Your cash in this tax-advantaged account is going, going, gone

  • Flexible spending accounts allow workers to stash pretax dollars into an account and use them for eligible medical expenses.
  • In 2019, you can save up to $2,700 in this account, a $50 increase from 2018. Generally, you use the money by year-end or you lose it.
  • Certain employers grant workers a grace period of up to March 15 to use the prior year’s balance.
Young Boy Laughing While Watching Computer With Dad
Tom Werner | DigitalVision | Getty Images

The clock is ticking for workers to use up the money they've saved in their flexible spending accounts.

The health-care FSA permits employees to stash cash on a pretax basis into a savings account. You can take tax-free distributions as long as you're using the money for qualified medical expenses.

There's an expiration date on these funds. If you contributed money in 2018, you generally have until the end of the calendar year to use it.

However, the IRS has offered companies the option of allowing workers to roll over up to $500 into the next year or giving them a grace period into the new year to use the money.

"People think about medical costs, but they don't think about dental and vision expenses. They can get reimbursed for those costs." -Nicky Brown, vice president of compliance services, WageWorks

This year, that grace period ends on March 15.

If you're still sitting on the money now, you could lose it.

Indeed, about 8 percent of the participants in FSA plans offered by WageWorks forfeit their funds, according to Nicky Brown, vice president of compliance services at the benefits provider.

The average amount forfeited by these individuals was $172, she said.

This is how you can get the biggest bang for your FSA bucks while you still have time.

Understanding your FSA

Last year, savers were allowed to cram up to $2,650 into a health-care FSA in 2018. This year, you can save up to $2,700 in this tax-advantaged account.

You're more likely to find FSAs at larger employers. Last year, about 3 in 4 companies with at least 200 employees made the accounts available, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

Health-care FSAs are different from dependent-care FSAs you might also find at your employer. Dependent-care accounts allow you to save up to $5,000 on a pretax basis for child-care needs, and any leftover balances are forfeited.

Talk to your human resources department to find out whether your plan grants you a grace period or whether it allows you to roll over some of your leftover cash into the next year.

Know eligible expenses

Settling his family's medical bill
sturti | E+ | Getty Images

Got FSA dollars to spend? Consider visiting all of your medical professionals for annual check-ups.

You can use your account to cover your copayments and deductibles.

Here's another move: Take a look at last year's medical expenses and see if they qualify for reimbursement.

"This is the time to spend down those remaining funds," said Rachel Rouleau, compliance director at FSAStore.com. "Going to the doctor and getting that annual exam are qualified expenses."

Don't forget that vision and dental costs are also eligible for reimbursement, so feel free to snap up those prescription glasses and buy your kid some braces.

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"People think about medical costs, but they don't think about dental and vision expenses," WageWorks' Brown said. "They can get reimbursed for those costs."

Be aware that certain over-the-counter products are only eligible for reimbursement from your FSA if you get a prescription or a letter from your doctor.

That includes dietary supplements in order to treat a medical condition, lice treatment and pain relievers.

"You can use your FSA for bandages, but something like Tylenol will require a prescription," said Brown.

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