The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS today issued a notice modifying the longstanding "use-or-lose" rule for health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs). To make health FSAs more consumer-friendly and provide added flexibility, the updated guidance permits employers to allow plan participants to carry over up to $500 of their unused health FSA balances remaining at the end of a plan year.
"Across the administration, we are always looking for ways to provide added flexibility and commonsense solutions to how people pay for their healthcare," said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. "Today's announcement is a step forward for hardworking Americans who wisely plan for health care expenses for the coming year."
Today's action directly responds to public comments invited by the Treasury Department and the IRS. An overwhelming majority of feedback from individuals, employers, and others requested that the use-or-lose rule for health FSAs be modified. Comments pointed to the difficulty for employees of predicting future needs for medical expenditures, the need to make FSAs accessible to employees of all income levels, and the desire to minimize incentives for unnecessary spending at the end of the year.
For nearly 30 years, employees eligible for health FSAs have been subject to the use-or-lose rule, meaning that any account balances remaining unused at the end of the year are forfeited. An estimated 14 million families participate in health FSAs. Under current law, plan sponsors have the option of allowing employees a grace period permitting them to use amounts remaining unused at the end of a year to pay qualified FSA expenses incurred for up to two and a half months following year-end.
Today's guidance permits employers to now allow employees to carry over up to $500 of the unused amounts left in their health FSAs for expenses in the next year. Some plan sponsors may be eligible to take advantage of the option to adopt a carryover provision as early as plan year 2013. In addition, the existing option for plan sponsors to allow employees a grace period after the end of the plan year remains in place. However, a health FSA cannot have both a carryover and a grace period: it can have one or the other or neither.