Spend

You may have hundreds or even thousands of dollars in your FSA—here are 6 smart ways to spend that money before it disappears

 Josh Lawson (left) as Tate and Nico Santos as Mateo in NBC's Superstore. 
Michael Yarish | NBC
 Josh Lawson (left) as Tate and Nico Santos as Mateo in NBC's Superstore. 

If you have a flexible spending account, or FSA, time is running out to spend down your balance.

FSAs, which are typically offered as a benefit through your employer, give you the option of putting money directly from your paycheck, tax-free, into an account so they can be used to pay medical-related expenses throughout the year. The max contribution this year was $2,650 per person.

You may not even remember signing up for a plan but, if you contact HR, you can find out your status. Your employer may partner with an administrator like WageWorks or ProBenefits, which will have an online portal that allows you to check your balance 24/7.

FSA plans are common. This year, 68 percent of companies reported offering them to employees, according to the annual Employee Benefits Survey administered by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

But there are some restrictions: For one, you can't just let the money continue to pile up. You're supposed to spend what you put in within the calendar year. If you don't, you might have to surrender the cash. Usually employers keep any unused funds and use the money to cover costs associated with the administration of the FSA program.

"Generally, people lose FSA funds because they don't understand what expenses are eligible or what their deadlines are," says Jeremy Miller, CEO and founder of FSAstore.com.

How it works

Just under half of the employers that provide FSA plans offer the option to carry over $500 into the next year. So if you're enrolled in that type of plan, you just need to get the balance down to under $500 this month.

But, if you have more than that in your account after December 31, 2018, you could lose it.

Alternatively, just over a third of employers offer a grace period of of up to two and a half months on their FSA plans where you can still spend your 2018 funds in 2019. After that, any remaining funds are lost.

"People lose FSA funds because they don't understand what expenses are eligible or what their deadlines are." -Jeremy Miller, founder and CEO of FSAstore.com

Employers can offer one or the other — the up-to-$500 rollover, or the roughly 10-week grace period — but not both, according to federal guidelines.

You can also ask if your provider has a "run-out period." This is typically a 90-day extension when you can still submit receipts for reimbursement of costs incurred in 2018. SHRM found that 51 percent of employers offered this.

If you have an Health Savings Account, or HSA, a savings vehicle available to those in a high-deductible health insurance plan, note that these limitations do not apply. You can roll over your funds year to year.

Ways to spend down your balance

If you need to empty out your FSA account, and quick, here are some smart ideas.

Procedures you've been putting off

The year of the year is a great time to schedule medical procedures such as blood work or other testing, especially since, if you've met your annual deductible, your insurance company may cover more of the cost. You can apply your FSA funds towards your part of the bill.

Alternative medicine

Most people can use their FSA dollars on acupuncture and chiropractor visits, for example.

Taking care of your eyes ...

If you're like most Americans, you put off taking care of your eyes and your teeth. Vision expenses are typically covered through FSA plans, though, so December may be a good time to get an eye exam. This is an especially good idea if you don't have vision insurance and have to pay out of pocket.

You can generally use your FSA funds on the contacts or eyeglasses you purchase, too, as well as contact accessories such as cleaning solution and cases. Even prescription sunglasses may be covered.

... and your teeth

If it's been a while since your last visit to the dentist, try to squeak one in. Generally, you can use your FSA money to pay for dental services, including the co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses associated with everything from basic cleanings to procedures including filings, root canals, crowns and even gum surgery.

General tooth-health products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss are not usually not eligible to purchase with FSA funds, though.

Pregnancy and family planning costs

You can put your FSA dollars to work if you're a new or soon-to-be mom on products such as pregnancy tests, fertility monitors, prenatal vitamins and breastfeeding supplies.

On the flip side, condoms are FSA-eligible because of their role in STD prevention. Likewise, you can also use your FSA funds on birth control, but keep in mind that you'll need a current prescription.

Filling up your first-aid kit or medicine cabinet

How's your supply of necessities like sunscreen or basic cold and allergy remedies? Now may be a good time to go through your medicine cabinet, toss out anything that's expired and stock up on anything you need more of.

Items like hot/cold packs, braces and first-aid kits are covered. You can typically even spend your FSA dollars on sunscreen has broad spectrum protection and an SPF of over 15. Certain cold and flu medicines are also a good bet.

Or, if you're planning to spend the holidays with relatives and their pets make you sneeze, you can use your FSA funds on allergy meds.

If you're not sure what exactly qualifies, you can check out your providers' information or order directly through vendors like FSAstore.com, which even provides bundles of products that are eligible for FSA spending.

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