A flexible spending account (FSA, sometimes known as a flexible spending arrangement) allows a worker to contribute pretax earnings to pay for qualified medical expenses. This can include co-pays, prescription medications, chiropractor visits, eyeglasses, and LASIK eye surgery.

But what happens if you don’t use all the money in your account during the calendar year? Does that money roll over to the next tax year? Keep reading to find out more about the FSA, how it works, and what happens to any unused money you may have left over after the tax year ends.

Key Takeaways

  • A flexible spending account lets individuals put aside pretax dollars to cover qualified medical expenses.
  • The maximum amount you can contribute to an FSA in 2022 is $2,850 for each qualified account, which increases to $3,050 in 2023.
  • Employers can generally allow employees to transfer a maximum of $610 from their FSAs into the next tax year or allow them a grace period until March 15 to use their unused funds.

What Is an FSA Rollover?

An FSA is a type of savings account offered by employers. It allows you to make contributions using your pretax earnings through payroll deductions. Some employers also match a certain percentage of employees’ contributions. The money can be used for things like medical expenses and child/dependent care. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows a maximum contribution of $2,850 in 2022, rising to $3,050 in 2023.

The FSA was traditionally a use-it-or-lose-it account. Any money leftover at the end of the year was forfeited. But in 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department amended the original use-or-lose rule for these accounts to allow some funds to roll over at the end of the plan year.

According to the revised regulations, employers have one of two options available for FSAs. They can either allow a maximum of $610 in unused funds in a health-related FSA to be rolled over from the previous year into the following plan year or they can offer employees a grace period of up to 2.5 months for employees to use the money.

For example, if you elected to contribute $2,600 for a year, but only spent $2,300, you could carry over the remaining $300 to use next year. Keep in mind, if you only spent $1,000, you could still carry over $610, but you would lose the remaining $390.

If your employer has opted into a plan with a grace period, you can use your account until March 15 or another end date specified in the plan information. You can’t have both options—a grace period and a rollover—available.

A sum rolled over from a previous year does not count against the next year’s contribution limit. In addition, sums carried over can continue to be carried over in subsequent years.

Contribution Limits vs. How Much to Contribute

The IRS sets the FSA contribution limit, which is annually indexed to inflation. As mentioned above, that figure for the 2022 tax year is $2,850 and increases to $3,050 in 2023. There are ways to get around that limit, however. For example, an individual employed by two different companies during the tax year could contribute $3,050 under each employer’s FSA plan, provided the employers are unrelated.

How much should you contribute annually to an FSA account? Start by looking at your plan information to see what counts as qualified medical expenses. This could include:

  • Prescription drug co-pays
  • Dental and orthodontic expenses
  • Eye exams
  • Contact lenses and eyeglasses

To determine your FSA contribution for a year, estimate these expenses based on what you spent in previous years. Be sure to take into consideration whether anything will be different this year (dental work, new family members, etc). Try to plan your contribution so you are only putting in as much as you expect to need, with a small cushion for unexpected expenses.

FSA Grace Period

Some flexible spending account plans include a grace period at the end of the year. This is a set amount of time during which time you can use any unspent money in your FSA. The grace period can be up to a maximum of 2.5 months after the start of the new year, which would be March 15th of the year after your contributed.

Depending on the way your plan is set up, the grace period may be shorter than 2.5 months. Any unused FSA balance would be lost after the grace period ends.

Run-Out Period

Run-out is a predetermined period during which you can file claims for the previous year. For instance, if your run-out period lasts until March 31, you have until that time to file claims for expenses you incurred before Dec. 31.

Let’s say you visited the dentist on Nov. 1, but you didn’t file the claim right away. You could still file before March 31 and be reimbursed from your FSA. If you wait until after March 31, you forfeit any unused funds.

Run-out periods can vary by plan, so you need to speak with your plan administrator or human resources (HR) department to find out important dates and information about your plan.

FSA vs. Health Savings Account (HSA)

The differences between FSAs and HSAs can be confusing, so it’s important to understand how they work. The following are some of the main differences between the two.

FSAs are only offered through employers, so if you’re unemployed or self-employed, you can’t open one. HSAs, on the other hand, are individual accounts, which means anyone can establish one. These accounts can be set up through a qualifying financial institution.

Both accounts can be funded through your employer. But if you leave your employer, you can’t take your FSA with you. Fortunately, your HSA is a portable account, which means even if you quit your job, you can still access the money you’ve saved.

The maximum contributions for each account are different, too. The FSA has a maximum limit of $2,850 in 2022 and $3,050 in 2023. The IRS set the 2022 limit for HSAs at $3,650 for individual accounts and $7,300 for family coverage. In 2023, these amounts rise to $3,850 for individual accounts and $7,750 for family coverage.

Qualifying for these accounts is also different. There are no thresholds for FSAs, but there are for HSAs. According to the IRS, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to be able to establish an HSA.

For 2022, your plan’s deductible must be more than $1,400 for individual coverage or $2,800 for a family. Your out-of-pocket expenses can’t exceed $7,050 for individual coverage or $14,100 for family coverage. In 2023, your deductible cannot be less than $1,500 for self-only coverage and $3,000 for family coverage. Your out-of-pocket expenses cannot exceed $7,500 for individual coverage or $15,000 for family coverage.

Out-of-pocket expenses do not include insurance premiums, but they can include:

  • Deductibles
  • Co-insurance
  • Co-payments
  • Payment for uncovered services
  • Other medical expenses

The Bottom Line

Flexible spending accounts are tax-advantaged accounts that are only available to people through their employers. They provide an excellent way to save money for medical expenses or child/dependent care using pretax dollars. This helps you save for a rainy day and lowers your tax burden by lowering your taxable income.

But these accounts do have restrictions, including what happens to any money left over that you haven’t used by the end of the year. Be sure you do your research before you sign up for an account. Speak with your plan administrator or HR representative if you have any questions during the tax year.

Can I Reimburse Myself Using a Flexible Spending Account?

You can use the funds in your flexible spending account to reimburse yourself for medical expenses, but you will need to keep track of receipts and payments, and make sure that they are qualified expenses. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for taxes and penalties.

Can I Change My Annual Contribution Amount to My Flexible Spending Account?

Yes. It may depend on the plan design, but most employers allow their employees to make a change to their contributions during the plan year.

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