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Living Well

Real Money: Let's talk baby skin

Yeah, we've gone a little "baby crazy" lately, but summer is full of travel and outdoor activities, and parents need to be ready for anything that can happen in the warm weather. Especially if your kids have sensitivities.

My son has eczema, and it's no walk in the park. In fact, it seems to be exacerbated whenever we go outside in the heat like -- well -- to the park. Between swapping out skin care items like lotions, detergent, and diaper rash creams, to trying several brands of sunscreen, we've definitely bought our fair share of products, many of which are FSA-eligible.

From baby acne to eczema to prickly heat to stubborn diaper rash, here are our picks for the best ways to combat baby skin issues. Some are even FSA-eligible. Score.

Eczema

While buying a good eczema cream is a must for babies suffering from this skin condition, it isn't the only product you'll need. Since many sunscreens can aggravate the issue, you'll likely try a few different types of zinc-based baby sunscreen until you find a formula that doesn't irritate their skin.

Worth noting: Anything branded specifically for babies tends to be more expensive, so it's a good thing your FSA has you covered.

You also may need to change up other items your little one's skin comes into contact with, like detergents, lotions, or cleaning supplies. And if all else fails, your child's pediatrician may provide you with some prescription-level relief, also FSA-eligible.

Baby acne

Babies aren't always at their cutest. But what makes the situation worse? A case of baby acne. This skin condition affects about 20% of newborns, and looks like tiny white pimples or even whiteheads. There's really not a definite cure, other than keeping their skin clean and patting it dry. Use a gentle baby cleanser for that.

If the condition worsens or doesn't go away on its own, it may warrant a visit to your child's pediatrician, who may prescribe a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide topical treatment.

Other skin issues

Heat rash is another common skin issue in babies, especially during the summer . Also known as prickly heat or miliaria, this crops up when baby gets a bit too warm. This rash looks like raised red bumps or even tiny blisters under the skin, and happens more often in babies because they can't sweat as effectively as adults. Plus, they have those wonderfully chunky arm and leg rolls.

Troubleshoot this issue by keeping baby out of the heat, giving them a lukewarm bath, and avoiding lotions. Though if he or she seems itchy, some FSA-eligible baby powder might help.

While common, diaper rash can be one tough rash to kick since your baby is likely sporting a diaper 95% of the time. Try an FSA-eligible diaper rash cream like A&D; ointment. Another cure for diaper rash? Going sans-diaper for a few minutes a day around your house or outside. This one works wonders—if you're willing to risk it, that is.

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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.

Living Well

Real Money: How your FSA can lead to better sleep

Getting enough sleep can be a constant battle. If you struggle, you know how much it impacts every day of your life. It can mess with everything from your hormones to brain function. Sleep problems may even contribute to major health problems like obesity and depression.

Lack of sleep may cause a lot of havoc, but luckily, there are ways to try and fix it. If you are worried about the money, consider using your flexible spending account (FSA). It's a great way to spend tax-free dollars on getting some shut-eye. Here are four FSA-eligible options you may not have considered.

Improve your sleeping environment

Sometimes, adjusting your bedroom environment can make a big difference. You don't have to break the bank with a full-scale renovation. Try experimenting with a few small changes over time.

If you can't add room-darkening blinds, try blocking out light with a pain alleviating sleep mask. This lavender comfort wrap not only reduces pain through hot or cold therapy, but as a bonus it helps promote relaxation. If you are a light sleeper, try a white noise machine or earplugs to block out extra sounds.

It's a good idea to avoid gadgets, electronics, and bright lights. You should replace your mattress every 5-7 years and invest in comfy bedding. Experts say the ideal sleep temperature is around 65 degrees.

Are digestion issues keeping you awake?

It's common to experience acid reflux or heartburn after a big meal. But if this happens often, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you are pregnant or overweight, these symptoms may be even more likely.

If it happens at night, while you are lying down, a wedge medical pillow may offer some relief. These pillows keep your stomach acid at bay by elevating your head, shoulders, and torso.

Too anxious or stressed? See a professional.

Sleep issues are often linked to mental health problems. Your poor sleep may be the result of anxiety, substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues may not go away on their own. Lack of sleep may be making your symptoms worse. If you suspect one of these issues may be your underlying problem, don't be afraid to seek treatment.

Consider a sleep study

If you have made a bunch of lifestyle changes and still struggling, consider a sleep study. These tests can measure your sleep cycles to find out where your patterns are being disturbed. A sleep study may help your doctor diagnose one of these common problems:

  • Chronic insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Sleep apnea
  • Other unusual sleep behaviors

If your doctor uncovers one of theses issues, they may schedule a follow-up appointment. From there, they can recommend further treatment options to try and resolve the problem.

You don't have to suffer through chronic sleep problems

If you have been suffering from sleep problems for a while, you know how devastating the effects can be. It's tough to slog through every day feeling exhausted, with no relief in sight. If you have already tried a bunch of things, with the same disappointing result, it may be time to speak with your doctor.

With any luck, they may diagnose the problem and get you started with a treatment plan. Before you know it, you may finally achieve that elusive good night's sleep.

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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

Flex-Ed: Gift yourself some health this Father's Day

Father's Day is this Sunday. While the dads reading this probably have received their share of personalized mugs, new ties, or even a homemade pencil cup, there's a good chance they aren't getting things they actually need to keep them safely and happily "dadding" throughout the year.

And since you can't use an FSA for anyone but yourself and eligible dependents, it's the perfect time to get yourself something that promotes better health. We decided to break from the norm with this week's Flex-Ed to highlight some top FSA-eligible picks for all our favorite dads this year. Because the last thing you need is another grill apron.

Ultimate Foot Circulator with Remote

This foot circulator delivers prescription-strength relief, treats stiff muscles, and increases circulation in both your feet and ankles. It even comes with its own remote. A few nights with this awesome form of relief and you'll be back in those lawn-mowing shoes in no time. After all, no one mows symmetrical stripes in a lawn quite like dad.

CPAP Mask and accessory cleaner

Like it or not, you probably snore. In fact, about 40% of men are snorers. (That's compared to only 24% of women, but who's keeping track?) But jokes aside, snoring can be indicative of more serious (and even life-threatening) conditions like sleep apnea.

This Father's Day, perhaps it's time to come to grips with this sobering fact and look into CPAP therapy for your own snoring. If doctors agree you'd benefit, you can use your FSA to invest in a CPAP mask and accessory cleaner, which uses UV light to kill 99% of the machine's bacteria in just five minutes.

Maybe it's not the most fun item on this list. But there's nothing more enjoyable than a healthy dad and a good night's sleep (for everyone).

Acid reflux relief system

If dad's not already grilling, Father's Day often ends up in a nice dinner out -- usually at one of his favorite chain restaurants. Think Applebee's, Chili's, or if you're feeling fancy, The Olive Garden. And let's face it, the never-ending breadstick bowl can result in some pretty gnarly heartburn.

That's where the MedCline Acid Reflux Relief System comes in. It creates the ideal inclined, left-side sleeping position to help ease the pain while promoting better digestion. It's also really comfortable and ergonomic, so dad wins twice on this one.

Nausea bands

Traveling this Father's Day? Chances are an amusement park is on your short list of destinations. Remember when you used to be able to ride roller coasters and not need to sit down immediately afterward? Yep, those were the good ol' days.

Since your kids will likely show no mercy when you take them to an amusement park, you'll need the Reliefband 2.0 Nausea Relief band. It's a drug-free, fast-acting way to relieve the effects of motion sickness. It also kinda looks like an Apple Watch, so there's that.

Owlet Baby Monitor

And for you newly minted members of the dad club out there, perhaps investing in the Owlet Smart Sock 2 Baby Monitor. This isn't just your run-of-the-mill baby monitor. The sock portion wraps about your baby's foot, tracking heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep then sends the info to the base using Bluetooth technology.

While you probably won't be getting much sleep with a new baby at home, this will help everyone sleep a bit easier. Because it's probably going to be a few years before you're putting your child to sleep with your arsenal of dad jokes.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our Flex-Ed column gives you a 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.




Living Well

Asked and Answered: How can I use my FSA to handle ongoing allergies?

If you struggle with seasonal allergies -- yes, even in the heart of summer -- you know how difficult they can be. Itchy eyes and sneezing are tough to bear, especially when the pollen count is high. If over-the-counter drugs aren't enough, it may be time for a more proactive approach.

It may not always be cheap, but your flexible spending account (FSA) could make allergy treatment easier to pay for. Here's some things you might want to know.

What causes seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies are rough. Before tackling them head-on, it may help to understand why they actually happen. Allergies occur when your immune system flags a substance — like pollen or mold — as "dangerous" to your body. For protection, your body reacts with inflammation. This may include your digestive system, skin, or sinuses. You can tell from the onslaught of sneezing, congestion, coughing or other symptoms.

Visit an allergist to prevent seasonal allergies

The problem with seasonal allergies is once they begin, they can be difficult to control. Over-the-counter remedies may not be enough. They may leave you with less money, without a lot of progress to show for it.

If your seasonal allergies are severe, you may want to see a doctor before your symptoms begin. They may suggest skin tests or blood work to identify your main triggers. From there, they may offer a customized treatment plan.

Start with the right over-the-counter drugs

Over-the-counter allergy drugs usually aren't cheap. Luckily, with a doctor's prescription, you can use your FSA or health savings account (HSA) to pay for them. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Cromolyn sodium nasal spray - This drug may prevent allergies, but only if you use it before the symptoms begin.
  • Decongestants - These may come in either pill or nasal spray form. Oral decongestants may offer temporary relief from a stuffy nose. But they shouldn't be used every day — or your symptoms may get worse. Here's what to look for in the drugstore:
  • Oral decongestants - pseudoephedrine - brand names like Sudafed or Afrinol
  • Nasal sprays - oxymetazoline (Afrin) or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine)
  • Oral antihistamines - These drugs may relieve allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy skin, watery eyes, or a runny nose. Some of the most popular options include:
  • Loratadine - brand names Claritin or Alavert
  • Cetirizine - brand name Zyrtec Allergy
  • Fexofenadine - brand name Allegra Allergy
  • Loratadine-pseudoephedrine - Claritin-D
  • Fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine - Allegra-D

Consider allergy shots

If over-the-counter remedies aren't enough, your doctor may suggest allergy shots. Once you know what causes trouble, your doctor can start allergen immunotherapy. This involves getting regular shots or tablets.

The treatment includes exposure to small amounts of the problem substance. Over time, your immune system may be more comfortable with the substance and skip flares from future contact.

Be proactive with seasonal allergies

Seasonal allergies make it hard to enjoy the warmer months. Rather than reacting when symptoms flare, consider a more proactive approach. By getting ahead of your seasonal allergies, your day-to-day activities, including time outdoors, will be a lot more comfortable.

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

Asked and Answered: Can I pay my spouse's insurance premiums with my FSA?

If you're married and have an FSA, you've probably wondered whether or not you can use it to pay for your spouse's health insurance premiums.

So, let's get right to it. Unfortunately, the answer is no, you can't use your FSA to pay for your spouse's health insurance since premiums don't qualify as an eligible FSA expense (which means you can't use your FSA for your own insurance premiums, either).

Maybe that's not the news you wanted to hear. But the important details come from learning why they don't qualify. So, let's take a look at why your spouse's insurance premiums aren't covered - and learn what is - so you know what to expect when planning medical expenses for your family.

Why can't I use an FSA to pay for my spouse's health insurance premiums?

The IRS determines what expenses are eligible for FSA coverage. So, while health insurance premiums help pay for medical care, the money you pay to the company isn't being directly applied to any specific treatment or diagnosis for a medical condition. This means that insurance premiums don't fall into any FSA-eligible categories.

The purpose of an FSA is to cover out-of-pocket expenses for medical care that aren't already covered by your regular health insurance. It's meant to help you bridge the gap between what your insurance pays and what you're expected to pay by allowing you to use pre-tax dollars set aside in your paycheck.

Are there any exceptions?

We don't like doing it again, but no, there aren't any exceptions to this rule. You can't use your FSA to pay for your spouse's health insurance premiums under any circumstances, even if your spouse has healthcare coverage through COBRA.

So what is covered?

You can use your FSA to cover any of yours or your spouse's eligible expenses that aren't already covered by a health insurance plan, including co-pays, diagnostic tests, hospital stays, deductibles, prescriptions, and insulin.

Over-the-counter medications that have been prescribed by a doctor, as well as medical equipment like blood sugar testing kits, bandages, braces and crutches, are also eligible. You can even request an FSA debit card (if applicable to your plan) for your spouse to make it easier to pay for these types of eligible expenses.

At times you'll find that your spouse's health insurance will only cover a portion of the cost of necessary medical procedures. In these cases, you can also use your FSA to cover the remaining balance.

Something to keep in mind is that eligible expenses must be incurred in the current plan year to be reimbursed. You won't be able to use your FSA to cover any appointments or procedures that took place prior to the annual start date of your plan.

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From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears on Wednesdays, 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?! How I got serious about spring skin protection

Did you know that Florida has the highest skin cancer rate in the country? That's why when my family moved to the Sunshine State, I knew it was time to start taking my skin health seriously -- especially this time of year.

You might already know that sunscreen is FSA-eligible. But did you know that trips to the dermatologist, protective lip balm, even some sunscreen/bug spray combos are also on the eligible list? Here's how to form healthy skin care and protection health habits – without skipping the sunshine altogether.

Use sunscreen everyday (no skipping)

I knew it was time to change my skin protection habits when I'd make it a habit to cover my son in sunscreen from head to toe before we went to the park, beach, or zoo – but I'd completely forget to cover myself.

Now, I keep a basket of sunscreen by my front door. Baby sunscreen for him, and sunscreen and protective lip balm for me. We also both usually wear hats when outdoors, which the CDC says can help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Find the right sunscreen

Sunscreen is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Take advantage of the many FSA-eligible sunscreen options, from mineral sunscreens to quick-drying formulas, even extra-hydrating options.

While some busy parents buy a jumbo bottle of sunscreen and slather it on the whole family, most sunscreens are too strong or irritating for a young child's skin. Experts recommend that kids' sunscreen be SPF30+, have UVA and UVB ray protection, and is water-resistant.

Another reason it's important that you find a sunscreen just right for your little one? Just one blistering sunburn during childhood can nearly double skin cancer rates.

Invest in other types of sun protection

Your sunscreen options aren't just limited to sprays and lotions. Stock up on protective sun clothing for the whole family. Many retailers offer sun shirts, bathing suits and sun hats with SPF50 or higher, offering one more layer between your skin and the sun's damaging rays.

Also worth considering? High-quality sunglasses that offer UV protection for your eyes. Prescription sunglasses are eligible, as long as the lens also provide vision correction. And don't forget about your lips. Protective lip balm is another FSA-eligible way to keep your skin in top shape this summer.

If you want more bang for your buck, try investing in an SPF15+ sunscreen/bug repellent combo. Since bug spray alone isn't covered by your FSA, this is a great chance to kill two birds (er, bugs?) with one stone.

Always turn to the professionals

No, we're not talking about professional sunbathers. One of the most important steps you can take to take care of your skin is to visit your dermatologist at least once a year for a skin cancer screening. During the screening, your doctor will check for changes in size, shape, or color of moles or freckles, or look for other changes in your skin, which could be an early sign of skin cancer.

If the idea of stripping down to your skivvies and letting a stranger inspect your moles at close range doesn't top your to-do list, keep the facts in mind. It might just save your life.

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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 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: Are ride-sharing services (like Uber and Lyft) FSA-eligible?

Owning a car is no longer a given, especially in today's ride-sharing economy. In fact, the number of Americans forgoing car ownership altogether is on the upswing – from 8.9 to 9.1% from 2010 to 2015, U.S. Census data shows.

Ride sharing services are also on the rise – Uber, now available in 600 cities across 65 countries, had 41.8 million users in March 2018 alone, while Lyft had about 23 million users as of January 2018.

So, whether or not you can use your FSA funds to pay for rideshare services like Uber or Lyft is an important concern, especially for millennials and those living in larger cities who don't own a car.

What's covered?

You already know that transportation expenses incurred to receive medical care are eligible for reimbursement with your FSA. Expenses incurred must be primarily for and essential to medical care, and include mileage, rental car, bus, taxi, train, plane and ferry fares, as well as ambulance services. Parking and tolls are also included, as are out-of-pocket expenses like gas, provided you're using your car for medical reasons (and you can't request gas AND mileage for the same trip).

Eligibility doesn't just apply to the person receiving medical care. Parents and guardians, as well as nurses are caregivers are also covered. But this doesn't mean you can claim travel expenses to and from a girls' spa weekend or to pay for a Marie Kondo-inspired getaway – even if it does improve your mental health.

So, when can I ride share with my FSA funds?

In some major urban areas, many people are using public transportation or ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft as their primary means of transportation, and that includes medical-related travel.

For example, let's say you live in a major metropolitan area. Your home is within walking distance of your workplace, your grocery store, even your local park and gym. Springing for a monthly subway pass (or even a round-trip ride) just to travel to and from a monthly doctor's visit may not be the most cost-effective option, especially compared to Uber or Lyft.

So can you claim expenses like Uber if it serves as your primary form of transport? Like many questions of FSA eligibility, there isn't a black-and-white answer. It will likely depend on your plan administrator's take on whether an Uber is legally considered a taxi, since according to the IRS, taxi fares are FSA-eligible. In short, Uber can be FSA-eligible, but there's no guarantee.

Worth noting: if you use Lyft or Uber to obtain medical care, you're not the only one. In fact, data from Lyft shows that 29% of the ride-hailing app's users have used Lyft to obtain healthcare services.

Other travel considerations

When using your FSA funds to pay for medical-related travel expenses, you can't simply swipe your FSA-issued debit card. Instead, you'll have to pay expenses like your Uber ride upfront, then submit receipts for reimbursement later on down the line.

In this case, it pays to be organized. Consider an electronic filing system of all your transportation costs related to medical care.

Apps like Stride can keep track of expenses like mileage and receipts, allowing you to ditch the "receipts-in-a-shoebox" method once and for all. Marie Kondo would be proud.

FSAs are not the same as Transit and Parking Accounts

After all of this, you may be wondering about that account you have to pay for every day transit costs to and from work or for parking, unrelated to your medical care. These are traditionally called Commuter Benefits, and include transit and parking plans that allow you to set aside pre-tax money to pay for qualified expenses. These plans serve a different purpose and are not to be confused with a qualified medical FSA.

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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

Flex-Ed: Using an FSA to cover medical costs for adults with disabilities

While it's fairly well-known that FSA holders can use the funds to pay for eligible medical expenses on adult children through the age of 26 (for FSA only) or who are tax dependents, what about adult dependents with special needs? Per the IRS, if your child is considered "completely and permanently disabled," you can claim your child as a dependent, regardless of age.

The definition of "disabled"

There are many accepted terms for people with special needs, but in the eyes of the IRS, "disabled" is still the term of record. Someone is considered completely and permanently disabled if they cannot engage in substantial activity due to a mental or physical condition; and it has been determined by a medical professional that the condition will last at least a year, if not for the rest of the person's life.

Use your funds to pay for qualified health expenses

If your dependent is a disabled adult, you'll be able to use your FSA funds to pay for eligible expenses, which might include: Special equipment, prescription medication, medical supplies, and doctor's visits. Money from your FSA can also be used to pay for long-term care insurance you might want to purchase for your adult dependent with special needs.

Dependent Care FSAs

If your employer provides you with the option, you can open a Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA). With a DCFSA, you can set aside pretax dollars to cover eligible expenses of a disabled dependent who is not able to care for themselves physically or mentally.

While the amount you can contribute to a DCFSA is ultimately set by your employer, the maximum set by the IRS is $5,000 for individuals and married couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for married couples filing separately.

Know your tax breaks

Besides claiming your adult child as a dependent on your taxes, there are a handful of tax breaks that come with dependents that have special needs:

  • An adoption credit for adopting a child with special needs
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), if you meet the other requirements
  • Child or Dependent Care Credit: If you hired someone to come to your home to care for your special needs dependent (not to be used in conjunction with a DCFSA)
  • A credit for attending medical conferences that relates to your dependent's medical condition

What's more, your adult dependent might qualify for the following deductions:

  • A higher standard tax deduction if you're legally blind
  • Certain disability-related payments might be excluded from gross income

Consider an HSA

While it's not typical for us to recommend as an FSA-focused site, in these situations, maybe an FSA isn't the right answer. Instead, it might be worth looking into a health savings account (HSA). These accounts have a handy triple-tax advantage:

  • Your qualified contributions are made with pretax dollars
  • Money in your account grows tax-free
  • You don't pay taxes on HSA funds used to pay for qualifying health care expenses

(Note: You can estimate how you can save on taxes with an HSA with our HSA Tax Savings Calculator.)

HSAs can only be funded if you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). The 2019 contribution limits for HSAs are $3,500 for those participating in the HDHP as individuals, and $7,500 for those participating as families.

As those with special needs have additional costs of living, such as special housing, medical devices and equipment, and higher medical expenses (i.e., more frequent and specialized doctor's visits, prescription medication), any tax savings from your HSA or FSA funds will come in handy. Plus, it'll help your dollar stretch farther.

Knowing how to make the most of the tax-free funds (from an FSA or HSA) to help pay for the health care costs of your special needs dependent will help you make the most of your money.

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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.

Taxes

Asked and Answered: Any last-minute tips for FSA owners before tax day?

Tax day is here. If you're one of the 30 million Americans who did not withhold enough money throughout the year and now owe money to the IRS as a result, it's probably not the most festive time of the year.

But here's the good news — if you're also one of the 35 million Americans who have an FSA, then it's the perfect time to check on your account and make sure everything is up-to-date. After all, when you owe money (or narrowly escaped owing money!) every dollar counts.

Always speak with a tax professional to get proper advice for your own tax situation. But in the meantime, here's a few tips we find helpful when assessing our FSAs during tax season.

Don't worry about extra filing steps

First off, breathe easier knowing this fact: Unlike HSAs, which need to be reported on Form 1040, there are no reporting requirements for FSAs on your income tax return. There's one less thing to worry about!

But you do need to be wary of your deductions! Because you can't -- no matter how tempting it might be -- deduct qualified medical expenses if they were paid with tax-free FSA dollars. And that includes any money you forfeit at the deadline. If you have any unused cash in your FSA, since you already got a deduction, you can't deduct the loss.

Double check the rules

If you don't understand the unique rules for your FSA, then you may miss out on potential benefits like "run-out" periods, grace periods and rollovers. Because plan providers are not required to offer any of these perks, they vary from plan to plan. Take a few minutes to check in with your plan provider and brush up on the rules for your FSA. It's time well spent.

For most FSA owners, whose plan years end on 12/31, these extended deadlines have come and gone. But if your FSA operates on a different calendar, some of these perks might still be available to you, so you don't lose your funds.

To do: Check in with your human resources department and explicitly ask if your employer plan offers any of these three options for FSA users: "run-out" periods, carryovers and grace periods. (And make a note, so you don't fall into the same problem this time next year!)

File for reimbursement

Whether you have a "run-out" period and have expenses from last year or you have new expenses from this year, it's important to file for reimbursement with your employer. In fact, it's especially during tax season because it might mean that you get unexpected money from your FSA for eligible expenses that you've already purchased.

The process of filing for reimbursement varies from plan to plan, but it usually involves the following steps:

  • Knowing your deadlines. There's a deadline for when you'll need to submit any requests for reimbursement, so keep track of your plan details.
  • Then you'll want to gather your receipts. Whether it's for prescriptions, copays or eligible health products, you need to get organized.
  • Next, you'll file with your FSA provider. Usually, you will file for reimbursement online or through a mobile app. However, you might also be able to submit your claim my email or mail. As usual, it all depends on your plan.
  • Finally, you will want to track the reimbursement to make sure it's deposited into your account or cash the reimbursement check once you receive it. This is also the perfect time to note how much money you have left in your FSA for the rest of the year.

Take another look at your expenses

Now that you've gathered your receipts and filed for reimbursement, it's time to double-check your expenses. There are a lot of common expenses that you probably know are covered — copays for doctor visits, home medical items and even acupressure products to relieve pain — but there might be some expenses you made that you didn't even know were eligible. It's worth a second look.

To do: Skim through the FSA eligibility list to check for possible expenses that you missed.

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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.


Living Well

Real Money: Why you might want to stop putting off medical specialist visits

A few weeks ago, I was running late for my dermatology appointment and for the third time that day, I questioned why I was at the doctor's office at all. It felt like a hassle — making the appointment, driving across town to the office and finding parking. But once I sat down with my doctor and the skin check began, I remembered why I prioritize these appointments.

Three years ago, my primary care physician suggested that I see a dermatologist because I'm prone to freckles. I made the first appointment with my dermatologist and had my first skin check.

Two years ago, I had two moles removed due to my doctor's concerns that they might be cancerous. It turned out that the moles were benign and my skin was healthy. Last year, I went for another annual check-up with my dermatologist and got a clean bill of health. This year wasn't quite as simple.

At my most recent appointment, my doctor told me that there was a small bump on my face that she needed to remove. She removed a tiny sliver from the bump that she could send to the lab for a biopsy.

I'm still waiting for the results, but I know that no matter what the doctors say, I did the right thing by acting early. Even if the skin is cancerous, it can easily be removed without scarring. But I might not have been so lucky if I had skipped my annual dermatologist appointment.

Here are some of the doctor's appointments I plan to make this year, along with some reasons why you might want to consider doing the same. Remember, you can use your FSA to pay for them!

1.Dermatologist

I might be biased, but if you have a history of skin cancer in your family, use (or used to use) tanning beds or have an unusual amount of moles or freckles, then it's probably a good idea to see a dermatologist for a check-up. Even if you don't have any concerns about sun damage, dermatologists can also help with acne, rashes, breakouts and any other skin concerns.

2. Dentist

Whether you have pain in your mouth or just need a six-month cleaning, it's important to visit your dentist at least every six months. Not only does your dentist take x-rays, clean your teeth and check for cavities, he or she will also check on your gum health. The longer you wait to visit, the more pronounced potential problems might become.

By staying on track and visiting every six months, you'll increase your chances of a clean bill of dental health and decrease your chances of receiving a big financial bill.

3. Optometrist

Whether you wear glasses or not, it's important to get an eye exam every 1-2 years. Regular eye exams will make sure that your eyesight doesn't get worse without treatment. Plus, it's always fun to see how well you can read the chart! Don't wait until you start getting headaches or can't see your notes in a meeting to make it happen. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

4. Therapist

Overall health includes both physical and mental well-being. In other words, it's important to prioritize your mental health too. Whether you've been feeling down lately or are experiencing some low-level anxiety, it might be a good idea to check in with a therapist.

There's a misconception that therapy is something that lasts for years on end, but the truth is that you might just need a quick check-in or tune-up. Either way, be sure to take care of your mental well-being.

5. Primary care physician

Yeah, I know - we're cheating. But, even though your primary care physician isn't necessarily a specialist, it's just as important to make (and keep) your appointments with your primary doctor. Annual wellness exams are an important part of preventative care because your doctor might be able to see things that you haven't noticed yet.

No one wants unnecessary doctors' visits. But medical specialists exist for a reason and it's important to prioritize every part of your health. Plus, doctors' appointments and any associated copays are FSA-eligible. In other words, making a specialized medical appointment should be an easy "no-brainer" -- don't potentially put your health at risk by putting them off.

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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.

Accounts

Flex-Ed: I owe money on my tax return... an FSA could have helped

My jaw dropped when I received the email from my accountant. I stared at my tax bill in disbelief for a few minutes, but reality quickly set in: I owe the IRS over $3,000. As it turns out, I'm one of the taxpayers who had insufficient tax withholding throughout 2018 and now owes money due to the Tax Cuts and Job Act that became official last year.

As it turns out, I'm one of the estimated 30 million Americans who owe money on their taxes this year. I'm lucky enough to have the funds to pay my bill in full, but it's still painful to part with the money. In many ways, I should have known better. Because here's the truth: I did not have an FSA in 2018.

It's embarrassing to admit because I thought I had already learned my lesson about tax-free health accounts. But once again, life happened. So as a result, I missed the boat on opening an FSA in 2018, and now I'm paying the price (literally).

It's too late to change what happened, but it's not too late to learn from it. Here's how much money I might have been able to save on taxes if I had opened an FSA.

My health care costs

After tallying my health care expenses — doctor's appointments, prescription medication, dental treatment and FSA-eligible supplies — I spent nearly $2,500 on health care in 2018. Nearly half of that came from unexpected dental treatment, which was FSA-eligible.

But the truth is that I thought I spent much less on health-related expenses last year. In fact, when I estimated how much I would spend on health care in 2018, I thought that I would spend $700. In other words, I thought I would spend $800 less than I actually did. Yikes.

My optimistic estimate about my health care expenses is actually part of human nature and our overly optimistic predictions for the future. It's often known as the optimistic update bias. This is important to understand because it can help us plan more realistically for the future.

The FSA calculator

I was shocked when I finally sat down to look at how much money I could have saved with an FSA last year. According to the FSA Store calculator, I could have saved $1,816 on taxes. That doesn't mean that I would necessarily owe less in taxes (although I probably would because it would have lowered my overall taxable income) but I would have paid less in taxes upfront.

The real kicker is that my 2018 net pay would have been nearly $2,000 higher if I had put $2,500 into my FSA. Plus, according to the calculator, I could have "broken even"—not saved or spent any extra money—if I had spent at least $684 from my FSA. In other words, even if I had set aside $2,500, but only spent the $700 I thought I would need for 2018, I wouldn't have gained or lost anything. (Although I probably could have used my extra funds to buy FSA-eligible health supplies…)

How to avoid these mistakes

The truth about my health-related finances is that I fell into the trap of short-term planning. I had a lot of financial goals for 2018 — investing, travelling, preparing for graduate school — and I wanted to save as much money as possible, and in my effort to cut costs, I actually ended up spending more money in the long-run.

It's great to be optimistic about the future, but if there's one thing I learned this year, it's that a healthy dose of skepticism (and number crunching) is better for my budget and my sanity.

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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

Asked and Answered: Can I use FSA funds for service animals?

Most people think of using their HSA and FSA funds on medical treatment and material goods. That's usually the case, but medically eligible expenses can also include something a little more lively - namely, your service animal. If your furry friend is part of a medical treatment strategy, there's a good chance that some of your associated expenses will be eligible.

But as with many healthcare costs, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to use your HSA or FSA on a service animal. Before you go buy a new frisbee for Fido with your card, read below for the important details.

When it's okay to use FSA funds for service animals

A service animal provides necessary medical assistance, such as a seeing eye dog for the visually impaired or a pet that senses blood sugar changes in a diabetic. Service animals are legally recognized and protected against housing and business discrimination.

To use your HSA or FSA for a service animal, your medical professional typically has to write a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN). This letter must show that you require an animal for your medical needs and that its primary function is for your health and not companionship.

What eligible items you can buy

According to the IRS, you can use your FSA for any expenses associated with your service animal, including food, training and veterinary costs. Costs paid for by the FSA must help the animal do its job. A harness that says "Service Dog" may be eligible, while a new doggie bed may not. You can also use your FSA to pay for a new service animal.

You can pay for those expenses directly with your FSA card, or use a different debit or credit card and reimburse yourself from your FSA. As with any expense, keep your receipt in case your FSA administrator requires documentation.

Does this apply to emotional support animals?

Emotional support animals (ESA) refer to two types of service animals - those that help people with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, and therapy or comfort animals that help people going through a hard time.

ESAs that help patients with PTSD or other mental illnesses may be HSA-eligible or FSA-eligible, especially if your doctor can write a LMN proving how the animal will help you more than medication or other forms of treatment.

Comfort or therapy animals are different. These are primarily animals that offer support to those in hospice, retirement homes or undergoing cancer treatment. If you care for an animal that you bring with you to a nursing home, you can't count it as an ESA or use tax-free funds to pay for its care.

The animal must be part of your own or a dependent's medical treatment, not anyone else's. It would be like paying for a friend's prescription with your FSA.

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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.

Living Well

Real Money: 7 things parents should do (for themselves) before baby's first birthday

If you're just emerging from the weeds after your first rewarding (read exhausting) year of parenting, you might have neglected a few things when it comes to your own health.

For example, when's the last time you went to the dentist or had a good workout? While you're at it, be sure to check in on your mental health. Those postpartum hormones are no joke. Another item that should be on your to-do list? Time to rest . But let's get into some ways to be healthy and happy around baby's first birthday.

Get an annual physical

Baby or not, this is one thing that should top your to-do list every year. During an annual physical, your doctor will check your vital signs, perform a physical exam, and even draw blood for testing.

It's relatively painless and can be a major factor in detecting any minor health issues before they become big problems. Plus, you can make a day out of it. Stop for coffee and a treat after your appointment.

Go to the dentist

Did you know that pregnancy can lead to dental issues like gum disease and a higher likelihood of tooth decay in women? All the more reason to make going to the dentist a priority in the months after your baby arrives. (of course, this applies to Dad, too!)

Plus, it won't be long before you start brushing your little one's teeth and taking them to their first dentist appointment. What better way to teach them about good dental hygiene than by leading by example?

Treat that nagging back and neck pain

Your baby may or may not be walking, but either way, you've probably spent the better part of a year toting them around. Whether it's via baby wrap, structured baby carrier, or simply in your arms, carrying around a tiny human has likely done a number on your back.

Now's the time to look into FSA-eligible treatments, like massage therapy and chiropractic care to help ease that pain. Just be sure that your doctor recommends them as a treatment for back or neck pain since you'll need it in writing for FSA reimbursement.

Don't forget about your eyes

Does anyone else treat the recommended wear period for contact lens as a suggestion, rather than a requirement? (Guilty!) But now that your baby is on a more predictable schedule of napping, eating, and wake times, it's time to squeeze in an annual eye appointment.

Need more motivation? Vision exams, eyeglasses and contact lenses, even vision-corrective accessories are all FSA-eligible. Your FSA can also be used to offset the cost of vision care for your baby. Is there anything cuter than baby glasses? I think not.

Check your mental health

It's no secret that a new mom's hormones are all over the map in the months after baby's birth. Here's why: Once your baby is born, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body drop quickly, which cause chemical changes in your brain. This can lead to – you guessed it – mood swings.

While you may be feeling like your old, pre-baby self again, you may not be there yet. And that's OK. Check in with a visit to a mental health professional. It's FSA-eligible, which means you can stop stressing about the money and start focusing on what's really important – your health and happiness, and enjoying your new addition.

Get some sleep

By 9 to 12 months old, most babies should be sleeping 11 hours at night and 3 hours during the day. If this sounds like a dream to you, it may be time to consider sleep training for your baby – and perhaps some FSA-eligible sleep aids for yourself.

You could always try an FSA-eligible sleep aid, or even a pillow that stays cool throughout the night. Hey, at this point, you'll probably try anything to get some shuteye.

Get away with your partner

Personally, this one took a bit longer for my husband and I. We're just now planning a getaway sans baby, and our son just turned one. Everyone's timeline is different, but this is one item on your to-do list that you should definitely check off.

Connecting with your partner, getting some uninterrupted sleep, and logging some serious relaxation can do wonders for your stress levels. Can't stomach the idea of leaving your baby with a sitter overnight? Recruit the grandparents. You'll get to relax, and they'll get to bond with baby – it's a win-win.

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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.