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Accounts

Flex-Ed: Why you shouldn't "stockpile" items with your FSA (and shouldn't have to)

Even though it feels like we just went through a deadline period (well, we sorta did) it's hard to believe that the Grace Period deadline is just a month away. This winter has gone quickly, and you might find yourself wondering just how you're going to spend down the rest of your 2018 FSA funds.

To a newcomer, it might seem easy -- just load up on eligible products to make sure that you don't lose those funds. But it's not quite that easy.

By IRS rules, you're not allowed to do that. But, there are still some options that can help you avoid losing any funds. Let's take a closer look at how you can take advantage of all your FSA benefits before deadline hits, while staying on the right side of IRS mandates.

How will the IRS know I'm "stockpiling?"

We get it -- it's not like federal agents are monitoring your monthly bandage and ice pack usage. While the term hasn't been fully defined, stockpiling eligible items within your FSA means you buy more items than you're realistically able to use before the end of the plan year.

By the very nature of FSAs, any products you buy should be for meeting a health care need for you and your qualified dependents. Because of this, the IRS doesn't let you front load your shopping cart with items. And, to be honest, your administrator can probably figure out any potential stockpiling by looking at your purchase history. (Hint: administrators are required by law to look through your expenses to ensure they're qualified.)

Let's say it's March 1st and you still have $400 left in your FSA. You realize that you're running out of sunscreen, so you decide to buy 25 bottles of your favorite SPF15+ variety, just to get your family of three ready for a long summer season. Easy as it gets, right?

The problem is that unless your little family is somehow going to use all that sunscreen in the next 30 days or so, your FSA administrator may flag that purchase as a little excessive.

No, uniformed officers probably aren't going to crash through your door to confiscate your sunscreen. And some FSA administrators might not even give it a second look (even though they should). But others might. If they do, you'll probably get a letter that indicates that this type of spending goes against the nature of FSAs … and that your reimbursement might be in question.

Not only does that create an unnecessary headache for you (especially when trying to make good use of your tax-free funds) but it also goes against the principles that allowed FSAs to be such a benefit in the first place. Playing by the rules is important, friends.

Rollover and grace periods are here to help!

The best way to avoid stockpiling is to spend down your FSA balance within your plan year. This way, you can avoid the mad scramble once deadline time rolls around.

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 the previous year's funds into the next calendar year. If your plan doesn't offer that option, it may offer a grace period of two-and-a-half months at the end of the plan year -- exactly the season we're in now for anyone who had a 12/31 deadline.

You may have this option and not even know it. You might even think you lost some funds at the end of 2018 -- forever. But the reality is you might still have time to use this money, before you actually do lose it.

There's no time like today -- contact your FSA administrator to see the status of your account, and whether your plan offers a carryover or a grace period option so you can finish off those 2018 funds, and plan better for the coming year.

That said, remember to be smart when doing this spending. Take a good look at your household's health care supplies and wellness needs, and then make realistic purchases that not only ensure your family's health, but also that it falls in line with the true intention of tax-free health care accounts.

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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.

Basics

Flexible Spending Accounts get more flexible

Use it or lose it? Maybe not.

Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury and IRS modified the "Use It or Lose It" rule that could go into effect as early as plan year 2013. Millions of Americans rely on the pre-tax FSA to save on out-of-pocket FSA eligible expenses.

What does the modified rule mean for flexible spending accounts?

An employer could:

  • Allow for a carryover of up to $500 of unused FSA funds to the following year. However, the option to give a carryover is up to the employer, and they must change FSA plan documentation to allow for the carryover.
  • Continue offering a grace period instead – an FSA cannot have both the carryover and a grace period.
  • In some instances, employers may opt to not offer either a carryover or a grace period at all, though this is rare.
  • Following the Uniform Coverage rule, FSA funds will remain available to starting on the very first day of the FSA plan year.

“Across the administration, we are always looking for ways to provide added flexibility and commonsense solutions to how people pay for their healthcare,” commented Secretary Jacob J. Lew.

At FSAstore.com, we support any measures that would promote FSA growth and those that help FSA participants and our customers.

"The changes to the 'Use it or Lose It' rule promote positive growth for Flexible Spending Accounts. Right now is an important time of the year as it is open enrollment season, which allows employees to opt into an FSA. The 'Use it or Lose it' provision is one of the reasons why many people shy away from FSAs, but FSAs offer major pre-tax savings on out-of-pocket expenses," said FSAstore.com Founder and President, Jeremy Miller. "On our site, we sell FSA eligible medical products that people need every day, not just the end of the year when deadlines approach, such as first aid supplies, blood pressure monitors and breast pumps. We support continued FSA growth for the millions of American families who rely on these plans and are hopeful that the changes should boost FSA enrollment significantly."

We recently launched a new FSA Tracker, so that our customers don't have to miss their FSA deadlines. Check out other resources such as our FSA Learning Center for answers to FSA-related questions, FSA Services to find eligible health care providers, the FSA Eligibility List to browse eligible products and an FSA Calculator to estimate expenses during this year’s open enrollment. If you need spend down your FSA, shop for thousands of FSA eligible products and bundles!