Living Well

Wage Up! How to stay healthy on campus

Now that it's mid-late August, countless new students are starting their freshman year, with huge smiles on their faces, luggage in tow, ready to experience their first tastes of dorm life. There are more than 20 million students currently attending college in the United States.

That's a lot of people. And anywhere that's home to that many people tends to be a breeding ground for just as many germs.

That's why it's important for students to know the best ways to stay healthy at school. While it might seem like an uphill battle, it's actually easier than you may think. If you're a new college student (or responsible for taking care of one) here are some tips we think are useful for getting -- and staying -- healthy on campus.

Wash. Then wash again.

Now, obviously, we don't need to remind you to wash after using a public restroom or blowing your nose. But considering how many people pass through (and touch) all areas of campus, there's probably a bunch of other times that warrant a thorough scrub.

  • Whenever using cash and receiving change in stores. Apps like Apple Pay and Google Wallet are helping curb the problem, but even the crispest bills have probably touched plenty of hands!
  • After riding escalators, pushing elevator buttons, or holding stairway handrails.
  • At restaurants and convenience stores in the student union -- with all the heavy foot traffic, chances are restaurant staff are having trouble keeping up with cleaning needs.

And be sure to actually wash your hands whenever possible. Antibacterial gels and lotions are great in a pinch, but nothing can replace the cleaning and sanitizing ability of good old fashioned soap and water.

Getting ahead of it

Sickness spreads quickly when you're living in close quarters like college dorms, so it's important to make sure you stay ahead of the curve. According to a 2017 survey, while 70% of college students in the U.S. found it important to get a flu shot, only 46% of students actually got vaccinated.

And because a new flu virus circulates every year, staying up to date on your flu shots can save you a lot of trouble when flu season rolls around in December. Luckily, campus clinics typically offer flu shots as a part of their services and they're HSA-eligible, so make sure to get vaccinated.

Campus clinics

That isn't all campus clinics have to offer. On top of revving up the flu shot engine when the season comes around, on-campus clinics offer a variety of other services for college students to stay healthy. From STI testing, to counseling and allergy help, on-campus clinic medical professionals can help you tackle any medical problem you may be having.

As a convenient and reliable resource for when you're feeling under the weather at school, campus clinics are a great place to go for quick and easy medical servicing. Clinics are usually open five days a week and are available for both appointments and walk-ins, making the accessibility unbeatable.

Rest up

Lastly, make sure you're still taking care of yourself. Get eight hours of sleep a night. In college, it seems like there's always something to do -- whether it's a party or a late night study session -- but sometimes the best thing to do is rest up.

Sleep is essential to making sure your brain is running properly and your heart is staying healthy. That's because during your sleep cycle, your body repairs any damages that may have occurred throughout the day. Sleep also affects the chemicals that can make you feel hungry or full, and your insulin levels. In fact, sleeping more can actually help you stay in better shape when all that's available is dining hall "cuisine."

Staying healthy on campus might seem hard at times, but it's not impossible. Remember that you always have your campus clinic to go to if you're feeling sick, and try to stay ahead and on top of any pesky illnesses that may be going around.


Whether you're spending steadily or saving for something big, Wage Up! is where we highlight the latest services available to buy with your HSA, every Monday on the HSA Learning Center. And for everything else about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


HSA Headlines - Is artificial intelligence the key to better open enrollments?

A common theme around most of our HSA Headlines pieces is open enrollment, and how to make it a better, more educated experience for all parties involved. But, up until recently, open enrollment has largely been a human-directed process, with little influence from technology other than clicking selections and submitting paperwork.

It looks like this is changing, with artificial intelligence (AI) set to help people MAKE decisions, not just submitting them. Let's take a look.

This HR tech could help employees make better enrollment decisions - Caroline Hroncich, Employee Benefit News

This week, Alegeus, a consumer health care company, launched a software platform that could change the game in benefits election. In partnership with software provider Picwell, employees on Alegeus systems can now take advantage of a platform that effectively guides them towards the right health care selections using AI.

(And a large part of the thinking behind the technology is explaining tax-advantaged accounts like HSAs and FSAs.)

It all starts with a series of personal health questions. Once entered, the responses are cross-referenced against a database of medical claims data, followed by plan suggestions generated by predictive analytics. The result (the companies hope) is a team of employees that feel empowered and in control of their benefits elections.

Now, to be fair, the idea of AI-driven HR tools isn't a new concept -- several companies have been dabbling in these platforms for a while now. But now these ideas are coming to fruition, and the article goes on to compare the Alegeus tool with other decision-making tools, and even another Alegeus offering, the Smart HSA app, which helps users make the most of their tax-free funds.

The timing for these developments couldn't be better, since it seems an alarming percentage (a reported 30%) of companies still don't provide adequate benefits education, leaving most of the tough questions unanswered… and most of their employees unsatisfied with their annual health care decisions.

Obviously, it's still very early in the AI/open enrollment revolution. But we're confident that more health care companies are going to develop assistants that help workers craft benefits options better suited for their needs. It's a positive development we'll be watching very closely as we approach the coming open enrollment season.


HSA Headlines is a weekly roundup of the latest, most relevant news and conversations about your health savings. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the HSA Learning Center. And for more about your physical and financial well-being, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


HSA Headlines - 23andMe is now partially HSA-eligible!

After a pretty long wait, owners of tax-advantaged health accounts are seeing some interesting changes to eligible expenses. Just last week, the IRS announced it was expanding its list of eligible preventive care services to accommodate more chronic conditions. But this week's news is even more interesting … especially for those seeking information about their family health history.

IRS provides tax break for 23andMe as a medical expense - Michael Cohn, Tax Pro Today

While it won't cover the entire testing expense, the medical portion of ancestry services like 23andMe is now FSA- and HSA-eligible. And that can equal a lot of savings, considering it accounts for roughly $117 of 23andMe's $199 total cost.

This is a tremendous step forward for eligibility, and a positive sign of the IRS reevaluating the things that matter most to account holders. Because looking past the obvious family discovery focus of these kits, ancestry testing can also lead to important medical history about genetic risks for major health concerns, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Late onset Alzheimer's disease

Additionally, 23andMe proved its value for medical history by identifying three BRCA gene variants most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and a hereditary colon cancer syndrome.

To be clear about the breakdown, it might seem like a loophole, but isn't. Kits like 23andMe use saliva samples to gather this genetic information. And as of right now, the IRS hasn't made a ruling on also getting ancestry testing from the same samples. Instead, they're leaving it to customers and the testing companies to use reasonable measures of determining the costs.

Thankfully, 23andMe is now offering a calculator to determine which portions are eligible for tax-free funds, including shipping and discounts.

We're in full support of this ruling, and hope it indicates more beneficial eligibility changes are on the horizon. As always, if there are major changes to HSA eligibility, we'll discuss it here.


HSA Headlines is a weekly roundup of the latest, most relevant news and conversations about your health savings. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the HSA Learning Center. And for more about your physical and financial well-being, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Future Healthy: Approaching health care costs like a consumer

While many of the articles that appear in Future Healthy are focused on long-term savings and retirement, your future financial wellness is based on every spending decision you make today. Maybe the idea of negotiating health care prices like you're buying a car seems weird, but if there's ways to keep more money in your pocket, we're here to help you find them.

That's because it pays to shop around, even when it comes to medical care. According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40% of adults 18-64 with employer-sponsored health insurance had high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). And it makes sense -- for relatively healthy people, HDHPs offer lower monthly premiums, and good coverage of basic preventive care. This is a wise spending decision, if you're relatively healthy.

But, because HDHP owners are responsible for the full costs of health care up until their deductible is paid in full for the year, customers should be more motivated to do a little comparison shopping for medications, products and services before making appointments.

So far, it doesn't seem like that's happening. According to a study from JAMA Internal Medicine, just 25% of HDHP owners discussed pricing with their providers, with a shocking 6% actually negotiating to lower prices of needed services. In other words, even though these patients are going to pay out-of-pocket for treatment, they're apparently not motivated to bargain.

But, if you have an HDHP (and hopefully an HSA to go with it) bargaining might make a big difference in your out-of-pocket costs as you work towards your deductible (and your long-term savings). Here are just a few of the many online resources available to boost your buying decisions.

Know the "fair price" for a procedure

You wouldn't walk into an auction with a $100 bill and expect to walk out with a Rembrandt. And you can't approach providers with a low-ball approach to finding the best price of treatment. That's where Healthcare Bluebook comes in.

This company was founded to create fairness in the healthcare marketplace, because a lack of visibility into the price of treatment. Run by a collective group of physicians, technicians and even financial strategists, Healthcare Bluebook gives you both price and quality comparisons to make you a smarter health consumer.

Start shopping around

New Choice Health seems similar to Healthcare Bluebook, but is a little more focused on giving you data on the best procedure prices. And they do it by having health care providers "compete" for your business, basically bidding on giving you the best possible care at a fair price.

The site also lists average costs of procedures (large and small), and allows you to contact them directly to save time and frustration.

Also, think about the value of your time. If you have an HDHP with a health savings account, and need to buy health care products, you can spare yourself the trouble of wondering about eligibility by shopping for 100% guaranteed HSA-eligible products at the site you're currently on.

(You didn't think we weren't going to mention our own site, did you?)

Don't skimp on quality

After seeing these links, you might have more motivation to save, but that means nothing if the quality of your healthcare isn't good. (In other words, that $199 colonoscopy banner ad? Don't bother clicking it.) Instead, turn to online tools that aggregate ratings, reviews, prices and more to help price-conscious patients find the best possible resources.

Organizations like The Leapfrog Group have spent the last 20 years encouraging purchasers and patients to be transparent, to improve health care safety and quality. They collect and report data for patients to choose the right hospital, whether it's about departments, treatments, or even overall satisfaction ratings. Patients can then make more informed decisions about their next steps.


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.


HSA Headlines - Healthy couples should still expect climbing medical costs

Just a few weeks after we reported on that most people approaching retirement age are planning to stay in the workplace (mostly because of necessity) now we're seeing that healthy couples are likely to still pay exorbitant medical bills thanks to the same pattern of rising costs.

Yes, even the couple that jogs together daily and spends much more to eat right. They're still likely to feel the sting of inflation. Let's see what Lee Barney of PlanSponsor has to say about it.

Even Healthy Couples Will Face Extreme Health Care Costs in Retirement - Lee Barney, PlanSponsor

Why mince words? According to the article, "A healthy 65-year-old couple retiring this year will spend $369,000 in today's dollars on health care over their lifetime."

For baby boomers, this number seems large, but expected. However, when you do a little math, in 20 years, that same couple will have paid roughly $551,000 -- a 250% boost over the original total.

Of course, there are a lot of variables in play. Most notably, that the couple's health status remains consistent over the course of their lives. I think we can all assume this is a tough thing to assume, much less predict and calculate. But what's easier to predict is that health care costs will continue to rise, whether or not people are healthy.

The article cites another staggering figure (which we'll just repeat verbatim):

"Using the same assumptions applied to a healthy 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019, a healthy 45-year-old couple that retires at age 65 is projected to spend $532,000 on health care in 2019 dollars, and $1.4 million over their retirement years."


Part of this can be attributed to something the author reported on earlier this year about an EBRI report that explained how Medicare was never really designed to cover retiree health care costs in full -- a problem made worse by ongoing cutbacks to Medicare and retiree health plans, leaving patients to foot more of the bill each year.

While we can't (and won't) make predictions about the ever-changing state of health care costs, it's becoming increasingly important to have more safety nets in place to cover medical needs now and into your retirement.

Of course, speak with a qualified financial professional before making any adjustments to your planning. But if you're on the fence about opening an HSA (or making larger contributions to an existing one) you might want to consider the trend we just discussed to help guide your decision.


HSA Headlines is a weekly roundup of the latest, most relevant news and conversations about your health savings. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the HSA Learning Center. And for more about your physical and financial well-being, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Tax Facts: A closer look at qualifying life events

As a health savings account (HSA) holder, you rely on your tax-free funds to cover a huge range of qualifying products and services. But life happens, and needs change. Outside of an open enrollment period, if you're funding your HSA through payroll deductions, you're only allowed to make changes to your contributions if you experience a qualifying life event (QLE), if your plan allows for it. Of course, if you're funding an HSA on your own, and not from payroll deductions, you're eligible to change your contributions at any time.

Let's take a deeper dive into QLEs, and how you can adjust your coverage to better meet your changing needs. (This article is meant to inform you of the most-common QLEs, but isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. For specifics about your account, talk to your plan administrator.)

So, what exactly is a QLE?

This might be one of the most-common questions we hear throughout the year. A QLE refers is any event defined by IRS section 125 that lets you change your insurance elections outside of open enrollment.

Here are the specific events that can give you a chance to raise or reduce your allocations:

  1. A change in your number of tax dependents: If you have a child that starts working and gets their own health coverage, you can make mid-year changes to account for the reduction. And the same goes for taking on a new dependent, in case your household is expanding.
  2. A change in your legal marital status: This includes marriage, legal separation, divorce or death of a spouse. Keep in mind that "legal" has different meanings in each state, so be sure to check with your plan administrator to be 100% sure your union qualifies for mid-year changes.
  3. Death of a dependent: It's never fun to think about this, but a death of a dependent allows you to make mid-year changes to your health care elections, so you can adjust your coverage and payments accordingly.
  4. Birth of a child, adoption of a child, or placement for adoption: Not only will bringing home a baby require obvious new health coverage, but adoption might also make you want to consider a companion dependent care FSA to help cover the costs of childcare, if needed.
  5. A change in your employment status: More specifically, any change (like layoffs) that affects eligibility for health insurance benefits for yourself, a spouse or one of your dependents. Promotions at work likely won't count for this, unless the promotion comes with a different tier of health benefits.
  6. A change in your dependents' eligibility: An example would be if your child turns 13 and no longer qualifies for coverage under a dependent care FSA.

What should I do if I experience a QLE?

When one of these events takes place or is around the corner, you should speak with your HSA administrator within 30 days of the event to make the necessary changes. Chances are, you'll need a good amount of supporting documentation to prove the life event, so have your records handy and up-to-date.

It's important to remember that not all employers offer mid-year changes to HSAs, so speaking with your benefits administrator about the regulations within your account is extremely important.

With the right guidance qualifying life events can be a little more manageable and can act like a second chance at open enrollment. Eligible dependents can take advantage of a qualifying life event to modify or elect new coverage, and can also cancel coverage they no longer need, potentially saving money each month, and again on tax day.


Tax Facts is a column offering straight up, no-nonsense HSA tax tips, written in everyday language. Look for it on Tuesdays, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Future Healthy: How do HSAs factor into the growing freelance boom?

A lot of people consider using the new year as an excuse for a new start. Maybe it's a better diet. A commitment to travel more. And for some, it might mean a new job with more flexible, reasonable hours. Which is why we're hearing so much about the gig economy.

Contract work, freelancing, moonlighting -- the way the world works is changing in a very big way. The current work climate sees more and more people choosing to leave traditional workplaces and pursue self-employment, because of the freedom they have to choose their work environment, set their own hours, and maybe even add a little more variety to their chosen profession.

Plus, with the exponential growth of connectivity, it's easier than ever to stay connected to companies and clients remotely. This increased focus on contract work means workers have an abundance of new career options, while companies can hire the right people for their needs… not just the best people within driving distance.

So... what's the concern?

Plainly speaking, not having a full-time employer means dealing with an increasingly competitive freelance arena, and the lack of security and stability that comes with it. While there are plenty of health insurance options available to gig workers, the medical and retirement benefits that come with a full-time, salaried role are still mostly better for the employee.

Given these challenges, for many people making the leap to self-employment ensuring they're covered by health insurance might not be a top concern while sorting out the cost-benefit analysis of leaving the traditional workforce for the gig economy.

But if you're an HSA owner, you can breathe a little easier when venturing into the independent workforce. If you had an HSA with a previous employer, you can make the leap to independent employment with money already saved for healthcare needs. It might not be ideal, but it's your money to use for medical costs as you see fit.

And if I don't have an HSA?

Even if you don't have an HSA from a prior full-time role, an HSA is a very attractive, attainable option when sorting out the health insurance landscape as an independent worker.

To qualify for an HSA you have to be enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), not enrolled in any other medical coverage (such as Medicare), and can't be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return.

What makes this combination attractive is that HDHPs generally have less-expensive monthly premiums than more traditional plans – something price-conscious freelancers will appreciate. In turn, the HSA is building a reliable savings fund for use whenever needed. For the self-employed this means more of their money is going into the savings account and less toward monthly premiums.

Not only is the upfront cost lower, but this high-deductible, lower-premium pairing can encourage a little bit of frugality with your medical spending. In other words, if your deductible is high, then you might not run to the doctor every time you have a cold. Plus, the set deductible protects you from the financial burden of big medical bills, should something more serious happen.

Finally, your HSA funds operate similarly to an IRA, in that you can invest the money in outside investments, like mutual funds or bonds, while the earnings remain tax-free, as long as you use the money to pay for legitimate medical expenses.

IRS 101

Freelancers often work to reduce their taxable income by as much as possible each year through deductions, expenses and even end-of-year capital expenditures. An HSA can become part of a strategy to reduce taxable income while saving money for health expenses that can be used tax-free at any time.

For all other expenses, we encourage patience. Before age 65, tapping into an HSA for non-qualified withdrawals comes with a steep 20% penalty, plus that money becomes taxable. So you might want to hold off on that vacation. But once you turn 65, this money can be withdrawn penalty-free for any reason (income taxes apply).

Being 65 might seem far in the future for many freelancers, but putting money into an HSA that doesn't get spent on medical expenses eventually turns into a tax-free retirement savings account.

We understand that leaving the traditional workforce for contract work can be daunting. Gig workers can face the challenge of keeping up with multiple clients, tracking payments, and dealing with a more haphazard work schedule than even those who own small businesses.

But with an HSA as part of your healthcare and savings plan, your physical and financial well-being doesn't have to be a part of the stress.

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.

Investing & Retirement

HSA Headlines - 7/6/18 - The need for more access to HSAs

Happy Friday, everyone! While the fireworks displays are starting to slow down, the health savings account (HSA) news continues to come in. While most of the headlines we see cover the longstanding benefits of HSAs -- and that's great news -- we're also starting to see some stories covering some HSA policies that might need to change.

This week's story could lead to some major changes for Medicare Part A recipients if the proposed legislation passes in Congress -- especially with the rising number of people choosing HSAs each year. Let's take a look.

Latta authors legislation expanding access to health savings accounts - Sentinel-Tribune (Ohio)

Congressman Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, Kentucky, introduced legislation to expand access to health savings accounts and fix a technicality that prohibits individuals that are receiving Social Security benefits from contributing to their HSA accounts.

With the growing number of customers choosing high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), Latta noticed an uptick in complaints about this issue from his constituents, and quickly wrote the legislation.

As it currently stands for HSA owners, once they start collecting Social Security benefits, they have to stop making contributions to their HSA! This is because once you collect social security, you're automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A, disqualifying any further HSA contributions. This also counts for spouses, unless they have their own separate HSAs.

One of Latta's constituents pointed out this problem, because while her husband retired, she was still working, and was required to keep a HDHP, without putting any more money in the HSA.

Latta's legislation is timely because of the steady growth of HSA enrollment, and would lift this contribution ban so people can truly make the most of their tax-free health savings.

From a customer perspective, there's no doubt this concern has some merit, since retirees are receiving a fraction of what they expect to need for comfortable retirement, like we see in the next headline.

Pre-Retirees Expect to Need More Money Than What Retirees Spend - Lee Barney, PlanAdviser

People ages 55 and up expect to need 13% more income to live comfortably in retirement than retirees actually save, according to Schroder's "Global Investor Study: Saving for a Comfortable Retirement," based on a survey of 22,000 people in 30 countries. In the U.S., pre-retirees think they will need 74% of their income to live comfortably in retirement, but retirees actually save 58%, an uncomfortably large difference.

However, the cost of living in retirement takes up more income than expected. In the U.S., pre-retirees expect they will spend 32% of their income on living costs, while retirees actually spend 54%.

And this is centered on expectations, which change as people mature. For example, millennials expect to allocate 23% of their savings to their retirement income, but baby boomers are putting a big chunk more -- 38% to be exact. The average allocation is 36%, so younger generations might have some catching up to do.

Until next week, enjoy what's left of the fireworks displays, and tune in next week for another round of the industry's best health savings headlines.

HSA Headlines is a weekly roundup of the latest, most relevant news and conversations about your health savings. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the HSA Learning Center. And for more about your physical and financial well-being, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Tax Facts: Another look at 2019 HSA contribution limits

For most people, the month of May means the beginning of beach season. Around our offices, this time of year has the anticipation of a birthday and the excitement of New Year's Eve. That's because this is usually when the IRS releases HSA contribution limits for the coming year.

(Hey, some people get excited for new Star Wars trailers. We get excited about account limits.)

Want a quick spoiler? Other than the obvious increases, not much has changed from 2018's limits (though we're hoping we don't see another mid-year change like we did in April). But how does this affect you? Let's discuss...

First, the contribution basics for 2019

Next year, the annual HSA contribution limit for those enrolled in the health plan as individuals increased from $3,450 to $3,500, while those enrolled in two-person or family will enjoy a $100 bump from $6,900 to an even $7,000.

In parallel, maximum out-of-pocket spending for HDHP holders increased, as well. Individuals will have to shell out an additional $100 ($6,750) while families are on the hook for $200 above current year maximums ($13,500).

Contributions to an HSA are tax deductible (it's right on the first page of your 1040 form as an adjustment to income). You don't have to mark them as an itemized deduction for medical expenses, which can have limited tax impact.

(Unfortunately, no HSA contributions or tax deductions are permitted if you're enrolled in Medicare Part A or Part B.)

How should you take advantage?

Obviously, all personal financial situations vary, but the best way to maximize your tax-free health savings is to contribute the maximum (You probably didn't need us to tell you that, and individual situations vary, so we always recommend that you speak with a tax or legal expert.)

This is where most HSA owners miss out on serious savings opportunities. While using these tax-free funds for necessary medical expenses is certainly better than paying out of pocket, the most-optimal use of the account is to let it grow, holding on to these funds in case of major medical expenses down the line.

Todd Berkley of BenefitWallet says the only truly "wrong" way to use an HSA is to not contribute at all. Yet Berkley claims up to 20% of HSA owners are doing just that, missing out on some considerable advantages.

"At a minimum, you should put away enough to cover your deductible," Berkley said to Forbes earlier this month. "If you lowballed your annual contribution, know you can top it off up until the tax year filing deadline. Say you get a big unexpected doctor's bill. You can put money into your HSA, take it right out, and the government just paid 25% of the bill."

If you have the means, numerous outlets, including Investopedia recommend maxing out your contributions for the coming year, and see how it affects your potential retirement savings.

Are HSAs a good long-term plan?

In a word, yes. And they're not likely going anywhere. According to the 2017 Year-End Devenir HSA Market Research Report, the HSA market projects to exceed $64 billion in assets by the end of 2019, held among roughly 27.5 million accounts.

The research firm also estimated that $27.6 million was contributed in 2017, up from $25.5 million in 2016. Employer contributions represented 21% of that 2017 contribution totals, while 63% of all HSA funds contributed came from an employer-associated HSA. For this latter group, the average employee contribution was $1,921.

(The final 14% of HSA contributions were made by individuals with an account not associated with an employer.)

So, now the numbers are out and your decision-making for next year begins. Whether you're using your funds now or later, your HSA can be a big part of your bottom line savings for 2019 and beyond.

Tax Facts is a weekly column offering straight up, no-nonsense HSA tax tips, written in everyday language. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Living Well

Wage Up! Your summer of sun, sand and skin cancer prevention starts now

Memorial Day is the unofficial kick off to summer, and there's a good chance you'll be spending time in the sun and we want to give you a gentle reminder to keep yourself - and your family - protected.

We don't have to remind you of how serious cancer is. But skin cancer is highly treatable if detected early. This is why dermatologists across the U.S. use this month's initiative to encourage people to perform self-checks all summer long.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that people perform a thorough, step-by-step self-examination every month, so you can find any suspicious marks or growths. Of course, if you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor.

Early detection of a new mole or skin growth can mean the difference between a quick procedure and something potentially more serious. Remember, self-examination is only the first step. So, check early and often, and contact a doctor if something doesn't seem right.

Speaking of which, visiting the dermatologist to check for skin cancer qualifies as an HSA-eligible service, since it would be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent a medical condition.

Take advantage of free skin cancer screenings

If you can't get a dermatologist appointment in your town (or wherever you're spending the summer) within a reasonable amount of time, some doctors volunteer their time to offer free screenings throughout the year.

Programs like SPOTme, run by the American Academy of Dermatology, are available in many different locations, and can give you a thorough body check in a private setting, usually in a location nearby.

Prevention starts with you

Regular checks for skin cancer are vital, but don't overlook proper year-round sun care. If you want to use your HSA to help offset the costs of necessary sun protection products, you can pick up a wide range of HSA-eligible sunscreens, lip balms and more from our store!

Whether you're spending steadily or saving for something, Wage Up! is where we highlight the latest services available to buy with your HSA, every Monday on the HSA Learning Center. And for everything else about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Continuous Spray

Designed to support you when you're active outside in the strong sun.

Bare Republic Tinted Mineral Face SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion

Fight back the sun with our lightweight and non-whitening, mineral face sunscreen.


Clearing up the mysteries about vitamins and FSA/HSA eligibility

At first glance, vitamins and supplements seem like natural candidates for FSA- and HSA eligibility. They are designed to fill "gaps" in the average diet, and maybe offset minor nutritional deficiencies along the way -- yes, even those related to larger health problems.

But the IRS -- which governs FSA- and HSA-eligibility -- disagrees, while continuing to cite IRS 213(d), which states all FSA-eligible expenses must conform to the following standard:

"The diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body."

And this is where the arguments start. Arguments such as...

"My vitamins are necessary! Why am I being punished?"

Vitamins are perhaps the most-glaring example of a product that can either be necessary or "dual-purpose." Daily multivitamins are used to promote better health and well-being, but because there's no specific health need or condition that is helped by using multivitamins, they fall outside the accepted qualifications for FSA- and HSA- eligibility.

Is there a medical basis for needing a multivitamin? Sure - it's for your health, after all. But promoting general well-being and treating a specific condition are two very different things in the eyes of the IRS.

In the past, we've used toothbrushes and floss as a good comparison point for the vitamin debate, and it still holds up. Though we all know proper dental cleaning is necessary for all-around health and wellness, using a toothbrush and floss has not been identified as having a direct role in treating or solving the specific medical condition.

(Theoretically, patients could use any type of brush, or pay for daily dental cleanings and achieve the same results. Silly? Perhaps, but policy is policy.)

"My vitamins are eligible? How did that happen?"

Though multivitamins are likely the most-popular OTC supplement, only a handful of targeted vitamins have achieved FSA- and HSA-eligibility, provided the patients have documentation from their doctors claiming the need.

I think we can all agree prenatal vitamins meet the IRS requirements for eligibility, since they have shown to prevent birth defects and boost fetal development in ways that most modern diets can't quite seem to achieve.

Likewise, glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are extremely popular at and because of their proven benefits for treating arthritis.

Because the above exceptions have proven value in treating specific needs and conditions, they can be purchased with tax-free health dollars, and without any written approvals from physicians. However…

"Is there any chance they'll make an exception?"

We obviously can't answer that here. But as many Americans know, working with the IRS is not nearly the nightmare people used to claim. And if a doctor determines your body needs a specific vitamin supplement -- even if it falls outside of regular FSA or HSA parameters -- then a Letter of Medical Necessity might do the trick.

Chances are, the letter will need to be detailed in explaining why these specific products will benefit you, and how long the expected use will be (such as the duration of specific treatment). It's not a guarantee by any means, but a well-presented case made to your benefits administrator can go a long way toward getting the supplements you need, on a tax-free basis.

Mason Natural Osteo Restore Joint Therapy Vitamins

All natural, plant based ingredients to support joint health.

Osteo Bi-Flex Advanced Triple Strength Glucosamine Chondroitin

Support joint health and strengthen cartilage with glucosamine chondroitin.