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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.