How do I enroll in an FSA?

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If you wear glasses or contact lenses, an FSA can save you a bunch of money throughout the year on vision care. Here’s how you can get started and enroll in an FSA.

What is an FSA?

A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a health care account that reimburses you for eligible expenses, like vision care, that you pay out of pocket. 

There are all sorts of FSA-eligible expenses that you can get reimbursed for — seeing your eye doctor or buying prescription glasses online, for example.

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When you elect to contribute to an FSA, pre-tax money is deducted from your paycheck to go into the account. When you spend money on eligible expenses, you may have two options:

  1. Submit your receipt for reimbursement — If you pay for an eligible expense out of pocket, you can get reimbursed from your FSA. You’ll need to submit a claim on your FSA provider’s website and scan your receipt to provide proof of your expense. Your provider will review the claim and move money from your FSA into your chosen account to reimburse you.

  2. Use your FSA card — Some FSA plans give you a card that’s tied to your FSA account. When you spend money on an eligible expense — like contact lenses — you can use your debit card to pay with your FSA dollars directly. You don’t need to worry about spending money out of pocket or getting reimbursed.

How do I enroll in an FSA?

If you’re eligible for an FSA, your employer will provide you with the forms you need to enroll. You’ll need to provide information like your name, address and Social Security number. More importantly, you’ll have to declare the total amount you’d like to contribute to your account for the entire year.

The amount you elect will be deducted pre-tax from each paycheck in equal installments across the year. So your taxable income will go down, and your take-home pay will increase.

How much can I save with an FSA?

Depending on how much you spend on annual medical, dental and vision expenses, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars each year with an FSA. Your account can help you pay for everything from major medical expenses like surgery to everyday items like reading glasses. 

Let’s say you make $42,000 a year. If you put no money into a flexible spending account, your entire $42,000 salary gets taxed before it reaches your bank account. If you pay for $2,000 in vision care expenses out of pocket, it comes out of your post-tax money.

But, knowing that you have $2,000 in eligible vision care expenses on the horizon, you elect to put that amount into an FSA. The money is taken out of your $42,000 salary before taxes, so your taxable income becomes $40,000. Depending on your salary and how much you put into your FSA, this can be a major financial relief.

Can you enroll in FSAs anytime?

There are four times when you can open an FSA: 

  1. Hiring — If your new job offers an FSA, you’ll have the opportunity to enroll within 30 days of your hire date.

  2. Initial Enrollment — If your employer is setting up a new FSA plan, you’ll have time to enroll depending on when they complete the setup.

  3. FSA Open Enrollment — In November, the IRS announces FSA contribution limits for the following year. You’re allowed time through December to create a game plan for next year.

  4. Qualifying Life Event — If a major event occurs that could change your spending habits, like the birth of a child or marriage, you can enroll at that time. You usually have 30-60 days after the event, but check with your provider to make sure.

If vision care is a regular expense for you, an FSA can go a long way toward reducing your out-of-pocket costs. Ask your employer about enrolling, and schedule your eye exam to start saving.

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