: An Inside Look

Special Planning for Special Needs Individuals: An Inside Look

The American College of Financial Services
May 18, 2020

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the cost of raising a child from birth to 18 years old is about $13,000 a year: while this alone can be a large financial burden to bear, now imagine that child is diagnosed at a young age with autism, Downs syndrome, Asperberger’s, or any one of a myriad of special needs conditions. Families caring for a special needs child and all the requisite changes that come with them can expect to pay more than twice as much, up to $30,000 per year.

It’s a sobering statistic, and while there’s no way to get around those additional expenses or the extra attention caregivers of those with special needs have to deal with, one of the best ways you, as a financial professional, can help is to make sure that first and foremost, your clients caring for special needs individuals or those with a disability have a life vest to keep them afloat.

Studies done by The American College of Financial Services indicate 90% of special needs and disability caregivers admit retirement planning isn’t their main financial priority: caring for their loved one with special needs is. Of caregivers who are trying to save, 70% are concerned they’ll have to stop to provide their loved one proper support. This is a noble sacrifice to make, but the truth is your clients can’t help their special needs loved ones in the long run by jeopardizing their own financial futures. They need to take care of themselves first, so they can then take care of others who need help.

So what can financial advisors do to help clients in these situations? Fortunately, there are some simple, common-sense goals financial professionals can start with.

Any family, especially those who are special needs caregivers, should have an emergency savings fund that can cover three to six months of their must-have expenses. Building up a cushion like this won’t happen overnight, especially if your clients aren’t high-net-worth earners, so it’s important for the financial professional to emphasize to them how critical it is to add a small amount of savings into their budget over time. They’ll be grateful for it if an unforeseen problem strikes, like a job layoff or needed household work. In addition, while it’s difficult to estimate future care costs of those with special needs, every little bit helps. Encourage your clients to set aside a little every month into another savings account for retirement planning, or to start building assets their special needs loved ones can access once the caregivers are no longer around.

In the spirit of planning for the future, your caregiver clients should also look into leveraging any company 401(k) plans they might have to start stashing away money for their retirement planning, or use a traditional or Roth IRA. A solid goal is to set aside five percent of income to start and work up to 10 or even 15% over the next several years. When retirement age finally does come, your clients will be under more financial stress than ever if they’re still caring for a special needs loved one or a person with a disability, and will need all the help they can get.

Finally, a commonly-used saving method among financial professionals for special needs and disability-affected families is a 529 ABLE account: your clients should consider opening one of these accounts after they’ve maxed out retirement planning and other savings goals. A 529A can be used, much like a normal 529 college savings plan, to prepare financially for the education of any child with special needs or a disability. Since many children with special needs or a disability will also need to attend special schools that cost more money than the average education, it’s a valuable resource offered by the government your clients can’t afford to miss out on.


Make a difference in America’s most underserved community.


The need for sound, educated advice from a financial professional in the special needs community is great, and with numbers of those diagnosed with some kind of special needs condition or disability climbing every year, this vast, untapped pool of clients in your community requires a specialized and compassionate approach that navigates their often complex options for financial support.

Our guide, How Financial Advisors can be Advocates for Families Caring for Those with Special Needs, offers these strategies and more to give you a more in-depth understanding of special needs caregivers and a better sense of how you can help.

The American College of Financial Services is proud to offer the knowledge and expertise to aid special needs families. Download your guide now or visit to learn more.

Invest in your career with a professional designation.

Families caring for a loved one with special needs face unique financial challenges, and yet few financial advisors have the specialized skills to help. But when you take the three-course Chartered Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC®) designation program, you can gain the expertise to guide these families through complex benefit and financial systems, helping them find the peace of mind they deserve.

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