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Have an FSA? Use It Before You Lose It

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Use your Flexible Spending Account to buy bike trainers and ski goggles when your doctor recommends it.

FSAs are a blessing and a curse. Tax-free and self- or employer-funded, they cover all kinds of out-of-pocket medical expenses.

According to healthcare.gov, “a Flexible Spending Account (also called flexible spending arrangement) is a special account you put money into that you use to pay for certain out-of-pocket health care costs. You don’t pay taxes on this money.

“This means you’ll save an amount equal to the taxes you would have paid on the money you set aside. Employers may make contributions to your FSA, but aren’t required to.”

The catch: You have to cash it out before the end of the calendar year. Otherwise, the cash goes back to your employer. The best-case scenario is that your plan allows you to roll over $500 or gives you a grace period of a couple months to use last year’s unused funds.

But it’s either-or. So if you have one of these accounts, read on to learn how you can spend it.

How to Spend Your FSA on Gear

No, don’t fake an injury, but if you wear prescription eyewear, your FSA will pay for ski goggles, prescription sunglasses, and contact lenses. According to MESVision, 64 percent of the adult population in the U.S. wears prescription eyewear. And whether you’re in the backcountry or skiing or riding a resort, seeing clearly will help you shred the pow.

If you think you might need glasses and you have unused FSA funds, make an optometrist appointment stat. If you already have a prescription, try SportRx.com for the best prescription goggles available from Smith, Oakley, and Dragon, amongst others. SportRX has medical professionals on staff in case you need advice or guidance to get the right eyewear. You can also get prescription inserts from SportRX that can fit most goggles.


If you’ve had a recent injury, like ACL surgery, a knee or hip replacement, or a traumatic accident, ask your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a bike trainer, rowing machine, or swim erg. An FSA can pay for all of these with a letter of medical necessity from your doctor.

According to Dr. Miles Colaprete, doctor of chiropractic and certified clinical sports physician at Balance Chiropractic in Shelburne, Vermont, an injury has to be severe, and the requested sports equipment has to clearly aid in and speed post-surgery recovery to warrant a letter of medical necessity.

“If you’re housebound from a severe injury, recovering from a knee or hip replacement, Achilles rupture, ACL surgery, or you’re getting back on your feet after a car accident, a doctor can make a reasonable case for prescribing sports equipment,” said Colaprete.

“If you can’t be transported temporarily, or if you have a PTSD psychological overlay and the doctor determines that movement or exercise will help, you’re eligible.”

Activity trackers are also fair game, and they also need a letter from your doc.

Qualifying FSA Items

Massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture are all FSA-reimbursed when your doctor prescribes them. If you want to see what you can buy with your FSA money without a visit to the doc, go to FSAstore.com to shop for pre-approved items. Condoms, hand sanitizer, a neti pot, sunscreen, and first-aid kits are all available. It even sells things like compression socks, knee braces, and more.

You can spend FSA funds on yourself. They can also pay for items for your spouse and your dependents.

Ultimately, the IRS determines which expenses can be reimbursed by an FSA. And some items specifically require a letter from your health care provider making the case for why the equipment is medically necessary.

The FSA Feds website has a comprehensive list of what’s covered, what’s not, and when you need your doctor to make a case that a piece of gear is necessary for your health. Dance lessons are also reimbursable when medically necessary. We think a bike trainer has a better shot.

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