In addition to being triple tax-free, health savings accounts can make a significant difference for workers’ retirement planning
There are a number of reasons, including tax-free advantages and help with retirement savings, why employees should max out HSA contributions.
With open enrollment season quickly approaching, plan sponsors may want to spend some time educating participants on the use of health savings accounts. I believe that nearly everyone eligible to contribute to an HSA should max out their HSA contributions each year. Here’s why.
HSAs are triple tax-free. HSA payroll contributions are made pretax and when balances are used to pay qualified healthcare expenses, they come out of HSA accounts taxfree. Earnings on HSA balances also accumulate tax-free. There are no other employee benefits that work this way.
HSA payroll contributions are truly tax-free. Unlike pre-tax 401(k) contributions, HSA contributions made from payroll deductions are truly pre-tax in that Medicare and Social Security taxes are not withheld. Both 401(k) pre-tax payroll contributions and HSA payroll contributions are made without deductions for state and federal taxes.
No use it or lose it. Unlike flexible spending accounts, where balances not used during a particular year may be forfeited, with HSAs, unused balances carry over to the next year. And so on, forever (at least until the employee passes away). HSA balances are never forfeited due to lack of use during a year.
Funds can be used for retiree healthcare expenses. Anyone fortunate enough to accumulate an HSA balance that is carried over into retirement may use it to pay for many routine and non-routine healthcare expenses. HSA balances can be used to pay for prescription drugs, medical premiums, COBRA premiums, dental expenses, Medicare premiums, longterm care insurance premiums and, of course, any co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance amounts. There are no age 70.5 minimum distribution requirements on HSA accounts like there are on 401(k) and IRA accounts. This makes HSA accounts a much more tax-efficient way of paying for healthcare expenses in retirement, especially if the alternative is taking a taxable 401(k) or IRA distribution.
Modest contribution limits.
Maximum annual HSA contribution limits (employer plus employee) for 2018 are modest — $3,450 per individual and $6,900 for a family. Another $1,000 in catch-up contributions is permitted for those age 55 and older.
Helps with retirement planning.
Most employees would likely benefit from the following contribution strategy incorporating HSA and 401(k) accounts: First, employees should contribute the percentage that allows them to receive the maximum company match in their 401(k) plan. There is no better investment any employee can make than receiving free money. Then, employees should fill up their HSA accounts using payroll contributions. If the ability to contribute still exists, employees should then max out their contributions to their 401(k) plan by making either the maximum percentage contribution or reaching their annual limit.
The keys to building an account balance that can carry over into retirement include maxing out HSA contributions each year and investing unused contributions so account balances can grow. If your HSAs don’t offer investment funds, think about adding them soon.
HSAs will continue to become a more important source of funds for retirees to pay healthcare expenses as high-deductible health plans become more prevalent. Make sure you educate your employees on their use.