The end of 2017 is almost here. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) – there are two kinds: one for health and medical expenses and one for dependent care expenses – this means that you’re likely up against a use-it-or-lose-it scenario. It’s possible that your company might offer you a rollover of $500 or a grace period in which to use up your leftover funds, thought it can’t offer both, but whatever they offer.

If you have both, be aware that you can only spend each fund in its category. With luck (and planning), you have carefully figured your dependent care expenses and don't have any extra funds in that FSA. If you do, they can only be spent on dependent care.

You're more likely to have cash left in your healthcare fund, though, since those expenses are more difficult to plan for. Congratulations if your year has been a healthy one and you have money remaining. But now your priority should be to use those FSA funds before they’re gone forever. (For more, see How Flexible Spending Accounts Work.)

Start by contacting your FSA provider and finding out how much is left in your account. One co-worker of ours, for example, learned in mid-November that she still had $144.53 in her healthcare FSA. 

Spend Down that FSA Money 

According to IRS Publication 969, you can only spend FSA money on “qualified medical expenses.” (Here's an IRS list.) Generally, services you receive that involve a healthcare professional qualify, but there are some others, too. If you need help coming up with ideas, maybe a few of these will help. 

  1. Breast Pump & Supplies  Pregnant and planning to nurse? Buy it now. You can also spend FSA funds on a dependent who needs one. 
  2. Eye Exam  You’re supposed to get an eye exam annually. Call today, as people just like you will scramble to get an appointment before the end of the year.
  3. Eyeglasses Along with an eye exam comes a prescription for glasses. There’s nothing like a fresh pair to change up your look a little. Don’t need new glasses? How about a pair of prescription sunglasses?
  4. Contact Lenses – Anybody who wears contacts knows that a few month’s worth of lenses can eat up an FSA balance in no time. Lens fluid isn't cheap, either.
  5. Chiropractor  Expenses are eligible, but you should be careful. Some chiropractors ask that you prepay for services. Remember that only treatments you have already received are eligible for reimbursement. You can’t prepay for future services just to use up your balance. 
  6. Dental Treatment – If you’ve put off that dental exam or filling or root canal, you now have the perfect incentive. However, cosmetic procedures, such as teeth whitening, are not covered.
  1. Dependent Care – If you’ve paid for expenses related to the care of anybody who qualifies as a dependent, it’s reimbursable through your dependent care FSA (these expenses don’t qualify for reimbursement from a health and medical expenses FSA, however). (For more, see Benefits of a Dependent Care Flexible Savings Account.)
  2. Diabetic Supplies – Blood sugar monitors, test strips and any diagnostic testing supplies are eligible, and that includes testing for health problems other than diabetes as well.
  3. First Aid Supplies  It’s hard to have enough Band-Aids, wraps and all of those other items we use throughout the year, especially if there are children in the house. 
  4. Birth Control Pills  Call your doctor and ask for a prescription for a 90-day supply.
  5. Insurance Premiums  They count as long as you aren’t claiming a deduction or credit somewhere else on your tax return. This can also include your portion of your employee-sponsored health plan.
  6. Sunscreen  This summer's supply has probably run out – or timed out, if you have a drawer full of old tubes. Refreshing your stock is covered by your healthcare FSA.
  1. Lodging  If you incurred any lodging or housing expenses because of medical treatments, they’re covered. That also includes meals.
  2. Medical Conferences  If you attended a conference related to an illness that you, your spouse or a primary dependent has, it’s allowable. However, lodging and meals are not.
  3. Medical Remodeling  If you will need to modify your home due to a medical condition of somebody living with you or somebody soon to move in, those expenses are reimbursable through your FSA. That could include installing a ramp, widening doorways, installing railings, modifying stairways and more.
  4. Mileage  Yes, you can claim mileage to and from medical appointments. In addition, you can use your dependent care FSA to pay for mileage to and from covered care if the mileage is incurred by a care provider (i.e., a nanny driving your child to preschool is covered, but you as a parent doing it are not).
  5. Over-the-Counter Medication – As long as the drug treats a medical condition, you’re safe. If the purpose is cosmetic, though, probably not. Most toiletries, for example, won’t count. And only some vitamins do (prenatal vitamins are covered).
  1. Vehicle Modification  If you need to modify your car to make it accessible for somebody with a disability, it qualifies as an FSA expense.
  2. Special Education  If a doctor orders any special education, including tutoring or schools that provide special services, they’re covered.
  3. Weight-Loss Programs  Many weight-loss programs are covered as long as they treat a condition diagnosed by a physician. Unfortunately, your FSA won’t cover the latest and greatest weight-loss fad.

The Bottom Line

During the year you probably spent more than you thought on expenses that fall under the rules of your FSA. If you can document those expenses, you may not have to try to spend money on things you don’t necessarily need right now.