Accounts

Flex-Ed: What happens if your FSA claim is denied?

It's embarrassing when your credit card is declined because it feels like everyone—the people in line and the cashier—is looking at you. The good news is that you typically know how to handle it: call the bank, try a different card, or check your balance.

But what happens if your FSA claim is declined? It often feels similar, but the next steps can be confusing. Here's everything you need to know if your FSA card is denied.

Don't panic

Regardless of why your card was denied, there's no need to be embarrassed. It doesn't mean you've done anything wrong and there's a good chance it's not even your fault. There are a lot of reasons your FSA claim might be denied and most have an easy fix. The first step is to figure out whether or not your card has been activated.

Forgetting to activate your card is a common oversight with a simple solution: call your card administrator or explore your company's benefits website to learn how to activate your card.

Double check your funds

Let's be honest: sometimes it's hard to keep track of everything and that includes your FSA card balance. If your FSA claim is denied, it might be because you had insufficient funds in your account or that the price of the item you tried to purchase is higher than your balance. Be sure to check your balance before you use your card again.

Make sure you're using an approved merchant

FSA cards come with a lot of specific rules and one of the primary rules is that you can only use your account to buy FSA-eligible items. Various restrictions are put on the card to ensure that you use the funds correctly, including limitations based on merchant type, limitations based on merchant systems and limitations based on merchant inventory, to name a few.

The easiest way to ensure that your items are eligible is by shopping at a store that exclusively sells FSA-eligible items. It takes the guesswork out of shopping and decreases the chances that your FSA card will be declined.

But, for the most part, your FSA card should work where it makes sense; at locations such as local pharmacies and drug stores, vision centers, doctor and dental offices, etc. But if you try to use your card at an ice cream parlor or an auto parts store, even if that ice cream parlor happens to sell FSA-eligible bandages, chances are your card won't work.

If you have questions about whether or not a specific merchant will allow your FSA card, you can contact your FSA administrator to find out.

Confirm with your employer that the item is eligible

Here's the deal: the IRS determines which items are FSA-eligible. However, employers can set their own eligibility rules as long as they are adhering to the IRS guidelines. In other words, it's important to check in with your FSA administrator and confirm that the item you tried to buy is FSA-eligible.

If your FSA card was declined but you decided to buy the item with a different card, then it's still a good idea to try and get reimbursed through your FSA. If you bought the item through FSAStore.com and the item was allowed under your plan guidelines, we guarantee that the item is FSA-eligible, so be sure to save your receipt and submit for reimbursement.


Save with bundles


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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

That's Eligible?! What I learned from a 5-week head cold

I could feel the sneeze coming and tried my best to stop it. I looked up at the lights and held my breath (or is that what you do for hiccups?). My eyes started to water and I knew that the fight was over. "ACHOO!" The sound of my sneeze echoed around the conference room and before I could even apologize for the interruption to the meeting, three more sneezes left my body, "ACHOO! ACHOO! ACHOO!"

Wiping my nose, I looked around the room at my coworkers. My eyes were still watering and it felt like an elephant was stomping on my head. I offered a weak smile that looked more like a grimace as I apologized for the third interruption that day.

It was my fourth week of feeling sick and in that moment, I knew I had to face the facts: my body was stressed, tired and sick.

Now that I'm finally recovered, it's clear that I could have done things differently to avoid my prolonged cold. I may not be a medical professional (and you should always speak with one before making any changes to your health and wellness routine), but here are some valuable tips that could have worked for me to avoid some of these issues.

Seek treatment before things get bad

For the first few weeks of my head cold, I tried to ignore the pain in my nose, eyes, ears and throat. I figured that it was just a cold and it would go away with time. By week three of the head cold, I thought I would never recover. Instead of swinging from one extreme to the next like I did, it's a good idea to visit your doctor on day two or three of an illness.

Part of the reason is that your sickness might be more serious than you thought, but even if it's not, the visit is still a chance for you to check in with your doctor, gain some peace of mind and get a prescription for over-the-counter medicine so you can use your FSA to pay for it. Plus, you can use your FSA to pay for the doctor's visit.

When I finally went to the doctor sometime during week three of my cold, I found out that it was just a cold, but the peace-of-mind was worth the trip.

Regular doctor's visits

It's hard to admit this, but I haven't gone to my annual check up in years. The thing about check-ups is that when you feel healthy, they feel unnecessary. But part of the recipe for health is actually going to the check-ups, so it's the ultimate catch-22.

There's no guarantee that regular doctor's visits will prevent illness, but they do help ensure that you're generally healthy. By checking for things like vitamin deficiencies through blood work and annual wellness checks, you'll feel confident about your health. So next time you are sick, you'll know that it's just a bug and nothing life-threatening like Google might lead you to believe.

Make time for your annual doctor's visit and don't be afraid to make a doctor's appointment if you have a specific concern. The best part? You can use your FSA to pay your copay or any associated costs.

Get serious about sleep

If you don't sleep well or at all (thanks, insomnia) you might be compromising your immune system. If you struggle with sleep, you're not alone. Nearly 60 million Americans can't sleep. Whether it's anxiety, insomnia, hormones, pain or something else or altogether, it's important to find a solution.

Medicine can be a big help

I don't know what it is about medicine, but I always avoid it. (Okay, so it may have something to do with the fact that I accidentally took nighttime cold meds before a school exam once when I meant to take the non-drowsy type...)

Regardless of the reason, I was not a fan of over-the-counter medicine. But when my sneeze interrupted the meeting for the third time that day, I knew I needed to make some changes and taking medicine was my first step, specifically medicine for congestion.

The good news about over-the-counter medicine is that there are countless types to choose from. Plus, certain medications are FSA-eligible with a prescription from your doctor, like these below.

Cold-EEZE Cold Remedy Lozenges, Wild Cherry

$6.99

NeilMed SinuFrin Plus™ Decongestant Spray

$6.99


Don't ignore your mental health

Whether it's exhaustion, depression or anxiety, it's always important to prioritize your mental health. After all, without your health you have nothing. But, with the fast pace of life, it is difficult to find time to relax and unwind, even though your body needs it.

The quickest way I've found to prioritize mental health — and subsequently my physical health — is to create a routine. Whether it's using a therapeutic mask every night to help eliminate daily pains, or utilizing acupressure twice a week after your workout to stave off those aches, it's important to make healthy living and preventive care part of your daily routine.

In addition, seek professional help when you need it. If you're feeling particularly low or can't seem to shake your anxiety, make an appointment with a therapist. Don't wait until it becomes a physical ailment, too.

Bottom line

By the fifth week of my head cold, I had accepted my fate — perpetually congested, always sneezing and continually coughing. My coworkers had bought me an extra-large box of tissues that I carried around with me and we joked that I might get better in 2020. But just as suddenly as it had arrived, my head cold left. Armed with the lessons I learned, I'm ready to make sure it never comes back like this.

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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

Asked and Answered: Can I use my funds for children's dental care? (Post-Halloween edition)

Halloween has been over for nearly a week, and there's a good chance your home is still loaded with candy (and empty candy wrappers). But the effects of candy on your children's teeth might linger a little longer without proper care. Whether you like or not, there's a good chance your child has consumed a lot of candy in the weeks surrounding Halloween.

Don't get us wrong - we love candy (one look around our office tells the story). And it's a big part of the holidays, kicked off by Halloween, but it can have negative effects on your child's dental health. According to a recent study published by BMC Public Health that reinforces what we always feared -- sugar has been shown to cause tooth decay.

But here's the deal: sugar is here to stay. Instead of panicking about the sugar your child has consumed, it might be the perfect time for a dental check up or other treatments.

And here's the good news—dental treatments for your child are likely FSA-eligible, which means you'll be able to save money on treatments. Here's what you need to know about post-Halloween dental care for your child.

FSA-eligible dental treatments

There are many dental treatments that are FSA-eligible and luckily, that means the same treatments are FSA-eligible for your children as well. In fact, depending on the scope of your dental insurance (and whether you even have coverage), some treatments that are FSA-eligible might not be covered under your dental plan.

This is great news for your wallet because it means you'll be able to save money on dental expenses, even if you don't have coverage for the treatments. Depending on your income and tax bracket, you could save up to 30% on eligible expenses.

However, there's one aspect of dental care that's not FSA-eligible: any treatment that's for purely cosmetic purposes, like teeth whitening.

Here is a list of dental treatments that you might want to consider for your children. Even though these treatments are FSA-eligible, it's always a good idea to confirm with your plan administrator that a treatment is covered before your appointment.

Teeth cleanings

Teeth cleanings are one of the most important dental treatments for your children, especially after Halloween. For children, teeth cleanings should occur twice per year, and the cost for cleanings can vary between $75 and $200. These include a few different procedures:

  1. Physical exam
  2. X-rays (typically only once per year)
  3. Removal of plaque and tartar
  4. Fluoride treatment
  5. Check for cavities

If you're concerned about your child's dental health, a regular check-up, or cleaning, is a great place to start. During the cleaning, the dentist will check for any potential dental problems and recommend further treatment as needed.

Fillings for cavities

After regular cleanings, cavities are one of the most common dental treatments. If the dentist finds a cavity in your child's mouth, then he or she will recommend that your child get a filling. Luckily, dental fillings are FSA-eligible. Even though the percentage of kids who have cavities is declining, it's always a good idea to have a dentist check for cavities during your child's regular cleanings.

Treatment for gingivitis, gum recession and other concerns

Treatments for diagnosed dental diseases are also FSA-eligible. Whether your child has gingivitis and gum recession or needs dental surgery or a root canal, you can use your FSA to pay for it.

Braces and orthodontics

Here's something to smile about—if your orthodontist recommends braces or other orthodontic treatment for your child, you can use your FSA to pay for it. As long as the treatment is for a specific health concern—like an overbite or underbite, which can lead to health problems down the road—it is FSA-eligible.

Bottom line

There's no need to panic if your child enjoys more candy than normal during Halloween. But watching your children wolf down six pieces of chocolate in under five minutes on Halloween night, might be the perfect reminder to schedule their next dental appointment. Just don't forget that your FSA can help keep costs at bay until next Halloween.

Oral care for "bigger kids" too!

iSonic Ultrasonic Portable Denture & Retainer Cleaner

Large tank capacity fits accommodate pair of dentures, retainers, aligners, dental and sleep apnea appliances, mouth guard.

$59.99

dpl® Oral Care Light Therapy System

The dpl® therapy system is a drug-free, oral light therapy option which can be applied to your specific and individual needs.

$99.99


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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

Asked and Answered: How much should I contribute to my FSA?

If you just opened (or are about to open) an FSA during open enrollment, you know it's smart a money move, but you have no idea how much you should allocate. You've done your research and know that your employer offers flexible savings accounts, but you're not sure how to find your FSA allocation number.

In fact, you may not even be sure how much you spent on health expenses last year. Or maybe you had the perfect allocation total last year, but life has changed since then. (That tends to happen a lot in my household.)

If this sounds like you, don't panic. You've already taken the first step and decided that you want to open an FSA. The next step is simple: use an FSA calculator.

(As always, keep in mind that we're not financial professionals, nor is this website aiming to provide financial or tax advice. Be sure to speak with a qualified financial adviser before making determinations about your accounts.)

Calculate your FSA number

The best way to determine how much money you should allocate to your FSA is with an FSA calculator. The calculator asks you to input a variety of information, including your income and estimated expenses for each category. After you input your numbers, you're shown exactly how much you should allocate based on your estimates. You also learn how much you could save on taxes.

For example, if you earn $45,000 per year and allocate $2,500 to your FSA for health care expenses, your estimated tax savings from your FSA is $812.

But here's the deal—in order to use the calculator to accurately estimate your health care expenses, you need to have an idea of what those expenses will be. If you just went through a big life change or are a first-time FSA user, that might seem difficult. Luckily, it's not as hard as it seems.

Here are some expenses you might want to keep in mind.

If you're a new parent…

Congratulations! If you're a new parent, your health care expenses will likely increase thanks to an uptick in doctors appointments and health-related items for your baby. In general, new parents should expect to increase their FSA allocation.

(Plus, this might be a great time to open a dependent care FSA to pay for eligible child care expenses.)

If you're recently divorced…

If you're recently divorced and don't have children, your health care expenses might decrease because you're only responsible for your own health care expenses now. The best way to find your allocation number is to review last year's expenses and calculate your new number based only on your own expenses.

However, if you're recently divorced and have children, your FSA allocation number might stay the same or even increase, depending on your custody arrangement. Also, if you're planning on paying for daycare for your children, it might be a good idea to open a Dependent Care FSA.

If you have a recent health diagnosis…

If you've recently received a health diagnosis and are unsure what your health care expenses will look like now, it might be a good idea to increase your FSA contributions. Even if you allocate an extra $50 per month, it might make a big financial difference throughout the year. Plus, you might spend some of the money on FSA-eligible products related to your diagnosis.

If you're a first-time FSA user....

Welcome to the club! If you're a first time FSA user, it might be challenging to find the perfect allocation number, but that's okay. Even if you only put $100 per month towards you FSA, you could save hundreds of dollars in taxes.

Do your best to calculate your contribution number based on last year's health expenses, but don't worry if it's a little low or high. Next year, you'll be able to calculate more accurately.

Bottom line

It's okay if you don't find your "ideal" FSA contribution number. The most important thing is that you're starting to save money in your FSA and prepare for your health care expenses. Your bank account will thank you.

Smart, eligible buys...

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

The perfect solution for people with poor circulation or cold feet.

$69.99

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


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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?! Lifting the veil off "invisible disabilities"

For many people, the word "disability" evokes images of people who use wheelchairs or canes. But here's the deal—this common perception of disabilities is severely limited. In fact, according to a recent survey, 74% of people with a disability don't use any device or aid that would serve as a visual signal that they have a disability.

Invisible disabilities can range from diabetes to fibromyalgia. Even though there are hundreds of disabilities that aren't noticeable, people with unseen disabilities are often left out of health and wellness discussions. But here's the good news: if you live with an invisible disability, your FSA funds might be able to help you deal with it.

We're not doctors, nor should any of the following be considered medical advice. But coming from our own experience, here are a few good ways your FSA can help you deal with these conditions.

If you have diabetes…

According to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. In other words, if you have diabetes, you're not alone. But because diabetes is considered an invisible disability, it might feel like you are since you can't always tell if someone else has diabetes.

If you have diabetes, you probably need to buy a lot of different supplies that range from glucose monitors to insulin, and even glucose tablets. The good news is that supplies for diabetes treatment are FSA-eligible.

In fact, there are hundreds of different options to choose from. But in addition to your medically necessary medicine, it's also important to control your stress levels. Luckily, a lot of stress relieving tactics are free and only require a few minutes of your time.

Preventative care: Unfortunately, many people who have diabetes or prediabetes don't even know it. The most effective way to monitor your health and prevent diabetes is to regularly visit your doctor and get an annual wellness exam.

If you have fibromyalgia…

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disability and symptoms include widespread joint pain, nerve pain and fatigue. Most people who have fibromyalgia appear able-bodied. However, movement is usually painful and flare-ups can appear at any time.

Because there isn't a cure for fibromyalgia, the most important thing you can do is manage your symptoms. Symptoms and pain can vary, but they usually include joint, muscle and nerve pain. Because of that, FSA-eligible pain relief like heating pads, heat wraps and TENS units are often helpful for pain management.

Due to the large amount of symptoms and complex nature of fibromyalgia, it is a good idea to find a healthcare provider you trust and work together to find solutions that can help with the symptoms. Some of those solutions might include prescription medicine like antidepressants, pain medication or sleeping pills for insomnia.

Preventative care: Unfortunately, fibromyalgia is not preventable. People with fibromyalgia focus on preventing flare-ups by making sure they get adequate sleep (these products might be able to help) and regular exercise that isn't too extreme.

If you have epilepsy…

Nearly 3.4 million Americans live with epilepsy, and many more people will be diagnosed within their lifetime. Though the symptoms are often evident, it's not always the case. Like most invisible disabilities, it's impossible to tell if someone has epilepsy when you meet them.

For many people with epilepsy, the initial diagnosis can come as an upsetting shock because of the long-term implications about health and safety. But even though there isn't a cure, most people with epilepsy go on to lives that are both personally and professionally fulfilling.

If you have epilepsy, one of the most important things you can do is to diligently take your medication. If you struggle to remember to take your medication, a weekly pill organizer might be able to help. In addition to physical concerns about living with epilepsy, it's also important to take care of your mental well-being. This might mean joining a support group for people with epilepsy or working with a therapist.

Preventative care: For most epilepsy cases, there is not a clear cause. However, you can take some steps to help prevent seizures. Two of the most common suggestions are to make sure you get enough sleep at night and avoid alcohol and drug use.

Bottom line

Whether your disability is visible or invisible, it's important to prioritize your health. Regardless of what society might have you believe, every disability is valid and deserves attention, care and treatment.

Maintain your health

Medicool PenPlus Diabetic Case

This case protects all your valuable supplies. Its stylish ergonomic design makes it the perfect case for anyone.

$19.99

Natural Neck Hot/Cold Wrap, Lavender

Individual comfort pockets are designed to target aches and pains, keeping beads in place for balanced hot and cold therapy.

$42.99

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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.


Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Vegan-friendly, FSA-eligible health products?

Seemingly everywhere you turn, people are talking about vegan lifestyles. For health reasons… for ethical reasons… whatever the case may be, vegans are no longer a small niche market demanding more diverse menus in restaurants. Today, people are adopting this lifestyle for healthier, "less-processed" lives.

Veganism comes with a plethora of health benefits. From better digestion to less bloating after meals, men and women who eat a vegan diet report an overall increase in their well-being. And that doesn't even account for the environmental benefits of veganism. Studies have shown that plant-based lifestyles are associated with lower environmental impact.

But living a vegan life comes with its own unique challenges -- most of which are dietary. Though it's possible to get all the necessary nutrients with a vegan diet, it might be difficult to ensure that you take in these nutrients everyday.

Even further, veganism is about more than what you eat. It's about protecting the earth and the animals that live on it. Because of this, a large percentage of vegans only use cruelty-free health products.

Now, to be candid, the world is still catching up to vegan lifestyles, and finding these vegan-approved products can be difficult. But there are certain health products available to purchase with your FSA funds. Thanks to your FSA, these eligible products are good for more than just your wallet.

Bare Republic Sunscreen

Bare Republic sunscreen is deemed both vegan and cruelty-free. And as a nice touch, it's available for under $15 per bottle, eliminating much of the cost concerns people have about buying specialty products. If you're looking for a more-natural sun and skin protectant without worrying about costs, this sunscreen is the answer. Bare Republic offers regular sunscreen, sport sunscreen and face sunscreen, so you'll be ready for whatever the day brings.

Coola Sunscreen Stick

Coola offers a variety of products and most of them are vegan. (Notice we said "most" -- some Coola lip balm has beeswax in it) If you need a lightweight sunscreen stick for your purse or car, then the Coola Sport Mineral Sunscreen Stick is the perfect option for environmentally conscious vegans.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is often considered one of the most important vitamins for people who eat a vegan diet because it is naturally found in animal products, which vegans do not consume.

This essential vitamin may or may not be eligible with your FSA funds, so you'll want to check with your FSA administrator on exactly what type of documentation they'll require , but it might be a good idea to check in with your health provider too about whether you need more of the supplement. This vitamin is important for nervous system health, and if you're not getting enough B12, you might develop anemia, bone disease, heart disease and even infertility.

Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamins

If you're planning on having a baby or are currently pregnant, you'll be happy to hear that Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamins are completely vegan and cruelty-free. Plus, they're FSA-eligible. If you intend to maintain a vegan lifestyle during pregnancy, then these vitamins are a great way to start your journey.

Here's the best part—you do not need a prescription or letter of medical necessity from your doctor to order prenatal vitamins. You're free to use your FSA funds to order as many as you need throughout your pregnancy.

Bottom line

It takes a lot of thought and planning to live a vegan lifestyle. And here's the truth—everyone has their own definition of what it means to "go vegan." Some people focus on what they eat, while others are focus on all aspects of vegan life: clothes, beauty products and more. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of veganism, the most important thing is that you're living your best life.

Bare Republic Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray

As clean and pure as it gets, but tough enough to keep up with all your eco-adventures!


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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

Asked and Answered: How can I tell the difference between self-care and medical care?

If you've ever woken up with a head cold and debated whether or you should go to the doctor or just take a personal day on the couch, then you've debated self-care versus medical care.

When you feel sick or exhausted, it can be difficult to make the call on how to get better. On one hand, doctors can usually tell what's wrong right away, and get you on your feet faster. On the other, you don't want to overreact or have to pay doctors' bills for no reason.

Even though there isn't a right or wrong answer, it's important to understand the difference between self-care and medical care, and the different ways in which they might harm or help your health. And here's the good news: you can often use funds from your flexible spending account (FSA) to pay for the cost of medical care. Plus, you might be able to use your FSA to pay for some self-care items as well.

[Please note, these are anecdotal suggestions. For a determination of your personal health and wellness needs, be sure to speak with a licensed medical professional before making any changes to your routine.]

Self-care

You've probably heard self-care discussed in your office and praised on social media, but the definition of the term is often unclear. Some people claim self-care is the act of soaking in a bath after a hard day at the office, while others say acts of self-care must be related to your health—eating your vegetables, hitting the gym or sleeping soundly at night.

In its simplest form, self-care is taking action to preserve or improve your own health.

When it comes to your physical health, there are self-care steps you can take to preserve or improve your health. For example, if you experience anxiety, you can soothe yourself with a weighted blanket, hot tea or deep breaths. All of these coping mechanisms would fall under the umbrella of self-care.

Medical care

It may seem obvious, but medical care is provided by medical professionals. Officially, it's defined as, "the provision of what is necessary for a person's health and well-being by a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional."

The main difference between self-care and medical care is the person providing the care. With self-care you are providing the care, and with medical care a healthcare professional is providing the care.

For example, if you experience anxiety and decide to pursue talk therapy with a licensed professional, you would be utilizing medical care. Doctor exams, nurse visits, dietitian meetings and therapy appointments are all elements of medical care.

How do I determine what I need?

This is where the "gray area" comes into play -- for most people, self-care and medical care coexist. In fact, many people pursue both at the same time.

For example, if you're feeling down and can't understand why, you might decide to talk with a therapist and also go on long walks, light scented candles and eat more vegetables. You don't have to choose between self-care or medical care. In fact, it's often a good idea to utilize a combination of both.

When you're feeling sick, whether it's physically or emotionally, it is often hard to determine what kind of care you need. And we're certainly not doctors -- for any decisions about your personal health, be sure to consult a medical professional!

If you're on the fence about whether or not you should visit a healthcare professional, it's probably a good idea to make an appointment and check in about your concerns. When it comes to your health, it's better to err on the side of caution.

Bottom line

Health is tricky and it might be difficult to determine what kind of care you need. If you're unsure about whether you need to visit a health professional, it's probably a good idea to visit.

But while you wait for your appointment, it might help to employ some self-care practices. After all, this is the only body you get, so you might as well take care of it.

Personal care must-haves

Clinere Personal Ear Cleaners

Clinere Ear Cleaners have dual purpose ends for flexible ear cleaning and ear-itch relief.

KT Tape Performance+™ Blister Treatment Patch

Designed specifically to protect and help heal blisters during the rigors of athletic training and competition.


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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.


Living Well

Real Money: What you need to know about adoption and your FSA

The process of adopting a child is both exhausting and exhilarating. But above all, it's life-changing. We've talked a lot about FSA-eligible items for children and even how to use your dependent care FSA (DCFSA) to save money on child care, but we haven't talked as much about adoption and how it relates to your FSA.

Let's start with the obvious: Adopting a child is expensive, and even though you can't use your FSA to pay for adoption fees, you can use it to pay for related medical expenses and pre-adoption counseling. Plus, once you've completed the adoption process, you'll be able to use your tax-advantaged accounts to pay for doctor's visits and other eligible medical expenses just as you would for a biological child.

While you're going through the legal process of adoption—applying, meeting the physical requirements, home checks and more—there are unique regulations about what is FSA-eligible and what isn't.

Adoption fees are not eligible

Unfortunately, fees associated with the adoption aren't FSA-eligible. This means that you can't use your FSA to pay for them. But be sure to check for other benefits from your employer that might be able to help with the initial costs though. (For example, some companies offer a small stipend to help offset some of the cost of adoption.)

Pre-adoption counseling is eligible

Pre-adoption counseling is similar to regular counseling and is the process of talking with a professional about your hopes and fears. Of course, the difference with pre-adoption counseling is that it's specifically related to your feelings about adoption.

Most certified mental health professionals (like licensed marriage and family therapists) are able to provide pre-adoption counseling. This expense is similar to any other mental health expense—you'll be able to apply for FSA reimbursement through your employer (although we always recommend checking in with your FSA administrator before incurring the expense to see exactly what types of documentation they'll require and to find out about any potential plan limitations which would not cover this expense)..

Pre-adoption medical expenses are eligible

Prospective parents who apply to adopt a child are often required to complete physical exams and even blood work. If medical tests are required through your adoption agency or the county, you'll be able to apply for FSA reimbursement through your FSA administrator just as you would for other medical expenses.

After the legal adoption

When it comes to adoption and how it affects your taxes (and pre-tax accounts) there are few specific requirements that must be met before your adopted child can qualify as a tax dependent.

Here's what you need:

  • Adoption decree
  • Social security card
  • Amended birth certificate

Once you have all of your documents and your child becomes a legal tax dependent, you'll be able to pay for your child's medical expenses with your HSA or DCFSA, if applicable. If you have an FSA and/or HRA, your child will qualify regardless of tax dependent status.

Dependent care is eligible

Once your adopted child is a legal dependent, you'll be able to use your dependent care FSA (DCFSA) to pay for childcare or after-school programs while you're at work. Here are the requirements—your child must be under age 13 and you and your spouse need to be either gainfully employed or seeking gainful employment.

You can contribute the maximum per year towards your DCFSA, which is $5,000 per household, or $2,500 if married and filing separately. Utilizing your DCFSA is a great way to save some money on childcare expenses, which can add up fast.

Enjoy this new chapter

There's a lot to think about when it comes to adoption, but the most important thing to remember is that this is a special time in your life. Welcoming a child into your home is a wonderful gift for both you and the child. Plus, here's some good news—you're already one step ahead by being financially prepared.

Some Baby Care favorites!


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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

That's Eligible?! How FSAs can benefit you and your dog

As someone who recently adopted a dog, I can admit that I fall prey to the "dog mom" stereotype. Whether it's splurging on high-quality dog food, buying doggie t-shirts or even rushing my pup to the veterinary office when she ingested a raisin (true story), it's safe to say that I consider my dog a member of the family ... and I have the receipts to prove it.

(To me, she's worth the expense.)

But here's the deal—even though she increases my happiness, my dog isn't a companion animal or service animal. She's a regular pet (who does things like steal food and dig through couches). Because of that, I can't use my FSA to pay for her expenses.

But if you have a working animal—whether it's a companion animal or a fully trained service animal—you might be able to use your FSA to pay for the pet's care and upkeep.

In honor of National Dog Day on August 26, let's take a deeper look at everything you need to know about how your FSA might be able to benefit you and your best friend.

Service animal vs. companion animal

Companion dogs and service dogs are working animals. Whether they assist with a diagnosed mental illness or help with a physical disability, companion dogs and service dogs serve a specific purpose that's associated with a diagnosed health issue.

The primary difference between a service dog and companion dog is that service dogs assist with physical disabilities while companion dogs assist with mental disabilities.

Service animals

Service dogs are specially trained to assist with various physical disabilities. This could include a service dog who provides mobility assistance for people with challenges like arthritis, paraplegia, stroke or amputation.

Hearing dogs -- animals trained to lead their hard-of-hearing owners to the source of a sound -- and guide dogs -- animals trained to to lead blind and visually impaired people around obstacles -- are also considered service dogs.

Service dogs are covered under ADA regulations, which means that businesses and institutions cannot refuse entry to people with guide dogs or service animals.

The IRS makes it clear that "you can include in medical expenses the costs of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually impaired or hearing disabled person, or a person with other physical disabilities."

Companion animals

Companion animals fall into two primary categories: dogs that are trained to assist with individual mental health needs (this includes conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other psychological disorders) and dogs that are trained to provide comfort, support or therapy to patients in hospitals, retirement homes and other public or private locations.

Here's what the IRS has to say about companion animals: "The costs of buying, training, and maintaining a service animal to assist an individual with mental disabilities may qualify as medical care if the taxpayer can establish that the taxpayer is using the service animal primarily for medical care to alleviate a mental defect or illness and that the taxpayer would not have paid the expenses but for the disease or illness."

There are a few factors at play when it comes to whether or not your dog qualifies as a companion animal:

  1. The dog must be necessary for your health. This typically means that you have a specific, diagnosed health issue that the dog assists with, or in the case of a therapy dog, it means that the dog has a specific job.
  2. The dog's primary purpose is to help with your health.
  3. If it weren't for your health needs, you wouldn't have had to spend money on the animal.

Expenses associated with companion dogs may be eligible for reimbursement with your FSA, HSA and HRA, but you'll likely need a letter of medical necessity (LMN) from your doctor. A LMN is different than an emotional support animal letter (ESA), and just because you have an ESA doesn't guarantee that you'll qualify for a LMN.

It's about your health

Your FSA and HSA are designed to assist you with your medical expenses and health needs. If you or your qualified child or dependent need a service dog or companion dog for health reasons, then it might be a great idea to use your FSA or HSA to get reimbursed for medical expenses, care and food associated with your dog.

But if you have a regular pet, then their and upkeep are not related to your health needs and the expenses associated with your pet wouldn't qualify for reimbursement. But if you're anything like me, your dog is probably worth the extra expense.

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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.

Accounts

Real Money: How I've handled career transitions and insurance options

Career transitions are difficult and expensive, but they also provide you with a unique opportunity: a chance to reflect. My previous job offered excellent benefits (including FSA and HSA options), great coworkers and a supportive boss. But here's the deal—I knew I wanted to switch careers.

At the time, I was working in digital marketing and writing. It was fun work, but I realized that I wanted to move from sitting behind a desk to standing in front of a classroom. I wanted to be a teacher.

After a grueling year of graduate school and student teaching, I made the switch. A lot will change as a transition into my new career, and one of those changes will be my health insurance options.

As we approach open enrollment for 2020 (no, it's not too early to think about that already), here's what I'm considering about FSAs and HSAs as I plan for my new health insurance reality. But more importantly, here's everything I've learned along the way and how you can avoid my mistakes.

Learn the lingo (even when it's hard)

Here's a confession: I didn't know what the terms "FSA" or "HSA" meant during my first full-time job after college. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I remember sitting in orientation and zoning out during the explanation. It sounded complicated and I already felt overwhelmed by options.

But even beyond that, I had no idea that I just entered a new tax bracket (up until that point I had only worked part-time jobs). If I had understand the potential tax savings offered by a HSA or FSA, I like to think I would have signed up for one, but the truth is that I didn't, and as result, I missed out on upwards of $5,000 of savings during my time at that job.

Whether it seems complicated or not, it's worth it to listen during orientation and read your benefits packet once you're home. After all, you could save thousands of dollars. It's a lesson I had to learn the hard way, but that doesn't mean you have to.

Plan for the future

Throughout my year in graduate school, I missed out on a bunch of employer benefits — retirement accounts, health insurance, life insurance, and access to a FSA or a HSA. But I also promised myself that I would never again intentionally opt out of employer benefits.

So, while I was in school, I made a point of learning about different accounts and the benefits of each: health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, dependent care flexible spending accounts, limited purpose flexible spending accounts and more.

Here's a quick refresher of the eligibility requirements for each account:

  • HSA: In order to utilize a HSA, you must be enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and have no other disqualifying coverage.
  • FSA: As long as your employer provides an FSA and you meet the requirements that they offer for you to enroll (such as being a full-time employee or enrolling in a health plan, for example), you are qualified.
  • Limited Purpose FSA: These accounts are often only for people who have a HSA and are used to cover dental and vision expenses. However you may be offered a "limited" FSA in other situations as well.
  • Dependent Care FSA: This account is used to pay for child care or after school care for children up to 13 years old, and to pay for care for qualifying adults. If you meet the requirements of your employer, have a qualifying child under the age of 13 and you and your spouse are either gainfully employed, seeking gainful employment or go to school full-time, you will qualify to participate

Each of these accounts serves a specific purpose and the maximum contributions vary, but enrolling in one of the accounts is not complicated, and could save you a ton of money over time.

(And to be completely honest, as a teacher, I will take every possible opportunity to maximize my funds.)

Read the fine print

Once I was employed again, it was time to put my hard won knowledge to the test. I spent about 30 minutes reading through my new benefits package and familiarizing myself with the different options. Here's the truth—I still felt the urge to just simply select a health insurance plan and ignore the other accounts, but I resisted the urge and read the fine print.

Not wanting to deal with something doesn't make you lazy. All you can do is acknowledge the feeling and then do it anyways. As for me, I'm excited to save money on my medical expenses this year.

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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

That's Eligible?! Planning transportation expenses with your FSA

If you're ever been alone and needed medical treatment, then you know the concerns about being unable to get help. The last thing that should be on your mind is how you'll get there, much less how you'll pay for it.

Regardless of your situation, it's a good idea to plan for the possibility of a medical need, and how you plan to get to and from these treatments. And we're not just talking about medical emergencies. As long as you're traveling to a doctor's office, hospital or other medical facility for necessary treatments, your transportation costs might be FSA-eligible.

As with most FSA-eligible purchases, there are some specific rules. Here's everything you need to know about FSA-eligible transportation expenses.

Rideshare apps, buses and more

Unlike some purchases (hello, sunscreen!) you can't use your FSA debit card to pay for your transportation expenses. Instead, you have to submit a claim for reimbursement to your FSA administrator.

Many expenses related to common modes of transportation—Uber, Lyft, planes, cars, ferries, taxis, rental cars, buses and more—can be FSA-eligible. But that doesn't mean you can charter a private jet next time you need to visit your doctor.

In general, your mode of transportation should be reasonable for the medical care you are receiving. If you're home alone and very ill, then a rideshare app, like Uber or Lyft, is probably the best option, especially late at night.

Do it yourself

One of the most common FSA-eligible forms of transportation is driving a personal car. When it comes to driving your own car and using your FSA to pay for it, there are few things you'll want to keep in mind.

  1. The medical care you're travelling for must be FSA-eligible. (Driving to a spa day with your friends doesn't count.)
  2. You can be reimbursed for eligible tolls, fees and gas OR submit for reimbursement of the allowed mileage deduction of 18 cents per mile.
  3. You could also claim a mileage deduction for medical purposes, but not if you've already received FSA reimbursement for it. This is a tax write-off that you claim on your annual tax forms and is different from a reimbursement claim.

What isn't eligible

Unfortunately, your FSA isn't going to cover your daily commute and regular driving. Automobile depreciation, insurance, repairs and traffic tickets -- even if they happen on the way to appointments -- all come out of pocket. Also, any travel that is done for personal reasons (even if it includes a doctor visit in another city) isn't eligible.

Stay organized

Staying on top of your transportation expenses ensures you're filing for all necessary reimbursements. This helps to prove FSA eligibility if asked to do so by your company, or the IRS.

The best way to keep track of your receipts and expenses is to create a separate file for all FSA-eligible transportation expenses. This can be a digital file on your laptop or a physical file that you store in your home. The most important part of the process is you -- the system only works if you use it.

I bet you're probably thinking back to every time you've sat in traffic on the way to a doctor. Well, you can rest easy knowing that travel for future medical visits can be covered with your tax-free funds.

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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

That's Eligible?! I'm young and healthy … why would I want an FSA?

A flexible spending account (FSA) might sound something more suited for older people or individuals with chronic health conditions, but the truth is that people of all ages and health statuses might be able to benefit from opening an account.

But when I mentioned this to a former coworker he laughed in response. "You're young and healthy. You don't need one of those," he said.

I shrugged off his comment, but here's the deal—whether you're a 25 or 55, medical concerns and health problems don't discriminate. But even beyond that, it's always a good idea to save money (especially when you're young!).

Here's why it might be a smart move to open an FSA even when you're in the prime of your life.

The cost of prescription medicine

In many ways, "young and healthy" is a myth. People of all ages experience a variety of health issues that include both mental health and physical health. In fact, according to a recent study, nearly 40% of 18 to 44-year-old Americans used prescription drugs in the last 30 days. After all, just because you take prescription medicine doesn't mean you are old or have ailing health. It simply means that you take care of your health.

Whether you take prescription drugs every day or twice per year, you might be able to save money on them with an FSA. You can spend FSA funds on prescription medicine. Plus, you can use FSA money to pay for over-the-counter medicines with a doctor's prescription. You can even use your FSA for thousands of non-prescription over-the-counter items.

Copays and deductibles are eligible

A lot can happen in a year. Whether it's an unexpected surgery or a persistent cold, you might find yourself visiting the doctor more than you anticipated. Luckily, you can use FSA funds to pay for copays and deductibles.

That's great news for your bank account because it means that you will save an amount equal to the taxes you would have paid on the money you set aside. You might be young and healthy, that doesn't mean you're not young and broke too.

You set the amount

One of the best things about flexible spending accounts is that you get to determine the amount of money you contribute each year. There's a limit to how much you can add to the account—$2,700 in 2019—but you're able to contribute less.

If you're young and generally healthy, then it might be a good idea to create a list of estimated medical expenses for the upcoming year.

Remember, you can use FSA funds to pay for dental, vision and mental health visits, so estimates for those services should also be included. If you estimate your costs beforehand, it's a win-win for your bank account and your health.

"Use it or lose it" isn't as scary as it sounds

In general, you must use the money in your FSA within the plan year. If you don't, there's a chance you might "lose it" (the money goes back to your employer to help offset the costs of administering the program). But some employers offer grace periods and some employers even allow employees to roll over up to $500 per year.

But even if you end up with some extra money in your FSA at the end of the year and your employer doesn't offer any of those benefits, you don't have to "lose it." You can use your remaining FSA funds to buy FSA-eligible products, and there are thousands of FSA-eligible health items to choose from.

Of course, not all FSAs are created equal. While the IRS has defined IRS-eligible categories, employers can choose to design their FSA to cover some or all of those IRS-allowed expenses. Therefore, we advise that you always check with their FSA plan administrator or HR department about exactly what their FSA will cover.

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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.

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