health savings account (HSA)

Got an HSA? Learn How to Maximize It

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Are you healthy? Or are you anticipating some hefty medical bills coming up? Or do you want to save money in a tax-advantaged way for future medical expenses? If so, a health savings account (HSA) might be a good choice.

An HSA is a tax-favored savings and investment account that’s used for qualified health care expenses and tethered to high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

There are three tax benefits to HSAs: The first is that contributions are pre-tax if they’re coming through payroll, and if they’re not made pre-tax, the account owner will get a tax deduction; second, the growth on the account – interest or returns – is tax-free; and third, if distributions are made to pay for qualified health care costs, those come out tax-free.

Outside of tax benefits, you could also get a contribution into the account from your employer when you sign up for an HSA. HSAs could also potentially play a role in retirement planning, to the extent that people are fortunate enough that they don’t use the HSA regularly. There’s an opportunity to build up that account over the years and take out the funds tax-free to pay medical expenses later in life when those costs are higher.

Maybe you’re considering an HSA, or maybe you already have one. Either way, you can learn from this article how to avoid common mistakes and other ways to maximize your HSA.

Who are HSAs For?

First of all, you have to meet some criteria before you can get an HSA. According to Benefit Resource, those criteria are that you:

  • Be covered in a qualified high-deductible health plan
  • Can’t be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes
  • Can’t be enrolled in Medicare
  • Can’t be covered by a non-qualified health plan

In addition to these, the ideal candidates for HSAs are people who:

1. Want to allocate assets for medical costs in the future. Do you want to start planning for how to fund medical costs in the future?

2. Only go to the doctor for routine checkups. Are you relatively healthy and only go to the doctor for preventative care?

3. Are anticipating high medical costs in a single year. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and are going to have high medical bills, an HDHP with HSA might make sense because your deductible gets capped and total out-of-pocket medical costs – including premiums – could be lower than with other medical plans.

Take a family of four who all have deviated septums. If all of them need septoplasties in the same year, an HSA might be good for them. According to eMedicineHealth, depending on where and what services you get, the average cost of a septoplasty is $8,131. For this family of four, the total cost for their septoplasties is $32,524.

With an HDHP, the out-of-pocket costs for 2021 are capped at $7,000 for individuals and $14,000 for families. So that family with the deviated septums will only have to pay $14,000 out of pocket, which they can pay with their HSA.

Bear in mind that those out-of-pocket limits are going to rise to $7,050 for individuals and $14,100 for families in 2022.

Common HSA Mistakes to Avoid

The first way to maximize your HSA is to avoid common mistakes. There’s room for making mistakes with HSAs because they’re flexible. Here are some to avoid:

  • Confusing HSAs with FSAs. People might be more familiar with flex spending accounts. Unlike with FSAs, when you put money into an HSA, you don’t have to use it that year – you can just let it sit and grow as long as you save your receipts. With HSAs, the entire amount you contribute can be rolled over year after year. Also, HSAs are portable, meaning you can take them with you when you change jobs or retire.
  • Not keeping your receipts. Save receipts whether you have an HSA debit card or not, because at the end of the year when you’re filing your taxes, the IRS will get a document from your HSA custodian detailing how much money went in and how much went out. You want to ensure you keep receipts should there be a tax issue.
  • Not having outside assets to cover medical care. Getting started with an HSA might be a challenge – if you don’t get the HSA funded right away and you have a medical expense early on, you might need to pay for it with assets outside of the HSA. Not having those backup funds upfront is a common mistake people make.
  • Banking on not needing medical care. The Mayo Clinic reports that people wanting to save more in their HSA sometimes forgo medical treatment. You should get medical treatment when you need it. You also can’t predict medical emergencies. Some years, you will be able to stack money in your HSA; other years, you might use everything you put in. The good news is if you do have a medical emergency, the out-of-pocket contribution is capped with HDHPs. Also, it’s nice that you still get that triple tax benefit even if you don’t get the long-term growth.

Ways to Maximize Your HSA

If you have an HSA, there are four ways to maximize it:

  • Maximize your contributions to your HSA. The maximum contribution limits for 2021 are $3,600 for self-only coverage or $7,200 for family coverage. For 2022, those limits are $3,650 for self-only coverage and $7,300 for family coverage. Also, if you are 55 and older, you can contribute up to $1,000 additional dollars each year.
  • Be aware of the investment options available. If you are in a position to invest funds in your HSA, find out if that option is available to you. HSA plans differ, and some plans have an opportunity to invest the way you do with regular investment accounts. Also be aware that, as with any investment, there is risk.
  • Have the cash flow to pay medical costs. If you are able, paying your medical costs with your cash flow or other accounts can allow your HSA to grow for the long-term. It’s also a must to have some assets outside your HSA while you’re building up the account. Keep in mind the out-of-pocket limits mentioned above.
  • Work with your financial advisor. As with everything, you need intentional planning based on your situation. Among the best ways to maximize your HSA is to work with your advisor to put together a plan specific to you.

Even if you meet all the criteria for an HSA this year, medical care is a unique, personal decision, and the direction you go with it can change from one year to the next.

This piece is not intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor.

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