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Tax Breaks

Reimbursing Yourself From a Flexible Spending Account

The rules for a dependent-care FSA are different from those for a health care account.

My husband started a new job in April and signed up to contribute to the dependent-care flexible spending account. I know I can use the money for day camp for my son while we work, but I paid some of the bills for camp myself. Can I withdraw the money from the FSA for the eligible expenses even though I have already paid the bills directly?

Yes, the withdrawals are based on the dates of care, not when the payments were made. As long as the dependent-care FSA was in effect when your child was at camp and you have a bill showing the dates of care -- and you have enough money in the account -- the FSA should reimburse you for the expenses even though you already paid the bill yourself, says Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer at WageWorks, which administers FSAs.

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You can only use dependent-care FSA money as it accumulates in the account. (Health care FSAs let you use the full amount you plan to contribute for the year starting in January, before you’ve made the contributions.) Most plans let you pay out the money you’ve saved in the account so far, with the remainder reimbursed as you make more contributions, says Dietel.

Keep in mind that you and your spouse can contribute a total of $5,000 per year to a dependent-care FSA if you file your taxes jointly (if you file as head of household, you can also contribute $5,000). You can contribute only $2,500 if you’re married filing separately. Also, summer camp is an eligible expense only if it’s a day camp (overnight camps don’t count) that a child under age 13 attends so you and your spouse can work or look for work. See Take a Tax Break for Summer Camp for more information about both the dependent-care FSA and the child-care credit.

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