Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘FSA’

Understanding the Differences Between Health Care Accounts

Health care costs continue to be in the news and on everyone’s mind. As a result, tax-friendly ways to pay for these expenses are very much in play for many people.


The three primary players, so to speak, are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). (more…)

Grace period option in (FSA) health flexible spending plans

Health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) are popular savings vehicles for medical expenses, but their use has been held back by a strict use-or-lose rule. The IRS recently announced a significant change to encourage more employers to offer health FSAs and boost enrollment. At the plan sponsor’s option, employees participating in health FSAs will be able to carry over, instead of forfeiting, up to $500 of unused funds remaining at year-end.

Health expenses

Health FSAs are designed to reimburse participants for certain health care expenditures, typically expenses that qualify for the medical and dental expense deduction. Medical supplies, such as eye glasses and bandages, are usually treated as qualified expenses. However, nonprescription medicines (other than insulin) are not considered qualified medical expenses.

Health FSAs are often funded through voluntary salary reduction agreements with the participant’s employer under a cafeteria plan. In that case, they are very taxpayer-friendly because no federal employment or federal income taxes are deducted from the employee’s contribution. The employer may also contribute to a health FSA. However, there are special rules which govern employer contributions.

Typically, participants designate at the beginning of the year the amount they want to contribute to their health FSA and these amounts are deducted from their pay. For 2014, an employee’s salary reduction contributions cannot exceed $2,500. The $2,500 cap is very important because cafeteria plans that do not limit health FSA contributions to $2,500 are not treated as cafeteria plans, and all benefits offered under the plan are included in the participants’ gross income.

Use-or-lose rule

As mentioned, the use-or-lose rule is a drawback to health FSAs. Unused amounts remaining in the health FSA at year-end are forfeited. Employers are not allowed to refund any unused funds in a health FSA. Critics of the use-or-lose rule argue that it has discouraged participation in health FSAs because many employees do not want to risk forfeiting unused funds. Often, participants have to scramble at year-end to use their health FSA dollars

Grace period option

A few years ago, the IRS modified the use-or-lose rule. The IRS allowed cafeteria plans to adopt a grace period. Participants can use amounts remaining in a health FSA at year-end for up to an additional two months and 15 days. This grace period is optional. Employers are not required to offer the grace period, although many do.

Carryover option

At its option, an employer may now amend its cafeteria plan to provide for the carryover to the immediately following year of up to $500 of any amount remaining unused as of the end of the year in a health FSA. The carryover of up to $500 may be used to pay or reimburse qualified expenses under the health FSA incurred during the entire plan year to which it is carried over. Additionally, the carryover does not count against or otherwise affect the salary reduction limit ($2,500 for 2014) for health FSAs. However, the new rules do not allow participants to cash out unused health FSA amounts or convert them to other types of benefits.

The maximum carryover amount is $500. An employer can choose to offer a $0 carryover, a $500 carryover or any amount in between. As we discussed, the carryover is optional. Employers can choose not to offer any carryover.

Employers cannot offer both the grace period and the carryover. It is a choice of either the grace period or the carryover….or neither. The employer and not the participant decides. In regulations, the IRS described how employers can amend their cafeteria plans to provide for the carryover and how they can, if they choose, replace the grace period with the carryover.

Let’s take a look at an example: Jacob participates in a health FSA under his employer’s cafeteria plan. At year-end, Jacob has $255 remaining in his health FSA. Jacob’s employer never offered a grace period but opted to allow participants to carry over up to $300 of unused health FSA dollars. Jacob can carry over all of his $255 in unused health FSA dollars.

If you have any questions about the new carryover option or health FSAs, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act

When Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its companion bill, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (collectively known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2010, lawmakers staggered the effective dates of various provisions.  The most well-known provision, the so-called individual mandate, is scheduled to take effect in 2014.  A number of other provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2013. All of these require careful planning before their effective dates.


Two important changes to the Medicare tax are scheduled for 2013.  For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax is imposed on individuals with wages/self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately). Moreover, and also effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax is imposed on the lesser of an individual’s net investment income for the tax year or modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately).

The Affordable Care Act sets out the basic parameters of the new Medicare taxes but the details will be supplied by the IRS in regulations.  To date, the IRS has not issued regulations or other official guidance about the new Medicare taxes (although the IRS did post some general frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act’s changes to Medicare on its web site).   As soon as the IRS issues regulations or other official guidance, our office will advise you. In the meantime, please contact our office if you have any questions about the new Medicare taxes.

Also in 2013, the Affordable Care Act limits annual salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSA) under a cafeteria plan to $2,500.  If the plan would allow salary reductions in excess of $2,500, the employee will be subject to tax on distributions from the health FSA.  The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation after 2013.

Additionally, the Affordable Care Act also increases the medical expense deduction threshold in 2013.  Under current law, the threshold to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses is 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.  Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the threshold will be 10 percent.  However, the Affordable Care Act temporarily exempts individuals age 65 and older from the increase.


The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate generally requires individuals to make a shared responsibility payment if they do not carry minimum essential health insurance for themselves and their dependents.  The requirement begins in 2014.

To understand who is covered by the individual mandate, it is easier to describe who is excluded.  Generally, individuals who have employer-provided health insurance coverage are excluded, so long as that coverage is deemed minimum essential coverage and is affordable.  If the coverage is treated as not affordable, the employee could qualify for a tax credit to help offset the cost of coverage.  Individuals covered by Medicare and Medicaid also are excluded from the individual mandate.  Additionally, undocumented aliens, incarcerated persons, individuals with a religious conscience exemption, and people who have short lapses of minimum essential coverage are excluded from the individual mandate.

The individual mandate was at the heart of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act after its passage.  These legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012, held that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress’ taxing power.

Like the new Medicare taxes, the Affordable Care Act sets out the parameters of the individual mandate.  The IRS is expected to issue regulations and other official guidance before 2014.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.

2014 will also bring a new shared responsibility payment for employers.  Large employers (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees but subject to certain limitations) will be liable for a penalty if they fail to offer employees the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage.  Large employers may also be subject to a penalty if they offer coverage but one or more employees receive a premium assistance tax credit.

The employer shared responsibility payment provisions are among the most complex in the Affordable Care Act.  The IRS has requested comments from employers on how to implement the provisions.  In good news for employers, the IRS has indicated may develop a safe harbor to help clarify who is a full-time employee for purposes of the employer shared responsibility payment.

If you have any questions about the provisions in the Affordable Care Act we have discussed, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.