With healthcare growing more expensive by the minute, many working Americans and retirees alike are grappling with costly medical bills. If that sounds like you, then it pays to learn more about health savings accounts, or HSAs. These accounts let you save and invest money that can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses, like doctor visits, prescriptions, and medical equipment. Here are five important things you need to know about them.
1. They're triple tax-advantaged
Like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, contributions to HSAs are made on a pre-tax basis. And that, in turn, could save you money at present. For the current year, you can contribute up to $3,500 to an HSA as an individual, or up to $7,000 at the family level. If you're 55 or older, you get an additional $1,000 on top of whichever limit you qualify for. The money you put into your HSA is money the IRS can't tax you on the year you make your contribution.
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In addition, once your HSA is funded, you can invest your money for added growth. But as long as you use that money for qualified healthcare expenses, you won't pay taxes on your investment gains. Finally, HSA withdrawals are tax-free as well -- again, provided they're taken for medical purposes. That means you get to save a lot of money all around.
2. They're more flexible than FSAs
If you have a flexible spending account, or FSA, you've perhaps run into a scenario where you're effectively forced to spend down your balance by the end of your plan year or otherwise risk forfeiting that money. HSAs work differently, though. With an HSA, you don't have to use up your balance on a yearly basis. In fact, the point of an HSA is to put more money into your account than you think you'll need to use in a given year, invest the excess, and then retain those funds for future medical costs. In fact, HSAs are an excellent retirement savings tool for this reason.
3. Not everyone can qualify
The rules regarding HSA eligibility are pretty strict. To qualify, you must have a high-deductible health insurance plan, defined as $1,350 or more for individual coverage, or $2,700 or more for family coverage. You also must have an annual out-of-pocket maximum of $6,750 as an individual, or $13,500 as a family.
Furthermore, if you're a senior on Medicare, you can't contribute to an HSA. But if you have an HSA prior to getting on Medicare, you can still take withdrawals from that account once your Medicare coverage begins -- that money is yours.
4. Your employer might fund one for you
Just as employers frequently offer matching contributions to 401(k) plans, so too will they sometimes put money into HSAs on employees' behalf. Those contributions do, however, count toward the aforementioned annual limits.
5. You don't need to open one through your employer
If your employer doesn't offer an HSA but you're eligible to contribute to one based on the criteria above, you can find your own plan and reap the aforementioned benefits. Some financial institutions offer HSAs, so do some internet searching to explore your options. Even if your employer does offer an HSA, if it doesn't contribute to that account on your behalf, and your employer's HSA comes with high fees and limited investment choices, you can instead go out and find a plan of your own.
Having a dedicated account to cover medical costs could make them far less burdensome. It pays to read up on how HSAs work, and to see if you're eligible to start saving in one.
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This article was originally published on Fool.com