What is a health savings account (HSA) and why should you use it?

A health savings account is a tax-exempt account to pay or reimburse certain medical expenses. I contribute to a health savings account because my employer only offers a high-deductible-health plan (HDHP), and this plan offers significant advantages to cover medical expenses versus pulling money from your emergency fund or paying out-of-pocket.

An HSA is a great vehicle to help you cover medical expenses. Even if you are a young person, I recommend saving money into an HSA because you never know when an unexpected life event can occur. Additionally, you should check with your employer if a high-deductible plan is an option because some employers contribute money into an HSA. My employer used to contribute into my HSA (the premiums have gone up significantly the last few years so they no longer contribute), and I used the money to get LASIK. That is correct, I didn’t have to pay for my LASIK, which cost $3,200!

My wife and I are expecting our first child and you often hear that you need to bring your kids to the doctor A LOT. Therefore, we have been maxing out our HSA for a few years in preparation for the new addition! However, not many couples plan on the extra bills that appear before the child comes. Obviously, there is a large bill for your hospital stay when you deliver, but there are many check-ups before the baby comes that can add up depending on your health coverage. Having a nice safety net in our HSA makes paying these bills much less stressful. Now on to the details of an HSA.

First, I am going to discuss the advantages for saving into an HSA. Second, I am going to review much you can contribute each year. Finally, I will explain how you qualify to save into an HSA. I also recommend checking with your HR person to discuss exactly how your company’s HSA is set up.

Advantages with an HSA

1)    You can claim a tax deduction on your contributions

2)    If your employer contributes to your HSA account, the money is not included in your gross income.

3)    Unlike a flex spending account (FSA), the money in an HSA does NOT have to be used within a calendar year because the money remains in your account until you use it – even into retirement!

4)    You can invest the money in your HSA and the gains grow TAX-FREE!

5)    If you leave your employer, your HSA stays with you – it is portable.

6)    When you turn 65, you can pull out money from your HSA tax-free (it always grows tax-free) for qualified medical expenses.

7)     Also, when you turn age 65 you can pull the money out like a normal retirement account and you will only be taxed at the ordinary income level you are at for that year when used for non-qualified medical expenses.

8)    You can also pay out-of-pocket for qualified medical expenses and later reimburse yourself from your HSA (let your money grow tax-free and pull it out tax-free at a later date)!

So how much can you contribute to an HSA?

Each year the limitations on how much you can contribute to an HSA change. For 2016, if you are single you can contribute up to $3,350, and if you have a family coverage, you can contribute up to $6,750. If you are age 55 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

hsa2

Figure 1:  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf

How determine if you are eligible to contribute to an HSA?

1)    You must be covered under an HDHP. Below are the guidelines for the minimum and maximum deductibles for HDHPs, but to be safe, your company should inform you regarding the type of health plan(s) they offer.

HSA1

Figure 2:  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf

2)    You cannot be enrolled in any other health coverage plan

3)    You cannot be enrolled in Medicare

4)    You cannot be claimed as a dependent

In summary, the HSA is a great vehicle for saving money if you have a high deductible plan. It can also be a nice bucket to save into for medical expenses in retirement.

Do you have an HSA?

If so, how do you like it? Do you max it out each year?