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Flex-Ed: The most-common FSA card misconceptions

Basics

FSA cards make life easier. With an FSA debit card, you no longer need to remember to file paperwork and wait for your purchases to be approved. Instead, you can access the money in your flexible spending account when you need it.

Here's how it works—you've been shopping online for qualified health related items and are finally ready to checkout. With an FSA card, the process is easy. You enter your FSA debit card information like you would with any other debit card and the funds are automatically deducted from your account. It really is that simple.

But here's the deal: even though FSA debit cards are easy to use, there are still some misconceptions about how to use them. Here are six of the most-common FSA card misunderstandings and how to avoid them.

Misconception #1: I lost my card and can no longer access my FSA funds.

We just covered this a few weeks' back, but it's worth mentioning. Because it's annoying to lose a credit or debit card! Luckily, it's not the end of the world. In order to replace your card (and make sure no one else is accessing your funds!), you need to call your plan administrator and report the card as lost or stolen.

Plus, you can still buy FSA-eligible products and pay for your services while you wait for your new card. Instead of using your card, you can use a different payment option, then file for reimbursement with your plan administrator (in all cases, make sure to keep receipts).

Misconception #2: Once I receive my new FSA card, I can use it immediately.

Easy, now! Before you can begin to use your FSA card, you'll need to activate it. The activation process can vary, but it's similar to what you do for any other new credit or debit card. Follow the activation instructions on the card and you'll be ready to spend in no time.

Misconception #3: I don't need to save my receipts

Let's bury this idea now. Yes, your FSA card makes it much easier to track and itemize your spending, but it's a really good idea to still save your receipts. According to the IRS, all FSA purchases must be substantiated.

This means that if your employer gets audited, you can show itemized documentation of your FSA purchases. In addition, your administrator might ask you to submit receipts on some FSA card purchases, in case there's some confusion about eligibility.

Bottom line? Be organized, so there's no headache at the end of the plan year.

Misconception #4: As long as some of the items I'm buying are eligible, it's okay to use my FSA card.

You can only use your FSA card for FSA-eligible items. That means that you can't tack on a few groceries with an FSA-eligible baby thermometer at the same time and use your FSA card to pay for it. Chances are you wouldn't get very far with the idea anyway, because most administrators have the cards set up to only approve allowed items. When you use an FSA card, all the items you buy must be FSA-eligible.

We repeat - all items.

We know it can be difficult to remember which items are (and aren't) FSA-eligible -- especially when using it at pharmacies that carry a wide range of items. In order to avoid any confusion, it might be a good idea to shop at stores that only sell FSA-eligible items and save yourself an unnecessary hassle later down the line.

Misconception #5: I can use my FSA card at an ATM.

FSA cards are similar to regular debit cards and most even come with PIN numbers, but there are some notable differences, and one of those differences is that you cannot use your FSA card to withdraw cash from an ATM. You can only use your FSA card to pay for eligible healthcare expenses, using your available funds.

Speaking of which...

Misconception #6: I can still use my FSA card even if there isn't money remaining in my FSA.

Nice try! But, like any debit account, in order to use your FSA card, you must have sufficient funds in your FSA. Your FSA card will be declined if there isn't enough money to pay for your purchase.

FSA cards are a great way to simplify your healthcare shopping, but there are still rules to follow. Here's the good news: if you can avoid these common FSA card misconceptions now, you'll avoid a world of headaches down the line.

New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

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