Spending

Does your FSA have an extension? Here's how to make the most of your money

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If your flexible spending account from last year extends into the new year, you've still got time to spend the money left in it wisely.

Unlike the rollover, in which a set amount is available indefinitely, an extension means the entire amount is available to you until a certain date. This period frequently runs 75 days, or until March 15.

Here are some expert tips for getting the most out of your 2019 FSA dollars before they expire.

Book helpful appointments

Steve Neeleman, founder and vice chair of health savings trustee HealthEquity, says the first three months are a great opportunity to set yourself up for the rest of the year.

"This is a good time to get with your primary care doctor and schedule your visit," he says. Neeleman notes that if you get in early, you can benefit from having the money to pay for procedures your insurance doesn't handle. "They might say, 'We want to order some labs that aren't covered under your preventive care.' Some preventive care might cover things like if you're 50 and it'll cover a colonoscopy, but if you need a polyp removed, it might not cover that."

Jina Etienne, CPA member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission, cites the positive effect a new year may have on someone striving for a healthy change. "We all make New Year's resolutions and we tend not to keep them. In January, you are more likely to keep that appointment and follow up on any advice you got from that appointment."

Spending your leftover FSA dollars at the beginning of the year can set you up to save later. This is true whether you have the rollover or the extension. "Not only does the extension period allow more time to spend last year's FSA contributions on qualified expenses, those costs also count toward this year's deductible," says Neeleman.

Etienne says if you've always wanted to stop smoking, you can seize this opportunity to sign up for a smoking cessation plan. "Or if you have back problems and always wanted to try acupuncture, it doesn't hurt to dabble in January," she says.

Check out these FSA-eligible items

Many seemingly unconventional items are available for you to buy using your FSA dollars. Look for items that are evergreen, Etienne says, so you don't end up with a heap of expired products. You might need a prescription or letter of medical necessity to use your FSA on certain items of services. This is true for items ranging from the quirkier products to the downright everyday products, such as aspirin.

Etienne says it can be easy for people to miss that an FSA covers your overall health needs, including anything important to your medical care, your dental care, or your vision. "They don't see it as the broad spectrum of the things we spend money on to maintain our health," she says. "It's not just, 'I have to get a Band-Aid.'"

This is a good time to get with your primary care doctor and schedule your visit.
Steve Neeleman
founder, vice chair of health savings trustee HealthEquity

Sydney Myers, merchandising specialist for the FSA Store, which sells 4,000 FSA-eligible products, says you have many more options than you might realize.

"One popular category is drug-free pain relief, which includes acupressure mats that go on the floor," Myers says. "They fall into the surprisingly eligible category. People will come in looking for a brace and find something like KT tape or cold packs." Myers notes that the company also sells a Himalayan salt inhaler, which is a form of vaporizer. She says new parents can get the most out of their account by checking out the Owlet Smart Sock 2.0 Monitor and Video Bundle, which monitors a baby's heart rate and oxygen levels, and streams video.

Etienne says there are a host of often-ignored FSA-covered items such as a 4-foot-long heating blanket, batteries for blood pressure monitor cuffs, a pocket-sized sensor for gluten or peanut sensitivity, and even microwavable stuffed animals designed to heat up so they can radiate a comforting warmth that helps children sleep.

With a few months left to spend, you can make the most of your account and benefit from the deduction on your taxable wages. "Tax-smart savvy is a beautiful thing," says Etienne.

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