A health savings account, or HSA, not only provides a tax-free way to pay for medical expenses now, those tax savings mostly extend to retirement as well.
An HSA provides triple tax benefits to the account holder. You set aside money pre-tax (similar to a 401(k) or IRA), it grows tax free, and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are also tax free.
HSAs can be a boon in retirement because you always have access to the account, even if you change jobs, and you never have to “use it or lose it” so your savings can grow over time. Thus, you can use HSA funds to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time, tax free, now or when you retire.
The other good news is that after age 65 you can use the funds for non-qualified expenses, too; you just have to pay income tax on the funds you withdraw.
What Is an HSA?
A Health Savings Account is a type of tax-advantaged savings account for individuals with a high-deductible health care plan (HDHP) — defined by the IRS as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. When selecting a plan, be sure to make sure it says “HSA eligible.”
Anyone who fits the criteria is eligible to open an HSA and save pre-tax dollars: up to $3,850 a year for individuals and up to $7,750 for families for the 2023 tax year. If you’re 55 or older at the end of the tax year, you can contribute an additional $1,000 — similar to the catch-up contributions allowed with an IRA.
An employer can also make a matching contribution into your HSA, though total employer and employee contributions can’t exceed the annual limits.
What Are HSA Withdrawals?
You can then withdraw funds from your HSA to pay for qualified medical and dental health care expenses, including copays for office visits, diagnostic tests, supplies and equipment, over-the-counter medications and menstrual care products. Health insurance premiums are not included as qualified expenses, however.
One significant benefit of HSA accounts is that, unlike flexible spending accounts (FSA), the money in an HSA doesn’t have to be used by the end of the year. Any money in that account remains yours to access, year after year. Even if you change jobs, the account comes with you.
Before age 65, there is a 20% penalty for withdrawing funds from an HSA for non-medical expenses, on top of ordinary income tax. After age 65, HSA holders can also make non-medical withdrawals on their account, though ordinary income tax applies.
How Do Health Savings Accounts Work?
HSAs are designed to help consumers play for medical expenses when they have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). That’s because typically an HDHP only covers preventive care before the deductible, so most types of medical care would have to be paid out of pocket as they’re applied to the deductible amount.
Having a tax-advantaged plan like an HSA gives people a bit of a break on medical expenses because they can save the money pre-tax (meaning any money you save in an HSA lowers your taxable income), and it grows tax free, and you withdraw the money tax free as well, as long as you’re paying for qualified expenses.
As noted above, you can withdraw your HSA funds at any time. But if you’re under age 65 and paying for non-qualified expenses, you’ll owe taxes and a 20% penalty on the amount you withdraw.
After age 65, you simply owe taxes on non-qualified withdrawals, similar to withdrawal rules for a 401(k) or traditional IRA.
Can an HSA Be Used for Retirement?
HSAs are not specifically designed to be a retirement planning vehicle, but you can use an HSA for retirement, since the money accumulates in your account until you withdraw it tax-free for qualified medical expenses.
You could also use your HSA funds to pay for other retirement expenses after age 65 — you’ll just have to pay income tax on those withdrawals.
💡 Recommended: How to Set Up a Health Savings Account
3 Reasons to Use an HSA for Retirement
Though they aren’t specifically designed to be used in retirement planning, it’s possible to use an HSA for retirement as a supplement to other income or assets. Because you can leave the money you contribute in your account until you need it for qualified medical expenses, the funds could be used for long-term care, for example.
Or if you remain healthy, you could tap your HSA in retirement to pay for everyday living expenses.
There are several advantages to including an HSA alongside a 401(k), Individual Retirement Account (IRA), and other retirement savings vehicles. An HSA can yield a triple tax benefit since contributions are tax-deductible, they grow tax-deferred, and assuming you withdraw those funds for qualified medical expenses, distributions are tax-free.
If you’re focused on minimizing your tax liability as much as possible prior to and during retirement, an HSA can help with that.
Using an HSA for retirement could make sense if you’ve maxed out contributions to other retirement plans and you’re also investing money in a taxable brokerage account. An HSA can help create a well-rounded, diversified financial plan for building wealth over the long term. Here’s a closer look at the top three reasons to consider using HSA for retirement.
1. It Will Lower Your Taxable Income
You may not be able to make contributions to an HSA in retirement, but you can score a tax break by doing so during your working years. The money an individual contributes to an HSA is deposited pre-tax, ultimately lowering their taxable income. Furthermore, any employer contributions to an HSA are also excluded from a person’s gross income.
The money you’ve deposited in an HSA earns interest and contributions are withdrawn tax-free, provided the funds are used for qualified medical expenses. In comparison, with a Roth IRA or 401(k), account holders are taxed either when they contribute (to a Roth IRA) or when they take a distribution (from a tax-deferred account like a traditional IRA or 401k).
Using HSA for retirement could help you manage your tax liability.
2. You Can Save Extra Money for Health Care After Retirement
Unlike Flexible Spending Accounts that allow individuals to save pre-tax money for health care costs but require them to use it the same calendar year, there is no “use it or lose it” rule with an HSA. If you don’t use the money in your HSA, the funds will be available the following year. There is no time limit on spending the money.
Because the money is allowed to accumulate, using an HSA for retirement can be a good way to stockpile money to pay for health care, nursing care, and long-term costs (all of which are qualified expenses) if needed.
While Americans can enroll in Medicare starting at age 65, most long-term chronic health care needs and services aren’t covered under Medicare. Having an HSA to tap into during retirement can be a good way to pay for those unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.
3. You Can Boost Your Retirement Savings
Beyond paying for medical expenses, HSAs can be used to save for retirement. Unlike a Roth IRA, there are no income limits on saving money in an HSA. Some plans even allow you to invest your HSA savings, much like you would invest the funds in a 401(k).
The investments available in any given HSA account depend on the HSA provider. And the rate of return you might see from those investments, similar to the return on a 401(k), depends on many factors.
Investing can further augment your retirement savings because any interest, dividends, or capital gains you earn from an HSA are nontaxable. Plus, in retirement, there are no required minimum distributions (RMDs) from an HSA account — you can withdraw money when you want or need to.
Some specialists warn that saving for retirement with an HSA really only works if you’re currently young and healthy, rarely have to pay health care costs, or can easily pay for them out of your own pocket. This would allow the funds to build up over time.
If that is the case, come retirement (or after age 65) you’ll be able to use HSA savings to pay for both medical and non-medical expenses. While funds withdrawn to cover medical fees won’t be taxed, you can expect to pay ordinary income tax on non-medical withdrawals, as noted earlier.
HSA Contribution Limits
If you are planning to contribute to an HSA — whether for immediate and short-term medical expenses, or to help supplement retirement savings — it’s important to take note of HSA contribution limits. If your employer makes a contribution to your account on your behalf, your total contributions for the year can’t exceed the annual contribution limit.
2023 Tax Year HSA Contribution Limits
• $3,850 for individual coverage
• $7,750 for family coverage
• Individuals over age 55 can contribute an additional $1,000 over the annual limit
As with opening an IRA, you have until the tax filing deadline to make a contribution for the current tax year. So if you wanted to contribute money to an HSA for tax year 2023, you’d have until April 15, 2024 to do so.
Another caveat: Once you enroll in or become eligible for Medicare Part A benefits, you can no longer contribute money to an HSA.
How to Invest Your HSA for Retirement
An HSA is more than just a savings account. It’s also an opportunity to invest your contributions in the market to grow them over time. Similar to a 401(k) or IRA, it’s important to invest your HSA assets in a way that reflects your goals and risk tolerance.
That said, one of the downsides of investing your HSA funds is that these accounts may not have the wide range of investment options that are typically available in other types of retirement plans. Investment fees are another factor to keep in mind.
It’s also helpful to consider the other ways you’re investing money to make sure you’re keeping your portfolio diversified. Diversification is important for managing risk. From an investment perspective, an HSA is just one part of the puzzle and they all need to fit together so you can make your overall financial plan work.
HSA for Retirement vs Other Retirement Accounts
Although you can use an HSA as part of your retirement plan, it’s not officially a retirement vehicle. Here are some of the differences between HSAs and other common types of retirement accounts. Note: All amounts reflect rules/ limits for the 2023 tax year.
|2023 annual contribution limit||$3,850 (individual)
|Catch up contribution||+ $1,000 for those 55 and older||+ $1,000 for those 50 and older (total: $7,500)||+ $7,500 for those over 50 (total: $30,000)|
|Contributions & tax||Pre-tax||Pre-tax||Pre-tax|
|Withdrawals||Can withdraw funds at any age, tax free, for qualified medical expenses.||After age 59 ½ withdrawals are taxed as income.||After age 59 ½ withdrawals are taxed as income.|
|Penalties/taxes||Withdrawals before age 65 for non-qualified expenses incur a 20% penalty and taxes.
Withdrawals after age 65 for non-qualified expenses are only taxed as income.
|Before age 59 ½ withdrawals are taxed, and may incur an additional 10% penalty.
Some exceptions apply in cases of hardship or specific needs.
|Before age 59 ½ withdrawals are taxed, and may incur an additional 10% penalty.
Some exceptions apply in cases of hardship or specific needs.
As you can see, an HSA is fairly similar to other common types of retirement accounts, like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, with some key differences. For example, you can generally contribute more to an IRA and to a 401(k) than you can to an HSA, as an individual.
While contributions are made pre-tax in all three cases, an HSA offers the benefit of tax-free withdrawals, at any time, for qualified medical expenses.
Note that Roth IRAs also have a tax-free withdrawal structure for contributions, but not earnings, unless the account holder has had the Roth for at least 5 years and is over 59 ½. The rules governing Roth accounts, including Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s can be complicated, so be sure you understand the details.
In addition, HSA rules allow the account holder to maintain the account even if they leave their job. There is no need to do a rollover IRA, as there is when you leave a company and have to move your 401(k).
What Happens to an HSA When You Retire?
An HSA doesn’t go away when you retire; instead, the money remains available to you until you need to use it. As long as withdrawals pay for qualified medical expenses, you’ll pay no taxes or penalties on the withdrawals. And your invested contributions can continue to grow as long as they remain in the account.
One advantage of using an HSA for retirement versus an IRA or 401(k) is that there are no required minimum distributions. In other words, you won’t be penalized for leaving money in your HSA.
How Much Should I Have in an HSA at Retirement?
The answer to this question ultimately depends on how much you expect to spend on healthcare in retirement, how much you contribute each year, and how many years you have to contribute money to your plan.
Say, for example, that you’re 35 years old and making contributions to an HSA for retirement for the first time. You plan to make the full $3,850 contribution allowed for individual coverage for the next 30 years.
Assuming a 5% rate of return and $250 in medical spending each year, you’d have just over $230,000 saved in your HSA at age 65. Using an HSA calculator to play around with the numbers can give you a better idea of how much you could have in your HSA for retirement if you’re saving consistently.
When Can I Use My HSA Funds?
Technically your HSA funds are available to you at any time. So if you have to pick up a prescription or make an unscheduled visit to the doctor, you could tap into your HSA to pay for any out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance.
If you’re interested in using an HSA in retirement, though, it’s better to leave the money alone if you can, so that it has more opportunity to grow over time.
A health savings account can be a valuable tool in your current budget to help pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical costs, tax-free. But it can also be used to accumulate savings (and interest) tax-free, to be used on medical and non-medical expenses in retirement.
While an HSA can be useful for retirement, especially given the rising cost of long-term care and other medical needs, note that the annual contribution limit for individuals is much lower than other retirement accounts. Also, the investment options in an HSA may be limited compared with other retirement plans.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with the tax benefits of these accounts.
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