It's time to start thinking about those remaining FSA funds!

Basics

While most of the country is still wading through piles of Halloween candy, before you know it, we'll be carving turkeys and preparing for countless year-end celebrations. Yes, this time of year moves at a rapid pace, and if your FSA funds expire when the ball drops, it's best to start planning now.

But you still have plenty of time, so don't panic. We're here to help you navigate this turbulent time of year so you can spend more time being merry, and less time worrying about losing your hard-earned money.

Step 1. Check your deadlines

While MOST of the country uses the calendar year to determine FSA cutoffs, this is not mandatory! Your company might have a different deadline, giving you even more time to use your funds. It's not common, but this is entirely up to your benefits administrator (that's the number usually found on the back of your FSA card) so before you spend hastily, speak with them first.

Secondly, the IRS offers a grace period to employers that allows account holders the chance to make FSA-eligible medical costs up until March 15, as well as the option for a $500 rollover of your remaining funds into 2018. Both options are left up to your employer to choose one - or neither - so speak with your benefits administrator to confirm concrete deadlines, and specifics that determine how to best use your money.

Step 2. Assess your needs

Let's assume your FSA spending deadline coincides with Ryan Seacrest's annual visit to Times Square. As you might expect, account owners often opt to use FSA money to pay for medical needs not covered by insurance plans.

For example, vision coverage isn't always provided under certain plans, so customers can choose to get a new pair of glasses, or some extra contacts. Likewise, sources of alternative medical treatments, like chiropractic or acupuncture, aren't commonly covered on health plans, but are perfectly eligible for FSA spending.

(And, of course, general wellness visits and preventive care is always a good use of funds, as well. Start the new year the right way – get a flu shot and rest easier this coming winter.)

Step 3. Fill those medicine cabinet gaps

Now, this is where people might get a little hasty, so read on before grabbing a leaf bag and wiping out your shelves en masse to get new replacements for older medications. There are a few things to remember when it comes to prescription and OTC medications.

This is an ideal time to replace expired products, prescription or otherwise. If you have some "take as needed" medications with questionable expiration dates, first call your medical professional to determine if you can obtain refills. Once confirmed, go ahead and shop with those FSA funds (and rest easier knowing your shelves are as current and well-planned as your healthcare spending).

Over-the-counter medication is a little trickier. you should strongly consider discarding an expired bottle of pain medication, just for safety's sake. However, if you have meds that are still within the expiration date, don't toss them just because you want fresh new bottles.

Remember that FSA funds cannot be used for OTC medications unless you get a doctor's prescription, in accordance with rules set forth in the Affordable Care Act. (Thankfully, we've created a thorough FSA Eligibility List that eliminates the confusion.) As always, be sure to confirm any questions with your benefits administrator.

Step 4. Get healthcare items you've always wanted

So much of the FSA deadline is focused on filling needs, that we often forget how these funds can also be viewed as an opportunity to try new products. Perhaps that expensive sunscreen you wouldn't ordinarily purchase with your after-tax dollars? The choice is yours.

In other words, if there are healthcare items you've long desired, but never purchased because they weren't "necessary," consider your FSA funds the encouragement you need to treat yourself, and your health.

Some examples of FSA-eligible items you could use to improve your well-being include comforting shoe insoles, smartphone-compatible blood-pressure monitors, soothing steam vaporizers and more! Sure, you could continue to live without these products, but thanks to your FSA dollars, you can make them a part of a healthier, happier lifestyle for you and your family.

Please note: The above suggestions are just that; there are myriad ways to use those remaining flex spending funds for products, services and even transportation!

The word "deadline" has a negative connotation, but for those who know, the FSA spending cut off is an exciting reminder for customers to use their funds for better health, all year long.

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