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Basics

Real Money: Just how strict is the 12/31 FSA deadline?

Just take a look around FSAstore.com and you'll notice that we're racing toward the year-end FSA deadline. And there's a good reason -- a LOT of people have their deadlines fall on the end of the calendar year. It's an exciting time around here (and for anyone getting great deals on FSA-eligible products) but it doesn't apply to all FSA holders.

So, the first thing you need to do is contact your FSA administrator, to be 100% sure of your deadline, and your options. If you do have the 12/31 deadline, it's technically pretty strict, but that doesn't mean you have to submit all your claims by the end of the year.

If you have a 12/31 deadline, there are two other dates in 2020 you need to be aware of — March 15 and March 31. These are both deadlines that may apply to you to but they're drastically different in terms of the last date you can spend your FSA funds.

Confused? Not to worry, we've got you covered.

Which deadline do you have?

As I mentioned before, there are two separate deadlines. The grace period for December 31 plans ends on March 15, while the run out period typically ends on March 31

The runout period is the time you can submit to get your FSA funds reimbursed for the previous plan year. For example, you have $300 left in your FSA in 2019 and are waiting on invoices. If your plan offers the runout period, then you likely have until March 31, 2020 to submit the receipts for the $300 or else you risk losing the money.

On the other hand, the grace period typically ends on March 15 on the following year. This is where your FSA provider gives you time to purchase new products or services before you need to forfeit your money. That $300 in your FSA funds for this year can be used up until March 15, 2020. It can include money you spend on qualified expenses anywhere between January 1 and March 15, 2019.

Your FSA provider may also give you a rollover option — and it means just that -- you can roll over up to $500 into your 2020 FSA budget. Keep in mind that your plan will only offer either the grace period or rollover options (you can't have both), they can be combined with the runout, and they may offer none of them. Your employer's plan is not obligated to offer any additional extensions for people with a year-end deadline, so again -- check with your administrator before assuming anything.

(If you still have questions, we have a fantastic guide that decodes these terms so you know exactly where you stand.)

Now I know… so what now?

No matter what your plan's rules are, it's still a good idea to comb through your 2019 expenses to see if you've already made claims on them. Hopefully, you've been keeping track of receipts and invoices for this very reason.

If you have the runout period, now's the time to make sure you spend the rest of the FSA funds before December 31. You still have time to submit receipts until the cut off date.

If you have the runout, make sure you budget accordingly so that you can use up the funds. Let's say you still have $200 left to spend and your FSA providers allows you to spend those funds until March 15, 2020. Make a budget now to see what qualified medical expenses you can make so that you're prepared.

With the rollover option, think about your expenses for the year and if you will have more than $500 remaining at plan year-end, make sure you spend it down.. Does this mean you'll need to change your contribution amount for 2020? Or are there upcoming expenses you have you didn't before?

Planning ahead will help you with budgeting and making sure you use your FSA funds the right way. It's worth taking the time to do it, because the savings are usually pretty significant.

Use it... don't lose it!

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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.

Basics

Flex-Ed: Staying ahead of your year-end FSA deadlines

You had the best intentions when you put money into your flexible spending account (FSA). But as the calendar winds down (and don't be afraid, but November is already here!) the holidays can disrupt your to-do list, and that money could easily go to waste. Luckily, there's still plenty of time to make smart year-end FSA spending decisions. We'll cover how to make the most of your money — while avoiding IRS scrutiny.

Know these key dates

When it comes to maximizing your FSA, knowledge is power. Start by asking your plan administrator for details about your key FSA deadlines (and know the difference between them!). These may include:

  • Rollover - If your company offers a rollover, you'll have an opportunity to keep $500 in your account from the previous year.
  • Grace period - Some employers offer up to 2½ extra months after the annual deadline to use your FSA money. If the annual deadline is December 31, a grace period extends your deadline to March 15.
  • Run-out period - This is your deadline to submit receipts from the previous year. Most companies offer a 90-day run-off period after the deadline. If your plan's deadline is December 31, you'll have until March 31 to be reimbursed.

Before crafting your FSA spending plan, it's critical to know these deadlines. Your company could offer a rollover, grace period, or hard deadline on December 31. Once you know your plan's deadlines, set more than one reminder to avoid surprises.

Where can you spend your FSA money?

If you're taxing your brain, it may be worth revisiting what you purchased over the past year. Now is the perfect time to reimburse yourself for an FSA-eligible expense you may have missed.

Taking inventory of the past couple years of spending may also jog your memory. Are you overdue for an eye exam? Have you been putting off a specialist visit? Did you skip your annual trip to the dermatologist? Time slips away faster than you may expect. You may be able to use your extra FSA money on basic necessities.

If you're still feeling nervous, our foolproof list of FSA-eligible products and services has you covered.

Resist the urge to stockpile

We've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again - try not to "stockpile" FSA-eligible products. There's no hard and fast rule about this, but being too frivolous with these funds can trigger some unwanted IRS attention.

Look, we get it. Things happen — the holidays creep in and before you know it, you're up against the FSA spending deadline. While it may be tempting to splurge on a lifetime supply of gauze, experts urge against it.

If you're trying to follow the rules — and you should be — FSA purchases should cover your current needs. This means things you need through the end of the year. Does that mean your administrator will show up to inspect your bottle of nasal spray? Probably not.

But buying three bottles in December could trigger a red flag. If that happens, it's possible your administrator won't reimburse you. Then you're stuck with too much nasal spray and you spent money unnecessarily.

If your plan offers a rollover or grace period, it may be easier to avoid the temptation to stockpile. Plus, you'll have extra time to plan for the medical expenses you actually need.

Be smart with year-end FSA spending

One of the best things about your FSA is spending pre-tax money on medical necessities. But if you're not careful, you may have to surrender the unused funds. Unless you're flush with cash, returning FSA money to your employer at the end of the year is less than ideal.

The good news is you can use this year's missteps to plan for next year's FSA spending. Planning ahead may help you avoid the same trouble next December.

Start here!

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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.

Eligibility

The FSAstore.com Carolers present "We Wish You A Merry Flexmas"

It may be Christmas Eve, but we can't forget about the other big holiday for FSA holders -- Flexmas! If you have a 12/31 FSA deadline, there's just one week left to use those flex spending dollars before they're gone faster than Santa's sleigh!

Need a little inspiration to start spending those tax-free funds? Let's see the latest from the FSAstore.com Carolers!

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To make this even easier, stop by FSAstore.com for thousands of guaranteed FSA-eligible health products. If you need some ideas for spending down your tax-free funds, start here!

And from all of at FSAstore,com and HSAstore.com, best wishes for a happy, HEALTHY holiday!

Living Well

More deadline greetings from the FSAstore.com Carolers!

The countdown is on at FSAstore.com! With the holidays in full swing, and the 12/31 deadline approaching, there's isn't much time left to save big on 100% guaranteed-eligible products.

If you have a 12/31 FSA deadline, and haven't spent down your funds yet, let the FSAstore.com Carolers give you a gentle reminder to use that money before it's gone!

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To make this easy for you, stop by FSAstore.com for thousands of guaranteed FSA-eligible health products. And if you need a little inspiration for spending down your tax-free funds, check out our handy FSA Deadline Buying Guide!

Basics

Flex-Ed: Understanding your new FSA

Welcome to all the new FSA holders who may have just enrolled! (And welcome back to anyone who just wants a little FSA refresher lesson.) As you probably know, signing up for an FSA is an excellent way to save money on qualified healthcare expenses by contributing pre-tax dollars to your account. But there's a lot to learn when it comes to understanding exactly how your FSA works.

Where to start?

First thing's first; if you want to make the most of your new FSA, take a little time up front to familiarize yourself with the basics. Your FSA administrator is your new best friend. Take time to figure out who that is (your HR department can point you in the right direction) and read through your plan documents.

You should have available to you something called a Summary Plan Description, where you'll find important information about how you can use your FSA, who you can use it for and any important deadlines you should be aware of.

Knowing exactly what you can use your FSA on will save you time and effort in the long run. While there are resources to help you understand exactly what's covered, these commonly covered expenses will ultimately depend on what your plan will allow. Knowing your FSA allowances up front will avoid any issues with you trying to use your account for expenses which may not be qualified.

How can you access your FSA money?

Once you've taken time to familiarize yourself with those plan documents we talked about and learn about your qualified expenses, you're ready to start using your FSA. If you have an FSA card, you should be able to use it for any copays at the doctor or dentist as well as for any out of pocket medical expenses you may incur.

Be sure to keep any receipts when you use your card; your FSA administrator may require that you submit a copy of your receipt along with any other required supporting documentation to show that you used your account correctly (a rule enforced by the IRS).

What if you don't have an FSA card?

If a card isn't part of your FSA plan, you'll need to submit claims to get the money out of your FSA. Most FSA administrators have ways for you to do this easily online, so check in with them about the options that you have available.

While the claims process may seem a bit overwhelming to start, there should be clearly laid out forms to help you through it. Claim forms will typically request information about the types of medical services or items that you received or purchased, the dates in which the expenses incurred, who your medical provider was, etc.

Make sure to include copies of your receipts or other appropriate documentation with your claim, such as an explanation of benefits that shows how your expense was applied to your insurance. Doing this up front will help to ensure that your claim gets approved and you get your money quicker.

Do you really have to rush to spend your money?

One of the best parts about an FSA is that every dollar you elect to set aside is available to you on the first day of your plan year, but that doesn't mean you need to rush to spend it. In fact, FSAs can be a useful tool in managing your year-round spending, there when you need it to cover those common out of pocket costs like co-pays, deductibles, prescriptions, glasses, dentists visits and so much more. You can even use it throughout the year for everyday medical expenses like sunscreen, band-aids and contact lens solution.

If you're worried about your end of year deadline already, one of the most common misconceptions about FSA accounts is that you'll end up with a bunch of unspent money at the end of the year that you'll lose after the deadline.

While it's true that your FSA funds may be subject to a "use it or lose it" policy, planning ahead will help you prevent this situation all together. Armed with the information on exactly what you can use your FSA for, you should be able to find thousands of ways to use your FSA all year long.

Learning more about your FSA

If you still need more information, it's important to utilize all the tools available to make the most of your FSA funds. Some examples of helpful resources include:

  • An eligibility list, which will show you exactly what's eligible and any conditions that need to be met.
  • An FSA calculator can help you determine how much money you'll save with your FSA account. It's an indispensable tool when it comes to estimating your medical expenses for the upcoming year and how much money from each paycheck should be contributed in order for you to see the biggest benefit. All you need to do is enter a few basic questions to get started.
  • Other tools and resources, like articles and more, can help you keep track of the latest FSA developments.

If you've made it this far, you're off to a good start. We know just how great an FSA can be for the millions of Americans who take advantage of them and we're certain that with this information in hand, you'll see just how great they are too.

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

Asked and Answered: Why can't I gift my FSA funds if I'm not using them?

If you have an FSA and a spending deadline that expires on 12/31, you know that the clock is ticking on those funds. For some, there's a rollover option where you can apply up to $500 of your unused funds for 2019. Or you might have the option of a grace period, which gives you a few extra months to use your 2018 FSA money, rather than trying to do all your spending now.

Personally, with so many exciting and unexpected ways to spend your FSA, we're not sure why you'd wait. But it's not our money, and you might not have any rollover or grace period options in your plan.

What if you still end up having too much FSA funds? As in, you overestimated how much you were going to need and now you're left with a stash of unused money? What can you do about it?

Isn't it the "season of giving?"

Don't make us feel guilty - the rules are strict, and they're there for a reason. As you probably realized by the headline, the quick answer is "no, you can't gift your FSA funds." While there are plenty of cool things you might want to share with someone else, buying gifts with pre-tax funds allocated for you and your dependents is a big no-no in the eyes of the IRS.

In other words, even though "'tis the season," if you've been eyeballing those acupressure mats and thinking it'll be a great gift for your great aunt, you're outta luck.

And even though we love your thinking, if you're considering donating the funds, you can't do that either. You may have the items earmarked for a worthy cause, but FSA rules frown upon that activity too. So those boxes of Pull-Ups you wanted to donate to the local shelter will have to come out of another account, not your FSA.

But, I have a lot of FSA money left over. What can I do?

Before we go any further, it's important to know that it's up to you to find out what constitutes as eligible and what your FSA plan will allow. Always speak with your FSA administrator if you have any questions or concerns.

To make things easier for you and your needs, we developed a 2018 FSA Deadline Buying Guide designed for a wide range of scenarios, that can help you narrow down your decision making. You'd be surprised at just how many everyday health items are eligible and our buying guide gives plenty of ideas for those with lots of leftover FSA funds. .

In the end, take having all these extra FSA funds as a sign that you may need to reassess your budget for the upcoming year. It would be a shame to set aside all that money and find out that you can't use it up, ultimately wasting it because of a year-end rush to the finish line.

From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, 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

Podcast-Eligible: Deadline Bling

The 12/31 deadline is approaching, and if you have an FSA through your employer (and don't have the 2.5 month grace period or $500 rollover), there's a good chance your FSA deadline is coming in the next few weeks! As always, please check with your HR department for the specific end date of your plan year!

In this episode, we recap some of our favorite FSA-eligible products of the year, and help you shop based on how much you have left in your account. (Don't worry about taking notes - we'll provide links to all of our favorite products below the podcast link.)

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On average, about $30 is forfeited each year by individual FSAs. This might not seem like a lot, but it adds up to millions of unspent dollars annually across the country. Since it's your money, check out the show to see how Kevin and Sean can help you avoid deadline oversights.

$50 and below

$50-$200

$200 and above

If you have FSA money to spend before 12/31, come visit us! We'll accept orders with your FSA card until midnight PST - no other retailer can say that. Happy deadline season and we'll see you in the new year!

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Can I use my FSA for holiday shopping?

One unfortunate reality of the holiday season is that we're all faced with extra expenses that we typically don't have during the rest of the year. You might need to buy presents for your children, purchase plane tickets for holiday spending, or dish out extra money to prepare big holiday meals.

All of these extra expenses can cause a lot of financial stress and leave people scrambling for a way to save some extra money. You might even find yourself wondering if you can use your FSA money for holiday shopping.

The answer is no. You can't use your FSA funds to cover the cost of your holiday shopping or on any additional expenses that the holidays might bring.

Why isn't holiday shopping an eligible expense?

Purchases need to be eligible medical expenses in order for you to be able to use your FSA funds. According to the IRS, an eligible medical expense is an item or treatment that diagnoses, prevents, treats, or cures a disease or condition. Your holiday shopping is money you spend for your own personal enjoyment or the enjoyment of others and doesn't meet the IRS requirements of an eligible expense.

What can it be spent on during the holiday season?

While you can't use your FSA funds to cover presents and other holiday expenses, you can still use it to help yourself recover from the holiday shopping season healthy and happy. Here are a few ways you can use your FSA funds to stay in top form throughout the most stressful time of the year.

Address your mental health

Long nights, cold days, and the stress of the holiday season can lead many people to struggle with their mental health. If you find yourself struggling, don't be afraid to seek help. You can use your FSA funds to cover the cost of an appointment with a psychologist, psychiatrist or a counselor (plan permitting - always check with your FSA administrator on exactly what your plan will allow).

Setting up an appointment will help you handle your mental health and leave you feeling better. With a clearer head and more optimistic perspective, you'll be better equipped to handle whatever the holiday season has to throw at you.

Some administrators require a letter of medical necessity to be obtained from your primary care physician, so check in with them before scheduling these appointments.

Stay active

Staying active can help you relieve stress, keep you healthy and feeling energized this holiday season. If you just sit around on the couch all winter and tend to overeat, you'll likely find yourself lacking the energy you need to tackle the holidays. So if you need new equipment that helps you stay active pain-free like orthopedic shoe insoles, joint supports, or kinesiology tape, remember that these items are typically eligible for reimbursement.

Keep illness away

The flu and other illnesses like the common cold can knock you off your feet during the winter. So be proactive and minimize your chances of getting sick by setting up an appointment with your primary care physician. Now is a great time to get a clean bill of health. And while you're there - get your flu shot to minimize the chance of getting and spreading the flu this winter.

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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.