12/13/2010 4:23 PM ET|
Use or lose: Your health care fund
If there's money left in your flexible spending account at the end of the year, you need to figure out how to use it -- otherwise you risk losing it.
December is a hectic time, but there's one tax task you can't overlook in the holiday rush. If you have a medical flexible savings account, or FSA, you need to check its balance and make sure you don't end up wasting that money.
These workplace-provided accounts are popular for a couple of reasons.
First, you can use the account money to pay for items and services that aren't covered by your health insurance.
Second, the saving process also saves you tax dollars. You make FSA contributions via regular, equal payroll deductions. The amounts are taken from your paycheck before your withholding taxes are calculated, so you owe a bit less in federal income and Social Security taxes upfront.
But the accounts have one drawback. In many instances, if you don't use the money by the end of your benefits year, which for most people is Dec. 31, you'll lose it.
Check your deadline
In some cases, however, the year-end deadline isn't firm.
The Internal Revenue Service allows employers to give FSA owners until March 15 of the following year to make eligible medical expenditures and pay for them with account money.
But the grace period is optional. Companies can offer it or not.
So your first step is to check with your benefits office to confirm your spending deadline, says Bart Turney, the director of FSA marketing communications at SHPS, a benefits administration services provider in Louisville, Ky.
If your workplace gives you until mid-March to incur FSA-eligible expenses and use this year's funds to pay for them, you have some breathing room.
However, if your spending deadline is the end of December, start making medical appointments and buying allowable medical items now.
Eligible FSA expenditures
The most common uses of FSA money are to cover insurance co-pays and to pay for exams that aren't covered under your insurance.
Vision exams are popular during this time of year. Most of us could use an extra pair of glasses or, for fun, colored contact lenses.
Don't forget about full dental checkups or even teeth-cleaning appointments. Each of these expenditures could help you draw down your FSA.
Under many plans, FSA cash also can be used for alternative treatments, such as acupuncture or chiropractic sessions, that aren't typically covered by medical insurance.
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