Future Healthy: Common HSA mistakes and oversights

Having an HSA is great for keeping track of your health-related expenses. It makes it easy to get a tax deduction and to set aside money for expensive treatments. But HSAs aren't foolproof and many require more diligence than what one might expect. It's not uncommon to mess up when you're using an HSA for the first time.

Here are the most common HSA mistakes - and how to avoid them.

Using an HSA when you're not eligible

The biggest mistake you can make with an HSA is to use one when you're not allowed to. If you have a high-deductible plan and then switch to a lower deductible, you won't be able to contribute to your HSA. You can still use any leftover funds you have, but you can't add more money to your account.

Some people make the mistake of opening an HSA when a deductible is too high. Always compare your insurance plan to current HSA rules, as the guidelines change every year.

Paying for ineligible expenses

Not every health-related expense is eligible for HSA reimbursement, such as cosmetic services, elective surgeries and gym memberships. Over-the-counter prescriptions are only eligible expenses when a doctor has specifically written a prescription for them.

If you pay for nonqualified expenses with your HSA, you could face a 20% fine. Any time you use your HSA card, keep the receipt so you can prove it was for a qualified medical expense.

Contributing too much

Like an IRA or 401(k), an HSA has an annual contribution limit, which is $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families in 2019 ($3,550 and $7,100 respectively for 2020). If you put in too much and don't remove the excess funds before April 15 of the tax year, you'll pay a 6% fine.

Paying someone else's medical bills

The IRS says you can only pay for someone else's medical bills with your HSA if they're your spouse or qualified dependent. A dependent must be someone who lives with you and who depends on you for at least 50% of their financial needs.

Boyfriends, girlfriends, domestic partners and roommates are not eligible for your HSA money, even if you're paying for the rent. If your fiancee is on your health insurance plan, you still can't use HSA money for her medical bills.

Using all of your funds

The money in an HSA account rolls over from year to year, with no limit. Unfortunately, some people confuse HSAs with FSAs, which must be used in the same calendar year that contributions are made.

Think of an HSA like a savings account. You can keep the money there as long as you want without any penalties. You can even leave an HSA behind your will which your heirs can use tax-free.

Using an HSA and FSA

Under current IRS regulations, you're not allowed to have both an HSA and FSA, unless the latter is "limited purpose" or only used for dental and vision expenses. If you discover you or your spouse have both, you'll have to close one of them.

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Whether it's for covering medical expenses, or planning bigger investments, our Future Healthy column will help support your path to retirement, no matter where you are on the journey. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to check out our HSA Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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