by Manisha Thakor
Would you like to experience less (financial) stress and more (money) joy this holiday season? If you're a flexible spending account (FSA) user, there's an easy way for you to get both: take a look at your current FSA account balance and spend down any remaining funds.
Yes, you heard that correctly. I'm encouraging you to SPEND! The reason is that if you don't spend all of the money in your FSA by the end of your plan year, that money will be forfeited as a result of the "use it or lose it" rule.
Here's a simple 6-point plan you can follow to spend down those remaining FSA dollars in less than an hour.
- Find Out How Much You Can Spend. Call your provider or check your most recent paper or online statement to find out what your remaining FSA balance is. Some FSA administrators, such as WageWorks (a firm I'm proud to work with on consumer awareness) even give you the option of using your smart phone or other mobile device to log in to your account. Time: 5 minutes.
- Find Out Your “Spend By” Date. Reach out to your benefits or HR department to find out if you must spend your FSA dollars by December 31st or whether your workplace gives you a “grace period” until March 15th. Also, take note of your final day to make purchases versus your final day to request reimbursement; your employer may offer some flexibility there as well. Time: 5 minutes
- Review Eligible Expenses. Now that you know how much you have to spend and by when, it’s time to start using whatever funds are left. Review the extensive list of FSA eligible expenses and create a list of what you need. Two sites with great lists of eligible expenses and other resources include SaveSmartSpendHealthy.com and WageWorks.com/spendit. Time: 10 minutes.
- Look For Any Gaps. Sit down and review your medical care from the past year. Are there any expenses you haven’t submitted yet? Are there any appointments you haven't had yet such as routine dental or eye exams? If so, call your providers and get those on the calendar. Time: 10 minutes.
- Restock OTC Items. In addition to items you may have identified in the previous step, don't forget to restock commonly-used OTC products and medications, (Note, as of January 1, 2011 OTC medications require a doctor's prescription to qualify for FSA reimbursement.) And if the thought of braving holiday crowds is making you feel slightly nauseous, not to worry. You can shop online with companies like FSAStore.com from the comfort of your couch. Time (including check out!): 15 minutes.
- Claim Your Miles: Did you know you can get a tax-break on any miles you had to drive for any doctors appointments or pharmacy visit in the past year? Reimbursement for travel between January 1 and June 30, 2011 is set at 19 cents per mile, and travel between July 1 and December 31, 2011 was increased to 23.5 cents per mile. To make this a super easy process, just use an online directions website such as Google Maps or MapQuest and enter your start and finish addresses. Print off the resulting map (which will show point-to-point mileage) and submit it to your FSA provider along with the receipts for the associated doctor or pharmacy visit. Time: 10 minutes
By the way, if you are wondering what the logic is behind the whole “use it or lose it” rule - I hear you loud and clear. Personally, I'd much rather see the government allow us to either cash out balances at year-end (paying our fair share of taxes on that amount) or roll it over to the next plan year. If you agree with me, you can visit SaveMyFlexPlan.org for more information on how you can make your voice heard on this issue.
Here's to a 2012 full of health, happiness, and financial peace of mind!