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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.


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

[WATCH] What's an FSA Grace Period?

Having an FSA grace period is sort of like getting an extension on a final paper in college in that it gives you more time to use the funds from your prior plan year. If you still have 2018 FSA funds leftover after the 12/31 deadline, the FSA grace period is almost here!

Watch the video below to get a quick rundown of FSA grace periods, so you can make the most of those remaining funds before they're gone!

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And for a closer look at FSA grace periods, along with some other FSA options you might not even know about, check out The Simple Guide to decoding the FSA grace period, rollover & run-out.

Basics

Asked and Answered: What happens to lost FSA money?

As you probably know from looking around our site, the 12/31 deadline is just about here. It's an exciting time for us, of course. But it's also an exciting time for FSA owners who have the chance to make the most of their tax-free funds, rather than forfeiting them due to the "use it or lose it" rule.

Whether we're reminding FSA holders of upcoming deadlines, or just sharing some information about these tax-free accounts, "use it or lose it" has become a tagline for our entire team. And, because we offer a growing selection of 4,000+ FSA-eligible products, people usually don't have any trouble using their FSA funds.

Still, with the deadline here, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the most common questions about FSA funds -- what happens to the money that does get lost? No one likes losing money, no matter the amount. So we thought it was a good idea to remind people of what happens if they end up on the wrong side of the "use it or lose it" rule.

Let's cut to the chase…

You may not like this answer, but your unused FSA money returns to your employer. These funds can be used in a variety of ways, which we'll get to in a bit. Now, before you and your coworkers march down the hall with flaming torches, realize they're not the "bad guys" in this scenario. In fact, they're on your side, and are even taking some risks to make FSAs available to employees.

See it from your company's perspective

It's true -- your employer assumes a good amount of financial risk when you sign up for an FSA. That's because even though you get to contribute to your account little by little, through regular paycheck deductions, you actually have access to the entire year's allocation, right from the beginning of the plan year.

Who's fronting that money? You guessed it, the employers. And they're on the hook for any losses if you leave the company before making a full year's contribution.

In other words, if your plan year begins on January 1, and you opt for an expensive FSA-eligible procedure that week, you can use the entire year's allocation to pay for it tax-free. But if you quit a month later, your company is forced to eat that balance.

So, lost FSA funds from other employees can be used to offset these losses. It's not what your employers want to do. But it's certainly better for them than having to absorb the entire loss.

So where does it go from there?

While we certainly can't fault companies for wanting to protect themselves from potential financial losses, some choose to reinvest this "found" money into its people. No, they can't just refund you the exact amount you lost. But there are several ways they can share the wealth and ease the sting of lost funds.

1. Pooling

Though it's rare, companies could choose to give the money back to its employees directly. It's not as simple as refunding the exact amount lost to each person with an FSA, but employers might opt to pool the collective losses and distribute back to plan participants in a fair, uniform way.

(To be clear, any money returned to participants must be distributed to ALL participants -- not just those who lost funds that year.)

2. Administrative fees

Companies may choose to save these excess funds and use them as a way to offset the costs and fees involved in providing FSAs. By doing so, they can make it easier to offer these accounts to employees.

In this "worst case" scenario, your money ends up used in a way we outlined above. There is good news though -- your employer may offer a few options to help extend your funds and avoid losing them altogether.

1. Grace period

Many employers offer an FSA grace period -- something we've discussed quite a bit in our Learning Centers -- which gives you an extra 2.5 months to use their funds from the previous plan year. For example, if your plan year ends on December 31, you have until March 15 of the following year to use those funds before risking a loss.

2. Rollover

Another common FSA feature is the rollover option, which allows you to carry up to $500 of your FSA dollars to the following year, eliminating any last-minute rushes or lost funds.

Like we said at the beginning of the article, no one likes losing money, which is why we encourage users to create a budget and spend accordingly to meet your family's healthcare needs. But on the off chance you miss your FSA deadline, know that the money is safe, and might even find its way back to you before long.

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.

We also have a comprehensive 2018 FSA Deadline Buying Guide that highlights our team's best buying bets for every type of customer. Here are some of Kevin and Sean's favorite FSA-eligible products:

$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 12 pm PST - no other retailer can say that. Happy deadline season and we'll see you in 2019!

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 2019 you need to be aware of — March 31 and March 15. 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 2018 and are waiting on invoices. If your plan offers the runout period, then you likely have until March 31, 2019 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, 2019! 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 2019 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 2018 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, 2019. 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 2019? 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.

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

FSA Friday with Sean - 1/5/2018 - Key employee benefit trends for 2018

Now the 12/31 FSA deadline has passed, we have a bit of breathing room here at FSAstore.com before we ramp up for the next big deadline, the FSA Grace Period, coming on March 15! But, before we get to that, let's read about the employee benefit trends that may affect you in 2018.

Whether you're a manager or an entry-level employee, knowing what's out there in terms of employee benefits and health coverage can help you make more informed choices in the future and get the maximum bang for your buck. Here's what to look out for in 2018.

20 Companies with the Best Benefits - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

Looking for a new job in 2018? You may want to look at these companies first. Employee Benefit News used data from Glassdoor Economic Research to build a list of American companies that go above and beyond for their employees in terms of health/dental/vision insurance, vacation/paid time off, retirement planning, and maternity/paternity leave.

On-Trend: 9 Voluntary Benefit Trends for 2018 - Nick Park, BenefitsPro

Today, health coverage, PTO and retirement planning are common employee benefits. It's voluntary benefits options that have become key for attracting new talent. BenefitsPro compiled a list of the most popular trends to expect in 2018, including student loan assistance, identity theft protection, personal financial planning, and more.

The 15 Biggest HR Challenges of 2018 - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

On the other side of the benefits discussion are the concerns faced by HR professionals, who directly communicate changes and updates to workers. Many of these HR trends reflect today's evolving workplace, including placing an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, curbing workplace harassment, and other relevant issues.

Happy New Year from all of us at FSAstore.com/HSAstore.com! For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow our Learning Center, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Basics

What is an FSA "run-out" period?

During the early part of the Flexible Spending Account (FSA) plan year, you will hear plenty of terms being thrown around like "grace period" or "rollover," but one term that is constantly misunderstood is the FSA "run-out" period. This is a standard account feature that is built into the structure of most flexible spending accounts (FSAs), but it can often be confused with the FSA grace period because it is so similar. So what's the deal with the FSA "run-out" period? Let's find out.

"Run-Out" Periods

An FSA "run-out" period refers to the period of time in the new plan year during which account holders can file claims for expenses incurred during the previous plan year. This timeframe is chosen by the employer, not the IRS, and can last for any period of time, but the most common FSA "run-out" period is 90 days. For instance, if your FSA plan year ends on December 31 and you have a 90 day run out period, you would have until March 31 of the following year to submit claims for reimbursement.

What is the difference between the FSA grace and "run-out" periods?

A common source of confusion for FSA users is the difference between the FSA grace period and "run-out" period. Unlike the "run-out" period, the grace period is an option chosen by the employer, which gives FSA users 2.5 months after the end of the plan year to spend their remaining FSA funds.

The key difference is that with a grace period, new products/services can be purchased with prior funds into the new plan year, but with the run-out period, only expenses that were incurred during the prior plan year are eligible in the near year. FSAs can offer both the grace period and run-out, neither, one or the other, or even another option in which remaining funds up to $500 rollover to the following year, but this is left up to the FSA plan sponsor to choose. Always check with your FSA plan sponsor to find out which rules apply to your plan!

Looking ahead to March deadlines

With all of that confusion out of the way, March is poised to be a pivotal month for FSA users. If you have the FSA grace period and your FSA plan year ended December 31, 2016, you have until March 15, 2017 to make purchases with 2016 funds, while those with the 90 day "run-out" period have until March 31, 2017 to file claims for expenses incurred during 2016.

So don't wait - learn about the most important deadlines on your account and spend down your FSA funds at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA eligible products to support the continued good health and wellness of you and your dependents.