Out-of-pocket medical expenses can put a serious dent in your budget, so setting up a flexible spending account (FSA) can help ease the financial burden of co-pays, deductibles, and other expenses not covered by your health insurance.

The money in your flexible spending account is supposed to go toward healthcare costs, but is it possible to get cash from your FSA card to use for anything? The short answer is no; however, you might be able to use your FSA debit card to purchase a very wide variety of products — negating the need for cash. Keep reading to learn more about how and where you can use your FSA, if you can return FSA items for cash, and more…

In This Article

What Is a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)?

A flexible spending account (FSA) is an employer-based monetary account that is funded through pre-tax deductions from your paycheck — some employers may also contribute to your FSA. Its sole purpose is to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses. Contributions to your FSA are deducted from your paycheck based on criteria set by your employer. You can contribute up to $2,600 or $5,000 annually, depending on the type of FSA program. The three types of FSA programs include:

  1. Health Care: This is a standard FSA that covers a wide range of medical expenses. The standard contribution is $2,600.
  2. Limited Purpose: This is a targeted FSA that only covers specific medical expenses, such as dental care and eye care. The standard contribution is $2,600.
  3. Dependent Care: This type of FSA is to be used to pay for the care of dependents who need specific types of medical care. Dependents in this context are children under the age of 13, a spouse, or a relative with mental or physical disabilities. The standard contribution is $5,000.

FSA accounts are usually offered as part of your employment benefits package. Contact the human resources department or a supervisor in charge of benefits to find out if your employer offers one or more of the above FSA programs.

Can You Get Cash from Your FSA?

No, it’s not possible to receive cash from your FSA. Regardless of the amount of money you have in your FSA account, it’s not the type of account you can dip into when you need fast cash, as there are strict rules set by the Internal Revenue Service regarding how this money is handled.

While your employer may offer a grace period (an extension of usually a couple months during which you can spend the remainder of the money in your FSA) or allow you to roll over up to $500 for use in the following year, any other money in your account not spent during the calendar year will expire. It is up to you to spend your FSA funds before they expire. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways you can spend this money.

What Can You Buy with Your FSA Debit Card (Flexcard)?

After enrolling in an FSA program, you’re usually issued an FSA debit card, which is also known as a Flexcard. Your Flexcard operates like any other debit card, except you can only use it to buy health items. You may not even want to get cash from your FSA card after seeing what all you can buy. A wide range of health-related items fall under the Flexcard spending umbrella, including products and services in the following areas:

  • Acne treatments — OTC cleansers, ointments, etc.
  • Acupuncture treatments
  • Allergy/asthma relief  — OTC allergy medications, eye drops, etc.
  • Baby care — formula, sunscreen, etc.
  • Breathing aids steam inhalers, vaporizers, etc.
  • Carpal tunnel relief  — braces and similar devices
  • Chiropractic care
  • Cold and flu relief  — OTC medications, nasal sprays, etc.
  • Dental care — denture cleansers and adhesives, dental guards, etc.
  • Diabetes treatment — diabetes test strips, blood sugar monitors, etc.
  • Digestive health — stomach acid reducers, nausea soothers, probiotics, etc.
  • Ear care — ear drops, ear wax removal systems, etc.
  • Eye care — eye drops, contact lens cleaners, etc.
  • Fertility — pregnancy tests, ovulation test kits, etc.
  • First aid — first aid kits and supplies
  • Foot care bandages, braces, orthotic inserts, etc.
  • Incontinence care  pads and briefs
  • Lip care — cold sore treatments
  • Mobility assistance — canes, walkers, mobility scooters, etc.
  • Pain management  — compresses, heating pads, therapeutic braces, etc.
  • Skincare — sunscreen lotions and creams
  • Smoking cessation — gums, lozenges, patches, etc.
  • Support brace — braces that support and stabilize ankles, back, neck, knees, and other areas of the body

Where to Spend Your FSA Funds

The following retailers sell FSA-eligible products:

1. CVS

2. FSA Store

3. Target

4. Walgreens

5. Walmart

  • Find FSA products at Walmart
  • More information: Walmart offers free home delivery for FSA purchases. You can purchase eligible items using your FSA debit card, cash or credit card. For in-store purchases, all FSA items appear on a paper receipt, coded with an ‘H’ on the right side of the product’s UPC code. FSA items also appear as a separate sub-total for easy recordkeeping. FSA product categories include diabetic supplies, diagnostics, eye and contact care, and first aid. Find out more at the Walmart FSA information page.
  • Find a Walmart near you

Can You Return FSA Items for Cash?

You can return health-related items bought through your FSA account and how you’re refunded is at the discretion of each store. However, it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive cash back for those returns. Retailers may instead let you choose between debiting the purchase amount to your Flexcard and receiving the refund in the form of store credit.

Many employers strictly regulate how and whether their employees can return FSA items for refunds. The University of Iowa, for example, has specific policies forbidding the abuse of FSA funds. Per those policies, mishandling return purchase funds may land you in hot water. Read your employer’s FSA policy on returns for more information, or speak with a workplace supervisor or human resources manager.

Keep receipts for items purchased with your FSA account because this is documented proof for processing any returns. Some stores clearly mark FSA receipts to make record-keeping easier. For online purchases, product receipt information is usually contained within the body of an email sent to your inbox after purchase.

What Happens If You Use Your FSA Card for Non-Approved Purchases?

Stores like Walmart have systems that keep track of FSA-approved products they sell, and non-approved items may be automatically rejected for card payment approval. That means you’ll have to pay for those non-approved hair care items and snacks using your own cash, debit, or credit cards at checkout.

But what happens when stores don’t flag your non-approved purchases?

Let’s say you go to the store and purchase a few FSA-approved personal care items and throw in a pack of your favorite gummy bears. Or, you accidentally whip out your FSA card and use it to pay for the pizza you ordered, mistaking it for your debit card. What happens when non-approved items are bought using the card?

According to a Forbes.com article, you must report these non-eligible items on your federal tax form and pay a whopping 20% tax penalty for these purchases. Because everything purchased with FSA cards is reportable, you are required to report these items as ‘ineligible expenses’ when filling out the Health Savings Accounts IRS form.

Note: You may have heard people say they purchased eligible items with their FSA money and then sold them for cash. You may have also heard people saying they made qualifying purchases with their FSA card, only to return them and request store credit, thereby allowing them to purchase other, non-FSA-eligible items. These and similar activities amount to tax fraud and are not recommended.

What Actions Might Your Employer Take?

Employers don’t take non-qualified expenditures lightly. If you purchase non-medically approved items with your FSA card, your employer has the right to deactivate your FSA card and demand that you repay all the monies for these improper charges back to the employer-run FSA account. After you make the payment, your employer can reactivate your account. If you fail to repay on your own, your employer can legally take the funds out of your paycheck. If these measures don’t settle the debt, your employer can take additional legal measures to recover the money.

Considering the high price connected with misusing FSA accounts, it’s much better on your wallet to avoid using your FSA card for anything but approved medical expenses.

In Summary

If you wanted to know how to get cash from FSA card, there are ways but they come in conflict with the law and will also cost you a lot.

FSAs are typically set up through your employer, and they’re a great way to finance out of pocket health-related expenses. You can use your FSA debit card to purchase a wide range of FSA-eligible products and certain health services. Due to the strict employer and IRS regulations, you may not return FSA items for cash. Careful management of your FSA card can help you avoid paying unnecessary tax penalties and fees associated with card misuse.