If you watched the video above, you’ve learned the basics of tax-advantaged Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts. Below, the stories of Maxine, Phil and Sally show you how different life circumstances and financial goals influence someone’s choice of a health care account.
Maxine, 34, is a working mom living in Jacksonville, Florida. With her two kids out of the house in the mornings, Maxine has time for a run before starting her work day. The regular exercise makes her feel strong and clear-headed, but a nagging pain in her hip needs professional attention. There are other health concerns in Maxine's household. Her toddler frequently picks up viruses at daycare, leading to fevers and ear infections. Maxine’s husband, George, has bad allergies that require regular shots to ease his symptoms.
Given the family's many doctor visits, Maxine opted for a low-deductible health plan. This means that she is eligible for a flexible spending account, or FSA, because only those with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) qualify for HSAs. As an FSA member, Maxine can get medical expenses reimbursed based on what she plans to contribute to her account for the year, rather than what’s already been deducted from her paycheck. Maxine commits to contributing $2600, or $100 per paycheck. Because the account is funded with pre-tax money, she’ll save about 30 cents on the dollar on all eligible health bills: That’s about $780 this year alone.
Maxine will use her FSA to cover costs related to treating her aching hip, George’s allergies and their kids’ pediatrician visits. Toward the end of the year, if she still has FSA funds remaining, she can stock up on supplies she knows her family will use, from bandages to a heating pad. Juggling work and fitness isn’t easy, but Maxine is happy that her FSA helps her save serious money.
Phil, 25, is a single guy living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He loves his job as a programmer for a gaming start-up but his real passion is hosting dinner parties for friends. His homemade dishes are chock full of fresh veggies, helping Phil stay healthy. In fact, the only time he visits his doctor is for preventive care, such as annual check-ups and flu shots. Phil chooses a low-cost, high-deductible health plan because he assumes he'll have very few health expenses over the coming year. This means he is eligible for either an HSA or an FSA.
He goes for an HSA because the money he saves can be rolled over year after year. He signs up to contribute $1000 for the year, or $39 per paycheck. As Phil gets older or if he starts a family, he will find the cash accumulated in his HSA very useful. And there’s an additional benefit: HSA plans often give you the option of investing your funds, which earn profits tax-free. With an eye on the future, Phil knows that an HSA is the right choice.
Sally, 49, is single and runs a successful engineering firm in Philadelphia. Sally wears glasses with a strong prescription and recently learned she would need some dental work. Otherwise, her health is excellent and she rarely visits the doctor.
Sally expects that she won't meet her health plan deductible in the coming year, though she is certain she'll use vision and dental services. With this in mind, Sally signs up for vision and dental plans, as well as a high-deductible health plan. Her HDHP makes her eligible for an HSA, but Sally can also take advantage of something else: a type of FSA known as a Limited Purpose FSA (LPFSA.) These accounts work like regular FSAs, but funds can only be used for vision and dental expenses. Sally plans to contribute pre-tax dollars to both an LPFSA and an HSA, maximizing her savings. Her HSA money will accumulate over time and be available to use on medical expenses she incurs in later years, even in retirement.
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