What is an FSA “run-out” period? What you need to know for 2021

With a new slate of temporary FSA changes being introduced in the Consolidated Appropriation Act 2021 in late December, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are in the news yet again as millions of account holders turn the page to a new plan year and, potentially, new rules affecting how they will budget and spend their tax-free healthcare funds.

If you're one of the people who had an FSA plan year deadline on 12/31, or you're one of the 30 percent of Americans (SHRM, 2019) who have an FSA with a 2.5 month grace period, you should know about a little-known year-end provision that could help you maximize your tax savings from 2020: the FSA run-out period.

What is the FSA "run-out" period?

An FSA "run-out" period refers to the period of time in the new plan year during which account holders can file claims for expenses incurred during the previous plan year. This timeframe is chosen by the employer, not the IRS, and can last for any period of time, but the most common FSA "run-out" period is 90 days. For instance, if your FSA plan year ends on December 31 and you have a 90 day run out period, you would have until March 31 of the following year to submit claims for reimbursement.

Let's make thing one thing very clear at the outset: the FSA "run-out" period is NOT the same as the FSA grace period. The key difference being that the run-out period is to file claims from the previous year, while the FSA grace period is an extension of your current plan year to allow you extra time to spend down your remaining funds. So if you have a grace period deadline on March 15, that is the last day you can spend your remaining 2020 funds.

How can I take advantage of the FSA "run-out" period?

If you've been on top of your bookkeeping to keep receipts and invoices for FSA eligible products and services, you're already ahead of the game. The claims process during the "run-out" period is the same as during your plan year, and receipts and invoices should contain the following information. From WageWorks:

"To make sure your claims are processed quickly, please make sure that your receipts and documentation include the following five pieces of information:

  • Patient's Name: The name of the person who received the service or for whom the item was purchased for. For retail store purchases, this information may be excluded.
  • Provider's Name: The provider that delivered the service or where the item was purchased.
  • Date of Service: The date on which services were provided or the item was purchased.
  • Type of Service: A detailed description of the service provided or item purchased. A bag tag is sufficient for prescriptions.
  • Cost: The amount you paid for the service or product and/or the portion that is not reimbursed through your insurance carrier."

Once you have this information on-hand, you're ready to file your claim! Simply log into your benefits portal and follow the instructions to have your claim processed. Remember, not all claims will be honored and benefits administrators may require additional documentation if a product falls outside of eligibility rules, there aren't enough funds in the account or if additional information is required to reimburse the expense.

Finally, it's important to remember that run-out periods are available as a helping hand to those who may have let claims slide over the course of a plan year. After 2020, who could blame you? But if you want to avoid the year-end scramble to file claims, make a process for filing them during your plan year instead. File claims at the end of each month, or quarterly so you can stay ahead and avoid adding one more thing to your year-end rush.

But first thing's first - check with your HR department or benefits administrator to see if your employer offers a "run-out" period, how long it lasts and what you need to do to be reimbursed for your eligible expenses. Don't leave your hard-earned dollars on the table and make sure you maximize your 2020 tax savings!

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Does my FSA have a grace period or $550 rollover?

As an FSA user, you know just how important end of year spending is to maximizing the potential of your account. However, while the "use-it-or-lose-it" rule is still in effect and many account holders must spend their funds by the end of each plan year, there are 2 vital deadline extensions that all FSA users should be mindful of: the $550 rollover and the 2.5 month grace period.

Update for 2021: The FSA rollover has increased to $550

What are the $550 rollover and 2.5 month grace period?

Historically, FSA users would forfeit any unused FSA funds at the end of each plan year thanks to the "use-it-or-lose-it" rule. While this rule is still in place, two important changes have emerged over the past decade to provide a measure of relief to FSA users: the $550 rollover and 2.5 month grace period. FSA plan sponsors can choose to offer ONE of the two rules when administering FSAs, but not both.

$550 Rollover

This FSA regulation gives account holders the ability to "roll over" up to $550 in to the next plan year's account to prevent a large portion of funds from being forfeited. The FSA plan sponsor can elect to allow less than $500 to be rolled over, but the same rollover limit must apply to all participants under the current FSA plan rules. The $500 rollover does not count toward the following year's maximum election amount ($2,750 for 2021), so account holders could feasibly roll over $500 of last year's funds on top of the full election amount of $2,750 for 2021 which would give them $3,250 available for reimbursement for healthcare expenses that year.

2.5 Month Grace Period

The other option is the 2.5 month grace period. This gives account holders the ability to spend down the remainder of the previous year's FSA funds before March 15 (for FSA plans ending December 31), after which any unspent funds would be forfeited back to one's employer. Unlike the FSA run-out, which can be offered in conjunction with a rollover or grace period and provides up to 3 months after plan year end to spend down remaining funds for expenses incurred during the prior plan year only, the grace period allows users to spend down remaining FSA dollars on new expenses incurred within the new plan year as well.

How do I know if I have the rollover or grace period?

Your end of year options can determine how you will spend your allocation over the course of the year, so it's vital that you know your FSA plan details before setting an election amount for the coming year. Aspiring FSA users should inquire about these regulations during their health benefits Open Enrollment to plan out the optimal healthcare spending for the coming year.

Last but not least, if you're an FSA user and you've never heard of the $500 rollover or grace period, speak with your benefits administrator immediately! FSA plan administrators, whose information can typically be found on the back of an FSA benefits card or by contacting your HR department, can let you know the exact details of your FSA. With March 15 just around the corner, FSA users all over the country could still have money left to spend, so don't let a cent of your money go to waste!

For everything else regarding your FSA, you can rely on! Shop the web's largest selection of FSA eligible products, browse product/service regulations in our Eligibility List and plan your yearly spending with our handy FSA Calculator!