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Deadline Approaching To Use Up Your Flexible Spending Account - Use It Or Lose It

Published 12/31/07 (Modified 3/9/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

The end of the year is here, but don't just take it easy and forget about important end of the year financial moves you may need to make. For those who have one through their employer, make sure you've fully maxed out your Flexible Spending Account (FSA). For the remaining unused funds, my usual end of the year routine is to get creative and spend the rest on qualified health care items like Tylenol, Advil, and over the counter cough medication like Delsym and Robitussin. Covered FSA medical expenses also include items like contact lens solution and eye care drops. If you have no immediate health needs, it's always a good idea to stock up on emergency, medical kit type supplies like Band-Aids, gauze, and Betadine for common scratches and scrapes, particularly if you have kids.

What Is A Flexible Spending Account And How Does It Work?

Flexible Spending Accounts are tax advantaged arrangements set up by some employers to allow employees to set aside a pretax portion of their regular paycheck to pay for qualified expenses, usually for medical care, but frequently also for child care costs. The smart use of pre-tax savings through FSA's can help you save up to 30% of the cost of out-of-pocket medical related expenditures. Most people contribute about $1,000 towards their FSA, but it varies depending on individual need.

Benefits of the Flexible Spending Account Include:

  1. Contributions towards your FSA are pre-tax.
  2. When you provide receipts to get reimbursed, the FSA reimbursements are tax free.
  3. Convenient FSA debit cards are now frequently being used to make it easier for employees to use the funds in their FSA.
  4. Medical FSA's are pre-funded by the employer - when you set aside an amount for the year, the entire amount is available for use immediately at the beginning of the year, even though your periodic contributions will actually be made later.
  5. FSA's are well, flexible - they can be used to pay for a wide array of health care related expenses including dental, vision, over the counter drugs like painkillers and allergy medicine, and even elective medical procedures like Lasik laser vision correction surgery. FSA's also cover health care related costs like insurance co-pays, deductibles, and other related out-of-pocket expenses.

The FSA "Use It Or Lose It" Rule - Two Way Street Between Employer and Employee

It's important to properly and accurately estimate how much you are likely to need in your FSA for the plan's coverage year. The biggest drawback of the FSA is that it is a use it or lose it account. If by the start of the new year there is still money left on your previous year's FSA not spent, the amount is forfeited back to the employer, where it is used to cover administrative costs. Don't let this happen because you're just giving away your own money back to the employer!

However, this use it or lose it policy also works in reverse as well. As I mentioned earlier, one benefit of the FSA is that the entire allotted amount is available immediately at the start of the year. If you leave your job before the end of the FSA coverage plan year and have already used up the entire year's amount, you do not need to refund or return the amount back to the employer. Some employers may attempt to recoup the loss by informally asking you reimburse them for the amount since you're leaving the employment, however officially, employers are not permitted to see seek repayment of FSA monies so long as the original distribution was properly substantiated.

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