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Basics

Flex-Ed: How to fix mistakes with FSA funding and reimbursements

Mistakes are common. But when you make a mistake with your FSA reimbursements or funding, you need to be able to fix them ASAP, so you're not caught paying for them later. As in, you want to be sure that you're using your FSA correctly so that you're not required to pay your reimbursements back or stuck with money you can't use.

Sure, you can have the best-laid plans, but stuff happens. Instead, take a look at the following scenarios in case you made one of those mistakes, and what you can do about it.

Your receipts weren't clear

Just because you know what you spent your money on, doesn't mean your FSA administrator is clear on it. Yes, you have receipts backing up your purchase but that doesn't mean it automatically counts as solid proof.

Let's say you purchased got a prescription for a bunch of antibiotics at the pharmacy. You decided to submit the credit card receipt to your FSA provider. Unfortunately, that's not enough proof because the IRS requires you have an itemized receipt.

If your FSA administrator comes back to you and says your original receipt isn't acceptable proof, you should be able to resubmit. Now's the time to find that itemized receipt — whether it's your prescription with the price on it, or go back to the pharmacy if you need to and see if they'll print another one for you.

Otherwise, you can submit what's called an Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) that you'll receive in the mail from your health insurance provider -- basically, a fancy way of explaining a part of your transaction. What it needs to include is your name, date of purchase, the provider/retailer's name, price of the item, and the name of the item or service. Don't worry though - this is standard information to be included on all EOBs.

Even if you made the initial mistake, you can still fix it as long as you provide ample proof as quickly as possible.

You overallocated your FSA

Maybe you overestimated how much you'll need and you contributed a bunch of extra money to your FSA. Now you realize, you may not have enough qualified medical expenses to spend it all. The good news is that it's still your money. The bad news is that you're at risk of losing it of you don't take action.

Before assuming you don't have enough qualified medical expenses, make a list of things you may need. Perhaps it's time to replace your broken pair of glasses, or you're eyeing that foot circulator but were scared to make the purchase. Be strategic about what you want to purchase and make sure it's something you need, and you're not spending money just to spend it.

Something else to consider is looking into your FSA plan to see if there's a rollover option — typically up to $500 per year — or you may be able to take advantage of a Grace Period, if you have one, giving you extra time to spend down your funds. This way, you can still keep your cash longer without feeling like you have to buy things you don't need (which you shouldn't do, anyway).

Keep in mind that you won't have both the rollover and Grace Period option, and plans are not required to offer either so map out your purchases depending on what your plan offers.

You submitted an incorrect claim form or have no matching receipts

Don't freak out. If you submitted the wrong form, contact your FSA provider right away and see if you can resubmit. It's as simple as that. However, if you make a purchase and don't have a matching receipt, you may be able to substitute one from another qualified transaction.

Let's say you purchased prenatal vitamins and sunscreen and realized you don't have the receipt. Instead, you may be able to find another receipt for a qualified purchase to offset your original purchase. Maybe you buy additional sunscreen or more prenatal vitamins at a different store and submit that receipt, instead. Note that not all administrators will allow this, so you'll want to contact them to find out about your options.

In some cases you may not even need to submit a receipt, although we always advise that you keep them just in case. For example if you used your FSA debit card to make a payment and at a qualified merchant with the proper system in place, your expense may even be automatically approved without the need for documentation.

Mistakes happen to the best of us. The important thing is to recognize them when they happen, correct course and try not to let it happen again.

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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.

Living Well

Real Money: How to protect your kids from allergies (without putting them in bubble wrap)

Allergies. There's no better way to say it: allergies are the worst for parents and kids alike. It can prevent kids from having fun, especially if your child has a serious (even life-threatening) allergy. When I used to be a teacher, I had a student who was allergic to eggs and dairy, so whenever birthdays rolled around, she was left without a piece of cake.

As a parent, I want to do whatever I can to protect my child. It's not realistic to hover over him or wrap him in bubble wrap, but there are other ways to protect your child with allergies.

Practice asking questions

If your child is older, have them practice asking questions about the food he's eating. That way, it ensures that your child will be self-aware about what situations they may encounter that may have foods they're allergic to.

Some questions to have them practice include asking about what's in that dish, or mentioning your child has an allergy and asking to see the ingredient list. It could also include what else was in the kitchen at the time when the food was prepared in the event of cross contamination.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need to alert all necessary adults, but you never know if your child is playing with another child and they unknowingly offer a piece of "forbidden" food.

If your child is too young (or is just a quiet kid in general), consider giving them a tag or something similar that clearly states what their allergies are. If you're traveling to a foreign country, you can make an allergy card, one where you can point to in order to indicate what your child's food allergies are.

Keep a kit handy

You always want to have provisions on hand. It's not a bad idea to make a couple of these kits - one in your child's backpack (if they're allowed to bring it), one in the car, and in your purse (or bag). You already know that allergy reactions start quickly, so you'll want to be ready.

These products can include:

Another tip: make sure the bag is bright and clearly labeled. The last thing you want to do is ruffle through your belongings when your child has an allergic reaction.

With these tips in mind, you won't be able to prevent all allergic reactions. However, you can prevent them from making a bad situation worse.

Basic allergy essentials

Healthsmart Kids Steam Inhaler

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PediaMist Pediatric Saline Spray

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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: It's never too early to map out your open enrollment

Sitting down and looking through mounds of paperwork and websites, and reading confusing jargon isn't the most exciting thing in the world. But you shouldn't let open enrollment wait until it's too late to make a smart decision. Start by considering how your health plan affects you and your family.

We know it's only mid-August. But that doesn't change the fact that you shouldn't wait until the last minute to map out your open enrollment benefits. There are lots of benefits to do doing so -- the biggest one being your health. And you may save some money as well. Just think about when you have a medical emergency and have to take out a loan to pay down your bills. Or when you've had opportunities to enroll in FSAs in the past, and chose not to.

Don't make the same mistakes by putting these decisions off until "later." Instead, get a head start and have your ducks in a row, so when it comes time to choose a plan, you can make the best choice for your needs.

Learn from past open enrollment mistakes

We're not recommending you beat yourself up. We're just saying this is a great time to assess what worked -- and what didn't -- with your past health care spending decisions. Think about how you came to decide past health plans and see what you could have done differently.

First, go back and think about why you picked a certain plan. Is it because it was the least expensive? Were tax-free spending or savings options on your list of priorities?

Once you have those answers, then think back and figure out whether you looked at all the features available and what would happen if you had to pay out of pocket. You can also think about how you're currently taking advantage of the plan. Have you been maximizing your benefits? Do you regret not opening a FSA?

Once you have this locked down, you can make a list of what you're looking for in a health plan -- the things that might fall under that "regret" umbrella. If you end up choosing the same one you currently have, then at least you have a good idea of what to expect in the coming year. If not, you'll know exactly what to look for when upgrading to a new one.

Pretend you're applying for a new health plan each year

Even if your employer allows you to passively continue your health plan selection every year, don't. Be more proactive, even if you're content with what's offered. In other words, you want to pretend you're applying for a new plan each year, for the exact reasons mentioned above.

Doing so will also give you a chance to see if there are any perks or benefits that you missed, and helps with better communication between you and the HR department. That's because you'll remember to update relevant information and ensure you're asking the right questions to reassess your choice.

Don't be afraid to be "confused"

Pretending you're confused is a mindset shift you can take in order to make sure you're clear on what it is you're getting into. The premise is simple: read the entirety of your health plan and assume you know nothing. Look at every piece of jargon and prepare a list of questions to ask the open enrollment representative.

For example, one of the best questions you can ask is ones relate to cost benefit trade-offs. Is there a way you can have a representative answer your questions about your specific situation and predict a cost calculation? What if you want to an FSA? Or does it make more sense to choose a qualified high-deductible health plan with an HSA?

No, you're not going to annoy anyone in your HR department (at least it shouldn't). After all it is your health and your wallet. Treat open enrollment as a year-long planning event and you'll reap the benefits in the year to come.

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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.

Living Well

Asked and Answered: What are some smartphone-compatible ways to use my FSA?

Admit it or not, most of us are pretty much glued to our smartphones. But I'd argue most of us aren't using them to their utmost abilities. You know, for things like health and wellness.

Sure, you can argue that playing games are a great stress reliever, but there are some pretty neat health care products that help you with other areas of your well-being, such as pain relief, and even for self-care purposes.

The best part is that these products and apps don't need to be expensive or difficult to use. Even if you're not a tech geek, you'll wonder why you didn't try out these products and apps sooner.

Your health...

Blood pressure monitors

A blood pressure monitor can be cumbersome considering that you need to make sure to record your results and the equipment can be clunky. The great thing about having a blood monitor that can connect to your smartphone is that it not only helps you monitor your blood pressure, but it can help you understand your results much easier.

Blood pressure monitors like the QardioArm measures and records your heart rate readings in addition to your systolic and diastolic blood pressure. You can record notes on the app about your results and set reminders so you won't forget the routine you set for yourself. Because frankly, schedules get hectic and it's natural to forget.

Stress management apps

Stress management has been proven to help people with their anxiety levels and emotions. For novice and experienced practitioners alike, having something to guide you through the process can help you focus more and ensures you're more likely to stick with it.

There are many free apps out there that offer different types of relaxation or meditation, including guided ones (where someone speaks guiding you through visualization exercises) and timed ones with music.

Here are a few to check out:

  • Insight Timer - This free app has more than 4,000 guided meditations featuring more than 1,000 teachers. Topics include nature, stress and self-compassion.
  • Aura - This app will offer you a new three minute meditation sequence each day. You'll be asked how stressed or happy you are and you can save the meditation if you like it.
  • Calm - This app features sounds of nature and ranges anywhere from 3- to 20-minute meditations. While many meditation sequences are free, you'll need to pay a small membership fee to access the entire library.

TENS devices

Whether it's to help you relax or nurse a sports injury, these devices are great because they're wireless and you can use your smartphone as a remote controller. Some even have massage functions if you just want to unwind after a hectic day.

Depending on the brand you choose, some apps even help you get the most out of your TENS device such as instructions on where to place the electrodes and tracking how well the treatment worked.

Technophobe or not, it's always a good idea to find the best ways to relax, recharge and take care of your health. With new devices arriving so often, many of these can not only remind you to incorporate healthcare as a part of your routine, but it can help you understand your symptoms.

Your financial wellness...

As you know from reading our Learning Center, there's a lot more to your FSA than just the products and services you buy. Budgeting your monthly spending, tracking your FSA balance and documenting your previous expenses are all key parts of maximizing your flex spending dollars. In other words, to borrow a catchphrase from 10 years ago, there's an app for that.

Most modern banking institutions have basic apps that allow you to manage your accounts and monitor your spending. But some banks have taken these apps a little further, offering a wide range of features to manage your FSA, HSA or HRA from anywhere. (Some even use fingerprint recognition technology to speed up and secure the process.)

Apps from institutions like Optum Bank and Kaiser Permanente allow you to:

  • Track FSA spending
  • Capture and submit receipts
  • Make HSA contributions through bank transfer
  • Collect reimbursement from qualified expenses

Most apps will also allow you to find qualified medical expenses for your accounts, but we know a better way to do this, too.

Qardio Arm Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor

The smart blood pressure monitor that fits your daily life.

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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

Flex-Ed: Getting new graduates off to a good financial start

Graduation season has come and gone, and while we're still celebrating our accomplished kids, the real work starts now. Parents can get a bit emotional sending our children off into the world. After all, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with being an adult, such as learning to deal with finances.

Your child may already know how to budget, and might understand the basics, but there are a lot more considerations to think about than ever before, especially if they've been under your health care plan.

If you can drop a little financial wisdom before they leave the homestead, it can pay huge dividends later in life. Here are a few suggestions on what to teach them.

Budgeting for health insurance

Your child may have been lucky enough to latch onto your health plan until now, or you may even continue to cover them if you wish under most plans until they're 26. If not, this new expense can cost more than what some new graduates may think, and they may be caught off guard if you don't help to prepare them..

If their employer provides health care insurance, have your graduate go through all the options available to see how much they could save. If they choose a more traditional health plan and have the option to select a flexible spending account (FSA), then that's another good tip to pass along.

Saving a few bucks on sales tax might not seem that important to a generation who dumps millions of dollars on Fortnite, but once they see monthly and yearly savings, the importance will become alarmingly clear.

Understanding the consequences of high-interest debt

Ideally your child didn't graduate with any debt. But this isn't always an "ideal" world. If they do have debts to pay down, then it's important to sit them down and discuss what it means to pay it back on time.

The Department of Education's StudentLoans.gov website is a great resource for calculators and other educational material. It is also a good place to see if there are any incentives from the Federal government to help limit a graduate's monthly loan payments.

Of course, it's important to prioritize. As in, they'll first need money to cover their living expenses (e.g. rent, food and transportation) and then the rest to pay down loans. It's best to help them figure out a few calculations to see if paying the minimum payments or slightly more will help them become debt-free faster based on what they can feasibly afford.

Saving for retirement

Maybe this isn't a topic we cover much on the FSAstore.com Learning Center, but we do spend a lot of time discussing retirement on our sister site, HSAstore.com. And it's important for graduates to understand, regardless of which tax-free health care accounts they choose. Because it doesn't matter if retirement seems like a faraway destination, it's never too early to start setting aside money for it.

Even a small amount of money compounded over time in an investment account will reap big rewards in 15 to 20 years.

There are accounts like employer sponsored plans (which financial experts recommend participating in as you'll get free money from your employer) and other traditional retirement accounts like an IRA. But, if your child is healthy and putting money in something like an HSA, he or she can invest that cash once the account reaches a certain threshold. In this case, they're saving on taxes, health care costs and investing in their retirement.

We'd love to help our children get off on the right foot as they set out into the world. Teaching them financial lessons and how it applies to their lives is no doubt invaluable. Then you can rest better knowing your graduate is entering the world a little more financially savvy.

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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. 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: What's the difference between a nanny and a babysitter?

For a parent, there may be nothing better in the world than finding someone trusted to take care of your child — bonus points if your if your kid takes to this person right away. What would be even better is saving money on these costs, maybe using your dependent care FSA (DCFSA).

However, you can't just find someone and pay them, and have it count as a qualified medical expense. If you're wondering if nannies and babysitters are DCFSA-eligible, the answer is (as frustrating as this can be) "it depends."

A DCFSA is a type of specialized account that lets you contribute pre-tax dollars towards expenses related to caring for a dependent while you or your spouse are working, attending school-full time or looking for work. Both you and your spouse can contribute up to $5,000 per year and you'll need to use up your funds before the end of the calendar year.

In terms of eligibility, the primary difference between a nanny and a babysitter is that a nanny is typically hired on a regular, ongoing basis. Whereas a babysitter is someone who is typically hired at an hourly rate to watch your child on an as-needed basis.

Nannies are also a bit more invested in the household because they're typically around the child throughout all daily activities. You can hire full-time or part-time nannies and some will also do other duties such as running errands and even light housework.

Are either DCFSA-eligible?

The short answer is "yes, with exceptions." Because a DCFSA is only for those who are employed, are looking for work or are in school full time, any child care expenses incurred have to be for those purposes. If you're hiring a babysitter for a few hours so you can go to a job interview that's fine. However, if it's for your weekly date night, don't try and claim it.

For nannies, you can only get reimbursed as a qualified expenses during the time you're working. As in, if you hire a nanny full-time, you may not be able to use your DCFSA funds to pay for the entire costs.

With babysitters, you can hire a relative as long as they're not claimed as a tax dependent on your tax return. For example, your aunt who lives 15 minutes away is fine but your teenage daughter won't count.

Whether you're hiring a nanny or babysitter, you'll need to provide detailed information in order to get your expenses fully reimbursed. Like with all FSAs, you'll need to provide receipts detailing information about the caretaker and the amount paid.

In addition, you'll need to this person's information, like name, permanent address, any licensure, and their tax identification or Social Security number.

If you're unsure whether hiring your babysitter or nanny will allow you to get your DCFSA funds reimbursed, it's best to check with your provider. If it counts, make sure you are up to date on your paperwork so you can get your reimbursement.

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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
Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Real Money: What's the deal with FSAs and weight loss programs?

Maintaining a healthy weight has a whole heap of benefits, one of which is warding off medical conditions. Diet and exercise is important whether you're just looking to fit into your jeans or keep up with your little ones. Sometimes you need a little push and signing up for a weight loss program could help keep you accountable and increases your chances of success.

Well, weight loss programs don't qualify for FSA reimbursement at this time. You can only use your FSA funds for weight loss programs in very limited circumstances, and even then, you will likely need to provide extensive documentation in order to be reimbursed. Before signing up for any type of weight loss program in which you plan to use your FSA funds, make sure to talk with your FSA plan administrator.

So, what weight loss products and services are eligible?

Like any other health care product, you're only able to use your FSA funds for a weight loss program if the purpose is to treat, mitigate, cure, diagnose or prevent a specific illness. This condition needs to be diagnosed by a physician and may include conditions such as obesity, heart disease and hypertension. In short, if you're doing it to fit into those jeans, that's not going to make the cut.

Once your physician does state that you should lose weight specifically to treat an illness, there may be related expenses that will qualify for FSA reimbursement. (Emphasis on "may.") This may include membership fees for a weight loss program and attending meetings. Gym, health club and spa memberships could be tougher to get approved, but you may be able to use your FSA on fees for weight loss activities with supporting documentation submitted to your administrator.

If your physician prescribes food that will help you treat your illness, you may be able to deduct a portion of that expense as well. The food can't just be part of your regular diet and must be for the purpose for treating the illness.

In other words, diet pills and meal substitutes probably won't count as an FSA-qualified special food. If there is a special food specifically prescribed to treat your condition, and the cost of that food is more than the cost of a similar food, you may be able to be reimbursed for the difference in cost.

Some FSAs may require a letter of medical necessity or similar form of documentation in order to be able to be reimbursed for these expenses. This letter basically verifies that your weight loss program or special food is specifically for the treatment of a disease. As each FSA administrator has different requirements, you'll want to check with them first on exactly what this letter will need to include.

How much can I submit for FSA reimbursement?

You can only submit FSA expenses that qualify for reimbursement as outlined previously, and only up to the amount you have elected to contribute to your FSA.

If you're interested in losing weight for health reasons, it's best to speak with your doctor beforehand. He or she will be able to assess your situation and see what programs or regiments will help. And if you're interested in involving your FSA with that weight loss goal, you definitely want to check in with your FSA administrator on what might qualify.

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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: Flex spending from a parent's perspective

As a parent of a young child, making sure he's taken care of is my absolute top priority. Even though I'm not chasing after fancy private schools and designer clothes, raising a child isn't cheap.

According to USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, parents in the U.S. spend an average of $233,610 from birth until 17 years old. We're talking basic necessities like food, child care, housing and transportation. Most parents will understand some of the unexpected costs that crop up - many more expensive than anticipated.

One expense that new parents need to consider is health care. I'm not just talking about yearly checkups, flu shots and occasional trips to the emergency room. There's everyday essentials such as breastfeeding products, cold medicines, and even bandages with the cute little cartoon characters all over them.

All of the above makes an FSA an even more attractive choice, especially when it comes to your budget. Contributing to an FSA means you're saving money on taxes and the ability to purchase qualified medical expenses tax-free.

Here's how you can make the most of your FSA to budget for those unexpected (but inevitable) child health expenses.

Watch out for "just in case" items

We're all concerned about running out of diapers, band-aids or medicine when our child needs it most. But if you're buying items in bulk, chances are you may be wasting your money.

I learned the hard way when I bought boxes of baby wipes from the local warehouse club only to have them dry out on me. Or when I got a few bottles of supplements for my toddler only to realize he hated the taste. In theory, I was saving money. In reality, many of these items went to waste.

Before purchasing anything, see if you actually need them and how much you actually need. Scrutinize each and every expense and purchase so that you're not throwing money down the drain.

Make savings a priority

While most of us say we want to save money, in reality it's the opposite. It's not because we don't try. Maybe we're too sleep deprived and forgot to thaw out the chicken for tonight's dinner. Or we saw a really cute outfit that'll look great on our kid.

But if you want to max out your FSA, you can't leave it to chance. Sit down with your partner and figure out how you want to save money on medical care. And determine both your short- and long-term savings goals.

Having a clearer picture of these answers will help when you just don't feel like cooking instead of eating out or getting gourmet coffee for the third week in a row.

Focus on preventive care for yourself, too

Being a good parent doesn't just mean taking care of the baby. You need to be on top of your own health to do the job right. Plus, healthier parents end up saving more money in the long run.

First, you're not spending money on extra health care costs now or in the future. If your diet is less than stellar, you could be looking at a whole host of conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. These could cost you a fair chunk of change just to maintain optimal health.

While having an FSA is great, so is not needing to spend the cash each month on avoidable health needs. Instead, there are simple things you can do to take care of your health now. This includes eating a healthy diet (that doesn't just mean switching to diet soda), exercising regularly and kicking bad habits such as smoking.

Children model their parents behavior, so if they see you making your health a priority, so will they. You'll save money on medical expenses, your overall budget and live a much healthier life.

You likely already knew that having a child was going to be expensive. But there's no reason to just give up trying to save money every chance you get. Whether it's for an appropriate everyday items, or an unexpected trip to the ER, your FSA might be more important than diapers and baby wipes…

(Well, we'll let you make the call on that one...)

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, 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, YouTube and Twitter.

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Accounts

Real Money: Elder care and your DCFSA

As a parent, I'm always looking for the best ways to save money on child care — I talk to a lot of moms about this too. And if you're a parent, you may already know that a dependent care FSA or a DCFSA is a great way to save costs on child care expenses.

But did you know it could help aging dependents as well? As my parents get older, I can't help but wonder what would happen if they needed help. If you're in the same position, you should consider the DCFSA and whether or not you can save on costs by using pre-tax funds.

How does it work?

In order to claim reimbursement for qualified expenses for a DCFSA, you'll need a qualifying dependent. That means your elder dependent needs to live with you for a minimum of eight hours a day and be incapable of self-care. You'll also need to claim them as a dependent on your tax return.

Any expenses you wish to claim need to be related to caring for your dependent — these services are what allow you to attend school, work or actively look for work full-time.

As for how much you can contribute, it depends on how you file your taxes. If you're single or filing separately from your spouse, each of you can contribute up to $2,500. Those filing jointly can contribute up to $5,000, assuming each of you earn more than that amount each year.

If it's less, then you're limited to contributing to your DCFSA equal to the lowest earning spouse. For example, if you earn $10,000 a year but your spouse earns $4,000, then your DCFSA limit for the year can only be as much as $4,000.

Some qualifying life events will allow you the opportunity to change your DCFSA, such as changes in health care coverage, or if you suddenly need or no longer need elder care. It's best to contact your DCFSA provider if you're wondering about changes to your plan.

What counts as a qualifying expense?

According to the IRS, qualifying expenses are generally services that are primarily for the care and well-being on your dependent, whether it's in our out of your home. Qualifying care for your dependent must be to allow you and your spouse to work, go to school full time or to actively look for work. Medical expenses do not count as expenses for the DCFSA..

Some qualifying expenses include:

  • Adult day care center
  • Custodial elder care
  • Day nursing care
  • Elder care — in or outside the home
  • Transportation to and from eligible care — provided by the care provider
  • Registration fees required for eligible care

Remember you'll need to claim each of these expenses individually and provide proof of services. This may include medical documentation, receipts and other types of records — ask your DCFSA provider what's needed. It's better to have too much documentation rather than not enough. You don't want to be in a position where you can't claim your expenses.

Use your funds

Don't forget that you need you use up your DCFSA funds before the year ends or you forfeit the amount contributed. Your account may offer a grace period so you can spend down your funds, but that's not always the case. The best bet is to budget carefully for your elder care needs and check with your DCFSA provider on their specific rules and requirements.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, 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: Keeping your health in place when it's time to move

As someone who moved four times in the last three years, I know all too well the stress that follows when it comes to preparing to live in a new place. There's packing, forwarding your mail, learn about your new neighborhood … and health care.

That's right. I'm not just talking about how to not pull your back when moving boxes (though that's important, too). It has to do with making sure your entire family is prepared. Here's what to do to keep your health on point when life gets turned upside down.

Reassess your health care plan

Yeah, this is an excellent time to see if your current health insurance plan is still active where you're headed. Even if the open enrollment season is over, you may still be able to enroll in new marketplace coverage.

However, not all moves qualify. You'll need to be either:

  • Moving to a new ZIP code or county
  • Moving to the U.S. from a U.S. territory or foreign country
  • Moving to and from where you live and work as a seasonal worker
  • Moving to and from where you attend school as a student

Before you move, take a look at what your healthcare needs are. Maybe you've been spending less than you realized and would rather enroll in a HDHP plan. Or you need to address a different health condition. All of these factors are important to consider.

For those who are moving for employment, you'll probably need to switch insurance providers anyway, so check to see what's the best option for you. Even if none of the above situations apply to you, it's always a good idea to do an assessment of your health care needs.

Stock up on supplies

On a smaller scale, make sure you didn't pack your home health supplies too deeply in a shipping crate. It's easy to get caught off guard when you do get a cut or a scrape from moving. Having a pack of bandages, ice packs and even ibuprofen can make a huge difference. And of course, stay hydrated -- water should be nearby no matter what climate you're moving to.

For more serious conditions that require specific medications or specialized medical equipment, It's especially important to keep them handy, too. For example, if you have diabetes, make sure you have enough test strips and insulin, in case a box or bag gets misplaced. While local pharmacies might be able to refill in an emergency, better to be prepared. The last thing you want to happen is to run out of much needed supplies because you were too busy loading up the moving van.

Go over your new home with a fine-tooth comb

Before unpacking boxes in your new home, take the time to go over each square inch of the property. This includes looking for any possible hazards, such as loose floorboards, stray nails and baby-proofing part of the house. There's almost nothing worse than being excited over your new place and then getting an injury a few days later.

For those who have allergies, it's also important to clean your home again just in case. For example, if you have a mold allergy, you'll want to clean the carpets and look behind major appliances (and dark areas) just in case. It's also a good idea to dust off your existing furniture to make sure it's nice and clean for your fresh start.

Once you do move in, you'll want to reassess your emergency plan. That means letting everyone know where the first aid kit is, a list of phone numbers of important people, and deciding whether to look for a new doctor if you're moving far away from your current one.

Good luck with the move

Moving isn't always the most exciting of all adventures, but if you're prepared and anticipate any and all needs, it should go fairly smoothly. Make sure your health is well taken care of by going over your new home to look for possible hazards, assessing your health insurance plan and stock up on supplies. That way, the only thing you really have to worry about it is how close the nearest coffee shop is.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, 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, YouTube and Twitter.

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Living Well

Real Money: Taking stock of your mental health in the workplace

Taking care of your mental health should be as important as taking care of your physical health. After all, if you're not coping well in your daily life, it might affect your work, your relationships and even your peace of mind.

What if your job is really stressing you out, to the point where you're going to suffer from burnout, or the stress is a symptom of major anxiety or depression?

There is no shame in getting help. Seeking mental health screenings and other types of preventative measures is not only important, but might even be necessary. Of course, we're not doctors, so be sure to speak with a licensed medical professional before taking on any new wellness programs or making significant changes to your routine.

Keeping your emotions in check

While it's normal every once in a while to have a bad day at work, there are some emotions and symptoms that can indicate something more serious. For example, you can feel tired if you're working a lot, but constantly feeling tired to the point where you don't want to get out of bed isn't common.

Other signs include:

  • Extreme mood changes, like feelings of euphoria then prolonged feelings of irritability or anger
  • Drastic changes in eating habits
  • Consistently avoiding social activities
  • Excessive worry and fear
  • Inability to carry out daily tasks or handing daily challenges

If you're concerned, the first place to check is through your health care provider. This is because your employer may have a wellness program that includes mental health options like screenings, dependence counseling, depression workshops and proactive stress management courses. These are typically free and more employers are offering it to improve workers' lives, in and out of the office.

Getting a diagnosis

The first step to getting help is to get an accurate diagnosis from a professional and getting on a mental wellness plan. Seeing a mental health professional or going through a mental health screening isn't 100% accurate, so you may find that you want a second opinion, and that's okay.

After your assessment, a health care provider may develop a plan that includes medication, therapy or even simple lifestyle changes. While this can sound overwhelming, taking it one step at a time will help you get better.

Balancing therapy and medication

Not everyone is going to need medication or therapy, but it's a good idea to be open to the possibility. Luckily, both of these are covered by an FSA even if your insurance doesn't. FSA-eligible products and services include sessions with licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers.

Even if your mental health professional suggests just some lifestyle changes, take those suggestions. For example, if you have a seasonal mental health disorder, using light therapy can help. Or if you require OTC medication on occasion, try it out and see how it affects you. Many of these types of products are FSA-eligible, but some may require a prescription and always check with your FSA provider to make sure.

We hope that you take your overall well-being into consideration. Work stress is fairly normal, but it's not worth it when it comes at the expense of your mental health. If you do find work is affecting you in negative ways or your mental health is affecting your work, speak to someone in your organization about how you feel. Employers want their employees to be happy and productive, so seek help if you need it.

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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 health and 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: Is your workplace affecting your health?

Just because you love your job, doesn't mean there aren't some small downsides to being there. For one, your workplace may be affecting your health.

No, really, this isn't like those annoying "It's Monday" memes that populate your timeline. Maybe it's certain times of the year when you're approaching deadlines. Or the noise levels get to you. Even the lights above your head can have an effect on your health.

Before freaking out, let's break down how some of these can affect your health and what you can do about it.

Fluorescent lights

Yes, the buzzing and occasional flickering of fluorescent light can be annoying, but it can have other negative impacts. For one, prolonged exposure to this type of lighting can interfere with our sleep patterns. That's because fluorescent bulbs produce blue light can which can suppress the creation of melatonin in your body.

This is the hormone that helps you sleep, so less production means you may be able to sleep well. And a continual lack of sleep has a whole host of other health effects.

Furthermore, fluorescent lights can cause eyestrain or headaches. These types of light emit rapid pulses of light, which explains the flickering and buzzing. If you're extra sensitive, you may even get migraines. (Trust us, those FSA-eligible pain relief eye masks are fantastic for helping to get some pain relief.)

There's not much you can do to get rid of these lights, but you can help mitigate the effects by taking breaks (go outside if you have to), creating a simple nighttime routine to trigger sleep and not stare at the computer screen all the time.

Lack of breaks

Speaking of breaks, are you taking any? It can be hard to get away from work, especially when there are deadlines looming and you're being called into multiple meetings in a day. Some days, it feels like all you can do is take a few minutes to eat lunch at your desk.

If this is the case, you need a break more than ever. Constantly thinking about work can seriously stress you out. Even a quick 10-minute walk outside (you know, by actually taking advantage of that lunch break) can do wonders for your mental health.

Your boss will understand that you need time to step away from your desk. After all, a happy employee is a productive employee.

Coworkers

No matter where you work, there will be times when you'll run into a coworker you don't prefer spending time with. And conflicts can happen even if you try to actively avoid it.

Sure, it's tempting to ignore everyone you don't like, but what if you're forced to work with that person? Or if you have a conflict over a project you're working on with some you do like?

You can't avoid negative situations at work, so the best we can do is to try and work through them. If there is a conflict, the mature thing to do is to speak directly to the people involved. If need by, get a mediator. Or if you're really stressed out, your employer may offer counseling programs specifically to help with managing work.

(And not for anything, but those eye masks are good for these moments, too…)

At the end of the day, your health is irreplaceable. Don't let any situation, even if it seems impossible to get out of, jeopardize your wellness.

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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 health and 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: Why a DCFSA can be a huge win for parents

If you're a parent, maximizing on childcare costs is important, considering this line item on your budget is probably one of the most expensive. Many take advantage of what's known as a dependent care FSA, or DCFSA - this account covers child care for children up to 13 years old, where a traditional FSA is aimed at covering qualified medical expenses.

Getting a DCFSA is great considering the tax benefits and the ability to use pre-tax money, but are there other ways to cut on childcare costs? In other words, are there alternatives in case your costs are higher than what the DCFSA maximums are, or do you want to enroll your child in programs that are not considered qualifying expenses?

Whatever your reason for wanting to save money, here are a few ways to save big on childcare costs.

Share a nanny

Hiring a nanny on your own can be notoriously expensive but it doesn't have to be if you share one. You and a trusted friend or family member can hire one nanny to help out with your children while you work. Yes, you can claim your share of the cost as a qualified expense under a DCFSA.

While it sounds strange to share a nanny, more people are choosing to go this route. You may be surprised that some nannies are happy to split their time amongst those in the neighborhood as it usually means more pay for them.

Nannies may have different requirements like a maximum number of children, hours or how close in age these children need to be. But if you're patient, you can often find the right fit for everyone. The perk is that your nanny gets more money, and you're paying less since you're splitting costs.

Do babysitting swaps

On that note, swapping babysitting duties is a great way to save since you're not paying for childcare, except with your time. If you get clever, it won't be much more time than if you were to watch your own. For example, if you work a 9 to 5, find someone to watch your kid during the day and you can watch theirs during the evenings or weekends.

To start a swap, try to find a few parents so there are more spaces and opportunities to fit everyone's needs and schedules. Make sure to create a system where it's fair and equitable for all — if you watch someone's child for two hours, someone else needs to watch your child for the same amount of time.

Create more flexibility in your work schedule

If none of the above options appeal to you, consider making changes to your work schedule if you are able to. A common method for parents is to try and arrange a remote work arrangement, even if it's for a few days a week. That way, you don't have to pay more for childcare — like before and after school programs.

If you have a partner, see if you can both do the same thing so that there's more opportunity to work from home. For example, one of you watches your child in the mornings and you switch in the afternoons. However, be mindful of your work requirements so that you can make that meeting without needing to constantly attend to your child's needs.

Working remotely isn't always an option and doesn't always work with younger children with more demanding needs. However it doesn't hurt to ask for partial arrangements like working shorter hours in the office and doing the rest of your work at home if it will work for you.

You can only claim money from your DCFSA for childcare expenses while you're working — so if you end up working part time, you may not be able to spend as much from your account. Check with your account provider on what their rules and regulations are so you're on the up and up about what your obligations are.

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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.