Medical Savings Account or Health Savings Account?

Medical Savings Account or Health Savings Account?

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A comparison of two popular tax-favored savings plans to help you determine which is best for you.

If you have some IRS refund money burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to check out the many other tax-free or tax-deferred ways to save.

Medical Savings Accounts

They might be called flexible spending accounts, or FSAs, but whatever the name, these workplace benefit plans can help you save on medical and child care costs.

With a medical spending account, you can put aside money to pay for health care costs that are not covered by your insurance.
Advantages: Employee money goes into the account before payroll taxes are figured, so your withholding taxes will be slightly less. FSA money pays for out-of-pocket medical expenses (co-pays, deductibles) you would have to pay anyway. You can use your FSA money even before you've actually put money into the account. For example, let's say you sign up to contribute $1,000 to your medical FSA, but have deposited only $100 when you are faced with a $300 out-of-pocket expense. You still can collect the $300 from your account. Also, you can use FSA money to pay for over-the-counter medications.
Drawbacks: Companies limit the amount you can put into your medical FSA. Under the recently enacted health care reform act, beginning in 2013 the maximum that can be contributed to an FSA will be $2,500. Unused FSA money does not roll over into the next benefit year, although some companies allow account holders a grace period that runs through March 15 of the following year to use the funds.

 

Health Savings Accounts

Money placed in a health savings account also pays medical costs, but these medical savings vehicles are different from FSAs.

In order to open an HSA, you must be covered by a high-deductible health insurance policy, which means you paid medical costs of at least $1,150 for self-only coverage or $2,300 if you had family coverage in 2009. For 2010, the deductible limits are $1,200 and $2,400. Once you have the requisite insurance coverage, you can open an HSA and contribute up to the amount of your insurance policy's deductible. Individuals age 55 and older can make additional catch-up contributions to the HSA each year until they enroll in Medicare.
Advantages: You get an immediate deduction on your Form 1040 for contributions to an HSA. You do not have to itemize to claim this deduction. Even if someone else, for example, a relative, makes the contributions to your HSA, you still get the tax deduction. HSA earnings grow tax-free. As long as HSA funds pay for eligible medical expenses, you owe no tax on the distribution. Any money in the account at year end can be carried forward to the next year.
Drawbacks: You have to pay a high deductible for medical care, meaning you'll have to come up with the doctor and pharmacy payments and then be reimbursed from your HSA, rather than having your bills go directly to the insurer for payment as with traditional health policies. If you get a high-deductible policy during the year instead of at the beginning, the amount you can contribute to an HSA is prorated by the number of months you've had the policy.

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