If you have the opportunity to contribute to both a 401(k) and a health savings account (HSA), you may wonder how best to take advantage of them. Determining how much to contribute to each type of plan will require some careful thought and strategic planning.
A traditional, non-Roth 401(k) allows you to save for retirement on a pre-tax basis, which means the money is deducted from your paycheck before taxes are assessed. The account then grows on a tax-deferred basis; you don't pay taxes on any contributions or earnings until you withdraw the money. Withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax and a possible 10% penalty tax if made before you reach age 59½, unless an exception applies.
You can open and contribute to an HSA only if you are enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health plan (HDHP), are not covered by someone else's plan, and cannot be claimed as a dependent by someone else. Although HDHP premiums are generally lower than other types of health insurance, the out-of-pocket costs could be much higher (until you reach the deductible). That's where HSAs come in. Similar to 401(k)s, they allow you to set aside money on a pre-tax or tax-deductible basis, and the money grows tax deferred.
However, HSAs offer an extra tax advantage: Funds used to pay qualified medical expenses can be withdrawn from the account tax-free. And you don't have to wait until a certain age to do so. That may be one reason why 68% of individuals in one survey viewed HSAs as a way to pay current medical bills rather than save for the future.1 However, a closer look at HSAs reveals why they can add a new dimension to your retirement strategy.
Following are some of the reasons an HSA could be a good long-term, asset-building tool.
The bottom line is that if you don't need all of your HSA money to cover immediate health-care costs, it may provide an ideal opportunity to build a separate nest egg for your retirement health-care expenses. (It might be wise to keep any money needed to cover immediate or short-term medical expenses in relatively conservative investments.)
If you have the option to save in both a 401(k) and an HSA, ideally you would set aside the maximum amount in each type of account: in 2019, the limits are $19,000 (plus an additional $6,000 if you're 50 or older) in your 401(k) plan; $3,500 for individual coverage (or $7,000 for families, plus an additional $1,000 if you're 55 or older) in your HSA. Realistically, however, those amounts may be unattainable. So here are some important points to consider.
1) Estimate how much you spend out of pocket on your family's health care annually and set aside at least that much in your HSA.
2) If either your 401(k) or HSA — or both — offers an employer match, try to contribute at least enough to take full advantage of it. Not doing so is turning down free money.
3) Understand all HSA rules, both now and down the road. For example, you'll need to save receipts for all your medical expenses. And once you're enrolled in Medicare, you can no longer contribute to an HSA. Nor can you pay Medigap premiums with HSA dollars.
4) Compare investment options in both types of accounts. Examine the objectives, risk/return potential, and fees and expenses of all options before determining amounts to invest.
5) If your 401(k) offers a Roth account, you may want to factor its pros and cons into the equation as well.