Taking Advantage of Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)



If your employer has a health care and/or dependent care FSA, before year end you must specify how much of your 2015 salary to convert into tax-free contributions to the plan. You can then take tax-free withdrawals next year to reimburse yourself for out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses and qualifying dependent care costs. Watch out, though, FSAs are "use-it-or-lose-it" accounts - you don't want to set aside more than what you'll likely have in qualifying expenses for the year.

Married couples who both have access to FSAs will also need to decide whose FSA to use. If one spouse's salary is likely to be higher than what's known as the FICA wage limit (which is $117,000 for 2014, and will likely be somewhat higher next year) and the other spouse's will be less, the one with the lesser salary should fund as much of the couple's FSA needs as possible. The reason is that the 6.2% Social Security tax levy for 2015 is set to stop at the FICA wage limit (and doesn't apply at all to money put into an FSA). Thus, for example, if one spouse earns $125,000 and the other $40,000, and they want to collectively set aside $5,000 in their FSAs, they can save $310 (6.2% of $5,000) by having the full amount taken from the lower-paid spouse's salary vs. having 100% taken from the other one's wages. Of course, either way, the couple will also save approximately $1,400 in income and Medicare taxes because of the FSAs.

If you currently have a health care FSA, make sure you drain it by incurring eligible expenses before the deadline for this year. Otherwise, you'll lose the remaining balance. It's not that hard to drum some things up: new glasses or contacts, dental work you've been putting off, or prescriptions that can be filled early.

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