The contributions you make to a flexible spending account (FSA) are not tax-deductible because the accounts are funded through salary deferrals. However, contributing to an FSA does reduce your taxable wages since the account is funded with pretax dollars.
The maximum amount of salary deferral in an FSA for the 2020 tax year was $2,750 and will remain the same for 2021. (In previous years, the maximum has been increased by $50 per year).
- An FSA helps employees cover health-related costs not included in their insurance plans.
- Contributing to an FSA reduces taxable wages since the account is funded with pretax dollars.
- You may be able to use the FSA to help pay for a gym membership or massage therapy, with a doctor’s prescription.
What Is an FSA?
An FSA is intended to help employees cover health-related costs that are not included in their insurance plans.
The specifics vary, but such plans generally can be used to help cover a deductible or pay for prescription glasses. Some can be used for alternative treatments like acupuncture. With a doctor’s prescription, you may be able to use the FSA to help pay for a gym membership or massage therapy.
First aid products are generally covered, including items like bandages. Many over-the-counter medications and remedies are covered, but only if you have a doctor’s prescription for them. These include common products like aspirin, cold medicine, antacids, acne cream, ear wax removers, and wart removers.
Someone at the IRS presumably made lists of which common household items are health products and which are merely healthful products.
Vitamins and herbal remedies are not covered, nor is plastic surgery or teeth whitening.
How to Use an FSA
Just like a 401(k) retirement plan, an FSA account is funded through salary deferrals in pretax money. You cannot claim a tax deduction for your contributions because the money was not taxed in the first place.
When you have an FSA, you are setting aside part of your salary so that you will be reimbursed for eligible medical or dependent care expenses during the year instead of paying out-of-pocket.
You decide once a year, during your benefits enrollment period, what percentage or amount of your salary you would like to defer into the FSA, up to a maximum. The money deferred is considered a pretax and it reduces your gross income.
For example, if your annual salary is $40,000 and you decide to contribute $2,000 to your FSA, your gross income would then be $38,000. Your $2,000 FSA contribution is paid in pretax dollars and therefore cannot be taken as a tax deduction.
An FSA account holder cannot use it to fund purchases of common household items like toothpaste or shaving cream.
Don’t Over-Fund Your FSA
One word of caution: Employees need to avoid over-funding their FSA accounts. Any balance remaining in the account is commonly forfeited at the end of the year, although some plans have a grace period to submit claims or allow remaining money to be rolled over.
At the very least, keep an eye on the balance in your FSA and make sure you use it by the annual deadline. If the annual deadline is approaching, you can hit the pharmacy aisle and get some of the many over-the-counter remedies and products that an FSA covers. But don’t go overboard. The regulations specifically prohibit stockpiling products that can’t reasonably be used up in the year.
Flexible Spending Account FAQs
What Is The Tax Advantage of FSA Contributions?
Since contributions to the account are deducted from your paycheck before income taxes are assessed, your taxable income is lower. Participants enjoy, on average, a 30% tax savings on the total amount they contribute to the account.
Can I Still Deduct Dependent Care Expenses?
Yes, but not the same expenses for which you have already been reimbursed. If your total expenses were $7,000 and you were reimbursed $5,000 from your DCA, you may only claim the $2,000 difference.
The Bottom Line
Contributing to an FSA allows you to reduce your taxable income as well as save on healthcare or dependent care costs, since you are paying for these expenses in pretax dollars. In other words, you’re saving about 30% on an expense, whether it’s laser eye surgery or sunblock (as long as it’s more than a specific SPF).
Using an FSA efficiently means accurate forecasting. While you can’t predict everything you’ll need, you are likely to be able to plan a visit to the dentist, some over-the-counter medications, or a vision correction prescription. Depending on your situation, using the account to fund some of those expenses earlier in the year can prevent rushing to spend down the account as the year draws to a close.