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6 Tips to Save on Healthcare and Fitness in the New Year

6 Tips to Save on Healthcare and Fitness in the New Year

Feeling good, looking good, and living the lifestyle you want are just a few of the well-known benefits that come from improving your physical fitness. But did you know that getting in shape can also boost your finances?

Here are six ways to get fit and save on healthcare in the New Year:

1. Use a Health Savings Account (HSA)

Surveys continue to show that too few Americans take advantage of health savings accounts, or “HSAs.” Either they just don’t know that they exist or they underestimate how much they save on healthcare.

You’re eligible to contribute to an HSA when you’re covered by a high deductible health plan. High deductible plans are becoming more popular because they’re more affordable. The higher your deductible, the lower your premium will be.

The beauty of an HSA is that as long as you spend it on qualified medial expenses, the funds are never taxed. Contributions to an HSA, other than those from an employer, are deductible on your tax return, no matter if you itemize deductions or not.

That means that if your average income tax rate is 25%, you get an immediate 25% discount on all your out-of-pocket medical expenses. That’s huge!

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You can take distributions from the account to pay for medical expenses—such as doctor co-pays, prescriptions, and supplies—before your deductible is satisfied and your health benefits kick in. But if you spend money in an HSA on non-qualified expenses, the amount you withdraw will be subject to income tax, plus a 20% penalty.

You can also use HSA funds for a long list of other types of expenses, even if you don’t have insurance for them, such as going to a dentist, ophthalmologist, chiropractor, or psychologist. One of my favorite ways to use HSA money is to get new pair of prescription sunglasses every couple of years.

Another benefit of an HSA is that you don’t have to take any distributions each year; you can let the savings accumulate indefinitely without penalty.

Find out if your health insurance qualifies as a high deductible plan. If so, open up an HSA and begin funding it as soon as possible so you can get a tax break on your next medical expense. For 2017, you can contribute up to $3,400 if you have individual coverage or $6,650 for a family plan.

2. Use a Health Flexible Savings Arrangement (FSA)

Flexible spending arrangements have some similarities to HSAs, but are only offered by employers. An FSA allows you or your employer to make contributions on a pre-tax basis, usually through payroll deductions. For 2017, eligible employees can contribute up to $2,600.

As long as you spend FSA funds on qualified medical expenses, they’re never taxed. So, just like with an HSA, you save an amount equal to the income taxes you would have paid on the money.

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But unlike an HSA, an FSA is a “use-it-or-lose-it” plan. That means you generally must empty the account every year or else only carry over a small amount, while funds in an HSA can roll over from year to year without penalty.

3. Get Healthcare Subsidies 

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, mandates every American to have health insurance. Even if Obamacare is eventually repealed, you’re required to have it until changes are officially made. If you can afford heath insurance but choose not to buy it, you’ll be subject to a tax penalty.

Depending on your income, the state where you live, and the number of people in your household, you may be eligible for financial assistance to save on healthcare. In most states, if you earn less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, you can get a healthcare subsidy, which reduces your monthly health insurance premium.

The open enrollment period to get health insurance for 2017 began on November 1, 2016 and ends January 31, 2017. So if you remain uninsured, don’t miss the opportunity to get the coverage you need to protect your health and your finances. Use the Obamacare Subsidy Calculator to estimate your monthly health insurance costs.

4. Max Out Your Health Insurance Benefits

Health insurance benefits, such as free preventative checkups and deductibles, are tied to an annual schedule. That means you need to pay attention to the calendar in order to max out your benefits.

For instance, if you burn through your health deductible and need a medical procedure, make sure to get it before the end of the year. If you wait until the following year, you could end up paying more than you have to.

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In other words, take advantage of the time each year after you reach your deductible so you can get your insurance company to pay for as much of your medical expenses as possible.

If there are capped benefits, like a certain number of therapy sessions or an allowable amount of dental work, get part completed in December and the rest in January, in order to take advantage of 2 years’ worth of benefits.

And don’t skimp on the free preventative appointments, like annual physicals, well-woman visits, mammograms, prostate screenings, dental cleanings, and eye exams.

5. Claim Medical Tax Deductions

The IRS allows you to save money by claiming medical expenses as deductions on your tax return. However, the catch is that you must itemize deductions, instead of taking the standard deduction for your tax filing status.

When you itemize, you can claim medical expenses paid for yourself, your spouse, and dependents, unless they’re already excluded from your taxable income, paid for using your HSA or FSA, or were reimbursed to you. In other words, you can’t double dip and get a tax deduction twice.

Another important point with medical deductions is that you can only claim amounts that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. For example, let’s say your AGI is $50,000 and your medical expenses for the tax year are $6,000. You could deduct the amount over $5,000, or $1,000. If your medical expenses are less than 10% of your income, then you can’t deduct any of them.

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There’s a long list of expenses that qualify for a tax deduction, and some of them, such as acupuncture, weight-loss programs, and transportation, may surprise you. You can even claim the cost of your health insurance premiums if you pay them as an individual—but not if they’re paid on a pre-tax basis from your paycheck at work.

I encourage your to take a look at the full list of deductible costs found on IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. There are probably many medical expenses that you might not realize are deductible.

6. Review Your Medical Bills Carefully

My last tip to save money on healthcare and fitness is to review your medical bills carefully. If you don’t understand a charge, don’t pay it until the medical provider and your insurance company can explain why you owe it.

If you believe that a health insurance claim has been denied in error, perhaps because of an administrative or coding error, fight for your rights and file an appeal if necessary.

Laura Adams is a personal finance expert, award-winning author, and host of the top-rated Money Girl Podcast. To learn more and connect, click here.

Featured photo credit: Little Perfect Stock via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on April 3, 2019

How to Nix Your Credit Card Debt in Less Than 3 Years

How to Nix Your Credit Card Debt in Less Than 3 Years

Debt is never a fun thing to be in. But, there are many actions that you can take that will help you rid yourself of the burden of debt once and for all.

By coming up with a set plan, eliminating your debt can feel much easier than constantly thinking about it.

This post will provide some tips on how you can do this to help you nix your credit card debt in less than 3 years.

Hint: there are ways that are easier than you think.

1. Consider Consolidating Multiple Credit Cards If Possible

This may not be applicable to you, but if you have multiple cards – it is something to consider. Keeping up with multiple bills is time consuming.

It will depend on the balance you have on each. Consolidate ones you can but do not do it to the point that you get too close to the maximum limit. Also, it is ideal to pick the card with the lower interest rate.

Consider if there are any fees or alternatively, rewards, with transferring a balance to another card. Watch out for fees. Note that some cards offer rewards for transferring a balance to them. This is extra cash that can help go towards paying off your debt.

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Having one or two cards can make nixing your debt much simpler than keeping up with the balance of a bunch of cards. Keeping track of paying the minimum towards a bunch of cards is time consuming. Spend the time to consolidate instead to make the overall process simpler going forward.

My tip: Have one main credit card. Have a second one that you use for necessities – such as groceries or gas – that offers rewards for those purchases (a lot of cards do) and set the second one on auto-pay. You should be able to pay off a smaller amount on auto-pay if it is a necessity. If you think you cannot, then you may need to cut down a lot on expenses.

Why do I suggest doing this? Having one thing set to auto-pay is one less thing to think about. One less thing to waste time on. Same idea with consolidating to one main card. Tracking down too many is a hassle.

2. Try to Pay the Full Balance You Spent Each Month at the Very Least

You need to pay off the amount you are spending each month when that bill comes in. This is the amount you spent THAT month.

Do not let the debt keep accruing while you work on paying any unpaid debt that has accrued. It will become a never-ending battle. Try as best as you can to be current on paying for each month’s expenses when that month’s bill comes out.

If this is a strain, consider why. You may need to cut expenses. Or you may need to consider other cards. Or look at where this money is going.

3. Pay Extra When You Can – Every Small Amount Counts

This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are looking at a lot of credit card debt, it can look daunting, but each extra amount that you can put towards the debt will really add up – no matter how small it is.

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It does not just reduce the principal amount that you have left to pay off, but it reduces the amount that is collecting interest. You will always save money with that reduced interest.

4. Create a Plan on How to Pay Extra

Back to the main point, having this plan is giving you one less thing to think about.

This plan should be a plan that works for you. If it does not work for you, your spending habits, and your views on debt, then it will not be an effective plan.

For instance, if a set plan of an extra $50 (or another amount that you know you can afford) works for you, then do that. Set that aside every month and pay that extra amount. Treat it like a bill. Choose an amount that works for you and pay it like clockwork as though it was a bill you had to pay each month.

Little amounts will not nix it entirely, but they will help tackle it and having a set plan can make it less of a chore. Creating a new plan of how much to put towards it each month is an unnecessary added stress.

5. Cut out Costs for Services You Do Not Use

If you are signed up for subscriptions that you do not use because of some free trial or for some other reason, cut it out. Your overall financial position will look better.

In turn, that will make cutting your credit card debt easier. Look at your statements to find these expenses. If you do not use them, you may forget you are paying some unnecessary amount each month. Cutting it out can really add up in savings that you can put towards other needed expenses.

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6. Get Aggressive About It

Consider these points:

Depending on the interest and the level of debt, you may need to give up a few indulgences. For example, instead of ordering delivery or going out to eat, cook at home. Everything adds up.

Other things may be more of a sacrifice. It may be a trip you wanted to go on, or a daily latte habit you’ve picked up. In these instances, consider how important it is to you and if it’s worth the sacrifice. And if it is a costly expense, think whether you can wait to indulge.

Cutting an extravagant expense can really help make a dent in your overall debt. Try not to add to debt when you are trying to pay it off. It will be a never-ending battle. Make it less of a battle with these tips and it will feel easier.

Bottom line: Do what you can to make this process easier for you. Implement steps that do this. It takes time now, but will help overall. Also, keep track of your spending and paying down of your debts. Which is the next point.

7. Reevaluate Your Progress at Set Intervals

Doing a regular check-in can help you see your efforts pay off or maybe indicate that you need to give this a bit more effort. If you check every 3-6 months, it will not feel so much like a chore or feel so daunting.

By doing this, you will be able to better understand your progress and perhaps readjust your plan. Bonus: if you see it pay off, it will feel great to do this check-in. You will get there.

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Finally (and most importantly)…

8. Keep Trying

Do not get discouraged. Pushing it off will make it worse. Just keep trying.

Once your debt becomes lower, each monthly payment will reduce the balance more. Why? You are paying less towards interest. It will be a snowball effect eventually and it will become much easier to manage. Just get to that point. And know once you do, it will feel easier and motivating.

Start Knocking out Your Debt Today

The best way to eliminate debt is to get started right away. Begin by implementing the above steps and watch your debt just melt away. Try out some of the above strategies and see what works best for you. Soon you’ll be on your way to a debt free life.

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