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Family & Relationships: How to use your FSA money on everyday essentials before you lose it at the end of the year

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As the year comes to a close, the deadline to use any remaining money in your FSA account, January 1, rapidly approaches. Since most FSA accounts abide by a "use it or lose it" rule, many workers face forfeiture of some of their pre-taxed contributions.

In fact, Money estimates that the total amount of forfeited FSA money totals around $1.4 billion and that roughly 4 in 10 workers will have some amount of unspent money in their account by the end of the year.

To be clear, contributing to an FSA account can be beneficial to many since it allows you to set aside certain amounts of pre-taxed money. However, failing to use that money negates your savings. For instance, if you put away $1,000 during the year, and you pay 35% in taxes, you'll save $350.

Plus, any forfeited money is distributed back to your employer, so it's well worth using your FSA funds before losing them on January 1.

If you're facing possible forfeiture, don't fret, there's still time to put that money to use. You can use FSA money on typical medical expenses like prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, as well as on deductibles, copays, and other costs that aren't covered by your insurance plan.

There are some exceptions, however: Depending on your employer, some FSA plans allow you to carry over up to $610 from one year to the next. Other plans provide a grace period of up to 2 and a half months, making the actual effective spending deadline March 15th.

Quick tip: Check with your workplace's benefits coordinator to find out if either provision applies to you, and to clarify any other important details regarding your specific plan.

One of the best resources for using FSA money is FSAstore.com, which offers plenty of items guaranteed to be FSA-eligible (and if your insurance does deny a claim, you can request a refund for the item in question).

For some inspiration, we've compiled a list of a few helpful recommendations for how to spend your FSA money before the new year begins.

Designer glasses and prescription sunnies

Popular retailers like Warby Parker, Zenni, and LensCrafters, among others, accept FSA money, so eyewear like glasses or contacts is an easy way to use up leftover money.

Grab some practical prescription sunglasses for driving, or, if you have the funds, go all out on a premium new pair of Prada frames.

Sexual health and family planning

Procedures like vasectomies, abortions, and even fertility treatments like IVF are considered medical expenses by the IRS, meaning you may be able to put FSA funds toward them.

If you don't already have an appointment scheduled before the end of December, though, you can also use your FSA money to buy sexual health-related items like condoms, pregnancy tests, breast pumps and other nursing supplies, and fertility trackers.

Prescription and OTC drugs

You probably already know you can use your FSA to cover whatever portion of prescription drug costs your insurance won't. You may not have realized, though, that you can also use it to cover over-the-counter medications like Benadryl, Pepto Bismol, Advil, Neosporin, and even some vitamins and supplements.

You used to need a prescription for OTC meds in order for them to be FSA-eligible, but that changed with the CARES Act passed in 2020. Now's a good chance to restock your medicine cabinet for the year ahead.

SPF and skincare

Healthy skin is as much a medical concern as a cosmetic one. FSA money can be used on skincare basics like salicylic acid cleansers and antibiotic ointments but also on more surprising skin-related items.

Suncare products, including cult favorites like Mighty Patch and those by luxury brands like Supergoop! and LaRoche-Posay, are covered, as are big-ticket items like light therapy treatment kits for acne. Even extras like tinted SPF lip balms and vitamin C serums are eligible.

Massage and relaxation tools

Depending on what conditions you've been diagnosed with, you may be able to pay for massage therapy with your FSA if your doctor writes you a letter of medical necessity.

But in a pinch, there are all kinds of pain relief and relaxation devices that are FSA-eligible, no doctor's note required. That includes massage balls, foam rollers, heating pads, and even sleep masks.

Massage guns are also covered under some FSA plans but be sure to check before dropping a few hundred dollars on something like a Theragun.

There are a ton of other kinds of products that are FSA-eligible, from respirator masks to podiatry gadgets. Do some research to find out what your specific plan covers and then spend away. Remember, the money in your FSA comes out of your hard-earned wages – don't let it disappear on New Year's Day.

Insider's takeaway

If you have any FSA money in your account, and it's ineligible to be rolled over, it's important you use it before the first of the year to avoid forfeiting it altogether.

FSA money can be used on a surprisingly vast variety of things like prescriptions, OTC drugs, contact lenses, and skincare items, among a ton of other useful products.

Check with your employer about the specific rules around your FSA account, including how much money may roll over from year to year and whether it offers a grace period into next year or not.

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