Collectively, workers may have forfeited an estimated $1 billion in their health-care flexible spending accounts last year.
Yet depending on your employer’s rules for those FSAs, which let workers save pre-tax money to pay for qualifying health expenses, you may have sidestepped being part of that cohort — at least for now.
While 23% of companies that offer health-care FSAs stick to the Dec. 31 “use it or lose it” approach, the remainder either offer a grace period to spend leftover funds or let you carry over a limited amount into the next year, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
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However, if you’re allowed to carry over 2022 funds, the limit is $570. And if you get a grace period, it can be up to 2.5 months, which would mean a new deadline of March 15 to spend the money.
Nevertheless, some employees end up losing out despite those reprieves.
Among workers who are allowed to carry over money, 49% end up forfeiting all or part of it, according to the institute. For those with a grace period, that share is 37%. Additionally, 48% with a traditional Dec. 31 deadline forfeit money, as well.
Last year, individuals could have contributed as much as $2,850 to their health-care FSA. The limit for 2023 is $3,050.
Look into your workplace FSA rules
It’s common for workers to not know what their employer’s FSA rules are. If you’re uncertain, reach out to your company’s human resources department, said Jake Spiegel, research associate at the institute.
Alternatively, you can check your online FSA portal (if your company has one) for information. There also should be a phone number (for customer service) on the back of your FSA debit card that you can call.
Ways to spend down your FSA balance
If you discover you’ve only got a couple of months to spend remaining 2022 funds and are unsure how to use it, be aware that the list of eligible expenses that qualify for FSA money is longer than it once was, due to congressional action in 2020.
For starters, over-the-counter drugs no longer need a prescription to qualify. This includes things such as cold medicines, anti-inflammatories and allergy medicine.
Additionally, menstrual care products are now eligible, as are items that have become pertinent during the pandemic: at-home Covid tests, masks, hand sanitizer and other personal protection equipment used to combat the virus.
“Think about what sorts of over-the-counter medicines or other things you could pick up that you’d buy anyway,” Spiegel said. “That can help people draw down some of their balance.”
Other products that qualify include sunscreen, thermometers, eye-care products, baby monitors and pregnancy tests. FSAstore.com has a list of eligible items if you are uncertain whether something would qualify.
Be aware that the IRS does not allow stockpiling, which generally means you can’t buy more of a product at one time than you can use in that tax year. The specifics, though, are determined by FSA administrators.