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Living Well

Asked and Answered: Are there FSA-eligible ways to keep holiday weight off?

The holiday season is here, and for many people that means eating more and moving less. This often leads to a frustrating amount of weight gain that people struggle with throughout the winter months.

But maintaining a healthy weight should be a priority no matter the season, since it's well known that the excess pounds can lead to health complications like diabetes and high blood pressure. When it comes to holiday weight gain, the best way to combat it is to avoid gaining it in the first place.

Memberships to health clubs and gyms typically aren't eligible for FSA reimbursement, but here are some other smart ways you can utilize your FSA funds to keep the holiday weight off. (As always, we're not doctors - see a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your weight loss and fitness routines.)

Diet foods are (usually) not eligible!

We understand this question… especially during a time of year when our celebrations center on food and drink. But special foods necessary to treat obesity are not FSA-eligible, since they may also satisfy normal nutritional requirements. But, specialty foods designed for specific treatment of a condition may qualify if necessary for a medical condition, yet only the excess cost of the special product is reimbursable.

Long story short? Most foods are ineligible for reimbursement with your tax-free health funds. But speak to your FSA administrator to see if your needs qualify.

Stay active

Staying active is one of the most important steps you can take in preventing holiday weight gain. And while you can't buy yourself a new bicycle with your FSA funds, you can invest in some equipment that will make your workouts more comfortable and prevent injury.

  • If you experience joint pain while exercising - braces, supports and many orthopedic insoles are eligible for reimbursement.
  • Kinesiology tape is a popular option for pain relief and support among athletes and is an FSA-eligible item.
  • Make sure to refill your first-aid kit. Items like bandages, cold packs, and gauze pads are all FSA-eligible so you will have what you need on hand if you do get hurt while working out.

If you're not already physically active, you don't need to wait until spring comes to start an exercise routine. Start small by incorporating more walking, simple strength training, and stretching into your daily routine.

You can build up to more intense activities over time. Before you get started, make an appointment with your physician to make sure you're clear to start an exercise regimen - you can always use your FSA funds to cover the copay.

Sleep better

Getting a good night's sleep has been proven to play a big part in maintaining a healthy weight. But not everyone is able to get a full eight hours of shut-eye a night, especially with the added stress of the holiday season. So use your FSA funds on these items that can help you get the rest you need.

  • Select eye masks for pain relief are available with heating and cooling functions, and with soothing scents.
  • Acupressure pillows can help relieve tension and allow you to relax.
  • If you find yourself frequently struggling, sleep aids are eligible with a prescription.

See a professional

If you find yourself struggling with weight gain and eating right, you should consider setting up an appointment with a dietician or nutritionist. These professionals can help you take stock of your diet and make changes to get you to a healthy weight. Before you make the appointment, check in with your FSA administrator - some require a Letter of Medical Necessity for reimbursement.

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Active? Try these...

KT TAPE PRO, Pre-cut

Keeps you pain free and supported exactly where you need it.

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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: Mistakes during open enrollment - can you change elections?

Mistakes happen -- and it happens more than it probably should when people are choosing health insurance. Between having multiple options, confusing plan descriptions, debating voluntary benefits and a tight open enrollment deadlines, it's pretty easy to see how things might get confused.

You could have misread a question, be forced to rush through the process, or even miscalculated how much money would be coming out of your paycheck every week. Whatever the case, if you made a mistake during open enrollment, you're probably wondering if there's a way to make changes to your elections later on in the year.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but no, once you make your open enrollment elections, you don't have the option to change them later in the year unless you experience a qualifying life event. (Or in the event of very rare circumstances, such as a legitimate error in which your administrator may or may not be able to allow you to fix)

Your employer is not legally obligated to allow you to make changes to your elections after the open enrollment period has ended. In fact, there's a good chance that the terms of your employer's benefit plan don't allow any exceptions or changes for employees who make mistakes or miss the open enrollment period altogether.

Qualifying life events change that answer...

After open enrollment ends, you can only make changes to your elections if you've experienced a qualifying life event. The IRS and FSA administrators understand that life changes and that you may need to make adjustments to your elections to accommodate for those changes.

Common qualifying life events include:

  • Changes in marital status - Getting married, divorced, separated, or if your spouse passes away.
  • Changes in number of dependents - if you have a child, adopt a child, or if a child passes away.
  • Changes in dependent status - children can age out of dependent status or become eligible for dependent status during the year.
  • Changes in employment - this can mean starting a new job, quitting, or a transition from part-time to full-time work status.
  • COBRA - If you lose your job and elect to continue receiving benefits from your employer.
  • Relocation - Moving won't always affect your eligibility, but sometimes moving to a new home address or a new work site can, especially if it's in a new state with different regulations.

Not all plans allow for mid-year changes, but you'll find that most do. If you experience one of these life events, you'll want to get in touch with your FSA administrator within 30 days of the event to find out if you are eligible to make changes to your plan.

What else can I do?

When it comes to your open enrollment elections, the best thing you can do is take your time and be thorough to minimize the chance of making mistakes. Don't leave your elections for the last minute as that can make you rush the process and leave you more susceptible to mistakes.

If you're married, discuss your elections with your spouse to ensure that the whole family is on the same page for the upcoming benefit year.

And if you have any questions or are uncertain about anything in the process, contact your HR department - they'll help you navigate the open enrollment steps and clarify anything you don't understand. Many employers even offer benefits education during open enrollment to help employees understand their options and make informed decisions.

Eligible everyday necessities

Caring Mill Assorted Variety Bandages, 280 ea

This is a great bandage set that offers a variety of sizes to cover the most common medical situations.

$10.99

Battle Creek Pain Relief Bed Heating Pad, 18" x 36"

$69.99


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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.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! FSAs and drug-free pain management

Many Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain. While over-the-counter medication can provide relief, many people prefer a drug-free option to help manage their pain long term. As technology advances, more and more options are now available for people to find drug-free pain relief right in their own home.

Many of these treatments are eligible for FSA reimbursement, meaning you can put your tax-free dollars to work.

Hot and cold pack and wraps

Hot and cold therapy is a popular option for many different kinds of aches and pains because of their simplicity and effectiveness. Most of these can simply be heated in the microwave or left in the freezer to cool. These treatments can be used to treat a variety of ailments, from swelling and inflammation to injury relief and rehabilitation.

Athletic support tape

Brands like KT Tape allow for better muscle movement, providing support, and quickening the healing process. It's especially popular with athletes for pain relief, inflammation reduction, muscle relaxation, and injury recovery.

Many people choose to wear KT Tape during sporting events for the added muscle support and pain prevention. It is also used to help increase lymphatic drainage and improve blood flow. Because of its many benefits, KT Tape is popular with people for prevention and pain relief.

TENS units

TENS units work by using stimulating pulses to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. These units send electrical impulses to the muscles and stimulate your nerves, which works to confuse pain signals received by your brain. They also help stimulate the production of endorphins, which are a natural pain reliever. For people with chronic pain, endorphins help to eliminate the discomfort and can even work as a mood booster.

Acupressure mats

Acupressure mats are a simple and drug-free method of pain relief. All you need to do is make contact with the mat to relieve pain and tension. Most people close to either stand or lie down on them which allows the spikes on the mat to put pressure on your acu-points and relieve pain.

Additionally, acupuncture is an extremely popular form of drug-free pain management. While you can't do it yourself in your own home like the other options on this list, many people find the trip to the specialist to be well worth their while. If using your FSA, make sure to ask your administrator if they'll require any specific type of documentation, such as a Letter of Medical Necessity, to allow the expense.

Supports and braces

Supports and braces are a popular option for people who are experiencing joint pain or to assist with rehabilitation after an injury. Some athletes also use them to prevent injuries while playing sports. Braces come in many shapes and sizes to fit different joints and provide different levels of support.

Get the drug-free pain relief you need!

Kanjō Travel Acupressure Set

A simple yet effective at-home and on-the-go solution for neck, back and foot pain.
$69.99

Caring Mill Travel Heating Pad

$17.99

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: Cancer prevention, screenings and FSAs

One of the most important components of preventative health care is screening for life-threatening diseases like cancer. And when it comes to beating cancer, detecting and treating it early on can dramatically increase your chances of survival.

The goal of these preventative screenings is to catch any signs as early as possible, which gives your medical team the best chance of effectively treating - and defeating - the disease.

September and October represent awareness months for several types of cancer, and that means prevention. Since the ACA has ruled that preventive care is covered by insurance, additional costs don't often occur when it comes to cancer screenings. If there are any additional costs, however, they should be eligible for FSA reimbursement.

(Please note: All plans are different. Be sure to check with your administrator to see what your plan will allow.)

What kind of screenings are done?

Since there are so many different kinds of cancer, there are a variety of different screenings that can be done as a part of preventative care. Depending on factors like age, gender, and family history, your doctor will determine when and how often you should be screened.

Self-screening is important too, and your doctor will advise you on what to look out for and when you should report to a medical professional for further tests. Some common examples of cancer screenings include:

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, as well as amongst young people. So doctors recommend that you regularly check your skin for irregular growths and schedule an appointment right away if you notice anything of concern.

People who spend a lot of time in direct sunlight are at an even higher risk for the disease, so this is even more important to do if your job or recreational activities have you outside on a regular basis.

To test for skin cancer, a dermatologist will examine your skin. If it's suspected that an area might be cancerous, a biopsy of the tissue will be conducted. Any costs associated with these tests will be eligible for reimbursement.

Breast and gynecological cancer

For women, breast cancer and ovarian cancer screenings are an important part of regular preventive care. It's recommended that healthy women with few risk factors begin getting screened regularly at age 40, but a doctor may recommend that these screenings begin earlier if you have certain risk factors.

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend a BRCA test, which is a blood test that checks your DNA for mutations in certain genes which can indicate whether you're likely to develop cancer. Unlike other genetic tests, the BRCA screening is done solely for medical purposes, so it's eligible for reimbursement without a Letter of Medical Necessity (although we always advise that you check on your FSA details with your plan administrator or HR department to ensure that your plan covers all qualified medical expenses).

Other screenings, like mammograms and digital infrared thermal imaging, are also eligible for reimbursement.

Prostate cancer

Men, on the other hand, should be screened for prostate cancer. Most medical professionals recommend that screenings begin regularly by age 50, but may also suggest that screenings begin earlier if certain risk factors are present.

To screen for prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend a Digital Rectal Exam, which identifies abnormalities in the gland, as well as a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which is a blood test that measures PSA levels. Elevated levels can be a sign of cancer or an enlarged prostate. If your insurance doesn't cover any of the costs associated with these types of screenings, they should be eligible for reimbursement.

Colon cancer

Colonoscopies are done to determine whether or not polyps are present in the colon. Polyps can evolve into malignant tumors, so detecting them early on is important. Depending on risk factors, most doctors recommend that people start getting screened for colon cancer on a regular basis by age 50.

Since a colonoscopy is a preventative screening, it should be covered by your primary health insurance plan. Any additional costs will be eligible for FSA reimbursement.

Home medical essentials

Nima Gluten Sensor - Starter Kit

Know if your food is really gluten-free. Put food into a test capsule, put the capsule in the sensor, and push start. See your result in 2-3 min!

Caring Mill Digital Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor

A lightweight and compact device that is easy to use on the go and to travel with.

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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.

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: Why aren't comfort and relaxation considered for FSA eligibility?

The truth is, there's a lot more to your overall well-being than routine doctor's appointments and prescription medications. Being comfortable and taking the time to relax is important for both physical and mental health.

But, if you've ever looked at our FSA eligibility list, you've probably noticed an absence of things like massages, yoga classes, meditation retreats, and other things that can enhance your well-being. This is because the IRS has strict guidelines about what is considered a qualified medical expense, and comfort and relaxation currently don't fit into those standards.

Why aren't they qualified expenses?

According to the IRS, for an expense to be eligible the item or service needs to be for the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease or condition. Items and services that you purchase solely for your comfort and relaxation generally don't fit into any of these categories. So while they might be necessary for your overall comfort, they aren't considered a medical necessity.

The good news is that you can still use your FSA funds to help achieve comfort and relaxation, as long as that comfort comes from treating a specific medical need.

So, what's eligible?

There are many items and services that you can purchase with your FSA that will help you find comfort and relax. Many people are surprised to learn just how many items are considered eligible expenses and find that they can make purchases that allow them to achieve what they're looking for. Some of these items include:

Acupressure Mats: In this writer's eyes, all discussions of FSA-eligible pain relief start here. Acupressure mats are an excellent way to relieve muscle discomfort, and many people find them to be the perfect remedy for back pain after a long day of sitting in an office chair.

When used regularly, they can even help improve circulation and flexibility. They're eligible for reimbursement with your FSA and can be used just about anywhere you have room to lay down.

Acupuncture Therapy: This centuries-old technique is popular amongst people who suffer from chronic pain and discomfort. The acupuncture technician uses thin needles to target precise points on your body which will ease the pain. In addition to muscular pain, many people use this technique to find relief from frequent migraines.

And acupuncture therapy is generally considered FSA-eligible without a prescription. In some cases, administrators may require a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) to substantiate the expense, so check with yours before making that appointment.

Heating Pads: Heating pads are a popular and simple way to ease pain and provide comfort. Applying heat can help ease muscle pain, menstrual cramps, ear aches, and headaches. These pads are FSA-eligible and come in a variety of styles and sizes.

Foot Circulators: Not a month goes by where someone from our writing team sings the praises of these foot circulators. And once you try one, there's a good chance you'll do the same thing.

If you spend a lot of time on your feet, you've probably experienced tired, aching feet on a regular basis. Foot circulators help relieve this discomfort with electrical stimulation. This eases pain, improves circulation, and helps minimize swollen ankles and legs. These circulators are FSA-eligible and can make staying on your feet all day considerably more comfortable.

So, what's the takeaway here? While you can't turn to your FSA exclusively for comfort and relaxation purposes, it doesn't mean you won't enjoy those benefits while treating your specific medical needs. Because, after struggling with some serious aches and pains over the years, there's nothing more relaxing than treating and relieving it with the products mentioned above.

Therapeutic favorites...

90-Minute Oska Pulse Electromagnetic Massage Unit

This is a non-drug solution to pain relief that uses pulsed electromagnetic fields to increase circulation, reduce inflammation and improve mobility.

dpl® Oral Care Light Therapy System

Medically proven to increase circulation, enhance gum health, and relieve pain/soreness.

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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.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! What special needs tests are covered by FSAs?

Many people don't realize just how many expenses are FSA-eligible. Unfortunately, figuring out exactly what's covered can be confusing, especially when it comes to less routine appointments like testing for learning disabilities.

The process of diagnosing and treating a learning disability can be a long and stressful process, with medical expenses that can add up quickly. Using your tax-free dollars is a great way to help lift some of the financial strain.

Here's what you need to know about how your FSA can help you and your family when testing and treatment is needed for a learning disability.

Testing for learning disabilities

The term learning disability refers to a fairly wide variety of conditions including dyslexia, dyscalculia, blindness, hearing impairments, specific congenital disabilities, autism, and nervous system disorders. Testing for many of these conditions is expensive, and it often requires more than one test for a specialist to make a correct diagnosis.

Unfortunately, your health insurance will probably only cover a fraction of these costs. The good news is that most tests that diagnose learning disabilities are considered eligible expenses.

For testing to be considered an eligible expense, it must be recommended by a doctor. And in most cases, your administrator will require a letter of medical necessity for reimbursement. This letter must detail why the testing is necessary and how it will benefit your child, as well as how long treatment is expected to last.

Treatment for learning disabilities

Treatment types will vary widely depending on the type of learning disability. So, a child with visual impairments will need a tutor to teach them braille, while a child who is deaf will need to learn lip reading and sign language.

As long as a doctor recommends therapy, education or a combination of both to help your child overcome their learning disability, these are considered eligible expenses.

Other FSA-eligible treatments for learning disabilities include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Multimodal teaching
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Assistive technology which can include items like computers, typing telephones, and magnifiers
  • Reading or mathematics tutoring

Your child's doctor may recommend more extensive treatment, like attending a school that specializes in helping children overcome learning disabilities. As long as a doctor prescribes this course of action, tuition and other associated expenses like meals and boarding are eligible for FSA reimbursement.

If your child wants to participate in extracurricular activities that aren't part of the recommended treatment, however, you'll have to cover these expenses out-of-pocket.

If you need to travel to see a specialist for a diagnosis or treatment, your can even use your FSA to help cover those costs. Expenses like gas, tolls, parking, and public transportation fares are all eligible for reimbursement, provided you get a doctor's letter.

What isn't eligible?

While you can get your child tutoring without an official diagnosis to help them overcome difficulties in school, without a doctor's letter, these costs are not FSA-eligible. And if your pediatrician ever decides that treatment is no longer necessary, yet you feel it's best for your child to keep seeing a specialist for their condition, any new expenses you incur will not be eligible for reimbursement.

Family must-haves

Owlet Smart Sock 2 Baby Monitor

See real-time wellness data.

Thermal-Aid Mini Zoo Hot/Cold Bear

Clinically proven. Doctor recommended.


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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility
Photo by Coline Haslé on Unsplash

That's Eligible?! Does my FSA cover skin care treatment?

One of the many benefits of an FSA is that it covers everyday health care costs, which can range from regular medical checkups to blood pressure monitors. But if you have an FSA, you may be wondering whether or not skin problems fall under standard healthcare expenses covered under your account. In other words, are dermatology treatments eligible expenses with your FSA?

Let's take a look at how skin care ailments are handled with an FSA, so you know what you can and can't pay for when dealing with these problems.

Which dermatology treatments are covered?

It's always important to remember that your FSA covers healthcare treatments that are defined by the IRS as medical care, which refers to health care services that can diagnose, mitigate, prevent, cure, and/or treat an injury, illness, disease, or symptoms of a disease.

Skin care treatments that are designed to alleviate a medical condition are covered with your FSA, including:

  • Dermatologist – Standard visits to a dermatologist to treat medical skin conditions are an eligible expense.
  • Acne – A condition resulting from oily skin and dead skin cells that causes pimples and bumps to grow on your face, ruining proms and selfies. Note: Acne medication will typically require an Rx for FSA-reimbursement.
  • Eczema – An inflammation of the skin that causes you to itch.*
  • Psoriasis – A condition that causes skin cells to form scales that are dry and itchy.*
  • Rosacea – A condition that causes red bumps on your face, similar to a deep rash.*

* An Rx may be required for FSA reimbursement.

But wait, there's more. Believe it or not, even Botox injections – yes, the same Botox that made red carpet interviews so fun these past few decades -- are an eligible expense if your doctor is using it to treat a medical condition such as excessive sweating, overactive bladder, and chronic migraines. This treatment may require a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN), so check with your FSA administrator on what may be required.

Prescription medication and other treatments for these conditions are eligible expenses, but depending on the type of treatment you need, you may have to get a doctor's prescription or an LMN to receive reimbursement for your expenses. But don't worry if you still have questions -- your FSA administrator can tell you whether the skin care treatment you need requires either of the above for reimbursement.

We've barely scratched the surface on the skin care products available to you. Want a quick snapshot of how many skin care products are FSA-eligible? Start here.

Skin treatments that aren't covered with your FSA

Any skin care treatment that's primarily for cosmetic purposes isn't covered by your FSA. These types of treatments are categorized as general health services that aren't considered medical care and not eligible for reimbursement with an FSA.

Examples of general health skin treatments include laser hair removal, facelifts, acid peels, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, and microdermabrasion. While these treatments may provide benefits for your skin, they aren't used primarily to diagnose, treat, mitigate, cure or prevent a medical condition.

Skin care isn't something you may not think about very often (even though you should), but with your FSA, you can schedule regular visits to a dermatologist to make sure that you're screened for something as potentially serious as skin cancer. So continue using sunscreen and other Use FSA-eligible skin care products (hello, light therapy!) to keep your skin healthy and to help maintain your overall health.

FSA-eligible skin care products we love

dpl II Panel Professional Acne Treatment System

Treat your full face, neck, chest, hands and back in just 8 minutes.

Broad Spectrum Sun and Skin Protection

A variety of broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF15+ protection are FSA-/HSA-eligible!

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Real Money: Why your FSA doesn't let you stock up on products

An FSA is a "use-it-or-lose-it" plan, which means if you don't spend all the funds in the account before the end of the year, you lose that money. So, what happens if it's December and you still have a lot of money left in your FSA account? Can you stock up on eligible products to make sure that you don't lose those funds?

The answer is no. But, there are still some options that can help you avoid this situation, so let's take a look at how you can take advantage of all your FSA benefits before year's end, while doing so within the guidelines of your FSA.

What does "stockpiling" mean with an FSA?

While the term hasn't been fully defined, according to informal remarks made by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official, stockpiling eligible items under your FSA means that you buy more items than you're able to use before the end of the taxable year.

Buying any more than three of the same item could be considered "stockpiling." By the very nature of FSAs, any product you buy should be to fill a need for you, your spouse or a qualified dependent. Because of this, the IRS doesn't let you to stock up on eligible items with your FSA, and your administrator can usually figure out that you're stockpiling by analyzing how many items you bought towards the end of the year.

Let's say it's December 1st and you still have $600 left in your FSA. You realize that you're running out of nasal spray, so you decide to buy 25 packs of your favorite saline solution, so you can stock up for the rest of the year and into the next, and use up the remaining balance in your FSA.

The problem is that unless you're somehow going to use all that saline solution in the next 30 days, your FSA administrator may flag that purchase as stockpiling.

If you stock up at the end of the year, your FSA administrator is probably going to send you an alert to inform you that this kind of spending isn't allowed and that those purchases wouldn't be eligible for reimbursement.

Take advantage of rollover and grace period options

The best way to avoid stockpiling is to spend down your FSA balance before you get to the month of December when the mad scramble to use your benefits tends to hit the hardest.

But if you find that you can't quite pull that off, it's important to know that some FSA plans allow you to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next calendar year. If your plan doesn't offer that rollover option, it may offer a grace period of two-and-a-half months at the end of the plan year.

This grace period carries over the remaining balance in your FSA into mid-March of the next calendar year for those running on a calendar year plan, which gives you more time to spend that money before you lose it.

At the beginning of the plan year, make sure you ask your FSA administrator whether your plan offers a rollover or a grace period option so you can plan your spending well in advance.

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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.

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: Can I use my FSA to get my child braces?

One of the great things about an FSA is that it can be used to cover a wide range of medical expenses. But there are so many FSA-eligible items and services, some people miss out on saving for some major expenses.

Well, here's a reason to smile -- if an orthodontist recently recommended braces for your child, you can use your FSA to pay for them.

So, what's covered?

Orthodontists recommend braces for a variety of different reasons. Underbites, overbites, crooked teeth, overcrowding, and gaps all warrant treatment. While many of these issues may seem like cosmetic issues, they can lead to serious medical problems down the road if left untreated. Tooth decay, toothaches, gum disease, and headaches can all develop from misaligned teeth.

Because of this, the IRS defines orthodontia treatment as medical care, which means it's FSA-eligible.

What to expect with treatment (and payments)

Braces are an expensive, long-term treatment. While the cost will vary based on the severity of your child's case, the average cost of traditional braces is $5,000-6,000.

Fortunately, many dental plans already cover part of the treatment costs. You can then use your FSA to pay for any remaining costs that aren't already covered. And if you don't have dental insurance, your FSA can be put towards the total cost of treatment.

Since braces are usually needed for an extended period of time, payment doesn't always coincide with each treatment. Your child may need to visit the orthodontist several times in a single month (especially in the beginning), and there may be times where you'll go several months without needing an adjustment.

Because of this, many orthodontists offer multiple payment options. These options allow you to pay for everything up front, or set up a monthly installment plan. Regardless of which payment method you use, you can use your FSA to cover the costs.

If you do choose to pay monthly, most orthodontists will require a fee upfront before treatment begins. The good news is that this too is an eligible expense.

If required, most FSA administrators even allow for prepayment of orthodontia expenses. This makes orthodontia treatment unique from more traditional dental procedures like extractions or fillings, which need to be paid for and performed within the benefit period and after the service has been incurred.

So, what are my choices?

There are quite a few types of braces available these days, and fortunately, all of them are eligible for FSA coverage. Traditional metal braces are a popular option since they're the most effective and usually the most affordable.

But your child may prefer a less noticeable option like ceramic braces, which are still mounted to the front of each tooth, but are white so that they aren't quite as noticeable. You might even consider lingual braces, which are worn on the inner-side of the teeth.

Invisalign braces are another popular choice since they're virtually invisible (hence the name) and are considered more comfortable to wear.

Getting braces usually requires X-rays, moldings, and consultation fees prior to treatment. These expenses typically aren't included in the cost of the braces and are billed separately.

The good news is that these expenses are also FSA-eligible, as are additional products that may be recommended by your orthodontist, like headgear, dental wax and elastics, oral remedies for discomfort and irritation, and retainers once the braces finally come off.

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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.

Sun Care Center

Debunking common sunscreen myths

Today, most people are already well aware of just how important sunscreen is to staying healthy while being exposed to the sun. It helps prevent skin cancer, premature aging, wrinkles, and sunburns and is an essential component of all skincare routines.

But for something so common and important, it tends to be totally misunderstood by many. What exactly does sunscreen do? Are they all the same? And how often do you need to put it on? Even people who use sunscreen on a near daily basis might not be aware of the real answers to these important questions.

Understanding the truth about how sunscreen works and how you should really be using it will allow you to get the full benefits from the product while enjoying your time in the sun. Let's start with these...

Myth 1: You only need sunscreen when it's hot and sunny out

Many people think you only need to apply sunscreen when the sun is directly shining down on you in a cloudless sky. But the truth is that the UV rays from the sun are always harmful, even if it doesn't feel hot out. Even on an overcast day when only your face and arms are exposed, you should be using sunscreen.

Myth 2: All sunscreen is created equal

There are a lot of people who believe that all sunscreen gets the job done equally well. What many people don't realize is that there are a slew of various active ingredients in the different brands that protect users from harmful rays in different ways. This is why it's so important to use a full spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from UVA and UVB light.

Myth 3: Sunscreen is waterproof and sweatproof

It's not uncommon to see sunscreens labeled as waterproof or sweatproof. Unfortunately, these labels lull people into a false sense of security as no sunscreen can be totally waterproof or sweat resistant. Always reapply sunscreen after you've been in the water or working out. You should also let sunscreen settle on your skin for 10-15 minutes before jumping into the water.

Myth 4: You only need to apply sunscreen once a day

Contrary to popular belief, one application of sunscreen will not last you all day. The truth is that sunscreen loses its effectiveness fairly quickly as the ingredients break down in the UV light. For maximum protection, you should apply a new coat of sunscreen every 2-4 hours.

Myth 5: If you use sunscreen, there's no need to cover up

It's easy to think that sunscreen will totally protect you from harmful UV rays, so many people don't bother covering up with hats or clothing when they head out. In reality, sunscreen will never make you totally safe from the sun, and covering up is far more effective. Wear long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats for the best protection.

Myth 6: People with darker skin don't need sunscreen

While it's true that people with more melanin in their skin are naturally better protected against sunburns than people with fair skin, they aren't immune to the negative effects of sun exposure. Melanin diffuses UVB rays, but it doesn't block UVA light. It's also important to note that darker skin is not protected from skin cancer or premature skin aging caused by sun exposure.