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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.


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.