If you are like many people with FSAs, the end of the year deadline can bring with it a mad rush to spend your leftover funds, so you don't lose them. This tax-free money is a great way to cover qualified health-related spending, while enjoying savings on taxable income. But waiting to spend right before the deadline might just lead to losing the funds if you're not careful.
For 2018, use these simple tips to plan ahead with your FSAs. As you'll learn, they don't have to be a year-end burden -- in fact, they're opportunities to save on the products you need, with the tax-free money you've already set aside year-round.
Make a spending plan your New Year's resolution
If you head into a new tax and employment year understanding what your paycheck contributions will be for your FSA account, you already have a key piece of planning in place for knowing how much you have available to spend in any given month.
The FSA contribution limit in 2018 will be $2,650, which comes out to about $221 per month.
If your medical expenses are straightforward, here are two easy rules of thumb for choosing an FSA amount:
If your out-of-pocket medical bills typically amount to $221 a month or more — or roughly $2,650 a year — consider contributing the maximum to your FSA.
If you don't contribute the maximum, consider adding $200-300 per month.
If your medical expenses are lower, calculating the total of your estimated copayments, dental and vision expenses for next year should cover your needs.
And you probably don't want to try and zero-out your FSA funds on a monthly basis so your account does have some money available for unexpected expenses. Like when your entire extended family catches a seasonal flu … at the same time … and requires a huge amount of over-the-counter decongestants.
What you can do is take stock of FSA-eligible items you know you purchase regularly from basic medicine cabinet restocking or maybe just a replacement of reading glasses that get lost like clockwork.
The goal with a spending plan is to prepare regular purchases in advance on a regular basis – maybe monthly, maybe every other month or even just quarterly – which figure into your regular FSA fund contribution levels, while leaving some room for unexpected emergencies.
Avoiding the end-of-year crunch
This way you will be consistently spending that money that has the yearly use-it-or-lose-it deadline on items you know you'll be needing throughout the year anyway. Doing so will avoid a total crunch at the end of next year and will keep your contributions going toward FSA-eligible products.
Anyone making that end-of-year mass purchase right now is probably thinking back on the number of items that were bought out of pocket that could have been purchased using FSA funds with a little more planning.
In fact, if you're scrambling to spend this year's FSA contributions before the deadline hits, once that task is complete take a few more minutes and put together a spending plan for next year.
You've already put thought into what you regularly need and done the research on different products that are FSA-eligible. There are probably a few in the mix you didn't even realize qualified for FSA spending. Check out our eligibility list for a complete listing of FSA-eligible products and services.
It's your money. Use it to ensure continued health and wellness for 2018 and beyond.