September 28, 2012
Over the next few weeks, millions of Americans will receive their 2013 open enrollment materials. Although it's tempting to simply check "same as last year," that can be a costly mistake – especially if your employer is offering different benefit plans next year or your family or income situation has changed.
Plus, an important feature of health care flexible spending accounts, which many people use to reduce their tax bite, is changing next year (more on that below).
Here's what to look for when reviewing your benefit options:
Many benefit plans – especially medical – change coverage details from year to year. If you're offered more than one plan, compare features side by side (including plans offered by your spouse's employer) to ensure you're choosing the best alternative. Common changes include:
If offered by your employer, health care and dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can significantly offset the financial impact of medical and dependent care by letting you pay for eligible out-of-pocket expenses on a pre-tax basis; that is, before federal, state and Social Security taxes are deducted from your paycheck. This reduces your taxable income and therefore, your taxes.
You can use a health care FSA to pay for IRS-allowed medical expenses not covered by your medical, dental or vision plans. Check IRS Publication 502 at www.irs.gov for allowable expenses. Dependent care FSAs let you use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible expenses related to care for your child, spouse, parent or other dependent incapable of self-care.
Here's how FSAs work: Say you earn $42,000 a year. If you contribute $1,000 to a health care FSA and $3,000 for dependent care, your taxable income would be reduced to $38,000. Your resulting net income, after taxes, would be roughly $1,600 more than if you had paid for those expenses on an after-tax basis.
Keep in mind these FSA restrictions:
Also remember that if you marry, divorce, or gain or lose dependents, it could impact the type – and cost – of your coverage options.
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