Health Savings Accounts (HSA's)

Year after year, the cost of medical care continues to increase. One significant contribution to this increase is that a third-party — the insurance company — pays for most of the medical cost for the insured. Because the insured pays only a small portion of the direct cost, there is little motivation to shop around for services, which allows healthcare providers to inflate their price above what would otherwise be competitive. Consequently, the tax law provides for significant tax savings for health savings accounts that are coupled with a high deductible health plan. Contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) are deductible in the year of the contribution and can later be withdrawn tax-free to pay for unreimbursed qualified medical expenses. Furthermore, the contributions grow tax-free within the HSA. The HSA is available to individuals who have a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and the HDHP premiums are also deductible. However, because the deductions do not offset payroll taxes and because the value of a deduction depends on the taxpayer's tax bracket, health savings accounts are less beneficial to lower-income taxpayers. Because the HSA makes it easier for the taxpayer to afford high deductibles and to also save on insurance premiums, the tax objective of providing HSAs is met by motivating taxpayers to shop around for medical services, which will presumably motivate healthcare providers to provide competitive pricing.

Unlike IRAs and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts, an HSA also has no income limit for making contributions, so even millionaires can contribute to an HSA. An HSA can also be used to increase the amount saved for retirement, if you do not use the funds to pay for qualified health expenses. If you are at least 59½, then you can withdraw money from an HSA without penalty. However, like a distribution from a traditional IRA, the amount is subject to ordinary income tax.

Another  major advantage is that there is no adjusted gross income (AGI) floor to deduct HSA contributions as there is for medical and dental expenses. (In fact, you could contribute to an HSA, then shortly thereafter, withdraw the contribution to pay qualified medical expenses. However, if your deduction is large enough, and if you could afford it, it may be wiser to leave the money in the HSA to grow tax-free while deducting your out-of-pocket costs as an itemized deduction.) Furthermore, the contributions will also lower the alternative minimum tax, which also has a 10% AGI floor for deducting medical and dental expenses.

Additional advantages include:

Archer MSAs

An Archer MSA is an older type of health savings account offered by small employers, where earnings accumulate tax-free and withdrawals are tax-free if used to pay deductible medical costs for the employee, spouse or dependents. Withdrawals for nonqualifying purposes are taxable and if the taxpayer is younger than 65 and not disabled, then an additional 20% penalty also applies. Although these accounts have been replaced by the health savings account, an employee can still contribute to an Archer MSA that has already been established.


A taxpayer cannot use an HSA if he has any health coverage that does not meet the high deductible requirement of an HDHP unless it is permitted coverage, which includes the following:

An HSA can be opened in any month when the taxpayer:

To be eligible for the tax year, the taxpayer must be covered by an HDHP by December 1. Recapture rules may apply if the taxpayer ceases to be eligible for an HSA, in which case, the amount contributed to the HSA minus monthly contribution limits that would otherwise apply must be added to gross income and would be subject to a 10% penalty.

HSA eligibility is determined monthly. On the beginning of each month, the individual must be covered by a HDHP and not covered by any unqualified health plan.

Dependents can be covered by the HDHP even if the taxpayer's gross income is more than the phaseout amount for claiming the dependency exemption. Divorced or separated parents can claim a child as a dependent for HSA purposes, without regard to who claims the child as a dependent.

HSA Accounts

An HSA is set up with an insurance company, bank, or other financial institution that has been approved by the IRS for HSAs. The institution reports contributions by the taxpayer on Form 5498-SA, HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA Information. HSA's supplant Archer MSAs, which provided similar tax benefits.

The HSA is like a traditional IRA account, in that contributions are deductible and the money can grow tax-free. Note, however, that some states do tax earnings on HSA investments.

HSA distributions are also not taxed if they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Distributions from HSA accounts can be used to pay for medical expenses not covered by the deductible and for out-of-pocket costs and can also be used to pay for medical expenses that qualify as an itemized deduction. HSA distributions can also cover expensive medical devices that are not ordinarily covered by insurance, such as hearing aids.

If your employer has set up your HSA, but changes administrators for the account, then you should transfer the money in the old account to the new account. Even though having more than 1 HSA is permissible, the employer may have been paying account fees, so those fees will keep accumulating on any old accounts, but the employer may only pay fees on the new account. Although you can transfer money from one account to another HSA by withdrawing the money, then re-depositing the money to the new account, it would be easier to have the administrator effect the transfer, thereby avoiding any potential taxes or penalties for improper withdrawals.

HSA Contributions, Annual Limits, and Distributions

The HDHP is defined by annual deductible limits and maximum annual limits on out-of-pocket costs, both which are adjusted for inflation:

HSA Annual Limits
Year Single Coverae Family Coverage
Out of
Out of
2017 $3,400 $6,750 
2016$1,250 - $3,250$6,250$2,550 - $6,650$12,500
2015$1,250 - $3,250$6,250$2,500 - $6,650$12,500
2014$1,250 - $3,200$6,250$2,500 - $6,550$12,500
2013$1,250 - $3,150$6,250$2,500 - $6,450$12,500
2014$1,200 - $3,100$6,050$2,400 - $6,250$12,100
2013$1,200 - $3,050$5,950$2,400 - $6,150$11,900

There is also a catch-up contribution limit of $1,000 for those people aged 55 or older by the end of the tax year. However, if you do not have HDHP coverage for the entire 12 months, then the allowable additional contribution amount is equal to $1,000 times the number of months with HDHP coverage divided by 12. So if a 55-year-old single taxpayer only had 3 months of HDHP coverage for 2013, then she can contribute the full base amount of $3,050 + 1/4 of the additional amount, or $250, which increases her maximum allowable contribution to $3,300. Furthermore, no additional contributions can be made to an HSA after you reach 65, since you will then be eligible for Medicare.

The contribution limits do not depend on the time of year when the HSA was first opened, even if it was at the end of the year. The last-month rule allows contributions to be made up until the due date of the filing of the return, not including extensions if the you were covered by an HDHP by December 1 of the tax year.

However, if you contribute the full amount for the year in which HDHP coverage began on December 1, but then fail to maintain HDHP coverage for the 12 months after becoming qualified for the HSA (for 2014, the period would be December 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014), then an amount proportional to the number of months without HDHP coverage must be added as income and will be subject to a 10% additional tax. So, for instance, if you get HDHP coverage on December 1, 2013, make a $3,000 contribution in December, which you deduct from your 2013 taxable income, but you terminate your HDHP coverage on June 30, 2014, then, since you only maintained the coverage for half of the year, $1500 of that December contribution must be added back to your taxable income for 2014 and you will have to pay an additional 10% penalty of $150. Remembering that eligibility is determined by HDHP coverage at the beginning of each month, if you had maintained coverage until July 1, 2014, then you would have maintained 7 months of coverage, so only 5/12 × $3000 = $1250 of your December contribution would have to be included in your 2014 income, and a 10% penalty of $125 would be added to your tax liability.

Although more than one HSA is allowable, the maximum annual contribution limits applies to the aggregate contributions. Spouses who are both eligible for HSAs can decide how to allocate the HSA contributions. When an individual becomes enrolled in Medicare Part A or B, usually at age 65, no additional contributions can be made.

The maximum contribution is reduced by any qualified HSA funding distributions, contributions made to the taxpayer's Archer MSA, or any employer contributions to the employees' HSA.

The employer can contribute to an HSA on behalf of its employees, and the contributions are excludable from employees' income, but the total contributed by both employer and employee cannot be greater than the applicable limit.

Any contributions above the HSA limit are not only not deductible but are also subject to a 6% excise tax. Any excess amount of contributions by an employer on behalf of an employee is included in the employee's income and subject to the excise tax. The excise tax can be avoided if the excess and any income that is earned by the excess contribution are withdrawn by the due filing date including extensions. However, the excise tax can also be avoided if withdrawals are made by October 15, 2014. Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts provides further details.

Distributions from HSA's, reported on Form 1099-SA, Distributions From an HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA, are tax-free if they are used to pay or reimburse qualified medical expenses of the taxpayer, spouse, or dependents. Otherwise, the distributions are taxable and subject to an additional 20% penalty unless the taxpayer is at least 59½, disabled, or dead. If the HSA plan allows it, a taxpayer can repay an expense that was not a qualified medical expense to avoid the 20% penalty, if done by April 15 of the following year from when the mistake was discovered or should have been discovered.

Some qualified expenses include insurance co-pays and deductibles, first-aid supplies, heating pads, sunscreen, and hearing aids. If the taxpayer has Medicare, then all Medicare expenses, such as deductibles, premiums, co-pays, and coinsurance, are also qualified expenses.

A taxpayer can receive a distribution for a qualified expense in the previous year if the expense was not claimed as an itemized deduction or was otherwise reimbursed. The taxpayer may want to do this if there were insufficient funds in the HSA account in the previous year to pay the expense.

The IRS can levy HSA's to recover unpaid taxes, and if the taxpayer is under 65, there is a 20% penalty on this involuntary withdrawal.

Qualified Medical Expenses

Qualified medical expenses include the following:

For taxpayers over 65, HSA distributions can be paid for the premiums of Medicare Part A, B, or D, Medicare HMO, or for the employee's share of premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance or for retiree's health insurance. HSA distributions that are used to pay for long-term care premiums are tax-free up to the age-based deductible limit for the premiums.

However, HSA distributions cannot be used to pay HDHP premiums. Payments for over-the-counter medicines which do not require prescription and for which the taxpayer does not have a doctor's prescription are taxable and subject to the 20% penalty.

Distributions to HSA's

A one-time distribution can be made by an employer from an employee's health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) or health reimbursement account (HRA) to the employee's HSA. An employee can also choose to transfer funds for one time only to his HSA from an IRA. The amount distributed from an IRA to an HSA reduces the total contribution that the individual may make that tax year and the transferred amount is not deductible.

Inherited HSA's

A surviving spouse can inherit the HSA of a deceased spouse and it can continue as an HSA for the surviving spouse. If the beneficiary is not the surviving spouse, then the amount of the HSA is includable in the beneficiary's income, which can be reduced by any HSA payments made by the beneficiary for the decedent's medical expenses within 1 year after death.

Form 8889

Form 8889, Health Savings Accounts is used to calculate and report HSA contributions, distributions and any penalties and must be attached to Form 1040. The HSA custodian reports any distributions to the IRS on Form 1099-SA, Distributions From an HSA, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA.

In Part I, HSA contributions are reported and the deductible amount is calculated. In Part II, tax-free and taxable HSA distributions are reported and the 20% additional tax is calculated for those taxable HSA distributions that are subject to it.

For a trustee-to-trustee distribution, such as from an IRA to an HSA, the taxpayer must maintain HDHP coverage for the year following the beginning of the month that the distribution was made. Otherwise the amount distributed becomes taxable and is also subject to a 10% additional tax, unless the taxpayer dies or becomes disabled. This is figured in Part III of Form 8889.


Although health savings accounts are nice, it would be a lot nicer if the insurance premiums were tax-free not only from the marginal tax rate but also from employment taxes, as they are for employees as a fringe benefit when offered by a C corporation.