Seven Facts Employees Should Know About FSAs and HSAs During Enrollment Season

Benefits enrollment season is a time for making important decisions regarding healthcare expenses for you and your family. In addition to health insurance options, many companies sponsor tax-advantaged healthcare accounts, like Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

FSAs and HSAs are popular because you can save money on taxes while setting aside funds to pay for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. They also give participants more control over their personal healthcare spending and choices. Understanding the facts about FSAs and HSAs can help you make informed choices about how much to contribute, how to maximize the tax advantages, and make other decisions that will impact the cost of your healthcare.

Here are seven facts about FSAs and HSAs you need to know during enrollment season:

Seven Facts about FSAs and HSAs:

1. Health plan requirements

In order to enroll in and contribute to an HSA, you must be enrolled in a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP). There is no health plan requirement with an FSA; any employee can sign up for the account.

Keep in mind – you cannot have a health FSA and an HSA at the same time; you can, however, have a limited purpose FSA with an HSA.

2. Contribution limits

The 2019 contribution limits for HSAs are $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families. Employees age 55 and older may make an additional $1,000 “catch-up” contribution.

Currently, the annual contribution limit for FSAs is $2,650.

3. Account funding

You can make contributions to both types of accounts in the form of pre-tax withdrawals from each paycheck. The amounts are withdrawn in equal increments over the course of the year.

Depending on plan setup, employers can make contributions to an HSA, as long as the combined employer/employee contributions do not exceed maximum limits. Employers can also contribute to their employees’ FSAs; in this case, they could match employee contributions dollar for dollar or set an annual limit of $500.

4. Account ownership

One of the big differences between an FSA and an HSA is who owns the account.

With an HSA, you are the account owner and keep the account forever, no matter if you retire, change employers, or switch health plans.  An FSA is different. FSAs are employer-owned, meaning if you leave your employer (either voluntarily or involuntarily), you cannot take the FSA with you or continue to use the funds.

5. Tax advantages

Both accounts offer the advantage of paying for IRS-approved healthcare expenses with pre-tax money. In addition, HSAs offer a “triple tax advantage” that includes tax-deductible contributions, tax-free withdrawals when using account funds to pay for approved expenses, and tax-free earnings. HSA regulations allow you to invest unspent funds, with all earnings being tax-deferred until age 65.

6. “Use it or lose it” deadlines

FSAs and HSAs differ when it comes to dealing with unspent funds at the end of the plan year. Typically, FSA funds need to be exhausted completely or you could face possible forfeiture. However, many plans now allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next calendar year; some FSAs have a grace period of up to 2.5 months after the plan year ends in order to use unspent dollars. Keep this in mind when deciding how much to contribute to your plan.

HSAs do not have a use-it-or-lose-it deadline, and unspent funds remain in your account for as long as you wish. This makes HSAs an excellent tool for supplementing retirement plans.

7. Tracking deductibles

Tracking your healthcare deductibles can help you make better decisions at open enrollment time. Know the following:

  • Total amount of your deductibles
  • The date your deductible starts over
  • What expenses don’t count towards your deductible
  • If you have different deductibles for in-network and out-of-network
  • How often you actually meet your deductible

How to get help

Open enrollment can be confusing. If you need help understanding plan features and requirements or making decisions involving plan options, contact your benefits administrator.