Guide to FSA Debit Cards

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · March 07, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Guide to FSA Debit Cards

If you have a flexible spending account, an FSA debit card allows you access these pre-tax dollars you’ve set aside. With an FSA debit card, you can pay for qualifying medical purchases without having to file a reimbursement claim through your employer.

In other words, an FSA debit card can make your healthcare spending that much easier. But it’s important to understand the full story on how these cards work to make sure you get the most out of one.

This guide will coach you through that, including:

•   What is an FSA debit card?

•   How can you get an FSA debit card?

•   How do you use an FSA debit card?

•   What are the pros and cons of an FSA debit card?

•   When should you use your regular debit card instead?

Read on and you’ll learn the best FSA debit card practice so you can benefit from the money in your flexible spending account.

What Is an FSA Debit Card?

An FSA debit card will typically come with your flexible spending account, which is a tax-advantaged account offered through an employer’s benefit package. The funds in your FSA can be used to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.

As of 2023, once you’re enrolled in an FSA account, you can contribute up to $3,050 dollars (an increase of $200 vs. 2022’s amount) per individual; in a couple, each spouse can contribute up to that amount.

An FSA debit card looks and performs like a bank debit card, but it is connected to your flexible savings account, not your checking. You can only use it to pay for qualified medical and dental expenses not covered by your health insurance.

Worth noting: You may wonder what an HSA vs. FSA is. Though they sound alike, a flexible spending account works differently than a health savings account (HSA). You can only get an FSA through an employer; freelancers and self-employed individuals are not eligible. Also, HSAs are only available to those who are enrolled in a high deductible health plan, or HDHP.

Recommended: Benefits of Health Savings Accounts

Ways That You Can Use an FSA Debit Card

There are quite a few FSA rules and regulations dictating what you can spend your untaxed funds on.

The list of FSA-eligible expenses is extensive, covering everything from co-pays to bandages. Here are just some of the things you may be able to use your FSA debit card for:

•   Medical copays and deductibles

•   Prescription medications

•   Approved over-the-counter drugs, such as allergy, cough, and pain medications

•   Testing kits, including those for COVID-19 and cholesterol

•   Crutches, canes, and walkers

•   Dental expenses, including crowns and dentures

•   Vision expenses, including glasses and contact lenses

•   Fertility treatments

•   Hospital and ambulance fees

•   Lab fees

•   Acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, and massage therapy.

Ways That You Cannot Use an FSA Debit Card

An FSA debit card can be a convenient way to pay for medical fees, prescriptions, and other health-related items your health insurance doesn’t cover. But not all wellness-related expenses are covered. Here are some things you cannot use an FSA card for, including:

•   Groceries. Although diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, your FSA card won’t pay for, say, organic beef and green beans.

•   Cosmetic procedures. Expenses for electrolysis, face lifts, hair transplants, and the like are typically not covered.

•   Dining out. You can’t use an FSA debit card at a restaurant, even if it’s a vegan or “health food” eatery

•   Vitamins and nutritional supplements, unless you can prove they were prescribed by a physician

•   Getting cash. Unlike with a debit card, you will not be able to use an FSA card to withdraw cash funds from your account.

Recommended: Guide to Practicing Financial Self-Care

Process of Getting an FSA Debit Card

The steps to getting an FSA debit card are pretty straightforward:

•   Sign up for an FSA account offered by your employer. There is typically an “open season,” a window of time during the year when you are eligible to enroll.

•   Make a contribution or set up a contribution commitment for the account. These accounts are typically pre-funded, by the way, which is a nice perk. What that means: If you enroll in an FSA on January 1st and pledge to contribute $2,400 over the year, paying $200 a month, the $2,400 becomes available for you to use right away.

•   Wait for your FSA debit card. Once you enroll and contribute to your FSA account, the debit will be sent to your address. This can take 7 to 10 business days.

Recommended: HSA vs. HRA: What’s the Difference?

Pros and Cons of FSA Debit Cards

If you are someone who anticipates having frequent out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, a flexible spending account and an FSA debit card can be convenient. It can be a good way for you to save pre-tax dollars and put them toward those expenditures.

However, it’s worthwhile to consider both the upsides and downsides to having an FSA debit card:

Pros of having an FSA account and debit card

•   Easy access to tax-free funds to spend on qualifying medical expenses. You can use the FSA card like a debit card to make payments.

•   Online shopping. You can use your FSA debit card for online shopping, as long as it’s with a vendor that accepts the FSA card. Amazon, CVS, and other online shopping sites identify which items are FSA eligible, making shopping even simpler.

•   Avoiding pesky paperwork. Using the FSA debit card means you don’t have to keep track of receipts and file a reimbursement report with your employer.

•   No cash out-of-pocket. With an FSA debit card, you’ll avoid a trip to the ATM or having to use your personal debit card, and you won’t have to wait for a reimbursement. What’s more, you can avoid using a credit card for some health-related expenses, thereby possibly avoiding hefty interest charges, too.

Cons of having an FSA debit card

Here are some potential downsides to using an FSA debit card:

•   Contributions are use-it-or-lose-it. In many cases, if you don’t use your FSA funds by the end of the year, you will forfeit the remaining balance. Some employers may allow for a grace period to spend the money or for certain amounts to be rolled over. But this aspect is probably the biggest drawback of having an FSA account and debit card.

•   If you leave, the money stays. Usually, if you quit or change jobs, the money you contributed to your FSA stays with your employer.

•   No reward perks. You won’t get any bonus miles or other award points from swiping an FSA debit card.

Recommended: Beginner’s Guide to Health Insurance

FSA Debit Card vs Traditional Debit Card

An FSA debit card and personal debit card from your bank or credit union share a number of features. Both provide access to funds for in-person purchases, and you should have no issues using a debit card online nor an FSA debit card.

But there are some distinct differences between an FSA debit card and traditional debit card, including:

FSA Debit Card Traditional Debit Card
FSA debit cards can only be used to purchase qualifying medical expenses Debit cards from a bank can be used to purchase just about anything
With an FSA debit card, it’s a good idea to keep the receipts from your purchases, in case you need them for your employer or the IRS Debit card purchases are personal, and typically don’t require reporting to the IRS
Account funds attached to an FSA debit card can expire at the end of the year There’s no time limit for spending your own personal account money
FSA debit card purchases don’t usually come with any reward perks or bonus points With some debit cards, you can build up reward points and bonus miles with every purchase
You can only use FSA debit cards at stores and medical locations that accept them You can use your debit card at almost any store, venue, or medical facility that accepts card payments
You cannot get cash with your FSA card You can get cash with your traditional debit card, whether at an ATM or other location

Recommended: What Is a Debit Card?

The Takeaway

Using an FSA debit card can be a hassle-free way to pay for qualifying, out-of-pocket medical expenses. These cards function much like a traditional debit card, helping you pay for health-related items with the pre-tax dollars that are in your account. However, if you have one of these cards, it’s wise to know the pros and cons so you can use it most effectively.

3 Money Tips

1.    If you’re saving for a short-term goal — whether it’s a vacation, a wedding, or the down payment on a house — consider opening a high-yield savings account. The higher APY that you’ll earn will help your money grow faster, but the funds stay liquid, so they are easy to access when you reach your goal.

2.    If you’re creating a budget, try the 50/30/20 budget rule. Allocate 50% of your after-tax income to the “needs” of life, like living expenses and debt. Spend 30% on wants, and then save the remaining 20% towards saving for your long-term goals.

3.    When you overdraft your checking account, you’ll likely pay a non-sufficient fund fee of, say, $35. Look into linking a savings account to your checking account as a backup to avoid that, or shop around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Can you be denied an FSA debit card?

If you qualify for an FSA account through your employer and the account comes with an FSA debit card, there’s little chance you would be denied one, unless you have missed the deadline for the enrollment period.

Is it good to have an FSA debit card and a traditional debit card?

It’s wise to have an FSA debit card and a traditional debit card. You can only use an FSA debit card to pay for qualifying medical expenses at vendors who will accept it.. You will likely need a standard debit card to pay for groceries, clothes, and life’s other expenses.

Can I withdraw cash with an FSA debit card?

Unlike with a traditional debit card, you cannot withdraw cash with an FSA debit card.

Does a bank provide an FSA debit card?

An FSA debit card is not provided by a bank, but rather through a vetted healthcare FSA vendor chosen by your employer.


Photo credit: iStock/praetorianphoto

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