It's no secret that healthcare is expensive. In fact, medical debt is the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country. But new data from Bank of America's 2019 Workplace Benefits Report reveals a disturbing trend: Americans are ignoring their health to save money on medical care.
A frightening 53% of U.S. workers have skipped or postponed medical appointments, tests, procedures, medications, and hospital stays to avoid having to pay for them. Some have even forgone health insurance altogether. If you're guilty of doing the same, you should know that you're not only putting your health at risk, but also potentially creating a scenario where a minor health issue escalates into a major one, thereby costing you more money needlessly.
A better bet? Utilize tax-advantaged options for paying for healthcare to make it more affordable.
Use the resources available to you
Paying for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars can help make them more affordable, so to this end, it helps to fund a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). The money you contribute to either account is money the IRS can't tax you on, so that if, for example, you fund either account with $2,000, and you're in the 24% tax bracket, you save yourself $480 right of the bat. Remember, that savings isn't coming in the form of lower medical bills; rather, it's coming in the form of lower taxes. But it's savings nonetheless.
Now keep in mind that FSAs and HSAs are two different beasts. With an FSA, you can contribute up to $2,700 a year at present no matter what type of health insurance plan you have, but that money has to be used up by the end of your plan year, or you risk forfeiting your balance.
HSAs are more flexible, but come with stricter rules for eligibility. To qualify to contribute to an HSA, you must be on a high-deductible health plan, defined this year as $1,350 or more for individual coverage, or $2,700 or more for family coverage. Your annual out-of-pocket maximum also needs to be $6,750 as an individual, or $13,500 as a family.
If you're eligible for an HSA, you can contribute up to $3,500 a year as an individual, or up to $7,000 a year as a family. If you're 55 or older, you can put in an extra $1,000 on top of whichever limit applies to you.
Here's another key difference between FSAs and HSAs: With the former, your goal should be to contribute enough money to cover your healthcare expenses for a single year. With the latter, you should contribute more money than you expect to use up within a year. That's because you get to invest the rest, and any growth on your investments is tax-free. You're then entitled to tax-free withdrawals from your HSA provided you use the money for qualified medical expenses.
It's for this reason that HSAs are also considered retirement savings plans. If you carry and grow your balance long enough, you'll have funds left over for your golden years, when healthcare expenses can really start to mount.
Keep in mind that you generally can't have an FSA and an HSA at the same time. However, there are exceptions. No matter which account you're able to open, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to make your healthcare costs more affordable. It's a far better bet than delaying the care you need, compromising your health, and potentially incurring a host of bills when minor issues turn into large-scale problems.