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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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Living Well

Flex-Ed: How to live and save like a superhero

At the time this piece is being published, The Avengers just finished dominating the box office, the X-Men are about to start, Shazam made a brief impact, and approximately 129 other superhero films will hit the streets before the holidays.

So, with all the recent grads about to start their adult lives (and with superheroes on everyone's brains) we figured it might be good to share some scrimping and saving tips to help everyone live and save like a financial superhero.

Remember, we're not financial pros -- you should speak with one before making any decisions about your own planning. But the following tips helped us get ahead, because if you live and save like a superhero, you'll be ready to rise to the occasion and have a better endgame.

(Yeah, we know what we did there…)

Enemy #1: Debt

Debt is a sneaky villain. When you first meet debt, it seems charming, funny and even kind. It's a villain in disguise. No matter how many times debt tries to tempt you, it's important to resist because financial superheroes have to stay lean and ready for action. Even though debt might seem harmless, it actually causes superheroes to become slow and sluggish.

How to conquer debt: If you've attended college, bought a car or experienced a period of unemployment, you've probably had firsthand experience with debt. When I graduated from college, I had nearly $14,000 of student loans. Even though that's less than the national average of nearly $30,000, it felt like a huge amount, especially because up until that point, I had never earned that much money in a single year.

I used all of my human skills to pay it off as fast as possible. I lived with roommates, rode my bike to work, worked an extra job and tried to avoid lifestyle inflation as much as possible to pay off my loans. Within two years of graduating, I was debt-free. Whether you have a goal to become debt-free or to make payments on time, the most important thing is that you have a plan.

Enemy #2: Laziness

If you're anything like me, battling the villain of laziness usually looks a lot like battling myself. The lazy villain is the one that tries to convince you that financial decisions are too complicated to deal with and you're better off just ignoring them altogether. If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. Most of us have come face to face with this villain before.

How to put a stop to laziness: If you feel like you're being financially lazy, then that probably means that you left free money on the table. Depending on your employer, "free money" might mean a 401(k) match that you're not earning or tax savings that you're missing out on because you don't have a tax-free health spending account.

Overcoming laziness (and fear) around money is tough. In fact, I had to miss out on thousands of dollars in savings before I finally opened a FSA this year. But now that I'm (finally) paying for my health care costs through my FSA, I've been able to free up money for new running shoes and I'm halfway to my savings goal for a new phone.

Sometimes you have to learn from mistakes in order to change. But when it comes to overcoming laziness, I've found that the best solution is action. Sometimes a tiny first step is all the momentum you need to get going.

Enemy #3: Short-sightedness

The short-sightedness villain is the one that convinces you that life is tough and it's okay to just focus on the present. After all, the future isn't guaranteed, right? The problem with this mindset is that it's hard to resist. After all, it's tempting to live in the present, focus on your current needs and ignore the future.

How to thwart short-sightedness: Short-sightedness can look different for everyone, but for a lot of us it involves willfully ignoring our future selves. More specifically, it usually means that we aren't saving for retirement. It's hard to prioritize your future self when your current self is struggling to pay the bills, but saving for retirement is one of the ways to break the cycle of financial stress.

It might sound counterintuitive, but the earlier you can start saving for retirement (whether that's in your 20s, 30s or 40s) the easier it will be to actually retire one day, and that's something worth fighting for.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our Flex-Ed column gives you a dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

Living Well

Real Money: How to make the most of employee wellness programs

Employee wellness benefits and reward programs are on the rise. According to a recent study from the Society of Human Resource Management, 75% of companies offer wellness resources and/or employee wellness programs.

But here's the deal — even though "wellness benefits" might sound like a great perk, a lot of employees don't know what the benefits include or how to use them. Part of that is because these benefits are relatively new. In fact, the same study found that 44% of companies increased their employee wellness offerings in the last twelve months.

Here's some tips to help you make the most of your employee wellness rewards program.

Games, challenges and fitness trackers

Have you ever received an email from human resources with details about fitness games or walking challenges? If so, your company might have a wellness rewards program. Wellness rewards programs vary from company to company, but usually include things like health assessments, fitness challenges, biometrics tracking and wellness education. The details might change depending on your company, but the rewards and incentives are usually similar.

Here's how it works — employees are able to earn rewards for completing health assessments or challenges. The aim of these challenges is to increase employee health, and as a result, lower health care costs for the employer. It's a win-win. In order to incentivize employees to participate, employers usually offer rewards.

Sometimes the rewards are things like discounts for monthly health care expenses, but occasionally, the rewards are points or "dollars" that can be redeemed for health-related items.

Products that can make your workday better

Once you've earned rewards or dollars through your employee wellness programs, and you have a qualified plan, put those dollars to work. The best part about these rewards is that you can use them to buy health-related products that you would have needed anyways. Here are three products you can buy with your wellness rewards. The best part? These products will help improve your health and your workday.

Be prepared with the pain relief bundle

Whether it's a killer headache or bad cramps, it's never fun to experience pain, especially at work. But the worst part about having mild pain is that it's more of a nuisance than an actual health concern. That's why the pain relief bundle is the perfect kit to store in your desk at the office. Next time you feel a headache coming on or experience foot pain from uncomfortable shoes, you'll have exactly what you need to feel better quickly.

Get comfortable with shoe insoles or inserts

For some people, work involves a lot of standing or walking. Even though it might be good for your health to walk around throughout the day, it's hard on your feet. That's why it might be a good idea to invest in foot insoles or inserts. The best part about inserts is that they help even the most uncomfortable shoes become more comfortable.

Get organized with a pill box

Whether you're trying to remember to take prescription medicine or have the goal of creating a vitamin routine, an organizational pill box is a great way to ensure that you stay on track. Get organized for the week and leave the pill box in your desk at work. By creating a routine that incorporates your work day, you're more likely to actually remember and follow through.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! 3 FSA-eligible ways to improve home air quality

"Air pollution" is typically associated with large, industrial cities, but the truth is the air in your home might be even more polluted than outdoors. According to a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is a top environmental concern and can have serious health implications. Taking steps to control the air quality in your home can ultimately reduce your risk of related health concerns.

Luckily, there are some simple solutions that can improve at-home air quality. The best part? The following options just might be FSA-eligible, and worth investigating if your medical needs meet the requirements. In other words, you may be able to decrease air pollution in your home and save money. It's the ultimate win-win.

Air purifiers

Air purifiers work to decrease contaminants in a room, and they're especially beneficial for people with allergies or asthma. However, air purifiers also help to increase air quality, decrease pet dander and heal skin irritations. The stronger types of air purifiers are standalone purifiers and those that connect to larger air conditioning units.

Depending on your needs you may want to select a purifier that's designed to handle the specific source of your air quality concern. Whether that's pet dander, smoke, pollen, or even cooking odors. But always remember, the primary requirement for a good air filter is a high "Clean Air Delivery Rate."

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider. Note: Not all administrators will allow for this and it depends on your medical condition.

Air conditioners

One of the best ways to improve air quality in your home is by controlling the moisture. Here's how it works—mites and mold thrive in dark, damp places, so if you have a bathroom or basement that isn't properly ventilated, there's a good chance that the moisture in those rooms are negatively affecting your air quality.

Air conditioners with clean filters can help your house stay dry and properly ventilated throughout the entire year. For people who live in warmer climates, air conditioning units can help ensure you keep your windows closed during the heat.

Open windows allow pollen and other allergens to enter your home and harm the air quality. If you're looking to add central air conditioning, it's important to note this: Only the amount spent above the value added to the house is eligible for a reimbursement claim through your FSA.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

Air filters

One of the most important things you can do to improve air quality in your home is to regularly change your air filters. If you don't have pets, you should change your air filter every 90 days. If you have one pet, the filter should be changed every 60 days. If you have more than one pet or struggle with allergies, the air filter should be changed every 30 days.

Another way to improve the air quality in your home is with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These filters have a special mesh that traps mites, dust, and other particulars that can make it difficult to breathe properly.

Verdict: FSA-eligible with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or healthcare provider.

If you plan to use your FSA to pay for the products above, we recommend that you check with your FSA administrator first to see what they'll allow, and what paperwork is required to make it happen.

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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.

Taxes

Asked and Answered: Any last-minute tips for FSA owners before tax day?

Tax day is here. If you're one of the 30 million Americans who did not withhold enough money throughout the year and now owe money to the IRS as a result, it's probably not the most festive time of the year.

But here's the good news — if you're also one of the 35 million Americans who have an FSA, then it's the perfect time to check on your account and make sure everything is up-to-date. After all, when you owe money (or narrowly escaped owing money!) every dollar counts.

Always speak with a tax professional to get proper advice for your own tax situation. But in the meantime, here's a few tips we find helpful when assessing our FSAs during tax season.

Don't worry about extra filing steps

First off, breathe easier knowing this fact: Unlike HSAs, which need to be reported on Form 1040, there are no reporting requirements for FSAs on your income tax return. There's one less thing to worry about!

But you do need to be wary of your deductions! Because you can't -- no matter how tempting it might be -- deduct qualified medical expenses if they were paid with tax-free FSA dollars. And that includes any money you forfeit at the deadline. If you have any unused cash in your FSA, since you already got a deduction, you can't deduct the loss.

Double check the rules

If you don't understand the unique rules for your FSA, then you may miss out on potential benefits like "run-out" periods, grace periods and rollovers. Because plan providers are not required to offer any of these perks, they vary from plan to plan. Take a few minutes to check in with your plan provider and brush up on the rules for your FSA. It's time well spent.

For most FSA owners, whose plan years end on 12/31, these extended deadlines have come and gone. But if your FSA operates on a different calendar, some of these perks might still be available to you, so you don't lose your funds.

To do: Check in with your human resources department and explicitly ask if your employer plan offers any of these three options for FSA users: "run-out" periods, carryovers and grace periods. (And make a note, so you don't fall into the same problem this time next year!)

File for reimbursement

Whether you have a "run-out" period and have expenses from last year or you have new expenses from this year, it's important to file for reimbursement with your employer. In fact, it's especially during tax season because it might mean that you get unexpected money from your FSA for eligible expenses that you've already purchased.

The process of filing for reimbursement varies from plan to plan, but it usually involves the following steps:

  • Knowing your deadlines. There's a deadline for when you'll need to submit any requests for reimbursement, so keep track of your plan details.
  • Then you'll want to gather your receipts. Whether it's for prescriptions, copays or eligible health products, you need to get organized.
  • Next, you'll file with your FSA provider. Usually, you will file for reimbursement online or through a mobile app. However, you might also be able to submit your claim my email or mail. As usual, it all depends on your plan.
  • Finally, you will want to track the reimbursement to make sure it's deposited into your account or cash the reimbursement check once you receive it. This is also the perfect time to note how much money you have left in your FSA for the rest of the year.

Take another look at your expenses

Now that you've gathered your receipts and filed for reimbursement, it's time to double-check your expenses. There are a lot of common expenses that you probably know are covered — copays for doctor visits, home medical items and even acupressure products to relieve pain — but there might be some expenses you made that you didn't even know were eligible. It's worth a second look.

To do: Skim through the FSA eligibility list to check for possible expenses that you missed.

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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: Why you might want to stop putting off medical specialist visits

A few weeks ago, I was running late for my dermatology appointment and for the third time that day, I questioned why I was at the doctor's office at all. It felt like a hassle — making the appointment, driving across town to the office and finding parking. But once I sat down with my doctor and the skin check began, I remembered why I prioritize these appointments.

Three years ago, my primary care physician suggested that I see a dermatologist because I'm prone to freckles. I made the first appointment with my dermatologist and had my first skin check.

Two years ago, I had two moles removed due to my doctor's concerns that they might be cancerous. It turned out that the moles were benign and my skin was healthy. Last year, I went for another annual check-up with my dermatologist and got a clean bill of health. This year wasn't quite as simple.

At my most recent appointment, my doctor told me that there was a small bump on my face that she needed to remove. She removed a tiny sliver from the bump that she could send to the lab for a biopsy.

I'm still waiting for the results, but I know that no matter what the doctors say, I did the right thing by acting early. Even if the skin is cancerous, it can easily be removed without scarring. But I might not have been so lucky if I had skipped my annual dermatologist appointment.

Here are some of the doctor's appointments I plan to make this year, along with some reasons why you might want to consider doing the same. Remember, you can use your FSA to pay for them!

1.Dermatologist

I might be biased, but if you have a history of skin cancer in your family, use (or used to use) tanning beds or have an unusual amount of moles or freckles, then it's probably a good idea to see a dermatologist for a check-up. Even if you don't have any concerns about sun damage, dermatologists can also help with acne, rashes, breakouts and any other skin concerns.

2. Dentist

Whether you have pain in your mouth or just need a six-month cleaning, it's important to visit your dentist at least every six months. Not only does your dentist take x-rays, clean your teeth and check for cavities, he or she will also check on your gum health. The longer you wait to visit, the more pronounced potential problems might become.

By staying on track and visiting every six months, you'll increase your chances of a clean bill of dental health and decrease your chances of receiving a big financial bill.

3. Optometrist

Whether you wear glasses or not, it's important to get an eye exam every 1-2 years. Regular eye exams will make sure that your eyesight doesn't get worse without treatment. Plus, it's always fun to see how well you can read the chart! Don't wait until you start getting headaches or can't see your notes in a meeting to make it happen. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

4. Therapist

Overall health includes both physical and mental well-being. In other words, it's important to prioritize your mental health too. Whether you've been feeling down lately or are experiencing some low-level anxiety, it might be a good idea to check in with a therapist.

There's a misconception that therapy is something that lasts for years on end, but the truth is that you might just need a quick check-in or tune-up. Either way, be sure to take care of your mental well-being.

5. Primary care physician

Yeah, I know - we're cheating. But, even though your primary care physician isn't necessarily a specialist, it's just as important to make (and keep) your appointments with your primary doctor. Annual wellness exams are an important part of preventative care because your doctor might be able to see things that you haven't noticed yet.

No one wants unnecessary doctors' visits. But medical specialists exist for a reason and it's important to prioritize every part of your health. Plus, doctors' appointments and any associated copays are FSA-eligible. In other words, making a specialized medical appointment should be an easy "no-brainer" -- don't potentially put your health at risk by putting them off.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

Flex-Ed: I owe money on my tax return... an FSA could have helped

My jaw dropped when I received the email from my accountant. I stared at my tax bill in disbelief for a few minutes, but reality quickly set in: I owe the IRS over $3,000. As it turns out, I'm one of the taxpayers who had insufficient tax withholding throughout 2018 and now owes money due to the Tax Cuts and Job Act that became official last year.

As it turns out, I'm one of the estimated 30 million Americans who owe money on their taxes this year. I'm lucky enough to have the funds to pay my bill in full, but it's still painful to part with the money. In many ways, I should have known better. Because here's the truth: I did not have an FSA in 2018.

It's embarrassing to admit because I thought I had already learned my lesson about tax-free health accounts. But once again, life happened. So as a result, I missed the boat on opening an FSA in 2018, and now I'm paying the price (literally).

It's too late to change what happened, but it's not too late to learn from it. Here's how much money I might have been able to save on taxes if I had opened an FSA.

My health care costs

After tallying my health care expenses — doctor's appointments, prescription medication, dental treatment and FSA-eligible supplies — I spent nearly $2,500 on health care in 2018. Nearly half of that came from unexpected dental treatment, which was FSA-eligible.

But the truth is that I thought I spent much less on health-related expenses last year. In fact, when I estimated how much I would spend on health care in 2018, I thought that I would spend $700. In other words, I thought I would spend $800 less than I actually did. Yikes.

My optimistic estimate about my health care expenses is actually part of human nature and our overly optimistic predictions for the future. It's often known as the optimistic update bias. This is important to understand because it can help us plan more realistically for the future.

The FSA calculator

I was shocked when I finally sat down to look at how much money I could have saved with an FSA last year. According to the FSA Store calculator, I could have saved $1,816 on taxes. That doesn't mean that I would necessarily owe less in taxes (although I probably would because it would have lowered my overall taxable income) but I would have paid less in taxes upfront.

The real kicker is that my 2018 net pay would have been nearly $2,000 higher if I had put $2,500 into my FSA. Plus, according to the calculator, I could have "broken even"—not saved or spent any extra money—if I had spent at least $684 from my FSA. In other words, even if I had set aside $2,500, but only spent the $700 I thought I would need for 2018, I wouldn't have gained or lost anything. (Although I probably could have used my extra funds to buy FSA-eligible health supplies…)

How to avoid these mistakes

The truth about my health-related finances is that I fell into the trap of short-term planning. I had a lot of financial goals for 2018 — investing, travelling, preparing for graduate school — and I wanted to save as much money as possible, and in my effort to cut costs, I actually ended up spending more money in the long-run.

It's great to be optimistic about the future, but if there's one thing I learned this year, it's that a healthy dose of skepticism (and number crunching) is better for my budget and my sanity.

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Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Spring break health essentials for teens and kids

Spring break is normally associated with long days at the beach and lots of sun, but for working parents the reality is much different. For parents with school-aged children, spring break is a hectic time when childcare is up in the air. Instead of spending eight hours at school everyday, kids are suddenly free for a week or two.

In other words, childcare is suddenly a concern. But there's some good news for parents with school-aged kids — your flexible spending account (FSA) and dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA) might be able to help. Here's some things to know about spring break health essentials for teens and kids.

Consider day camps for children under 13

If your child is normally at school while you're at work, then spring break throws a wrench into your usual routine. Instead of panicking and hiring a babysitter, consider a day camp instead. Day camps can include anything from sports camps to learning how to code. Regardless of what your kids are interested in, you'll be able to find something that interests them. Plus, zoos often offer both day and night camps for kids.

The best part is that you might be able to use your dependent care flexible spending account to pay for it. Depending on your tax bracket, that might mean you'll get a savings of 20% or more on spring break camp expenses because you do not have to pay taxes on DCFSA-eligible expenses.

There are a few rules for using DCFSA funds to pay for day camps. For example, kids under 13 years old are eligible and the parent (that's you) needs to be working full-time, in school full-time, or trying to find a job. In other words, stay-at-home parents can't use a DCFSA to pay for day camps.

Make doctors appointments for your teenager

Whether it's a physical your kid needs for high school spring sports, acne treatment from a dermatologist or the annual checkup that's been forgotten, spring break might be the perfect time to get your teenager up to date on their appointments.

Even though you might have to take time off of work to go with him or her, you don't have to worry about coordinating your work schedule with his or her school schedule. Instead, you can make appointments for the time that suits you best. Plus, you can use your FSA for copays or prescription costs.

Get eye exams before the summer rush

A lot of parents wait until summer to schedule doctors' appointments, but the truth is that spring break is actually easier. It's a shorter time period and every school district is on a different schedule, so doctors' offices won't be as busy. If your child is due for an eye exam, or has complained that his or her glasses no longer feel right, then spring break might be the perfect time to visit an optometrist.

You can use your FSA to pay for the visit, and you can use it to pay for prescription sunglasses. Prescription sunglasses may seem like a luxury but they're a necessity for teenagers who have a driver's license, especially during sunny summer months, which are right around the corner.

Bottom line

If you're stuck at the office while your kids are on spring break, don't fret. There are plenty of FSA- and DCFSA-eligible ways for you to create a healthy and happy spring break for your kids or teens, and help you save money along the way.

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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: Is eating disorder treatment eligible to be covered with an FSA or HSA?

The road to eating disorder recovery is often long and painful, but ultimately worth it. As eating disorder diagnoses continue to rise in America, it's more important than ever to understand the types of disorders and the available treatments.

The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. Each type of eating disorder comes with its own specific behaviors, beliefs and symptoms, but regardless of the type of eating disorder someone has, there is always one similarity: he or she needs medical help.

More than 5% of Americans struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. Here's how your FSA or HSA might be able to help you pay for treatment.

The diagnosis

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, the first step is to call your primary doctor. Your doctor will likely schedule an initial appointment during which, the doctor assesses the the eating disorder and gives an official diagnosis.

This might seem like a waste of time, but the diagnosis is actually one of the most important steps because it allows you to use your health insurance to get the treatment that you need.

Inpatient vs. outpatient treatment

Depending on the severity of the eating disorder and your current health status, the doctor might recommend inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment usually takes place at a residential facility with 24-hour care from doctors, nurses, dietitians and therapists. Due to the high level of care, inpatient treatment usually costs tens of thousands of dollars per month.

But there is some good news — depending on the treatment facility, the cost of inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation center is probably FSA- and HSA-eligible. It's important to check with your account provider and confirm that it is eligible, but it's worth the extra step to save money on treatment.

Plus, depending on your insurance coverage (and whether it will cover some of the treatment), you might hit your health insurance deductible for the year, and you can use your tax-free account to pay for that too.

Outpatient treatment

If your doctor confirms that you are medically and mentally stable enough for outpatient treatment, then the process of assembling an eating disorder team begins. Most eating disorder teams include a dietitian, a therapist and a doctor.

Outpatient treatment usually consists of weekly meetings with your providers and depending on how often you have to meet with them, treatment might feel like a part-time job. Luckily, all of your appointments are FSA and HSA-eligible. This means that you can use your tax-free health account to pay for your copays or insurance deductibles.

Because treatment usually lasts for months or even years, there's a chance that you should plan accordingly during open enrollment.

The bottom line

Eating disorders can be painful for everyone involved. Whether you're the person with an eating disorder or you're supporting someone you love, the process of entering recovery is emotionally and physically exhausting.

The last thing you want to worry about during recovery is whether you can afford the treatment you need. That's why it's important to plan ahead and always utilize your tax-free accounts. You'll need all of your energy for building a beautiful new life free from an eating disorder.

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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.