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Using an HSA for retirement savings

Health care can be the most financially draining item during retirement — yet it’s a fact of life most employees don’t adequately plan for. It is estimated that a couple in retirement will spend approximately $220,000 on health expenses according to Fidelity Investments.

That’s a huge burden and one that people should start planning for early. Empowering employees to save money for future health care needs is one way that employers can leverage benefits to help employees plan ahead.

Enter health savings accounts, which have the potential of making a huge difference as a valuable supplement to standard retirement savings. You can help your employees understand the value of an HSA by comparing it to a 401(k), but for health care.

With an HSA, employees use pre-tax dollars to fund an employee-owned banking or investment account. Less known facts about the HSA include that it can be drawn from without a penalty for eligible health care expenses as soon as it’s funded, and investment earnings are tax-free.

With only a 401(k), medical expenses can deplete retirement savings quickly; especially considering the average person has little more than $60,000 saved for retirement. And when emergencies arise pre-retirement, pulling money out of a retirement account early can cost a lot when it’s tax time. An HSA has the potential to eliminate both of these pains and position the employer as a company that takes care of its employees.

Designed specifically to pay for health care expenses — now or later — there are no tax penalties if HSA money is used for eligible expenses prior to retirement. HSA funds can be used both for planned and unplanned medical expenses and you don’t lose any unused dollars.

Any “extra” money can grow tax-deferred year over year which is why using an HSA to compliment other retirement plans allows employees to keep more money and build a health nest egg to support a comfortable post-career life.

When employees turn 65, they become eligible for Medicare and can continue to use their existing HSA to pay for their medical expenses. More importantly, an HSA essentially transforms into an IRA. This means that the health nest egg employees have built over the years can also be used for everyday expenses and there are no tax penalties.

There are, of course, rules surrounding who can use HSAs. They are available only to those who have a qualifying high-deductible health plan. And HSAs are not available to those with impermissible coverage like TRICARE, are receiving VA benefits, or in combination with your or a spouse’s flexible spending account, unless they are specifically designed to be compatible with a health savings account.

Health savings accounts are becoming more popular; according to AHIP, nearly 15.5 million Americans are covered by HSA eligible insurance plans, up more than 15 percent from last year. And with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ramping up, HSAs are expected to continue to gain in popularity.

Not only are HSAs a smart move in tax savings for both employers and employees now, they’re one way employers can leverage benefits to help employees plan for the long term.

Seven reasons HSAs are taking off