Saving for retirement is a major undertaking for most of us. Increasing healthcare costs and longer life expectancies make the hill a bit steeper to climb each year. Health savings accounts (HSA) provide another vehicle to save for retirement.
Many of you have the option to enroll in high-deductible insurance plans that allow the use of a health savings account via your employer. An HSA can serve as an additional retirement savings vehicle on top of your IRA or 401(k) to help cover healthcare and other retirement expenses.
The rising cost of healthcare in retirement
According to Fidelity an average couple both aged 65 will spend on average $275,000 on medical costs in retirement. This is up from $260,000 in 2016, $245,000 in 2015, $220,000 in 2014 and from $190,000 from their 2005 survey.
This is a significant amount even for retirees with a retirement nest egg in excess of $1 million.
High deductible health insurance plans
Health insurance plans with an annual deductible of at least $1,350 for a single person and $2,700 for a family qualify for use with HSAs in 2018. These types of plan are becoming more common with employers and are available privately as well. Premiums are generally less expensive than plans with lower deductibles.
How the HSA works
HSA accounts can only be used in conjunction with a high-deductible health insurance plan. The HSA will be a separate medical savings account into which the employee or private policy holder can contribute money during the year. The money goes into the account on a pre-tax basis much like a traditional 401(k) or IRA. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for those who earn too much to make pre-tax contributions to a traditional IRA, or who have made the maximum contributions to their 401(k) to reduce their taxable income a bit.
The contribution limits for 2018 are $3,450 for individuals and $6,850 for families. Those who will be 55 or older at any point during the year are eligible to contribute an extra $1,000. Some employers may also make contributions to employee’s accounts.
Money can be withdrawn tax-free from the HSA account to pay for a variety of qualified medical expenses. Withdrawals used to pay for non-qualified medical costs will be included in your gross income and included in your taxable income. Withdrawals for non-qualified expenses may also be subject to a penalty.
The real advantage is that money not used to cover eligible expenses can also be left in the account from year-to-year. This differs from a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) where all money must be used by the end of the year in conjunction with qualified medical expenses. Any unused dollars are lost to you.
The money in the HSA is portable when you leave an employer. Many banks and investment custodians offer HSA accounts, some with investment options that are similar to an IRA account. The investments chosen should reflect your risk tolerance and time horizon for the money just like any other investment account. Just like an IRA account you should shop around for the HSA account that best meets your needs including investment options and fees.
Qualified medical expenses
Examples of qualified medical expenses include:
- Health insurance coinsurance and deductibles
- Most medical and dental expenses
- Vision care
- Prescription drugs and insulin
- Medicare premiums
- A portion of the premiums for a tax-qualified long-term care policy
Health Savings Accounts and retirement
For those who can afford to cover some or all of their out-of-pocket medical costs from other sources while they are working, HSA contributions can serve as an excellent supplement to their other retirement savings in IRAs, 401(k)s and elsewhere.