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Here's how to spend your FSA money before the end of the year

Use it before you lose it.
HOW TO SPEND YOUR FSA
In addition to covering your copay at the doctor’s office, there are hundreds of items to choose from when it comes to spending FSA money. TODAY illustration / Getty Images

With the end of the year fast approaching, there may be one more thing to check off your list — spending the money you put aside for medical expenses. During open enrollment each year, you can elect to use a flexible spending account (FSA), which lets you put pre-tax money aside for approved medical expenses.

FSAs provide the benefit of putting pre-tax money aside, which saves you in the long run by reducing your taxable income. “We all know there’s no free lunch, but there are ways to optimize your money and using your FSA is a great way to do it,” explained NBC News Senior Business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle. “You are basically doubling your money on most things related to health and wellness.”

“Don’t assume [an FSA] only covers major medical expenses,” Ruhle said. “Read the fine print. It includes a lot of regular items you buy at a pharmacy.” You can put FSA money towards things like copays, medical supplies like contact solution and bandages, or even procedures like Lasik. And a new addition to the family, whether it be a child or a spouse, counts as a qualifying life event and would allow you to increase your contribution to help cover those costs.

Check your plan's rules and deadlines

Your FSA is set up through your employer, and everyone’s rules are a little different. Though many of them run January 1 through December 31, there are definitely some exceptions. Check with your HR department for any rules around when you need to use up the money for good.

We all know there’s no free lunch, but there are ways to optimize your money and using your FSA is a great way to do it.

NBC News Senior Business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle

“There’s the concept of the deadline and of the grace period. Employers can offer a period of two and a half months for employees to spend the money, that would be until March 15,” explained Rida Wong, president of Health E-Commerce, the parent company of FSAStore.com and HSAStore.com. “There’s also a rollover, which is up to $550 that can be fully rolled over into the next plan year.” Those grace period and rollover amounts are federally mandated, but which rules apply are up to your employer.

There are more ways to spend your FSA money this year

In addition to covering your copay at the doctor’s office, there are hundreds of items to choose from when it comes to spending FSA money. And the CARES Act changed some of the rules, adding items like OTC medicine without a prescription and feminine hygiene products, including period underwear, to the list for the first time.

Other oft-forgotten categories? Baby items, first aid supplies and sunscreen. “Popular baby monitors, things like Owlet, that’s a $400 item that’s FSA eligible,” Wong said. As an avid hiker, she pointed out that things for outdoor sports, like travel first aid kits and KT tape, are eligible items too. And it’s not just one offering of each product — take sunscreen as an example: “We carry everything from Supergoop as well as the typical Coppertone,” Wong said.

FSAStore.com is a great resource as it only sells eligible items, but you can buy them at any retailer and either submit the receipts for reimbursement or charge them to your benefits debit card. Make sure your item is actually FSA-approved before you buy.

Make a plan for 2021 now

Wong encourages FSA users to set up a plan to make sure the money actually gets used. “Every year is shocking to me — we’ve seen $400-500 million in FSA funds forfeited over the course of the year, each year,” she said.

“People often don’t use their FSA out of fear it will get wasted,” Ruhle explained. “But mentally scan your bill the next time you go to the pharmacy and check the FSA items list. You’ll realize all that stuff adds up quickly.”