Tax guide

FSAs and Your Tax Return

Updated for filing 2021 tax returns

What is a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA)?

Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) are tax-free, "use it or lose it" savings accounts for medical and certain non-medical expenses.

FSAs are set up by an employer in a cafeteria plan, where your employer provides certain benefits on a pretax basis. You, your spouse, or dependents are eligible for using the FSA for qualifying expenses.

What are the tax benefits of an FSA?

An FSA allows you to contribute pre-tax dollars from your salary. Your employer may also make contributions to your FSA account. You may withdraw the money tax-free if it’s used for qualifying expenses. 

What types of FSAs are available?

There are several types of FSAs:

  • Health Care FSAs let you set aside pre-tax dollars for medical expenses. You and your employer may both contribute to the FSA.
  • Limited Expense Health Care FSAs cover only dental and vision medical expenses. People who have a limited FSA already have an HSA to help cover other medical expenses.
  • Dependent Care FSAs may be offered by your employer to pay dependent care costs. You and your employer may contribute to the FSA. 

For health and limited health FSAs, you don’t have to file anything with your return. You must file Form 2441 with your return if you have a dependent care FSA.

Who is eligible for an FSA?

Generally, to be eligible for an FSA, you just have to be an employee of an employer who offers an FSA. (If you are self-employed, check out Medical Savings Accounts instead.)

You may be eligible for one or more FSAs, which probably have different amounts that you can contribute. You can’t move money from one FSA to another, and if you don’t use the balance, you’ll usually lose what’s left at the end of the plan year.

Can I get a health FSA even if I don’t have health coverage? Yes. Unlike an HSA, you’re not required to have health coverage to be eligible for a health FSA.

What if I have an HSA and want an FSA? You’re eligible for a limited health FSA, which covers only dental and vision expenses. You may contribute to both an HSA and a limited FSA to maximize tax deductions and savings. You may still contribute the maximum for both the HSA and a limited health FSA.

What are the requirements for having a dependent care FSA? You or your spouse must work or be looking for work for the child care costs to be eligible. The contribution limit is $10,500 in 2021 for any status except married filing separately, which has a limit of $5,250. (These amounts were boosted for 2021 by COVID-19 relief legislation.)

For the dependent care costs to be eligible, the child must be under 13 years old. If the child turns 13 during the plan year, any child care expenses after the birthday are ineligible. 

But: If you have a child or other dependent relative over age 13 who is mentally or physically incapable of caring for themselves, your dependent care FSA can be used to pay for expenses. See Who Can You Claim as a Dependent?

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How much can I contribute to my FSA in a year?

FSAs are set up by “plan years.” This means that before the new plan year starts, you choose how much you’d like to contribute for that plan year. Your employer will then deduct a set amount per pay period. 

In 2021, you and your employer could contribute a combined total of $2,750. Deciding how much of that to contribute takes careful planning because you can’t change the amount you contribute unless your family or employment status changes.

How do I use my FSA to pay for expenses?

Withdrawing from your FSA can be as simple as using a debit card, or you might have to submit paperwork and wait for a reimbursement. Either way, it’s a good habit to keep receipts and any paperwork from doctors, specialists, or any medical supplies.

When you need to withdraw money from your Flexible Spending Arrangement, contact your plan administrator for help with getting reimbursed.

What happens if I have an FSA balance at the end of the plan year?

FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts, meaning that any remaining balance at the end of the plan year is forfeited. Any unused balance is not refunded to you.

That said, your FSA plan may offer one of two ways to help you use up any remaining funds. The first option is a grace period of two and a half months after the end of the plan year, giving you extra time to use up the funds.

Some plans may even allow you to carry over up to $550 to the next year. Anything above $550 would be forfeited, and the carryover doesn’t count as a contribution for the next plan year.

Important: The plan may allow a grace period or a carryover, but not both. Neither is required, so check with your plan administrator.

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