A lot of us have been there before – the end of the year creeps up and the hard realization hits that we have yet to use our Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) or other eye insurance benefits for glasses or contacts before they fade away with the onset of the new year. The result is a last-minute scramble to schedule an eye exam and cash in on some new specs or contacts before it’s too late, making this time of year a particularly busy one for the staff at EyeCare Optical in East Tennessee.
First of all, what exactly is an FSA? When you opt for an FSA through your employer, money from each paycheck is automatically deposited into an account to pay for health expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. Your employer may or may not match your contribution up to a certain amount. You decide on the amount you contribute upon signing up for an account and your contributions aren’t taxed, meaning your money goes farther. Those are tax-free dollars you can use toward any eye care expenses not covered by your vision insurance plan.
The catch? Only one: use it or lose it. Generally, at the end of the calendar year, any money left over in your FSA is lost. That’s why it’s so important to not put more money in your FSA than you’ll spend within a year or to simply make sure you use every penny. After all, it’s YOUR money.
John Wolfenbarger, Optician Supervisor for EyeCare Optical, a division of Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor & Haun, is all too familiar with the end-of-the-year dash to use FSA funds for new glasses or contacts before they’re gone. In fact, this is hands-down his busiest time of the year for him and his staff.
“That’s why we are so busy at the end of the year, because so many people hold on to their benefits,” Wolfenbarger said. “If your benefits expire December 31st, on January 1st there is no going back and saying, ‘Oh, I forgot’ and trying to use that money. It’s gone.”
Though you typically must use the funds in your FSA within the plan year, your employer may offer one of two alternative options:
- A “grace period” of up to 2 ½ extra months to use your FSA money.
- Allow the option to carry over up to $550 per year to use the following year.
Your employer can offer one of these options but not both. It’s also not required to offer either of them. So if these aren’t specific options with your FSA, Wolfenbarger emphasized now is the time to get a act if you want to use that money for new glasses or contacts.
“Make sure you don’t lose your benefits, because you can get a pair of glasses in December and turn around in January and get contacts or sunglasses,” Wolfenbarger said. “But some people let those benefits expire, and that’s bad. If you’ve got it, use it.”
Bottom line – don’t let your FSA dollars go to waste. Use them on prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses, contact lenses, and eye exams. Don’t wait until the last week (or day) of December to take care of your precious vision. Begin by understanding your individual FSA, then schedule that eye exam. Give us a call today at (865) 584-0905 to schedule your appointment.