Should I Open an HSA?July 2, 2018
Few things have the potential to wreck your financial wellness quite like your physical health. A lingering ailment or a sudden injury can throw a wrench into your finances with enough force to ripple into the ensuing decades. It’s wise to carefully consider the various protective measures available to both reduce the worry of something happening, and soften the blow.
What is an HSA?
Traditional Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans cover most expenses with a percentage based co-pay and relatively low deductibles. The Health Savings Account (HSA) allows for a much more individual approach to health care. With an HSA, you can make pre-tax contributions into a special savings account and simultaneously lower your tax burden.
Not to be confused with a Flexible Spending Account (which can only be established by your employer), you can open a Health Savings Account through your employer or as an individual through your bank.
The primary requirement for an HSA is to be enrolled in a High Deductible Healthcare plan (HDHP). These plans come with a minimum/maximum deductible of $1,300/$6,500 for individuals, and $2,600/$13,100 for families. Other requirements include that you not be covered under any other healthcare program and not be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s taxes.
How to take advantage of the HSA
Think of it as an emergency fund specifically for your medical expenses. By assuming greater responsibility for covering your own medical expenses, you can significantly lower your monthly premium and can instead put that tax-free money into an HSA.
Obviously, if a medical issue arises, you’ll have to pay the entirety of your deductible before your HDHP provider will step in to assist. This is where your HSA can come in handy to help supplement your out-of-pocket expenses.
While there is a limit to your annual contribution ($3,400 for self-coverage and $6,750 for families), the money in your HSA can be rolled over year after year, thus building a more substantial safety net for you and your family. If you’re currently healthy and are willing to wager against the possibility of a serious accident, the HSA is a great option for incredibly affordable healthcare.
Downsides of HSAs
There are, of course, a few downsides to both the HDHP and the HSA if you were to have a serious accident or suddenly become ill. Unless you’re a few years into your account and have diligently built up your savings, it can be quite difficult to meet the high deductibles even with your HSA.
Another common drawback for HSAs is that you may be reluctant to seek healthcare when you need it, because you don’t want to dip into your savings. That’s the same thing as shying away from your emergency fund when you have an emergency. The HSA is intended as a buffer and shouldn’t discourage you from getting help.
Misconceptions of HSAs
HSAs also have common misconceptions about their practicality that are certainly worth noting. While there are substantial tax benefits associated with HSAs, some people are tempted to use HSAs as a generic emergency fund. Since early withdraws and fees on nonmedical expenses are taxed 20% (ouch!), it’s probably best to avoid this method at all costs.
Furthermore, HSAs can lure customers with their investment potential in mutual funds and stocks. Unfortunately, their ability to be invested doesn’t necessarily translate to a high investment return. Experts advise customers to think carefully before signing up for a high deductible health plan, especially regarding their investment capabilities.
Run the numbers, trust your gut
At the end of the day, health care is all about running the numbers and weighing them against your peace of mind. “How much is enough coverage for the next year and how much is it going to cost me?”
HDHPs and HSAs are a good form of insurance if you’re young and healthy. The tax advantages and investment capabilities of an HSA and HDHP should in no way influence your decision. Your decisions should be based off the amount of premiums you’ll save, the deductible proposed for a comparable PPO plan and the out of pocket spending caps associated with each policy. Basically…do your research, watch your health and plan accordingly. Simple enough, right?