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Basics

Real Money: Why your FSA doesn't let you stock up on products

An FSA is a "use-it-or-lose-it" plan, which means if you don't spend all the funds in the account before the end of the year, you lose that money. So, what happens if it's December and you still have a lot of money left in your FSA account? Can you stock up on eligible products to make sure that you don't lose those funds?

The answer is no. But, there are still some options that can help you avoid this situation, so let's take a look at how you can take advantage of all your FSA benefits before year's end, while doing so within the guidelines of your FSA.

What does "stockpiling" mean with an FSA?

While the term hasn't been fully defined, according to informal remarks made by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official, stockpiling eligible items under your FSA means that you buy more items than you're able to use before the end of the taxable year.

Buying any more than three of the same item could be considered "stockpiling." By the very nature of FSAs, any product you buy should be to fill a need for you, your spouse or a qualified dependent. Because of this, the IRS doesn't let you to stock up on eligible items with your FSA, and your administrator can usually figure out that you're stockpiling by analyzing how many items you bought towards the end of the year.

Let's say it's December 1st and you still have $600 left in your FSA. You realize that you're running out of nasal spray, so you decide to buy 25 packs of your favorite saline solution, so you can stock up for the rest of the year and into the next, and use up the remaining balance in your FSA.

The problem is that unless you're somehow going to use all that saline solution in the next 30 days, your FSA administrator may flag that purchase as stockpiling.

If you stock up at the end of the year, your FSA administrator is probably going to send you an alert to inform you that this kind of spending isn't allowed and that those purchases wouldn't be eligible for reimbursement.

Take advantage of rollover and grace period options

The best way to avoid stockpiling is to spend down your FSA balance before you get to the month of December when the mad scramble to use your benefits tends to hit the hardest.

But if you find that you can't quite pull that off, it's important to know that some FSA plans allow you to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next calendar year. If your plan doesn't offer that rollover option, it may offer a grace period of two-and-a-half months at the end of the plan year.

This grace period carries over the remaining balance in your FSA into mid-March of the next calendar year for those running on a calendar year plan, which gives you more time to spend that money before you lose it.

At the beginning of the plan year, make sure you ask your FSA administrator whether your plan offers a rollover or a grace period option so you can plan your spending well in advance.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility
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Real Money: What's the deal with FSAs and weight loss programs?

Maintaining a healthy weight has a whole heap of benefits, one of which is warding off medical conditions. Diet and exercise is important whether you're just looking to fit into your jeans or keep up with your little ones. Sometimes you need a little push and signing up for a weight loss program could help keep you accountable and increases your chances of success.

Well, weight loss programs don't qualify for FSA reimbursement at this time. You can only use your FSA funds for weight loss programs in very limited circumstances, and even then, you will likely need to provide extensive documentation in order to be reimbursed. Before signing up for any type of weight loss program in which you plan to use your FSA funds, make sure to talk with your FSA plan administrator.

So, what weight loss products and services are eligible?

Like any other health care product, you're only able to use your FSA funds for a weight loss program if the purpose is to treat, mitigate, cure, diagnose or prevent a specific illness. This condition needs to be diagnosed by a physician and may include conditions such as obesity, heart disease and hypertension. In short, if you're doing it to fit into those jeans, that's not going to make the cut.

Once your physician does state that you should lose weight specifically to treat an illness, there may be related expenses that will qualify for FSA reimbursement. (Emphasis on "may.") This may include membership fees for a weight loss program and attending meetings. Gym, health club and spa memberships could be tougher to get approved, but you may be able to use your FSA on fees for weight loss activities with supporting documentation submitted to your administrator.

If your physician prescribes food that will help you treat your illness, you may be able to deduct a portion of that expense as well. The food can't just be part of your regular diet and must be for the purpose for treating the illness.

In other words, diet pills and meal substitutes probably won't count as an FSA-qualified special food. If there is a special food specifically prescribed to treat your condition, and the cost of that food is more than the cost of a similar food, you may be able to be reimbursed for the difference in cost.

Some FSAs may require a letter of medical necessity or similar form of documentation in order to be able to be reimbursed for these expenses. This letter basically verifies that your weight loss program or special food is specifically for the treatment of a disease. As each FSA administrator has different requirements, you'll want to check with them first on exactly what this letter will need to include.

How much can I submit for FSA reimbursement?

You can only submit FSA expenses that qualify for reimbursement as outlined previously, and only up to the amount you have elected to contribute to your FSA.

If you're interested in losing weight for health reasons, it's best to speak with your doctor beforehand. He or she will be able to assess your situation and see what programs or regiments will help. And if you're interested in involving your FSA with that weight loss goal, you definitely want to check in with your FSA administrator on what might qualify.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Using FSA dollars for eye care

Considering nearly two out of every three Americans wear prescription glasses, it's surprising there's so much confusion around the FSA eligibility of eye wear and vision care. What's even more surprising is why more Americans aren't using their tax-free funds to pay for the products and services necessary to maintain proper eye health. And we're not just talking eyeglass repair kits and lens wipes -- there are some seriously surprising eye care items on our Eligibility List.

After a winter that wouldn't quit, it seems like spring has finally arrived, so let's get ahead of your eye care and protection so you can make the most of the outdoors in the months ahead.

Contact lenses? Yes!

Let's be clear: there are plenty of places to buy contact lenses. But how many of them allow you to choose from a huge range of brands, entirely with your FSA, without wondering if the ones you want are eligible. Maybe we're a little biased, but we think you'll enjoy buying your contacts this way. (Oh, and when you pay with your FSA card, you can skip the receipts process!)

Prevention starts with protection…

No, we're not talking about high school health classBut the same thinking applies. According to a survey from The Vision Council, 75% of American adults in a survey are concerned about UV eye exposure, but only 31% report wearing sunglasses when going outside.

And cloudy days aren't much safer than sunny ones; you can still do some damage when it's overcast, because UV rays break through clouds and can damage unprotected eyes. Prescription sunglasses are FSA-eligible, so what's stopping you from being smarter than the 69% of people who leave their eyes unprotected?

Some lesser-known eye care options

We've used plenty of digital ink showing how laser eye surgery (more commonly known as LASIK) is completely eligible for FSA and HSA reimbursement. And we hope people are realizing that LASIK surgery is often inexpensive enough to cover entirely with their flexible spending funds.

It's not limited to LASIK, either. Medically necessary treatments and routine eye exams are all part of FSA eligible vision care.

Now, for arguably the most surprisingly eligible vision care expense of all -- guide dogs. The National Federation of the Blind has a list of guide dog schools that can connect you or your loved ones with the right service animal, should you need assistance getting around because of visual impairment or blindness.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! 3 FSA-eligible ways to improve home air quality

"Air pollution" is typically associated with large, industrial cities, but the truth is the air in your home might be even more polluted than outdoors. According to a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is a top environmental concern and can have serious health implications. Taking steps to control the air quality in your home can ultimately reduce your risk of related health concerns.

Luckily, there are some simple solutions that can improve at-home air quality. The best part? The following options just might be FSA-eligible, and worth investigating if your medical needs meet the requirements. In other words, you may be able to decrease air pollution in your home and save money. It's the ultimate win-win.

Air purifiers

Air purifiers work to decrease contaminants in a room, and they're especially beneficial for people with allergies or asthma. However, air purifiers also help to increase air quality, decrease pet dander and heal skin irritations. The stronger types of air purifiers are standalone purifiers and those that connect to larger air conditioning units.

Depending on your needs you may want to select a purifier that's designed to handle the specific source of your air quality concern. Whether that's pet dander, smoke, pollen, or even cooking odors. But always remember, the primary requirement for a good air filter is a high "Clean Air Delivery Rate."

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider. Note: Not all administrators will allow for this and it depends on your medical condition.

Air conditioners

One of the best ways to improve air quality in your home is by controlling the moisture. Here's how it works—mites and mold thrive in dark, damp places, so if you have a bathroom or basement that isn't properly ventilated, there's a good chance that the moisture in those rooms are negatively affecting your air quality.

Air conditioners with clean filters can help your house stay dry and properly ventilated throughout the entire year. For people who live in warmer climates, air conditioning units can help ensure you keep your windows closed during the heat.

Open windows allow pollen and other allergens to enter your home and harm the air quality. If you're looking to add central air conditioning, it's important to note this: Only the amount spent above the value added to the house is eligible for a reimbursement claim through your FSA.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

Air filters

One of the most important things you can do to improve air quality in your home is to regularly change your air filters. If you don't have pets, you should change your air filter every 90 days. If you have one pet, the filter should be changed every 60 days. If you have more than one pet or struggle with allergies, the air filter should be changed every 30 days.

Another way to improve the air quality in your home is with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These filters have a special mesh that traps mites, dust, and other particulars that can make it difficult to breathe properly.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

If you plan to use your FSA to pay for the products above, we recommend that you check with your FSA administrator first to see what they'll allow, and what paperwork is required to make it happen.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.