Can You Spend Health Savings Account Money on Items Other Than Health Care?

NEW YORK MainStreet) - A Health Savings Account, or HSA, is a much-overlooked form of making your money work better for you. Created in 2003 for Americans with high-deductible premiums, the HSA allows you to sock money aside for health care costs. Particularly for younger, healthier Americans, this can be a godsend: rather than throwing money away on high health insurance premiums, you can sock the money away for future expenses. But make no mistake about it: HSAs are for everyone. Here's how to get the most out of yours.

How Much Should You Put in an HSA?

Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, is rather blunt when it comes to HSAs.


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"Don't forget -- this is a consolation prize for having really bad insurance," he says. To that end, he suggests that you have at least enough to cover your deductible in an HSA before you even start thinking about spending it.

"For some people," Sullivan points out, "that's going to take years of contributions before they have the out of pocket risk covered."

Still, Carrie McLean, director of customer care for eHealthInsurance.com, points out that an HSA doesn't necessarily have to be for people who can't afford good insurance.

"You can lower your premiums and put the savings into an HSA," she says.

The upside to this is not only that you're banking money for the future, rather than spending it on premiums, you're also saving money you can use in your retirement. Best of all, it's fully Obamacare compliant.

Health Savings Accounts Can Lower Your Taxes: Obamacare Could Help

Sullivan does encourage people to use an HSA for savings. "You should put the maximum into an HAS if you can, even if you're not going to use it for medical costs, because it's basically an IRA," he says.

How's that?

"Once you reach retirement age you can use that money without any penalties," he says. This means that you're saving pretax dollars towards retirement that you can use against medical costs both now and down the line. In fact, an HSA might even lower your taxes

"It can be a sort of supplementary retirement plan," McLean concurs. "After 65 it's taxed as income, but it's not subject to penalties when you use it for things other than health care."

While you can't continue to contribute to it after the age of 65, you can take money out. She agrees with Sullivan that it's basically an IRA.

Creative Uses for Your HSA

How's a supplementary IRA a creative use of an HSA? Well, when it comes to your HSA, you don't have to wait until your golden years to start using it creatively. McLean points out that Band-Aids are something people don't generally think of as a medical expense but are completely covered by an HSA. Other commonly overlooked medical products you can buy using pre-tax HSA dollars include prescription eyeglasses, in vitro fertilization, chiropractic care (which is often not covered by traditional health insurance plans), LASIK, pregnancy tests, transportation to and from the hospital or service dogs, including their care, feeding and health.

You can also use an HSA to opt for pricier versions of things you're going to have to buy anyway, for example buying a $30 pregnancy test rather than one from the dollar store.

"PPACA provides a manual breast pump for every new mother," says McLean, "but with HSA dollars you can get a really nice $300 one."

Setting Up an HSA

To set up an HSA, you first need an HSA-eligible health care plan. From there, head down to your bank or credit union, set one up and start contributing toward that account. The current limit is $3,300 for an individual per year or $6,550 for a family; however, over the age of 55 you can put in an additional $1,000.

McLean suggests that when setting up an HSA you work with an agent.

"HSAs and health insurance are both very complicated subjects, so get some help if you can. It doesn't have to cost anything extra to work with an agent."

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet

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