Your HSA as a retirement tool – the facts

August 1, 2017

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are a great way to pay for medical expenses, and since unused funds roll over from year to year, the account can also provide a source of retirement funds in addition to other plans like 401(k)s or IRAs. But be aware of how HSAs compare to other retirement investment tools.

• HSAs work best when they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Neither your original contributions to an HSA nor your investment earnings are taxed when used this way.

• There is no required minimum distribution after you reach age 70½, like there is with 401(k)s and IRAs.

• You can only contribute to an HSA if you have a high deductible health insurance plan. The downside of these plans is that you pay more out of pocket each year when you need to use health services.

• Annual contributions to HSAs are limited to $3,400 a year for individuals and $6,750 a year for families (add $1,000 for people aged 55 or older).

• HSAs typically have fewer investment options compared with other investment tools including 401(k)s and IRAs. They also often have high management and administrative fees.

• Before you reach age 65, non-medical withdrawals from HSAs come with a whopping 20 percent penalty, plus they are taxed as income.

• Even after age 65, both contributions and earnings are taxed when they are withdrawn for non-medical expenses. In this way, HSAs compare unfavorably with 401(k)s and IRAs, which end their early withdrawal period earlier, at age 59½. They also have lower early withdrawal penalties of just 10 percent.

HSAs are a powerful tool to help manage the ever-rising costs of health care. Knowing the rules and the costs associated with them can help you position an HSA with your other retirement options.

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