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Paying taxes every April may not be your favorite pastime, but you still have time to reduce your 2018 tax bill and certain out-of-pocket expenses.
One way is to contribute as much as you can now to a tax-advantaged health savings account — an account where you can set aside pretax money to pay for qualified medical expenses not covered by insurance. If you’re eligible to participate in an HSA, you can contribute for this year right up until the April 15, 2019, deadline for filing and paying your 2018 federal income taxes. Putting money into this account over the next few months can count toward your 2018 federal income tax return.
But that’s not the only benefit: An HSA can also lower your healthcare costs. Here’s how to use an HSA to save money throughout the year, especially come tax time.
What is an HSA and who can qualify?
An HSA is a type of tax-exempt savings account that allows eligible taxpayers to set aside pretax dollars to pay for qualified medical expenses not covered by insurance. Not everyone qualifies to have an HSA.
You could qualify for an HSA if:
- You’re covered by a medical insurance plan classified as a high-deductible health plan, or HDHP.
- You can’t have any other insurance besides your HDHP (though there are exceptions, such as a policy covering only a particular disease).
- You aren’t enrolled in Medicare.
- You can’t be claimed as a dependent on any other person’s federal tax return.
An HDHP is a plan that has a deductible of at least $1,350 if you’re single or $2,700 for a family in 2018, meaning you may have to pay at least this amount out of your own pocket before your health insurance starts paying for covered services. In addition, the total of annual deductible plus other out-of-pocket expenses cannot be more than $6,650 for self-only coverage, or $13,300 for family coverage.
If you qualify to have one, you can use an HSA to pay for copayments, monthly premiums, coinsurance, deductibles and other qualified expenses. Qualified medical expenses can also include medical and dental expenses you paid during 2018 — even if the services were provided before this tax year. Nonessential healthcare services (for example, certain cosmetic surgery) don’t qualify, but healthcare costs related to treatment to prevent or reduce symptoms of a physical or mental disability or illness may qualify.
What medical expenses can you pay with an HSA?
You can typically use an HSA to pay for the same types of expenses that would be included in a medical and dental expense deduction (if you could qualify to take one). These can include:
- Over-the-counter drugs prescribed for you
- Birth control pills prescribed for you and vasectomies
- Medical supplies such as bandages and lactation expenses such as breast pumps and other supplies
- Dental visits, tooth cleanings, fillings and other treatment
- Costs of inpatient treatment for drug addiction
- Vision care such as exams, glasses and contact lenses needed for medical reasons, and saline solutions and enzyme cleaners for lenses
- The expenses involved in buying, training and maintaining guide dogs or other service animals that help people with hearing, vision or other physical disabilities
- Lab fees that are part of medical care
- Costs of special education for children with learning disabilities (with a doctor’s recommendation)
How an HSA works
If you qualify for an HSA, you can sign up for the account through your employer, if it offers the plan, or through a health insurance company. Banks and other financial institutions also offer individual accounts. You can sign up for an HSA at any time during the plan year as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.
Once your HSA is set up, you can make contributions to it and withdraw money to pay for qualifying healthcare costs or to reimburse yourself for qualifying costs you’ve already incurred. At the end of the year, the account’s trustee will send you an IRS Form 1099-SA, which will detail your total HSA distributions. You may also receive a Form 5498-SA if you made any HSA contributions on your own. You’ll then need to file IRS Form 8889 with your tax return to report all the distributions you’ve taken from your HSA for qualified medical expenses and other expenses that may not be tax-deductible.
Keep good records of all your expenses throughout the year to help ensure the information you provide the IRS is accurate and that you aren’t hit with a surprise tax bill later on.
Tax benefits of an HSA
HSA contributions are typically tax-deductible. Even if a family member or spouse contributes money to your HSA, you can claim it as a deduction, which will reduce your adjusted gross income. And you can claim this deduction even if you don’t itemize your deductions.
If your employer contributes to your HSA, you may not have to include the amount in your gross income while calculating taxes.
The money in the account is yours to keep even if you change jobs or stop working. Withdrawals may be tax-free as long as you use them to pay for qualified medical expenses.
Another advantage is that HSAs earn interest, which isn’t taxed.
HSA deadlines and contribution limits
Of course, HSAs come with rules and limitations. For example, you can’t just contribute however much you want to your HSA.
For 2018, the maximum amount you’re allowed to contribute to an HSA is $3,450 if you’re single and $6,900 for a family account. You may be able to add an extra $1,000 to your account as a catch-up contribution if you’ll be age 55 or older at the end of the tax year. If your employer contributes to your HSA, the total of that work benefit and your own contributions can’t exceed the annual contribution limit.
If your total HSA contributions exceed the annual limit, you won’t be able to deduct the excess amount. Plus, you may face a penalty of 6% on the excess contributions unless you withdraw the money and any income earned on the withdrawn contributions by the April 15 filing deadline. If you don’t withdraw the excess amount and are subject to the penalty, you’ll need to file a Form 5329 to report it to the IRS.
There’s also a deadline for making HSA contributions that will count toward the current tax year. The good news is, it’s a longer deadline.
The deadline to make contributions to an HSA for the 2018 tax year is April 15, 2019, which also is the filing deadline for 2018 taxes. If you haven’t maximized your HSA contributions yet, consider using the next few months to do so and to get as big a tax break as possible.
When you can make changes
If you’ve enrolled in an HSA through an employer-sponsored health plan, check with your HR department about whether you can make midyear changes to your contribution. If your employer does allow changes, you may be able to increase your HSA contribution by adjusting the amount of your payroll deduction or the pretax amount that is withdrawn from your paycheck and deposited into your HSA.
If you have an HSA through a bank or financial institution, it may allow you to change your contribution at any time during the plan year. Some banks allow you to do a one-time rollover or transfer of funds from your IRA or even multiple transfers from another HSA into your existing HSA.
If you’re dreading a potentially high tax bill in April, remember there’s still time to take some action to minimize what you might owe. Use the next few months to take advantage of any tax deductions available to you.
An HSA is a great option if you’re eligible, because the contributions typically are tax-deductible for qualified medical expenses. There’s also the bonus of not paying taxes on money coming out if withdrawals are used for qualifying medical expenses. If you have a high-deductible healthcare plan, you can use the money in your HSA to pay your deductible, which will reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
So, if your HSA isn’t funded to the maximum contribution limit, consider setting aside as much money as possible between now and April to hit that threshold and reap the highest tax advantage you can.