Hidden things getting in the way of your HSA success

We talk a lot about how to best use your HSA (or FSA) to save money on eligible healthcare expenses – everything from common FSA missteps to using your HSA to plan for a new baby.

But what about the little things that you do that could be wreaking havoc on your HSA? And we're not just talking about paying unnecessary HSA fees or not hitting your maximum contributions. Instead, consider some of the "hidden" obstacles preventing you from getting the most bang from your HSA buck.

Not checking receipts for HSA-eligible items

We've all made those quick runs to the pharmacy or local store to pick up a few choice items – milk, snacks for the baby, maybe some acetaminophen (which can be made eligible with an Rx, but that's a topic for another column). You've probably even thrown in a few impulse buys while standing in line. Think gum, mints, and the like. Why do they always seem to spring a mini-arsenal of good dental hygiene on you at the last minute?

But every time you go to the store and buy lip balm – assuming you have a medical need for lip balm – it's technically HSA-eligible. And before you say, "Oh it's only $2, it's not worth it…" think about the potential savings in those throw-in items. Little expenses add up, and before you know it, you could be looking at $1,000 in potential HSA reimbursements each year.

The moral of the story? Keep your receipts, and check 'em for HSA-eligible spends. Just to refresh your memory, here's a list of common, small-ticket HSA-eligible items:

  • Bandages
  • Contact solution
  • Sun Protection lip balm
  • Orthopedic Insoles
  • Heat wraps for pain relief
  • Injury athletic tape

Using your HSA too much

Repeat after us: Your HSA is not a secondary checking account. Your HSA is not a secondary checking account.

While using your HSA appropriately and when necessary can save you money on eligible items (since your HSA is a tax-advantaged account), it's not always the best choice.

Here's why: since your HSA funds rollover year-to-year, sometimes it makes more sense to invest your HSA funds and let them make money for you. When you properly invest your HSA funds and let them do their thing, you may be able to make more money investing those funds than you'd save by spending those pre-tax dollars on eligible medical items.

But as with anything, there's middle ground. Obviously, use your HSA funds for necessary medical expenses. Just don't go crazy loading up your medicine cabinet. (Worth noting: that's also frowned upon by the IRS). Instead, spend what you need and let the rest grow. Some people even use their HSAs as supplemental retirement accounts, since you can withdraw the money, penalty-free at age 65.

Failing to adjust HSA contributions due to changes in finances

Another common mistake? Not updating HSA contributions when your finances change. It happens to everyone – job loss, an unexpected illness, becoming parents and going from a two-income family to a one-income family.

Sure, your HSA contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck, but suddenly your income is needed for a lot more household expenses, so it makes sense to adjust those contributions. Additionally, access your finances on a month-to-month basis to make sure your HSA contributions make sense for your situation.

Not speaking to a professional

The tips above are coming from people who've owned and used these accounts, but there's no replacement for seeking the guidance of a licensed financial professional before making any changes or adjustments to your HSA.

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