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The Benefits of Health Savings Accounts

| September 21, 2015
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September 21, 2015: Contributed by Hengehold Capital Management, Retirement and Financial Planning Cincinnati Ohio.   

Healthcare. Retirement. Those may be two of the most stressful words in the English language today. Especially when you include them both in the same sentence. 

For instance, a married couple that saves $326,000 has a 90 percent chance of having enough money to pay healthcare expenses in retirement. A single man would need to save $116,000 for retirement healthcare expenses, and a single woman about $131,000 to have the same odds, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Health Savings Account

Those three words can help reduce the stress of retirement healthcare expenses. A Health Savings Account, or HSA, is a tax-advantaged account that can be opened by anyone who is enrolled in a high deductible health plan (with a deductible of at least $1,300 for individuals or $2,600 for families for 2015). Typically, HSAs offer three significant tax benefits:
  1. Tax-free withdrawals. If you use HSA savings to pay qualified medical expenses, the withdrawals are income tax free.
  2. Pre-tax (or tax-deductible) contributions. Contributions to HSAs are federally tax-deductible up to certain limits. For 2015, the limits are $3,350 for a single person and $6,650 for a family. If you’re age 55 or older, then you can save an additional $1,000 a year in the account.
  3. Tax-deferred growth. Any interest earned in an HSA grows tax-deferred. Generally, HSA contributions go into an account at a bank, credit union, or other financial institution that is an HAS-approved custodian. However, those savings can also be invested.

It’s not a Flexible Savings Account

HSAs have been around for a decade, but relatively few Americans understand how they work. In fact, many confuse them with Flexible Savings Accounts (FSAs). While there are some similarities between the two accounts – both allow pre-tax contributions and both can be used to pay qualified medical expenses – there are significant differences.

For example, you set up and own an HSA. Any money left in the account at the end of the year, remains in the account to be used in the future. There is no “use it or lose it” provision. In contrast, your employer sets up and owns an FSA. If money is left in the account at the end of the year, it is forfeited to the employer.

Savings can be used to pay qualified medical expenses

Money set aside in HSAs can be used to pay health insurance deductibles, as well as qualified medical expenses, health insurance premiums (if you’re receiving unemployment benefits), and long-term care premiums. However, it’s not always easy to know what qualifies and what doesn’t. The New York Times explained:

“Under a change enacted with the Affordable Care Act, most over-the-counter drugs, like common allergy medications or pain relievers, are HSA-eligible only if you get a prescription for them from your doctor. On the other hand, items like sunscreen and contact lens solution are eligible for purchase – without a prescription – with your HSA funds.”

When funds are used for non-qualified expenses, the withdrawal is taxed as ordinary income and, if the account holder is younger than age 65, a 20 percent penalty tax is owed.

Savings can also be used for retirement income

The best incentive for saving as much as possible in an HSA is this: if you reach age 65, and have savings in your account, the money can be used for living expenses as well as qualified medical expenses. Withdrawals that are used to supplement income may be taxed as ordinary income.

It’s possible to accumulate quite a significant amount of savings in an HSA because any earnings grow tax-deferred, just like earnings in a 401(k) plan. 

Make the most of your HSA

Clearly, HSAs offer some attractive benefits for Americans with high-deductible insurance plans. In addition to offering a triple tax-advantage and helping Americans pay current and future medical expenses, these accounts can be used to supplement retirement income. 

Learning all the benefits and seeing the numerous advantages of an HSA should tell you one thing: making the most of this savings plan may position you well for many of life’s short-term and long-term events.

If you have access to a Health Savings Account, be sure to work with your HCM Wealth Advisor to use this powerful account to maximize your Wealth Plan.  513-598-5120 or visit our webiste and the HCM team.

Content in this article is not intended to be financial advice. Instead, we think of it as educational, and financial education is important to us.

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