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Time To Empty That Piggybank

Use it or lose it. That's the mantra those with flexible spending accounts (FSAs) should be repeating to themselves as the year winds down. An FSA allows you to set aside up to $5,000 in pretax dollars to pay for medical expenses not covered by your company's regular health-insurance plan.

The catch is that once you agree to contribute a certain amount, you have to use it up by the end of the benefit year or forfeit the remaining funds to your employer. According to a recent study of 1,084 employees at major corporations by Richard Day Research on behalf of Fidelity Investments, 91% of FSA users spent the full amount in their accounts last year. Of those who didn't, a third reported leaving less than $100.

If you're still facing a big balance in your account, here are some ways you can eat up the surplus:

-- Remember your copays and deductibles. The fixed amounts you have to pay for doctors' visits and prescriptions qualify as FSA expenses, as does what you spend out-of-pocket before your out-of-network coverage kicks in.

-- Stockpile over-the-counter medications. As of this year, you can get reimbursement for everything from aspirin to cough syrup. Check with your plan administrator to see what's covered. Of course, don't forget to submit your prescription drug receipts as well.

-- Take care of your eyes. In addition to an eye exam and prescription glasses, your FSA will cover vision-correction surgery and eye drops. You can also stock up on disposable contact lenses.

-- Visit your dentist. Have an extra cleaning, get those braces you've been considering, or buy dental supplies, such as teeth-whitening cream.

-- Seek preventive care. Get a flu shot (if you can find one) or have your cholesterol checked.

By Toddi Gutner

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