Here's a reason to spend money

December 1, 2009 4:27:55 PM PST
The annual run on the doctor's office has begun. Millions of Americans who have flexible spending accounts need to use the money by the end of the year, or risk losing it. The money in those accounts is used for medical expenses, exams, even over the counter medications. For some, medical flexible spending accounts expire at the end of the year, so now is the time to get those checkups or a year supply of contact lenses, but there are other things you buy that may be a bit more practical.

There's a reminder for customers at a Houston optometrist's shop to use flex spending account funds now. It's a message Loretta Alexander is taking to heart.

She said, "I came in today to follow up on my eye exam. I am getting a new set of contact lenses and was planning to use my spending account to pay for that today."

Alexander is like a lot of flex spending account holders. She's using money still available in her account before the end of the year.

She said, "I usually schedule the doctor's visits and the physical exams, the new set of glasses and contacts and hopefully get them all covered under the account by the end of the year."

The bonus for having flex accounts is the money you put into your flex account is not subject to payroll taxes. Then it can be used to stock up on over the counter medications or even pay for Lasik surgery. But at this time of year some plan holders haven't used all their money, so they have a lot left to spend before the end of the year.

Optometrist Dr. Brad Owens explained, "In December, we find the amount of folks who call to book appointments goes up dramatically. In their conversation with us during the exam, they'll say, 'Yeah, I need to spend my flexible spending account. I need a pair of eye wear. I need a pair of sunglasses. I need more contact lenses for the coming year.'"

While stocking up on medical supplies may make sense, there are other uses for the money. For example, Ready Clinics also accept the accounts.

"Right now we are in the height of the flu season and there are variety of flu shots available for people that qualify, and also pneumonia shots that a lot of people may not think about," reminded physician's assistant Lawrence Simmons.

Some of the plans offer a grace period that extends into next year. Be sure to find out if yours does allow that extra time. If not, spend it now.


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