17% of Americans Spent More Than $1,500 on Healthcare This Year. Here's How to Save for Medical Costs

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Medical bills can really add up. Here are some ways to save for them.

Key points

  • A new survey reveals that many people have been hit with high medical costs over the past 12 months.
  • There are different accounts that can be used to set money aside for healthcare bills, such as a flexible spending account.

Americans as a whole aren't strangers to medical debt. But even when healthcare bills don't drive consumers into debt, they can still be a huge burden.

In a recent Aflac survey, 17% of American households said they spent more than $1,500 on healthcare expenses over the past 12 months. And 30% spent between $500 and $1,500.

It's important to have money on hand to pay for medical bills to avoid having them become a source of debt -- and stress. Here are three accounts worth considering for this purpose.

1. A regular savings account

The upside of putting money into a regular savings account for medical bills is that you won't face any restrictions. That money will be yours to access when you please.

If you're not sure how much to save, take a look at your medical bills over the past year and aim to set aside the equivalent amount for the coming year as a starting point. Another option -- especially if your health insurance plan comes with a high deductible -- is to save the equivalent of your annual deductible, which is the amount of money you have to pay out of pocket for healthcare costs before your insurer starts picking up the tab.

2. A flexible spending account

An FSA lets you contribute pre-tax dollars for healthcare spending purposes -- meaning, the money that you put in is income the IRS won't tax you on. The downside of an FSA is that you need to commit to a contribution amount before your plan year begins. And if you get that amount wrong, you could end up with extra money in your plan that you don't use -- and therefore forfeit.

To figure out how much money to put into an FSA, look at your medical bills from the past two years. That should give you a sense of what you spend on average. That said, if you've been diagnosed with a new condition or your insurance plan has changed, your spending may look different for the coming year, so take that into account, too.

3. A health savings account

HSAs are more flexible than FSAs in that they don't require you to use up your funds within a year or risk losing them. You can invest HSA funds you don't need to use immediately and carry that money well into the future.

Like FSAs, HSA contributions are made on a pre-tax basis. But whereas FSAs are open to anyone whose employer offers one, HSA participation hinges on being enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan. If you're not sure whether your plan qualifies, talk to your benefits administrator, as there are specific thresholds that change from year to year to determine HSA eligibility.

The fact that 17% of Americans spent more than $1,500 on healthcare in the past year isn't particularly surprising. But it should also serve as a wakeup call to set money aside for medical bills -- even if you have health insurance. The last thing you want is to rack up a ton of medical debt in the course of taking care of your health. Saving for healthcare costs is a good way to avoid that fate.

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