Health Savings Accounts Explained
by: Brad Stroh
What is a Health Savings Account?
Increases in the cost for health care and
health insurance now impact both employees receiving their health
insurance through an employer group plan and the self-employed seeking
individual and family health insurance. Whichever group you fall into,
you’ve probably noticed the rising costs of health insurance.
Deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses have risen to the point
that, without careful planning, they can put a serious financial strain
on the average American family. In December of 2003, the government took
steps to ease the burden on working people when it comes to paying for
their health care. The resulting legislation established the Health
A Health Savings Account, or HSA, is an
account that allows you to save your pre-tax money for out-of-pocket
medical expenses. Unlike a flexible spending account (FSA), any money
left over at the end of the year can be saved and used for following
years. The money may also grow through investments, just like the funds
in an IRA, depending on how and where you establish your account.
Health Savings Accounts are specifically
designed for people with high-deductible insurance plans who do not have
any other first-dollar medical coverage. Coverage specific to injury,
accident, disability, dental, vision and long-term care insurance is
permitted, however, without affecting eligibility for an HSA. Exceptions
are those eligible for Medicare (over 65) and anyone who can be claimed
as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. Individuals in these
categories will not be able to open a Health Savings Account.
How to Establish a Health Savings Account
Your bank, credit union, and insurance
company are a few places that can serve as trustees for your Health
Savings Account. Any financial institution that handles IRAs or Archer
MSAs may also offer the accounts. Once the account is set up, you and/or
your employer may make regular deposits up to your allowed deposit
amount. This amount is determined by the size of your annual health
Once you’ve established the account, you’ll
have a great deal of flexibility. You can choose to use the money for
all or part of any qualified out-of-pocket medical expense. Qualified
expenses range from co-pay and deductible amounts to prescriptions and
even over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and cold medicine. Insurance
premiums generally are not approved; however, premiums for dental,
vision, disability and long-term care may be eligible.
Health Savings Account Funds
The funds in the account belong to you and
can be rolled over into some other tax-advantaged accounts such as an
IRA if you so choose. You can use the funds for qualified medical
expenses until you turn 65. You can also draw on your funds at any time
for non-medical expenses; however, you will have to pay income tax on
the amount as well as an additional 10% penalty for withdrawing the
funds for non-medical purposes. After you reach age 65 you must withdraw
the funds or roll them over penalty-free.
How you use your HSA is up to you. You may
view it as a way to save in the short term to pay for your out-of-pocket
medical expenses year to year, or you may decide that you’d rather use
the account to accumulate funds toward the medical expenses you’ll incur
in your retirement before age 65. Either way, the HSA is a new resource
that may make the cost of health insurance less burdensome.
This article was
posted on August 30, 2006