Child and dependent care is a critical issue and a large expense for many American families. Millions of people rely on child care to be able to work, while others are responsible for older parents or disabled family members.
If you care for a child or adult who is incapable of self-care, who lives in your home for at least eight hours each day, and whom you can claim as a dependent on your income taxes, you may be able to take advantage of dependent care through a flexible spending account (FSA).
These accounts allow individuals to pay for qualified child and dependent care expenses while lowering their taxable income.
- Dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are only available to workers who have employers that offer them.
- Employees can withhold agreed amounts from their paychecks to fund their FSAs.
- If you are divorced, only the custodial parent may use a dependent care FSA.
- The most money in 2021 that you can stash inside of a dependent care FSA is $10,500. The limit has returned to $5,000 for 2022.
- FSA contributions cannot be returned in cash. If you don’t use the funds within a specified time frame, then you lose those contributions.
Benefits of a Dependent Care FSA
How Dependent Care FSAs Work
Dependent care FSAs are set up through your workplace. Participants authorize their employers to withhold a specified amount from their paychecks each pay period and deposit the money in an account. Instead of using the FSA money to pay for expenses directly, you pay those costs out of pocket and then apply for reimbursement.
Once you have paid for expenses that qualify for reimbursement from the FSA, you will need to complete a claim form provided by your employer and attach receipts or proof of payment with the form. The receipts must include specific information to prove that the payment was for qualified expenses. Specifically, the receipt must note:
- Patient’s or Child’s Name—the name of the person who received the service
- Provider’s Name—the provider that delivered the service
- Date of Service—the date when services were provided
- Type of Service—a detailed description of the service provided
- Cost—the amount paid for the service
The main benefit of an FSA is that the money set aside in the account is in pretax dollars, thus reducing the amount of our income subject to taxes. For someone in the 24% federal tax bracket, this income reduction means saving $240 in federal taxes for every $1,000 spent on dependent care with an FSA.
Dependent Care FSA Limits for 2022
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) limits the total amount of money that you can contribute to a dependent care FSA. The 2021 dependent care FSA contribution limit was increased by the American Rescue Plan Act to $10,500 for single filers and couples filing jointly (up from $5,000) and $5,250 for married couples filing separately (up from $2,500). For 2022, the dependent care FSA limit returns to $5,000 for single filers and couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for married couples filing separately.
Using a Dependent Care FSA
If you and your spouse are divorced, only the parent who has custody of the child(ren) can use FSA funds for child care. If you are married, both you and your spouse must work and earn income to qualify for reimbursement (unless one spouse is between jobs and actively looking, or is disabled and unable to work). If not, then the money you contribute to the account will be forfeited and you will be billed for the taxes due because you did not pay taxes on the amount in the first place.
The Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS) offers an app to help people with dependent care FSAs manage their receipts and claims. The program’s website provides in-depth information about what these care-specific FSAs can and cannot fund.
The money in your FSA can only be used for expenses for:
- A dependent who is younger than 13
- A spouse who is unable to work and care for himself or herself
- Another adult dependent who is unable to care for himself or herself and for whom you claim the dependent exemption on your taxes
Dependent care FSAs may not be used for private school tuition, but they can be used for summer day camps.
Expenses That Qualify for FSA Reimbursement
Once you deposit money into an FSA, you can begin using those funds toward reimbursement for qualified expenses. You can only use the money for bills that meet the IRS definition of eligible dependent care service. This means that the services must be necessary for you and/or your spouse to work and earn an income.
Qualified expenses include:
- Physical care
- In-home care, such as a nanny, babysitter (if there to cover for a parent who is at work vs. recreational reasons), or au pair, or institutional-setting care, such as child or adult daycare services, by qualified caregivers
- Summer day camps
- Before- and after-school care
- Transportation provided by a caregiver
- Application fees, deposits, etc. required for obtaining care, but only if care is subsequently provided
IRS Publication 503: Child and Dependent Care Expenses outlines expenses that qualify for FSA reimbursement.
The IRS issued a statement notifying taxpayers that at-home COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and hand sanitizer are both considered eligible medical expenses that can be paid or reimbursed under FSAs.
Expenses That Do Not Qualify for FSA Spending
Remember that you can only use FSA money for expenses that are necessary for you and/or your spouse to work and earn an income.
Expenses that do not qualify as FSA-approved and therefore are ineligible in an FSA include:
- Education (i.e. kindergarten, summer school, tutoring, school tuition)
- Overnight summer camps
- Enrichment programs and lessons (i.e., music, sports lessons)
Special Considerations for FSA Dependent Care
Before creating a dependent care FSA, you should consider the following:
- FSAs are not “pre-funded.” With some healthcare FSAs, the employer fronts the money and is repaid through paycheck withholding. With dependent care FSAs, you pay expenses out of pocket, then receive reimbursement based on how much you have withheld from your paycheck for dependent care expenses.
- Before setting up a dependent care FSA, compare its potential tax benefits with the child and dependent care tax credit.
- FSAs typically operate with a “use it or lose it” policy, meaning that you must use all of the money you deposited into the account for qualified expenses by the end of the plan year or you will lose your money. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For 2021, due to provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, employers can allow all unused funds to be carried over from 2021 to 2022 and used throughout the year.
- You will need to report your FSA contributions on your federal tax return.
- Participation in a dependent care FSA is not automatic—you must reenroll every year by the enrollment deadline.
- You can only change the amount of money that you choose to have withheld from your paycheck for the FSA within a 31-day window following a qualifying event, such as a marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, the death of a dependent, divorce, or a change in your (or your spouse’s) employment.
What is a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA)?
A dependent care flexible spending account (FSA) is a pretax benefit account used to pay for eligible dependent care services, such as preschool, summer day camp, before- or after-school programs, and child or adult daycare.
What expenses can I use a dependent care FSA for?
You can only use the money for bills that meet the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) definition of eligible dependent care service. This means that the services must be necessary for you and/or your spouse to work and earn an income.
What is the dependent care FSA limit For 2022?
For 2022, the dependent care FSA limit is $5,000 for single filers and couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for married couples filing separately.
The Bottom Line
Opening and funding a dependent care FSA can help you plan and pay for the care you need to help you be able to work and earn a living.
Consider looking into a plan offered by your or your spouse’s employer, and learn about how much you could save on taxes by taking advantage of this option.