Fall activities: football, enjoying sweater weather, open enrollment

October 05, 2017 : Teresa L. Clark

When fall is right around the corner, people think about football, watching the leaves turn, wearing warmer clothes and of course open enrollment – plus its impact on tax savings. This annual workplace opportunity is not only a time when people can make changes to their health insurance, but also take advantage of the tax opportunities that present themselves when these decisions are made.

“Although it may seem that there is no difference in selecting the same health insurance options as last year,” said Catherine Martin, senior tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block, “it is possible that ignoring new enrollment options, or not considering changes in one’s personal situation since last year, may not be the best financial decision.”

Investigate if an HSA or FSA could be a money-saver

Confusion surrounding what a health savings account is and how it differs from a health flexible saving account might make some people shy away from investigating if one of them could save them money, which is reflected in the statistic that only 52 percent of people who have access these accounts enroll in them. While the details about how much can be set aside in in each account are different, both types accounts may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Among the qualified expenses are eyeglasses, contact lenses, prescribed medications, appointments with doctors for general preventative checkups and appointments with specialists.

These are some basic rules to understand about health savings accounts and how they can help people better afford their future medical expenses:

  • Must be coupled with high-deductible health plan (e.g., at least a $1,350 deductible for self-only coverage for 2018) and plan must not pay benefits until deductible is reached
  • Contribution × marginal tax rate = tax savings (FYI: HSA contributions are either tax-deductible or made pre-tax, and the maximum for 2018 is $3,450 for self-only coverage)
  • May use funds to pay for doctor visits, prescriptions (over-the-counter drugs without a prescription will not qualify), lab work and hospital bills
  • Funds used for qualified expenses can be withdrawn tax free, and interest earned on the account is tax-free
  • Contributions can stay in the account while the account holder is alive, allowing that person to save for future medical needs

Flexible spending accounts can help people pay for expenses incurred during the current year, and they provide these benefits:

  • Up to $2,600 is withheld from gross income (pre-tax) and then paid out as a reimbursement for qualified medical expenses
  • Contribution × marginal tax rate = tax savings (e.g., if $2,000 is contributed by a taxpayer in the 25 percent bracket, the tax savings is $500)
  • Among qualified expenses are co-pays, eyeglasses and prescriptions prescribed by a physician (over-the-counter drugs are not qualified medical expenses unless prescribed by a physician)
  • Must use the funds by the end of the plan year or grace period, or lose them; an FSA is not for long-term savings

Don’t overlook enrollment for pre-tax retirement options

The news about how people are preparing for retirement is bleak: only 60 percent of workers feel “very confident” or “somewhat confident” they will have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement. People need to know what options exist to help them save for retirement and many can’t afford to not take notice. Another option for pre-tax savings that happens as part of open enrollment in the workplace is selecting retirement savings plans.

“Making pre-tax contributions to a 401(k), if offered by an employer, is a good way to start saving for retirement. The contributions are made with money that has not yet been taxed, which means the amount contributed reduces taxable income and that can potentially reduce the overall tax bill. Also, retirement savings grow tax-free,” Martin said.

Choose carefully — changes are generally locked in for a year

During open enrollment, be sure to choose wisely because no changes can be made before the next annual enrollment period unless the policyholder experiences a qualifying event. Among qualifying events are birth, death, divorce, marriage and loss of benefits from another source (e.g., a spouse loses a job).

Advice from a tax professional about the contribution limits to HSAs and FSAs and other details about these accounts, and help understanding how tax-free money can be used for retirement can help taxpayers feel confident about the decisions they make during open enrollment.

 

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Related Resources

Open enrollment for health insurance starts November 1

Open enrollment for health insurance starts November 1.Taxpayers can avoid tax penalties in 2019 by obtaining health insurance for 2018.

Teresa L. Clark

Teresa L. Clark

Contributor

Teresa L. Clark came to H&R Block in January 2010 after working as a civil servant for more than 13 years. Since that first tax season she has written blog posts and talking points, edited content of all shapes and sizes, facilitated media interviews for the experts in The Tax Institute at H&R Block and supported the DIY team. Clark has a master's degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Kansas and is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

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