When the COVID-19 crisis erupted in March, the IRS was fairly quick to react. It first pushed back the deadline to pay taxes until July 15, and quickly made the same adjustment to the tax-filing deadline as well. All told, filers have been given three extra months to get their returns in order, but now that the new deadline is quickly approaching, it's time for Americans to buckle down and get moving on their taxes.
The good news, though, is that because the tax-filing deadline was pushed back three months, the contribution deadline for health savings accounts (HSAs) was postponed as well. That means you can still fund your 2019 HSA and reap major savings in the process.
How does an HSA work?
An HSA lets you contribute pre-tax dollars for medical spending that you can use immediately or save for the future. Unlike flexible spending accounts, which require you to deplete your balance year after year, HSA funds never expire. The money you put in can be invested so it grows into an even larger sum, and then HSA withdrawals are tax-free provided they're used to cover qualified medical expenses.
The amount you're allowed to contribute to an HSA changes from year to year. In 2019, the maximum was $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families, plus an extra $1,000 for savers who 55 and older (that extra $1,000 is comparable to the catch-up contributions offered to older workers in 401(k)s and IRAs).
What does that mean from a tax-savings perspective? Imagine you're in the 24% tax bracket and you put $7,000 into your 2019 HSA. That means you've instantly shaved $1,680 off of your 2019 tax bill. If you underpaid your taxes and owe the IRS money, you'll be on the hook for that much less. And if you're due a refund, you'll get a higher one.
Of course, not everyone is eligible to contribute to an HSA in the first place. To qualify, you must have been enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan last year. That means your deductible had to have been $1,350 or more at the individual level, or $2,700 or more at the family level. Your annual out-of-pocket maximum also had to be capped at $6,750 as an individual, or $13,500 for a family. (Note that all of these figures are slightly different in 2020.)
Act quickly to fund your HSA
If you're worried about your 2019 tax bill and didn't max out last year's HSA, or contribute to one at all, then it pays to put some money into that account over the next couple of weeks. But don't delay -- it could take some time for those funds to transfer over, so waiting until the very last minute is a bad idea. Remember, too, that an HSA won't just save you money on taxes; it'll also help ensure that should medical costs arise unexpectedly, you'll have funds earmarked to pay for them. And that peace of mind alone makes an HSA worthwhile.