While you likely have a primary care physician and hospital in your local area, there may be times when you need to travel farther from home to see a specialist for diagnosis and/or treatment. Unfortunately, these types of travel expenses can take a toll on your wallet. Thankfully, your FSA can be used for many of them.
For your travel to be considered an FSA-eligible expense, it needs to be directly related to receiving medical care. So if you if you drove two hours to visit a specialist to diagnose your condition, the associated expenses would be eligible. If, however, you went on vacation and needed to visit urgent care while you were away, these travel expenses would not be eligible.
FSA-eligible expenses include:
- Parking fees - These fees are eligible if you need to pay for parking at a hospital, doctor's office, or a nearby parking garage while receiving treatment. You cannot claim parking costs if you stop for a meal or visit a shopping center on your way to or from your appointment.
- Ambulance fees - Clearly, if you need an ambulance, there's probably a medical need for it. Rest assured, these costs are FSA-eligible.
- Tolls - You can claim the cost of tolls only if the route you need to take to get to your appointment is a toll road. Tolls incurred for anything other than getting to and from your medical appointment are not eligible.
- Fuel - The cost of the gas required to get to and from a medical care facility is eligible for reimbursement. To submit a claim, you'll need to keep a mileage log, as well as the receipts for your gas purchase.
- A rental car - If you're renting a car because you don't have your own or need one to get around in a city that you've traveled to for medical care, you can submit a claim for this cost.
- Public transportation - Bus, metro, taxi, train, or even ferry fares are also eligible expenses, provided the primary purpose for the trip is based on your medical needs.
You can also be reimbursed for your travel expenses if you are traveling for dependents. So if your child or spouse needs you to drive them to an appointment or accompany them on public transportation, you can submit a claim for these costs as well.
Depending on how far you have to travel, there's a chance you'll need to stay overnight. If you're staying at a hospital, you can claim this cost, along with any meals you purchase there.
The cost of staying at a hotel near the hospital may also be eligible if the lodging isn't considered a luxury. In order to claim these expenses, you may need a letter explaining why they're medically relevant from a qualified medical professional.
More importantly, what isn't eligible?
There are some travel expenses that won't be eligible for reimbursement. These include:
- Vehicle depreciation
- Auto insurance
- Maintenance and repair costs
- Traffic or parking tickets
- Travel to or from work
- Personal travel expenses
As with any expense, you'll need documentation for reimbursement. And with travel expenses, you'll likely need more than just your receipts. Most administrators will require proof that the travel was medically necessary, which can be as simple as a bill or doctor's letter proving that you did receive medical care while on the trip. As always, speak with your FSA administrator before traveling to determine what types of documentation they'll require for your qualified expenses.
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If you're ever been alone and needed medical treatment, then you know the concerns about being unable to get help. The last thing that should be on your mind is how you'll get there, much less how you'll pay for it.
Regardless of your situation, it's a good idea to plan for the possibility of a medical need, and how you plan to get to and from these treatments. And we're not just talking about medical emergencies. As long as you're traveling to a doctor's office, hospital or other medical facility for necessary treatments, your transportation costs might be FSA-eligible.
As with most FSA-eligible purchases, there are some specific rules. Here's everything you need to know about FSA-eligible transportation expenses.
Rideshare apps, buses and more
Unlike some purchases (hello, sunscreen!) you can't use your FSA debit card to pay for your transportation expenses. Instead, you have to submit a claim for reimbursement to your FSA administrator.
Many expenses related to common modes of transportation—Uber, Lyft, planes, cars, ferries, taxis, rental cars, buses and more—can be FSA-eligible. But that doesn't mean you can charter a private jet next time you need to visit your doctor.
In general, your mode of transportation should be reasonable for the medical care you are receiving. If you're home alone and very ill, then a rideshare app, like Uber or Lyft, is probably the best option, especially late at night.
Do it yourself
One of the most common FSA-eligible forms of transportation is driving a personal car. When it comes to driving your own car and using your FSA to pay for it, there are few things you'll want to keep in mind.
- The medical care you're travelling for must be FSA-eligible. (Driving to a spa day with your friends doesn't count.)
- You can be reimbursed for eligible tolls, fees and gas OR submit for reimbursement of the allowed mileage deduction of 18 cents per mile.
- You could also claim a mileage deduction for medical purposes, but not if you've already received FSA reimbursement for it. This is a tax write-off that you claim on your annual tax forms and is different from a reimbursement claim.
What isn't eligible
Unfortunately, your FSA isn't going to cover your daily commute and regular driving. Automobile depreciation, insurance, repairs and traffic tickets -- even if they happen on the way to appointments -- all come out of pocket. Also, any travel that is done for personal reasons (even if it includes a doctor visit in another city) isn't eligible.
Staying on top of your transportation expenses ensures you're filing for all necessary reimbursements. This helps to prove FSA eligibility if asked to do so by your company, or the IRS.
The best way to keep track of your receipts and expenses is to create a separate file for all FSA-eligible transportation expenses. This can be a digital file on your laptop or a physical file that you store in your home. The most important part of the process is you -- the system only works if you use it.
I bet you're probably thinking back to every time you've sat in traffic on the way to a doctor. Well, you can rest easy knowing that travel for future medical visits can be covered with your tax-free funds.
Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.