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Flex-Ed: Using your FSA card the right way

Basics

Waiting to get reimbursed from your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for an FSA-eligible item is tedious—filing paperwork with your FSA administrator, waiting for approval and paying out of pocket in the meantime. Luckily, the FSA debit card streamlines the process.

The FSA debit card allows you to electronically access pre-tax contributions you've allocated to your FSA. Instead of going through the process of administrator reimbursement, you'll be able to use your FSA debit card to purchase eligible items you need without having to wait.

The reason? The FSA debit card is linked to directly to your FSA. But here's the deal—FSA debit cards are slightly different than standard debit cards and come with their own set of rules.

Here's what you'll want to keep in mind.

You can't withdraw money from an ATM

A significant difference between the FSA debit card and a standard debit card is that you cannot withdraw money from an ATM using your FSA debit card. Even though the FSA debit card functions like a standard debit card, it has certain limitations. One of those is that the money can only be spent on FSA-eligible expenses.

The easiest way to be sure your purchases are eligible is to shop at a store that exclusively sell FSA-eligible items (hint: FSAstore.com). It removes the guesswork and allows you to focus on getting the items you need without the hassle of filing for reimbursement.

You can't use it in every store

It might sound obvious, but it's important to note that you can't use your FSA debit card at restaurants, movie theatres, department stores, jewelry stores and a variety of other establishments.

In order to be able to use your FSA debit card, either the merchant category must be approved by the FSA administrator or card issuer, the merchant must be specifically approved or the merchant must have a system in place to allow the use of the card on FSA-eligible items.

You should still save your receipts

Even though you won't need to file your receipts for reimbursement after every purchase, you'll still need to save your receipts. The IRS requires all FSA purchases be substantiated, so if your employer gets audited, you'll have to show itemized documentation of your FSA debit card purchases. Your administrator will also require you to submit receipts on select FSA debit card purchases.

The good news is that you can create a file in your inbox and simply move your receipts there throughout the year. It's a painless way to ensure you're following the rules.

You can still file manually

Here's the deal—the FSA debit card makes life simpler, but you don't have to use it. If there's ever a time when you forget it at home or are working with a medical provider that doesn't accept it, then don't worry. You can still file for reimbursement the old-fashioned way and submit receipts to your FSA administrator for reimbursement.

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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