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 2020 you need to be aware of — March 15 and March 31. 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 2019 and are waiting on invoices. If your plan offers the runout period, then you likely have until March 31, 2020 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, 2020. 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 2020 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 2019 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, 2020. 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 2020? 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.

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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.

Basics

Flex-Ed: Getting to know enrollment periods, cutoff dates and qualifying life events

When you decide to contribute to a FSA, whatever you select as your contribution amount stays the same throughout the year. That means if you change your mind, there really is no going back. In other words, it's crucial that you budget carefully so that you'll be able to use up the amount you put into your FSA or else you'll risk forfeiting the cash.

But there are exceptions to the rule. If you experience what's known as a qualifying life event, your employer may let make changes to your FSA. This includes changes in marital status, employment and the birth of a child.

What if these qualifying life events happen after you make your FSA elections? The short answer is that you should be able to make changes during what's known as a special enrollment period.

What is a special enrollment period?

A special enrollment period is a set amount of time outside of the open enrollment period (which is typically around November 1 to December 15) where you can make changes to your health plan, including your FSA contributions.

You can only take advantage of a special enrollment period if you have a qualifying event or experience a complex issue and if your plan allows for the change. If eligible, you'll typically have 30 to 60 days from the date of the special circumstance or qualifying life event to make changes to your FSA. It's best to check with your FSA provider for the specifics.

How do I know what my cutoff date is?

Let's say you've been contributing about $150 a month towards your FSA for you and your spouse's medical expenses. Unfortunately, you both decide to break things off and begin the paperwork in November of this year and your divorce won't be finalized until January 12, 2019. This counts as a qualifying life event, so you qualify for the special enrollment 60 day from the date you finalized the divorce.

Another common qualifying event is if you become a parent or gain a new dependent. You adopted a child and the adoption date as defined by the course is February 12, 2019. You may be able to increase your FSA contributions and \make changes 30-60 days from that date. Or, your child turns 27 halfway through next year and you want to decrease your FSA contributions, you have 30-60 days from your child's 27th birthday.

There may be some exceptions to the cutoff date, such as when it comes to the dependent care FSA (DCFSA). For example, the DCFSA is only for certain expenses for dependents 12 and under. If your child turns 13 halfway through 2019, you may be able to make changes 30 days from their 13th birthday.

Significant changes in dependent care could also qualify for the special enrollment period. If you switch daycare providers, there was a significant price change or both parents aren't employed (or a student) anymore, you may be able to increase, decrease or stop your DCFSA contributions (consistent with the qualifying event).

As mentioned earlier, your FSA provider may not allow you to make changes outside of the enrollment period or their cutoff dates differ than what we've indicated. Your best bet is to contact your provider and explain your specific situation to find out what your options are.

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What are these "complex issues" you speak of?

Healthcare.gov mentions there are a few special cases in which you may be able to change your FSA plan. If you went through a natural disaster or serious medical condition that prevented you from enrolling - like an earthquake or unexpected major surgery - you may be able to petition to make changes.

When my husband and I signed up for a DCFSA when he switched jobs, the system had a major glitch and had it so that $1,650 would be deducted from each paycheck instead of $300. When we saw the paperwork, we were able to change it even though we were well past the open enrollment period.

Of course, all of the above are hypothetical scenarios and may not apply to you. It's always a good idea to call your FSA administrator before or as soon as any any qualifying event or special circumstances so that you can make any necessary changes within the cutoff date.

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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: Taking stock of your family's health during American Diabetes Month

Tired of Halloween candy yet? Well, as you probably know, the dietary challenges are just beginning for many people around the country. Now that the holiday season is upon us, you may be wondering about how your waistline is going to handle all the food. As tempting it is to eat gobs of food and lay around on the couch, this behavior could have far reaching consequences: your child might copy you.

You're probably thinking what's wrong with indulging. And there isn't really anything wrong with indulging unless you do this all the time. Since young children tend to be impressionable though, thinking that it's okay to overeat - and unhealthy food on top of that - means there could be a risk for some pretty serious health issues long term if your children learn bad habits at a young age.

Are you serious?

Considering 1 in 7 youth between 6 and 17 years old are considered overweight, yes. Of course, having a little extra baby fat isn't a major concern, but if this is a result of unhealthy habits, then the chances of those children being susceptible to diseases increases.

So yes, laying around and eating junk food can have far-reaching consequences, especially when maintaining a poor diet and lack of physical activity become a habit. These consequences include increased risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Children who are overweight could also suffer from low self-esteem and are more likely to be hospitalized than children who have a healthy weight.

What's more, overweight children are more likely to become adults who are overweight, potentially leading to diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Who knew that the candy might be the scariest part of Halloween?

Before we start an unnecessary panic, know that we're not saying the occasional treat is a problem. Kids are kids, and it's okay for them (or anyone) to overindulge once in awhile. It's when the candy and sweets become a regular part of a person's diet that the problems start to surface.

What can I do?

I'm not a doctor, but I am a parent. And for me the simple answer is to encourage more physical activity into your child's daily routine as well as eating healthier diet. The reality is that it can be much harder to implement.

Instead of implementing a lot of things all at once, start small - in your home. As a family, you can all talk about what being healthy means and the benefits of that could look like. For example, it could mean being able to walk for a whole day around the zoo, or feeling less tired during the day. The important thing is to discuss this as an entire family so that everyone is more more motivated to make changes.

Something else to consider is to change your immediate environment. What this mean is setting visual cues to implement a healthy habit or eliminating vices from your home. For example, if you want your child to eat a better diet, start by eliminating sugary and highly processed foods from your pantry. It could also mean turning meal times into a fun event by teaching your child to cook using simple recipes so he or she understands what goes into each dish.

Also start small when it comes to implementing a better physical regimen. You and your family won't stick to something it means hours of strenuous activity - it's probably not a good idea to start off by signing everyone up for a half-marathon. Instead, start with simple stretches or walking to run errands instead of driving all the time.

No matter how you plan in integrating a healthier lifestyle, you want to make sure it works for you and your family. Again, we're not doctors, and don't mean to offer medical advice -- always check with a medical professional before making any diet and lifestyle changes. Making sure you get (FSA-eligible) preventive screenings with your doctor once a year so if there are potential issues, you can address them before it's too late.

Diabetes essentials

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Accounts

Asked and Answered: What are voluntary benefits?

Often overlooked, voluntary benefits can be a fantastic addition to a primary healthcare plan. They can help you with different aspects of your life like covering your living expenses, lost wages and other types of much-needed health insurance.

While employer coverage doesn't always account for these extra benefits (you may need to cover 100% of the costs) there is the benefit of a group rate through your employer. In other words, many of these voluntary benefits come at a steep discount. (And we like those.)

Just because your employer may offer many options, doesn't mean you need to choose all of them. It also doesn't mean you need to ignore them, either. With so much uncertainty - whether it's the current job landscape or even other health concerns - it may be a good idea to look into these options.

Read on to find out some of the most popular ones employers offer, what it may cover and who it's best for.

Critical illness

This type of insurance can be a great addition to your regular health insurance premium. It'll give you a lump sum amount if you end up being diagnosed with a critical illness covered in your plan - including but not limited to end-stage renal failure, coronary artery bypass surgery, a heart attack, stroke and even a major organ transplant.

The idea behind this type of insurance is that even though you may already have a comprehensive plan, expensive treatments like the ones mentioned above may still cripple your family or loved ones financially. The lump sum amount will be paid directly to you so it can be used where it's most needed.

Who this is best for is those who are younger (think millennials and ones in their prime working years), especially those with dependents. It's similar to term life insurance in that when a critical illness does happen, you get paid once. It is solely to help pay for expenses that your regular health plan won't cover.

Long-term disability

Long-term disability (LTD) insurance helps to cover costs in the event you cannot work anymore. What happens is that LTD insurance will replace part of your paycheck because of illness or accident - what that is depends on your individual policy. In essence what you're doing is insuring that you'll still receive a paycheck so that you can pay for regular expenses.

LTD insurance is best for those who may not have a lot of paid time or or other sources of income should that be needed to cover your expenses. Typically, this type of insurance is for those actively working and usually in places that aren't considered too risk by insurers.

Vision and dental insurance

Most employers typically offer some sort of vision and dental insurance plan, where it'll cover things such as eye exams, discounts on treatments (e.g. eye care accessories), teeth cleaning, crowns and dentures. These may be cheaper out of pocket or not - it totally depends on your current health situation.

For example, for those who are older and have a family history of eye diseases, having vision insurance could be a godsend. Or if you're young and have healthy teeth and gums, it may not make sense to get dental insurance if all you're doing is getting your teeth cleaned once a year.

These are just a handful of the available benefits being offered. Others can include accident, hospital indemnity and even identity theft insurance. No matter what you do, you'll want to take a careful look at your current situation and speak with a trusted professional about what you may or may not need.

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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

Real Money: Why I regret not researching my health care options more

As a self-proclaimed money nerd, I sure made a big financial mishap - not researching my health care options more carefully. By essentially hiding under a rock when it came to health insurance, I lost hundreds of dollars in the process. Worse, it could have cost me much more if my family and I had to visit the doctor more often last year. I don't even want to imagine what it'd be like if we had much higher medical expenses.

Using "overwhelmed" as an excuse

To be frank, I didn't really need to worry about health care options in the U.S. until about two years ago. As a Canadian living overseas, either the government took care of my basic needs or my employer overseas did. When my husband and I made the decision to move to the U.S. I felt overwhelmed at starting a new life in another country, transitioning into full-time self-employment and learning how to be a parent to a young child.

While each individual situation itself would have been stressful enough, the combination of all three sent my stress levels through the roof. Instead of listing out my priorities and figuring out what I needed to do (and in which order), I just picked the first health plan that looked decent.

I lost quite a bit of money

What I didn't realize was there were many opportunities to save on health care costs. Not only that, but on taxes as well. If I had know about the benefits of an HSA or FSA, I would have taken some time to budget more carefully and contributed to those accounts.

Lowering my taxable income would have been awesome, since I was spending money left and right moving to a new country. From rental deposits, to new furniture, to childcare options, it would have been great if I could have saved some money to pay for my health care expenses in the process.

If I had set aside money in an HSA, I could have lowered my taxable income, and paid less taxes. Those savings could have gone towards other things like stuffing my emergency fund and assorted moving expenses.

What's more, it wasn't until I moved again that I realized I could have opened a dependent care FSA. As someone who uses drop off daycare facilities and enrolled her son into part-time preschool, I could have opened that account (assuming my last health insurance plan allowed it), saved money on child care fees and lowered my taxable income.

While there is no point in shaming myself and living in total regret, I can take this as a lesson learned. Sure, I was stressed, but my health needs are equally as important. For the future, I'm going to do some careful research, way before open enrollment so I'm well prepared and informed of what I'm getting into when it comes to health care options.

This also includes taking stock of how I used my plan this year, what my long-term goals are with my funds (e.g. is it just for health care expenses or will it to help me with retirement purposes?) and what I can do to ensure that I am making the best choice for me, given my current life situation.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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