Taxes

Tax Facts: Working full-time or part-time? The numbers might surprise you

When I got pregnant with my son, I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay home full-time with him. I couldn't see myself as a stay-at-home mom. But I also couldn't see myself entrusting his care to anyone else, either.

Luckily, I didn't have to make that choice. The media startup I was working for unexpectedly folded when I was seven months along, and I spent the remaining three months of my pregnancy pursuing freelance work: building up a client list, securing several regular, paid-monthly jobs, and marketing myself to potential clients.

My son is now five months old, and I earn more money now than I would had I returned to work, factoring in the cost of full-time childcare and other work-related expenses. Since I don't have childcare, I pocket all my earnings, apart from taxes, and rarely leave the house to go out to lunch, go shopping, or otherwise spend money.

(Do you know how long it takes to get a five-month old ready for a quick trip to grab coffee? So not worth it.)

While deciding whether to stay home with your child or return to work is a complicated and emotionally charged issue for men and women alike, it's definitely worth figuring out the most-cost effective solution for you and your growing family.

Below, a breakdown of the financials of each scenario, when it makes more sense to return to work, and when it's actually more financially beneficial to take the stay-at-home-parent, part-time-working route. (That's a lot of hyphens.)

The numbers

First, consider the big picture. For example, how does your salary stack up to the cost of child care in your area? What other costs will you incur returning to work? The cost of transportation, food, and other miscellaneous spending can add up quickly.

Case in point: your daily coffee can cost you upwards of $25 week, which translates into a stunning $1,300 a year – and that's if you stick to a grande.

Other factors to consider: Does your family depend on your income to meet key financial obligations such as paying your mortgage, making rent payments, covering student loans bills, or paying for groceries?

Health care is another important factor to consider, especially if you have children. Ask yourself, do you (or can you) have access to health care via your spouse's employer? Or will you be tasked with securing independent health coverage?

If you're enrolled in a HDHP, do you have enough liquid cash to cover your deductible and any other payments, even without your salary? That cost should definitely be considered, though tax-advantaged accounts like FSAs and HSAs can help offset the cost.

In the interest of full disclosure, I made $5,000/month as a full-time contractor at my last gig. Factor in about a third set aside for taxes, and that left me with $3,300/month. Day care via my husband's employer, which is heavily subsidized, rings in at about $1,200/month. I realize this lower cost is also the anomaly, as the cost of child care has only increased in recent years.

That left me with $2,100. Not a bad chunk of take home pay, right?

But then there are the transportation costs. My commute wasn't awful, about 30 minutes each way with a fair amount of traffic, so gas cost approximately $120 per month. The cost of food added up, too. When I was working, I spent around $11 on lunch each day, and maybe grabbed a coffee three times a week. That's another $280/month. Also, it's wise to consider the cost of work-related clothing. We'll call that $1,000/year, so approximately $80/month.

When all is said and done, my take home pay is now $1,620/month. Hypothetically, I'm left wondering, I'm working full-time and leaving my baby with a stranger… for this?

Let's consider the other option. I'm a full-time freelancer, with no outside childcare to pay for. Last month, I pulled in roughly $2,700. After taxes, that's $1,782. I grab lunch out maybe once a month, so that cost and the cost of transportation are negligible. Really want to split hairs? We spent about $600/month on groceries last month. This translates into roughly $3 per person/per meal, so around $64/month on lunches at home.

I'm still netting $1,718 per/month, which is more than what I brought home from my 9-to-5. Another thing? That month I made $2,700? I worked a total of 20 hours the entire month. In terms of quality of life, staying home with my child is the clear winner.

While not every situation will add up this way, it more and more parents are choosing to take pursue freelance work in lieu of returning to the office – 43% to be exact. Couple this with the ever-growing gig economy, and you have yourself a cultural trend, my friends.

The takeaway here? It's worth doing to math to see if that extra couple hundred dollars is worth going back to work, both in terms of hours worked, time spent with your child, and quality of life.

On the other hand, if returning to work is simply in your DNA and you can't imagine spending all day, every day, with your child, the monetary difference may be unimportant. In short, money matters, but so does quality of life.

Potential benefits of working full-time

However, if both you and your partner work, you'll have access to the dependent care FSA, which allows parents to save up to $5,000 in pre-tax income for eligible child care expenses like day care or babysitting. Keep in mind that you are also eligible for this account if both you and your spouse are employed, actively looking for work, or enrolled in school full-time.

Another potential money-saving option for working parents is the child care tax credit, which allows parents to qualify for a tax credit of up to 35% of qualifying child care expenses of $3,000 for one child and up to $6,000 for two or more children.

You'll also likely have access to employer-matching 401(k)s and other retirement plans, and potentially even tax-advantaged savings accounts like FSAs and HSAs, which can also save you money on other things, like health care copays and deductibles, as well as over-the-counter items like allergy meds, eye care items, even Band-Aids.

Is it "worth it?"

This question can't be answered by dollars and cents– it's far too personal. But it's worth asking yourself: What's your magic number? Does bringing home any amount of money after paying for child care make working full-time worthwhile? $2,000 a month? $3,000? $5,000? $10,000? Or is staying home full-time while working part-time actually a better for you and yours financially?

For me, my magic number sits at around a $100,000 annual salary. As you can see from my previous calculations, I was nowhere near that watermark. So for now, staying home full-time with my son and working whenever I get the chance is what the best financial choice for my family. But it's certainly not an easy choice, no matter how the numbers stack up.

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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 HSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Living Well

Future Healthy: Give your kids a health care boost with an HSA

Normally, this column is focused on retirement planning. But let's not forget the group that will benefit most in the future from proactive health care management -- children. The average parent spends roughly $12,980 annually per child – and of that, 9% is allotted to health care costs.

Think doctor's appointments, vaccinations, and your occasional emergency room visit. And that's not even including the cost of child care, giving birth, or going to college, the latter of which is terrifying no matter how you slice it.

With health care costs emerging as a major spend for parents both old and new, it can be tempting to skimp in order to save a few bucks. But here's why you shouldn't cut back on health care for kids, even when they're healthy – and how your HSA can help.

Catching things early

I'm not a doctor – but with the first year of parenthood under my belt, I certainly know my way around a pediatrician's office. And an emergency room. And the occasional Urgent Care.

While I've spent a fair amount of copays and charges not covered by my high-deductible health plan (HDHP), I'd like to think that all those semi-frantic trips to my pediatrician for a bad stomach bug or lingering cough saved us from more serious issues down the road. (Also, who knew that teething could cause a major case of congestion? Yeah, me neither.)

Having a fully-funded HSA can help you feel a bit better about visiting your pediatrician for the second time that week. After all, our HSA contributions are deducted, pre-tax from our paycheck before it even hits the account. That means we don't have to stress about – or budget for – an unexpected emergency room bill.

Dental care is health care, too

Did you know you're supposed to start brushing your baby's teeth as soon as he or she sprouts their first pearly white? I didn't either, until my pediatrician told me.

Good dental hygiene is an important piece of your child's primary care – but isn't always treated as such. One study even found that 25% of children age 2-5 suffer from tooth decay, but that most oral disease is entirely preventable.

While you can't use your HSA to pay for those cute, tiny toothbrushes, you can use it to offset your dental copays. Since my son now has more than 10 teeth, we'll will be visiting our local pediatric dentist for the first time next month.

Avoiding major illnesses

One way we avoid major issues with our little guy? You guessed it. We follow our doctor's plan when it comes to vaccinations. While vaccinating your children has become a controversial topic in recent years, the Centers for Disease Controla and Prevention cites them as the best way to avoid 14 serious childhood diseases – illnesses like diptheria, Hepatitis A and B, the flu, whooping cough, polio, rubella, and measles, just to name a few.

Vaccinations aren't cheap – but thanks to our HDHP and our HSA, we don't sweat the cost at all. Plus, you can't put a price tag on peace of mind.

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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.

Accounts

Future Healthy: 3 times it's okay to stop funding your HSA

There's no doubt that steadily funding your HSA is good financial practice. After all, it's a tax-advantaged account that you can use for qualified medical expenses, and the balance rolls over year after year, so you can accumulate a pretty nice nest egg, as well.

Many use their HSAs as additional retirement savings vehicles -- but keep in mind that you can't withdraw funds for non-medical expenses until age 65 without a hefty (read: 20%) fee.

But there are some scenarios in which it's okay to stop funding your HSA, at least temporarily. Read on to learn more about when it's appropriate to pause your HSA funding.

Your financial situation has changed

Whether due to job loss, a move to an area with a higher cost of living, or going from one income to two (like when you have a baby and one partner decides to become a stay-at-home parent), your financial situation will likely change several times over the course of your lifetime.

If you're looking at a drastic (but not permanent) decrease to your family's income, then it may make sense to cut (or decrease) your HSA contributions temporarily. But be sure to resume those contributions as soon as you're financially able since your HSA can help offset eligible medical expenses like copays, deductibles and eligible medication. And trust us, the last thing you need when you're a little short on cash is a huge, unexpected medical bill … or an empty HSA.

You're getting close to age 65 or you're no longer eligible

Once you hit 65, you can withdraw your HSA funds for non-medical expenses without penalty and pay only income taxes. But you may want to stop contributing then, too, since you may be eligible for Medicare. HSA rules dictate that you can only funnel pre-tax dollars to your HSA if you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and have no other form of insurance – and Medicare counts as a form of insurance.

If you're not nearing Medicare age, there are other reasons you might not be able to contribute to your HSA, like when you switch health care coverage and are no longer covered by an HDHP. In that case, once you discontinue HDHP coverage and/or get coverage under another health plan that disqualifies you from an HSA, you can no longer make contributions to your HSA. But since you own the HSA, you can continue to use it for future expenses.

That's right, it's your money. Once funds are deposited into an HSA, the account can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses tax-free, even if you no longer have HDHP coverage. The funds in your account roll over automatically each year and remain there indefinitely until used.

You've hit the max contribution limit

This one is sort of a no-brainer, but it's important to note. Your annual HSA contribution limit for 2019 is $3,500 for enrollment as a single person and $7,000 for enrollment as a family. Once you hit that limit, invest your dollars elsewhere, whether in a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, a 401(k) or other savings vehicle.

Accidentally contributed too much? Withdrawal the extra funds (plus the interest earned) and cut your losses. Or leave the money and pay a 6% excise tax on the extra funds next tax season.

Worth noting: If you forget, the IRS will charge the 6% tax each year until you remove the excess contributions.

There are certain scenarios in which it makes sense to stop funding your HSA. But generally speaking, you should get back to contributing regularly to your HSA as soon as possible. After all, it's tax-free money that can either help offset your annual medical costs or roll over each year and help you build that retirement resource.

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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.

Accounts

Compound It! 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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Compound It! is your update of achievable, effective, no-nonsense HSA saving and investment advice, delivered by people who make it work in their own lives. For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to check out the HSA Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Retirement
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Future Healthy: How having a child jump-started my retirement savings

"You can't borrow for retirement. And trust me, the last thing you want to do is depend on your children to take care of you when you're old."

Those words, spoken with booming authority by my newly hired financial adviser, still haunt me. My husband and I recently met with him to formulate a plan on how to reach our two major financial goals: saving for retirement and starting a college fund for our newborn.

While I'd love to put away enough money to pay for my son's college education, (which could cost more than $600,000 in 18 years), for now, I'm focusing on my retirement. Here's why.

You can't borrow for retirement

To be fair, we are putting away some money for our son's college education. But it's nowhere near the $1,500/month our financial adviser suggested, based on his complex calculation that took into account our income, spending habits, inflation, and whether he'd attend a public or private university, among other factors.

Instead, my husband and I are taking that $1,500 and putting it towards our retirement. As much as I'd hate for my son to be saddled with six figures in student loan debt the moment he walks across the stage with his diploma, student loans exist for that very reason.

And he won't be alone. According to Student Loan Hero, the U.S. had about $1.48 trillion in student loan debt in 2017 among 44 million student borrowers. The average graduate left school with $39,400 that year; in 22 years, I can only imagine how large that number will be.

We're hoping to pay for a good portion of his education. But if we come up short, he can finance the rest. And he'll be just fine. On the other hand, when we hit 65, we won't have the opportunity to borrow to bridge the gap.

Max out your current retirement plans

My husband and I have the usual retirement savings vehicles: He has a 401(k) with a hefty employer match that we max out. I have a traditional IRA that we plan to max out this year.

So, well on our way to taking advantage of the usual retirement options, we're still looking for something else.

Lean on your HSA

HSAs are a great option to boost your retirement savings. While originally intended for a way to help offset the costs of a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), HSAs have recently gained notoriety for an excellent retirement savings option. Here's why:

They are tax-advantaged savings accounts. If you have the option to contribute via automatic deductions from your pay, your contributions are taken out pre-tax. If you simply contribute from your bank account, it's tax-deductible. It's a win-win.

Your money grows tax-free. Enough said.

Let's say you don't plan to use the contents of your HSA for medical care and costs, rather, you plan to earmark it for retirement. That's totally fine. As long as you wait until you're 65 to withdraw funds, there's no penalty. If you take money out prior to this age, you'll be subject to a 20% penalty, plus income taxes. In case you're counting, that's three (yes, three) tax benefits to opening an HSA.

You also aren't required to start withdrawing funds from your HSA at a certain age, unlike other retirement savings tools. This means you can let your money grow, tax-free, for as long as you like.

But there is one caveat when it comes to opening your own HSA: To qualify, you have to be enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP). They're becoming increasingly common, so be sure to educate yourself on the type of health care plan you have, and how you can best maximize its benefits.

There are other rules for eligibility when it comes to HSA contributions, so you may want to discuss your options with a financial or tax adviser.

So, what's next on your financial planning punch list? If you're enrolled in a HDHP and looking to boost your retirement saving power, then perhaps starting an HSA is your answer.

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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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Taxes

Tax Facts: Freelancing, taxes and your HSA

At first glance, freelancing can seem like the ideal gig – no boss breathing down your neck, flexible work hours, and the ability to work from any location, from your beach house to your kitchen table to your favorite coffee shop. But with that comes a hefty set of responsibilities, like, say paying your own taxes.

My first year of freelancing, I was hit by a nearly $20,000 tax bill. While I thought I had a good year financially, that tax bill was an unexpected surprise, and not in a good way. At that moment, I vowed never to never let my freelance career become a financial liability again.

Now that you're (hopefully) recovering from tax season, here are our best tips on how to tackle your obligations as a freelancer – and how your HSA can help.

Get familiar with the IRS

Yes, we realize this is a tall order. IRS language can be tricky, and the rules are often confusing. But generally speaking, if you are a freelancer, contractor, or sole proprietor and expect to owe more than $1,000 in taxes that year, you are required to pay quarterly taxes.

Those who don't have to pay quarterly taxes must meet all of the following three conditions: no tax bill last year (either because you didn't owe any taxes or didn't have to file because you earned less than $400), have been a U.S. citizen for the entire year, and your entire tax year covered a 12-month time period.

Let's say you don't meet those requirements and need to file quarterly taxes. How do you calculate how much you'll owe? Unfortunately, it's not an exact science. A good rule of thumb is to set aside 25-30% of your income for taxes.

So, let's say you earn $2,500/month. That adds up to $7,500 quarterly, which means your quarterly tax bill (using the 30% rule) will ring in at about $2,250. Though that $2,250 doesn't sound like a lot at face value, forgo quarterly taxes and you're looking at a $9,000 tax bill next year. Ouch.

(Find out what worksheet you'll need to complete and where to send your quarterly taxes here.)

Still confused? Hire an accountant. Trust us, that extra $500 will be worth it when April 2020 rolls around.

Take advantage of tax breaks

As a freelancer, you are still eligible to use tax-advantaged accounts like an HSA. Personally, I've tried to do the full-time freelance thing with zero childcare. I have to tell you, it's just not realistic.

Let's start with your HSA. Being a full-time freelancer isn't an excuse to scrimp on healthcare. If anything, the unstable nature of the field and irregular income means that health insurance should be a priority. Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), which has a much lower premium than traditional plans. Though, as the name suggests, the deductibles are higher. That's where your HSA comes in.

Transfer an old HSA from your previous employer or open a new one to cover all your bases. That HSA rolls over from year-to-year which means it can also function as a secondary retirement savings account, though you should still find a Roth IRA or traditional IRA as a freelancer. Another bonus? An HSA can reduce your taxable income over the year, which is every freelancer's dream.

Speaking of lowering your taxable income, If you work out of your home, you also may be able to write off some of your work expenses, such as your home office, computer, or mileage. That being said, be sure to do your due diligence with the IRS when writing things off. The last thing you want as a freelancer is to get audited.

Worth noting: just because your income may be unpredictable doesn't mean you should stop contributing to your HSA or other retirement funds. Keeping those funds healthy is even more important when you're self-employed.

Keep impeccable records

The IRS considers freelancers to be business owners. (Did you just get a promotion? Congrats!) However, this means that you should be operating your freelance business as such.

Keep track of all of your income, the amount, date paid, and from which client. Organizing this by month is a good idea. That way, calculating your quarterly taxes will be that much easier. Plus, you'll be able to see at the end of the month any outstanding bills. And as any freelancer knows, collecting payment from clients can often be one of the most challenging parts of the job.

Create a template for earnings and payments made and make sure it lives in an easily accessible place, like Google Drive. And for the love of everything, please don't save an Excel sheet to your desktop, because you may end up accidentally deleting it at some point. You may also consider tracking your time via a free, online tracking tool.

This way, you can see how many hours are billed to each client, or for clients who pay a flat fee, how much you're averaging from an hourly rate perspective.

While freelancing may not be right for those who crave routine or stability, it's an ideal career path for work-from-home moms or those who just can't seem themselves sitting at a desk 40 hours a week. That being said, navigating taxes as a freelancer can be rather taxing. That's why it's important to pay quarterly taxes (or at least plan for a potential tax bill), use tax-advantaged accounts, and to stay organized.

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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 HSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Basics

Future Healthy: Planning for a baby? How an HSA can help you save

We've all heard the numbers on how much it costs to raise a child. (At last count, it was a staggering $233,610.)

But what about the cost of getting pregnant,the necessary medical care during pregnancy, and once your little bundle of joy arrives? It's not cheap, especially if you require extra fertility help.

This is where your Health Savings Account (HSA) comes in. If you're in the (family planning) mood, then you should max out your HSA sooner rather than later. Here's what your HSA can help pay for.

The costs of getting pregnant

When trying for a baby, there are several costs that you may not be aware of, like pregnancy tests and fertility kits (think: ovulation tests and predictors.)

Prenatal vitamins are another potential spending target, as most practitioners suggest that you begin a regimen once you begin trying to conceive. These are also covered by your HSA.

Need a little extra help getting pregnant? Good news. Fertility treatments for the account holder and covered dependents are HSA (and FSA and if the plan allows, HRA) eligible, which is a major benefit, since the average cost of in vitro fertilization in the U.S. is $11,000-$12,000. The cost of other fertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), can cost hundreds, if not thousands. An HSA could save you a nice chunk of change here.

Your HSA and your baby

If you do get pregnant, it's time to start budgeting and planning for upcoming OB appointments and other related care. You'll likely receive several ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy, which are HSA-eligible. Insurance premiums, breast pumps and supplies, and birth classes are also a go.

Giving birth is a beautiful, life-changing experience. And it's expensive. The average cost of birth in the U.S. ranges from $30,000-$50,000, depending on whether you deliver vaginally or via c-section. But don't panic just yet. Part should be covered by your insurance, and all costs related to the birth of a child are HSA-eligible.

When planning for the birth of a child, it's also a good idea to plan for lost income or reduced income if you plan to take time off after baby arrives, as many companies in the U.S. don't offer fully-paid maternity leave. You also may want to factor in incidentals, like the cost of traveling to and from OB appointments, and any other necessary medical costs during pregnancy, like anti-nausea medication.

Setting a budget

Budgeting is an important piece of the puzzle here, too. Look at your HSA spending for last year. What did you spend on? What can you expect to spend this year? Are there any costs you can negate to make room for the inevitable baby-related spending you'll incur this year? Remember, the HSA contribution limit for 2019 is $6,900 for those participating in the health plan as two-person or family.

But unlike FSAs, HSAs are not use-it-or-lose it. You can roll over any unused funds from year to year, which can earn interest or be invested. Sounds like the beginning of Junior's college fund to us.

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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Living Well

Wage Up! 5 tips for getting healthy in the new year (starting now)

We know the calendar hasn't even hit December yet. But now that the turkey's gone and the shopping season is in full swing, it's time to start planning for the new year. And with that comes the inevitable resolutions. But, even though only 8% of people actually keep their New Year's resolutions, let's start now to ensure you don't become one of them.

Our plan? Making small steps in your journey to get healthy, rather than all-encompassing – and hard to keep – promises. Make a commitment to reach your daily step goal, finally deal with that nagging knee pain, or invest in the pair of insoles you needed six months ago.

Here are five attainable suggestions for improving your health in the new year.

Get moving

Did you know that simply getting out and walking on a regular basis can cut your chances of having a cardiovascular issue by 31%, and that running less than 20 miles a week can help you live longer? Making it a point to get moving in the new year is a great way to dramatically improve your health.

Get started with a running program, hit the gym for 30 minutes each day, or just commit to just a daily walk with your pooch. And if walking or running brings on a whole new set of aches and pains, try on an HSA-eligible orthopedic insole or shoe insert for size.

Take care of nagging injuries

As a former college athlete, I know how those old injuries can stick around for years. But not taking care of these aches and pains isn't doing you any favors. And let's be honest – no one is getting any younger.

Luckily, doctor's visits and appointments with your physical therapist are HSA-eligible. Just need to take the edge off? Ibuprofen, heating pads, and even ice packs are also covered. But if you're bound and determined to continue your athletic career as a weekend warrior, pick up a orthopedic brace, courtesy of your HSA.

Kick bad habits to the curb

What better time to quit a bad habit than with the fresh start of a new year? Whether it can be smoking, overindulging in the holiday vino, or consistently running late, it's time to break that bad habit for good.

Are you a smoker? Then keep this number in mind: 480,000. That's how many people in the U.S. died last year from smoking-related diseases. While quitting this bad habit certainly won't be easy, you can use your HSA funds to help pay for a smoking cessation program.

As for the wine drinking, enjoy yourself this holiday season. But perhaps kickstart your health in 2019 with a dry January pledge.

Treat yourself

We know this saying is overused, if not a bit clichéd. But hear us out. Self-care can do wonders for your mental health, from decreasing stress to preventing burnout.

So use your HSA to finally spring for the braces you've always wanted. (Your sparking new smile will thank you!) Or finally make a commitment to your mental health. You could also spring for an HSA-eligible massage to ease your aches and pains, given that you have a letter of medical necessity, of course.

Focus on your budget

Nearly 20% of Americans said they had considered skipping or actually skipped a doctor's visit for necessary health care due to financial reasons, according to a study from the American Psychological Association.

So make 2019 the year you take care of your budget so you can take care of your health. Be sure your HSA funds are invested, or save some of your hard-earned HSA funds, rather than spending them. You also could set a mid-year goal of maxing out your HSA contributions – that way, if an unexpected medical emergency crops up, you'll be covered.

The ball drop and flowing champagne may be a month away, but it's not too early to make a commitment to yourself and your health -- one you're likely to keep for years to come.

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.

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Accounts

Wage Up! Enrolling in an HDHP? Here's what to do next (Part 2)

There's no denying it: Enrolling in a HDHP can be daunting. But there are ways to help offset the cost, and maybe even save money.

Last week, we discussed becoming a savvier healthcare consumer (it's a trend, people!) and why you should enroll in an HSA-eligible HDHP. This week, let's focus on everything from managing your deductible to planning for major medical events.

Keep an eye on your deductible

While trying to cut corners on care when enrolled in a HDHP may be tempting, this strategy may work against you. After all, once you hit your deductible, you're 100% covered for the rest of the year.

So watch your deductible and time it correctly. Keep in mind that HDHPs require a minimum deductible of $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family, with an out-of-pocket limit of $6,650 and $13,300 for an individual and family, respectively.

While this cost might sting at first, if you can hit it in the first half of the year, you're better off, since you'll be covered the remainder of the year. Plus, if you've been contributing regularly to your HSA with the funds you've saved with a lower monthly premium (the hallmark of a HDHP), you should have a nice little healthcare nest egg.

But wait until mid-December to hit your deductible, and you'll be scrambling to get all those last-minute dentist, optometrist, and yearly physicals in. With an HDHP, it's all about balance.

Before enrolling in an HDHP, it's also wise to consider just how large of a deductible you can afford, and ensuring your cash flow is liquid enough to cover any unexpected medical event.

Consider add-on benefits

If you have a chronic health condition, a larger family, or tend to visit the doctor more often than not (hey, some of us are just clumsy) then you may consider add-on benefits to supplement your HDHP.

Also called voluntary benefits, these are essentially additional healthcare benefits that you pay for yourself and can use to help round out your healthcare coverage. Examples include vision and dental coverage or a supplementary life insurance policy.

  • Dependent Care FSA - a tax advantaged account used to pay for the care of any dependents, such as day camp/daycare for children or daycare for dependent adults.
  • Limited Purpose FSA - Often going hand-in-hand with HSAs, this specialized FSA covers things that aren't eligible for HSA coverage, such as dental or vision coverage or related over the counter products.

Plan for "big" life events

Are you expecting a baby? Have a major surgery planned? Is it time for a colonoscopy? Then be sure to plan financially for these costs, especially if you're enrolled in an HDHP. It may be helpful to sit down with your spouse and a calendar at the beginning of each year and plan out any expected larger expenses. That way, you'll be financially prepared when they inevitably pop up.

Bonus points if you can plan the birth of your child toward the beginning of the year. That way, you can hit your deductible in no time and be set the rest of the year.

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.

Accounts

Wage Up! Enrolling in an HDHP? Here's what to do next (Part 1)

Say you're offered your dream job. It includes all the perks: a signing bonus, relocation assistance, and a hefty raise. The only thing that's throwing you off? The health insurance plan offered is a high deductible health plan (HDHP). And you've never had one before.

While HDHPs can sound scary, it doesn't have to be a dealbreaker. In fact, it could actually save you money in the long run. Many younger consumers are even opting for HDHPs to save money on healthcare.

We'll explain next steps to take once you enroll in a HDHP, from opening an HSA to budgeting for expenses, to even learning how to negotiate with medical professionals. Follow these tips and you'll be well on your way to both physical – and financial – health.

Become a savvier healthcare consumer

These days, consumers are looking to get the most bang for their healthcare buck, and are shopping around for the plan that best fits their needs.

Don't be left out of this trend. Become a better healthcare consumer by taking advantage of tax-free accounts like HSAs. Of course, while an HSA is a great way to offset the cost of an HDHP, not all plans are eligible for one, so be sure to do your research.

Shop around for healthcare. Do your research on providers, out-of-pocket costs, copays, and other related costs. These can cost you big if you haven't met your deductible yet, so you'll want to be smart with your spending. You may choose to visit a cheaper provider, then use those extra funds to pad your savings, invest the money, or even splurge on a health-centric getaway.

Negotiate your medical bills. Do your research on what specific procedures or specialist visits should cost, then call your provider and offer something in that range. Many providers are more than willing to negotiate.

Worth noting: Ask before you pay, since getting any funds recouped will likely be tougher than simply paying less up front. It also pays (pun intended) to know how to effectively communicate with healthcare professionals. In other words, be nice!

Buy generic. From monthly medications to OTC purchases, buying generic can save you a ton of cash. And when you're footing the bill of a higher-than-normal deductible, you may not notice the difference between brand name and generic, other than the name on the box.

Get a primary care doctor. While this may seem counterintuitive from the advice we gave above, having a primary care doc you know and trust is invaluable in saving money on healthcare. Primary care physicians are almost always cheaper than trips to urgent care centers or emergency rooms.

Open an HSA

Opening an HSA is one of the smartest things you can do when enrolled in an HDHP. Not only does the tax-free account help offset the cost of healthcare when enrolled in a HDHP, the funds also roll over year to year and can be used, penalty-free, for non-medical expenses after age 65.

Deciding how much to contribute to your HSA can be tricky. The IRS contribution limits for 2018 are $3,450 for individual HDHPs, $6,900 for family HDHPs, and an extra $1,000 allotted for those age 55 and older.

Plan to contribute enough to cover your out-of-pocket expenses for the year. That way, you'll be prepared in case you get hit with a major medical event. If you have cheaper healthcare costs that year? No worries. Your money carries over year to year. You can even take your HSA with you when you change jobs.

Don't forget to make an annual budget for your HSA so you don't overspend and end up short at the end of the year. It's also a smart move to determine an HSA beneficiary.

(Next time, we'll discuss other HDHP management strategies, from keeping an eye on your deductible to the low down on add on benefits to planning for big life events.)

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.

Living Well

Future Healthy: Why aren't men going to the doctor?

June -- known to many as Men's Health Month – will be here in no time. In honor of the designation, let's dive into a interesting trend from the guys in our life.

There's an old (albeit, sometimes accurate) stereotype that men avoid going to the doctor. My husband is one of the few who makes an annual physical a priority, though he may be an anomaly.

Stereotypes are usually wrong, but this one might have some legs. According to a survey from the Cleveland Clinic, just 60% of men get an annual physical, while 40% go to the doctor only if they think something is "serious."

Just ask that same 60% if they'd treat their cars or computers the same way, waiting for things to get "serious" before bigger problems arise. I'm guessing not.

Preventing chronic disease

Annual physicals are an important part of maintaining one's physical health, and forgoing them can end up costing you in the long run.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found three out of four men age 55 and older have at least one chronic disease. These conditions can cost big bucks, from the price of medications and co-pays to loss of income.

But how does a yearly physical make a difference? According to the CDC, "Chronic diseases are common, costly, and debilitating, and they can often be prevented." The agency suggests choosing healthy behaviors, like cutting out tobacco, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep, to avoid chronic disease.

A primary care physician can help facilitate these lifestyle choices, and help your guy determine what changes need to be made, whether it's cutting out those celebratory cigars, or making it to the gym a bit more often.

Now, let's look at the numbers

Let's compare the cost of going to the doctor yearly to that of managing a more serious condition. An average annual physical costs insurers around $150. Patients copays usually range between $15-$25, after deductibles and coinsurance.

The cost of more serious health problems, such as chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease, account for 86% of the $2.7 trillion spent in the U.S. on medical costs each year.

And while the annual cost of managing a chronic disease vary, the CDC provides a few examples: Diabetes patients spend about $6,000 annually to manage their condition, while the annual cost of caring for someone with Alzheimer's is a whopping $174,000 per year.

Another study found that those with cardiovascular disease spent $18,953 each year on medical costs.

Healthy, wealthy and wise

A man's health can also affect his long-term wealth, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In this study we learned that healthier people have more than 50% more assets in retirement than those with health issues.

In that same vein, wealth has also been linked to living longer. Researchers at Harvard University found those who earned less than $36,000 annually had a 64% higher risk of early death than those who earned $100,000 or more.

How an HSA can help

While committing to a yearly physical can seem intimidating to those enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP), who expect to pay out-of-pocket for these visits, it's important to remind skeptical types that most HDHPs fully cover preventive care visits.

Physical exams are seen as a vital tool in maintaining a patient's good health, and they are usually fully covered once per year for most insurance policyholders. Plus, additional expenses associated with physical exams (like follow-up tests, x-rays, etc.) are eligible for reimbursement with tax-free healthcare funds like HSAs.

Is he still not convinced? If all else fails, it might be good to remind him that HSAs offer tax benefits, can be used as an additional retirement savings vehicle, or even function as an emergency fund when you need it most.

So this month, encourage the men in your life to make a doctor's appointment. It just might be a way to jumpstart a more physically -- and financially -- healthy future.

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.