Monday, November 17, 2014

Use It or Lose It: Flex Spending Accounts

It is that time of year again when companies hold their annual open enrollment. This is when employees have the opportunity to change medical or dental plans, and to opt into making contributions to a flexible spending account (FSA). In general, a flexible spending account allows one to deposit pre-tax dollars into the account to pay for medical expenses, or to pay for dependent care. (Note that these are two different types of accounts.) The ability to use pre-tax money to pay for expenses is a good benefit that can save you money.

One thing to keep in mind when contributing to an FSA is that most flex spending accounts operate on a "use it or lose it" basis. This means that any balance you have in the account at the end of the calendar year is forfeited to your employer. This is something that I would rather not do, since I never want to leave any money on the table.

In the current economy, I also want to warn my readers of one more potential hazard with FSAs. Having been downsized before, I can tell you that the "use it or lose it" provision also applies if you are terminated without cause (i.e., laid off). Any money that you have left in your FSA plan when you are terminated will be kept by your former employer. This may seem totally unfair, but that has been my real life experience.


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