New flexible spending account options will help you stretch your money

(BPT) – As we head into the 2016 annual health care enrollment period, the benefits of different plan options may seem hard to decipher. Like many employees, you may have never considered a flexible spending account, or FSA. In fact, only about 30 percent of workers who have an FSA available to them sign up to take advantage of the program. However, a variety of benefits make health care FSA plans worth a second look.

According to a March 2015 survey conducted by Visa and WageWorks, fear of losing money at the end of the year is the number one reason employees don’t participate in health care FSA plans, despite the fact they’re leaving tax savings on the table. What you may not know is that the IRS revised options in 2013 to allow for carryover of FSA dedicated funds up to $500 — meaning, you don’t need to fear the notion of “use it or lose it.” With an increasing number of employers now providing FSA carryover options, there’s a good chance your employer is offering this benefit to you as well. In the same Visa/WageWorks survey, 60 percent of employers said they opted to offer the FSA carryover option this year.

A health care FSA with carryover helps eliminate the stress and pressure of having to spend your annual contribution by the end of the year, and allows for ease of budgeting and allocating where and when health care dollars are spent.

A convenient way for employees to access and use FSA funds in a secure way is through a Visa debit card. While individual health care needs vary, here are just a few common eligible health care expenses and scenarios that can be covered with flexible spending account dollars.

* Copays and deductibles are generally covered out of pocket, but both are easily handled by funds allocated and available through your FSA.

* The cost of important and routine exams, such as physicals or dermatology checkups, can quickly add up. But, with dedicated FSA funds, you can cover these costs with ease.

* FSA monies can be used to keep your smile bright and healthy. Dental cleanings, dentures and orthodontia are all eligible FSA expenses.

* Not only can your FSA help to keep your mind at ease about medical expenses, it can also help to keep you seeing in clear view. Annual vision exams, new glasses and LASIK services can also be covered with FSA funds.

* Many employees may think specialty visits are ineligible expenses, but your chiropractor or acupuncturist can also be paid for with FSA funds.

* Necessary health care equipment like blood pressure monitors or thermometers can be purchased with an FSA, as can important and potentially life-changing services, such as smoking cessation programs.

Additionally, the pre-tax salary reduction helps pave the way for employees to really stretch their hard-earned dollars. For example, the average employee who contributes $500 to their health care FSA at the start of the year will probably utilize all of those funds by the end of the plan year and by contributing that amount to an FSA will save approximately $150 in taxes, depending on his/her tax rate (the maximum contribution for an individual is $2,550, which would save an average of $765 at a 30 percent tax rate).

Using your Visa debit card for your FSA may also cut down on your paperwork. Many of the processing systems at pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell medical products are programmed to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items, making getting the care you need more simple.

As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if they offer flexible spending accounts with carryover, available on a Visa debit card. To learn more visit www.visahealthcare.com.

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