Health care flexible spending accounts are employer-established benefit plans that reimburse employees for specified medical expenses as they are incurred. These accounts are allowed under section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code and are also referred to as “cafeteria plans” or “125 plans.” The employee contributes funds to the account through a salary reduction agreement and is able to withdraw the funds set aside to pay for medical bills. The salary reduction agreement means that any funds set aside in a flexible spending account escape both income tax and Social Security tax. Employers may contribute to these accounts as well.
There is no statutory limit on the amount of money that can be contributed to health care flexible spending accounts. However, some companies place a limit of $2,000 to $3,000 on flexible spending accounts. Once the amount of contribution has been designated during the open enrollment period that occurs once each year, the employee is not allowed to change the amount or drop out of the plan during the year unless he or she experiences a change of family status. By law, the employee forfeits any unspent funds in the account at the end of the year. There have been proposals introduced in Congress to ease this “use it or lose it” rule by allowing up to $500 to be carried over to the next year; such proposals have not been enacted.