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Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Revisiting 3 products that just miss FSA eligibility

In case you're new to Asked and Answered, we get a lot of questions about product and service eligibility. And understandably, there's a lot of confusion when it comes to certain products that seem like they should be eligible, but don't quite make the cut in the eyes of the IRS.

On the surface, the regulations behind your FSA seem pretty cut and dry. After all, these accounts are designed to cover "diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body."

But, this makes for a gray area, and some exclusions are more confusing than others. Let's revisit a few products that you would expect to be FSA-eligible, but unfortunately, haven't quite earned a spot on the list.

Toothbrushes/toothpaste/floss

I think we can all agree that good dental care is a healthy "must." Because not taking care of your teeth can lead to a wide range of potential health problems (not to mention social concerns). So, it would make sense for dental supplies to be eligible, right? Well, not quite … at least not yet.

Unfortunately, items like toothbrushes and floss fall under the umbrella of "general health," and don't make the grade just yet. We hope to see some changes in this area, but for now, these products are still taxed. That doesn't mean you should stop using them, though. There are better ways to make a point…

(It also doesn't mean there aren't any FSA-eligible oral care products available - there are plenty of ways to keep your mouth healthy using your tax-free funds.)

E-cigarettes and vaping devices

When we first mentioned these controversial products, they were becoming a hot-button issue. Today, vaping is quickly becoming a massive industry. It's also massively unregulated and largely unproven.

While there have been a metric ton of studies both in the U.S. and abroad proving the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a viable smoking alternative, the FDA won't designate them as "smoking cessation" products until countless other standards and regs are put in place. And that means the IRS isn't likely to budge, either.

So, while nicotine gums and lozenges might not be as popular as vape pens, they're still the only FSA-eligible (when prescribed) smoking cessation products around. But stay tuned, because the growing vape industry is bound to push for FDA approval each year until it gains some traction in Washington.

(But there are still some FSA-eligible smoking cessation tools worth investigating, though.)

Insect repellent

This might be the most-common product we hear about each day. We all know insects carry disease. And that their bites can transmit disease. So wouldn't a product that deters insects from biting be considered a preventive measure against disease?

However sunscreen is eligible and thankfully, your FSA does allow you the best of both worlds, thanks to sun protection that features insect-repelling ingredients. It might not be as potent as that industrial-size can of DEET you carry when you go hiking, but if you can get viable bug and sun protection in one bottle, it's a win-win, with tax-free funds.

BullFrog Mosquito Coast Bug Spray

BullFrog Mosquito Coast Bug Spray is engineered with a DEET-free insect repellent that deters bites for up to 8 hours and protects from the sun.

Oral Care Products

Oral care products like denture cleaner, filling materials and wax for braces are all FSA-eligible to keep you smiling.

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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.

Basics

[WATCH] What's an FSA letter of medical necessity?

In short, an LMN is like a doctor's note. Having an LMN can help you get FSA reimbursement for any product or service that falls outside the IRS definition of "medical care" (but can assist the treatment of a condition).

In other words -- LMNs can be really helpful in getting you the products and services you need with your tax-free funds, without having to try and explain it in a reimbursement claim after the fact. But why explain it in text when our team does it way better in our latest video?

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And for a closer look at LMNs, along with a healthy dose of everything flex spending, check out the rest of our Learning Center!

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: Can I use my FSA for friends if they live with me?

If you have an FSA, you probably already know that you can benefit by using your pre-tax money to pay for qualified medical expenses. But many people who have an FSA also find themselves wondering if the funds can be used on other people, especially if their good friends might be facing some steep medical expenses.

It's natural to want to help your friends out when you're able, so can you use your FSA funds for your friends? We won't leave you waiting -- the answer is no, you can't use your FSA for your friends - even if they live with you. But it's important to discuss why.

Who can FSA funds be used for?

The IRS has very strict guidelines about who and what your money can be used for. When it comes to your personal FSA, you can only use your funds for yourself or for people who are considered qualifying dependents. So when it comes to your friends, they don't become qualifying dependents simply because they live under the same roof as you.

In addition to your friends, this means that you can't use your FSA for siblings, cousins or other relatives that might live with you (unless you can claim them on your taxes as a qualifying dependent).

While you can't use your FSA funds for people that live with you, there are some people you'll be able to use your funds for if they meet certain requirements that allow them to be qualifying dependents. Qualifying dependents include:

  • Your spouse
  • Your children under the age of 26
  • Other relatives that you claim as a dependent on your tax return (such as an elderly parent that you care for)

Don't try to fake the claims

Remember that when you're submitting claims for FSA reimbursement, you have to provide detailed invoices from your care provider to prove that the money you're claiming was a qualified expense. If it isn't your name on the bill, your administrator will notice and your claim won't be approved.

If you use your FSA card to pay for an expense that is determined to be ineligible, it's your responsibility to reimburse the account for the amount. Your funds might be frozen until you reimburse the account.

The IRS is very strict about their definition of dependents that are eligible to be covered under your FSA. If you ever find yourself in doubt about whether or not it's appropriate to use you FSA for anyone who isn't your spouse or a clear dependent, call your administrator. They'll be able to assess your individual situation and provide you with accurate advice.

Leftover funds?

Sometimes, people look to spend money on their friends just because they they'll have too much money left over at the deadline. If this is your situation, don't worry. There are many ways to use your FSA funds so that you don't lose your money at the end of the year.

Check out our Eligibility List to discover the surprising ways that you can spend your funds - they aren't just for copays! You can get yourself a new pair of glasses, acupressure for pain relief, and even high-tech items like blood pressure monitors and non-medicated acne treatments.

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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.

Accounts

The 2019 FSA contribution limit is here!

They made us wait a little longer than usual, but the 2019 FSA contribution limit has finally been announced! If you're a seasoned flex spending veteran, or considering one for your healthcare planning, knowing how much you can put into your account is pivotal for your annual budget.

Each year, the IRS sets the contribution limit for those with an FSA. This limit is subject to indexing based on the increase in Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) each year.

In 2018, the limit for FSA contributions was $2,650, but the IRS has raised the limit for 2019 to $2,700. Check the chart below for all the information you'll need to make an informed decision for the coming year.

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Yearly Contribution Limit

$2,700 per FSA (note that the limit remains the same regardless of single vs. family plan participation). If both spouses have an FSA through their respective employers, they could each elect the maximum in their own account for a total of $5,400 between the two accounts.

Plan Year

Most often 1 year. In limited circumstances, there may be a short plan year.

Eligibility to Contribute

FSA plans are sponsored by employers and eligibility rules are set by each plan. If your employer offers an FSA and you meet the eligibility requirements they set, you're eligible to contribute. Self-employed individuals and owners of certain types of corporations are not eligible for an FSA.

Account Ownership

An FSA is owned and set up by the employer.

Access to Money

An employee's yearly FSA election is available in full on the first day of the plan year, regardless of contributions to date. Funds can be accessed via a card if available of through submission of claims for reimbursement.

Change Contributions?

FSA users can only change their contributions during their Open Enrollment periods. Some plans also allow changes to contributions to be made if the account holder experiences a qualifying life event, such as marriage, divorce, or birth of child.

Special Rules/
Eligibility Exceptions

Employers can choose one of two (or none) options to provide relief for FSA users who would otherwise have to forfeit leftover funds: the $500 rollover and the 2.5 month grace period. The $500 rollover allows FSA users to move up to $500 of the previous plan year's contribution into next year's allocation (without counting against the overall contribution limit) to avoid forfeiting money at year end.

The second is the FSA Grace Period, which gives users up to 2.5 months after the last day of their plan year to spend down their remaining FSA funds.

For more information about what an FSA can cover, visit our comprehensive Eligibility List.


Eligibility

FSA Friday - 11/2/18 - A real-world look at FSAs and the cost of feminine products

"Menstrual equity" - this is a term I wasn't even aware of a few years ago, but now occupies a good chunk of the conversations I have when discussing flexible spending account (FSA) eligibility.

And with good reason! While we love that so many products and services are able to be covered with tax-free funds, there's no doubt that some things probably deserve more consideration.

Since this is an ongoing debate -- one that we're likely to continue covering until changes are made -- let's take another look at the subject … this time, from a dollars and cents perspective.

What Life Would Look Like Without the 'Tampon Tax' - Hannah Recht, Bloomberg

It's pretty clear where Bloomberg stands on the subject, given how author Hannah Recht opens this piece: "Band-aids—check. Condoms—check. Sunscreen—check. Tampons? Nope, sorry."

We'll admit it, that's about as strong an opening line as you could want from an article about healthcare finance. But this discussion of qualification and eligibility affords writers a little more emotion than usual. Because in the eyes of most FSA holders, the fact that feminine products like tampons aren't eligible makes no sense, even if the IRS currently disagrees.

(To be fair, they're not ignoring it on Capitol Hill -- the House passed a bill in July that would add menstrual products to the list of FSA- and HSA-eligible products. But the Senate hasn't yet addressed the bill.)

To recap, because periods are considered a healthy function of the body, and not a medical condition to be treated, tampons and sanitary napkins technically don't qualify.

So, even though most women will use these products regularly, they're not eligible for the savings FSA and HSA owners enjoy for other qualified medical items. It's become known as the "tampon tax" -- and from what we learn in the article, it's adding up for those affected by it.

In the article, Recht goes into painstaking detail (with supporting visuals) to illustrate just how expensive these products are… and how much customers could save if the IRS changed its stance on eligibility.

We can't cover them all here (we strongly encourage you to read the article) but one number that jumped at us immediately is how this rule means up to 30% of a woman's budget for menstrual products goes to paying taxes for the items.

After payroll taxes are deducted from the paycheck, customers still need to pay sales tax on tampons, which dramatically lowers the amount of product they'll get for their money. In situations where money is tight and budgeting is a concern, buying tampons shouldn't be something they need to worry about. But that's exactly what it's become.

With 14% of American girls and women living below the poverty line, this need is only growing across the nation.

What's interesting is that some states (like Nevada) are considering waiving sales tax on menstrual products to help alleviate these costs. But the future of this proposal isn't clear. It was attempted in California, but vetoed shortly after.

This hot-button issue isn't likely to be resolved right away, but articles like this can only help shed some real-world light on a topic that's been shrugged off for far too long. Check out this article to see how well the finances are broken down.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, 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, YouTube and Twitter.

Basics

FSA Friday with Sean - 12/1/17 - FSA deadlines, smart shopping and HDHP confusion

Happy December, everyone! It's a busy time here at FSAstore.com. The year is ending, which means many of you have FSA deadlines rapidly approaching!

Of course, year-end deadlines mean year-end headlines. The three articles we selected this week highlight just how different our understanding of health savings and flexible spending accounts is across the country.

More importantly, even though FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com have the best Learning Centers on the web, these links illustrate how many more people we need to help understand their accounts.

In these links - all of which were published this week, by the way - we see how studies can turn up very different results. One claims HDHP members are smarter shoppers. Another claims these people aren't using their options the right way. Which is right? That depends on your situation.

Luckily, our Learning Center and calculators, along with 24/7 customer service, and a 100% eligibility-guarantee can help clear up this confusion, and help everyone benefit more from their benefits.

HDHPs decline as sole benefit plan option - Employee Benefit News

Just 28% of U.S. employers are considering offering HDHPs as their sole benefit option to their employees in the next three years. This is a reduction from a high of 44% in 2014, according to PwC's Health Research Institute study.

Consumers with high-deductible health plans may be smarter shoppers - Reuters

Even when consumers have health plans that require them to pay a high amount out-of-pocket for care, they often don't talk to doctors about the price of treatments or shop around to get the best deal, a U.S. study suggests.

Most Americans with high-deductible health plans don't shop or save - Insurance Journal

A new study suggests that despite the rise in these high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), most Americans who have them aren't saving, shopping around for better prices, talking to their doctors about costs, or making other consumer-type moves.

For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow our Learning Center, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.