Flex Your Financial Muscle With a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account

With your new child, you’ll be taking on new responsibilities – and new expenses. One way Uncle Sam can help you meet those new expenses is through your tax-free employer-sponsored flexible spending account. Many employers offer this benefit, also sometimes called a reimbursement account, for medical or child care expenses.

A dependent-care flexible spending account (also called a flex account) allows you to put aside money from your salary during each pay period to help pay for eligible expenses related to child care, such as day care which allows you or your spouse go to work, look for work, or attend school as a full time student. The cap is $5000, whether you are a single head of household or if file jointly as a married couple. You use the account to reimburse yourself for qualified expenses as they come up. Here’s how it works:

  • First, you must open your account during the annual enrollment period and choose the amount you want deducted from your payroll. You may only enroll or make changes to your plan inside of the annual enrollment period, unless your family experiences a qualifying mid-year event such as the birth of a child, change in marital or employment status, or if you want to change the amount being withheld from your check per pay period. In that case, you must make the change within 30 days of the qualifying event.
  • You can only be reimbursed up to the amount you currently have in your flexible spending account. For example, if you have a $3000 expense and only $1500 set aside in the account, the full amount of your reimbursement will only be $1500.
  • If you don’t request your reimbursement by the end of a certain period according to your plan schedule, you will lose that money! This “use it or lose it” principle means that you need to be as accurate as possible in determining how much to set aside, and also pay close attention to your plan schedule.

Another important thing to remember is, if you do elect to use a flexible spending account, you may not also take the Child Care Tax Credit which allows you to deduct up to $3000 in child care related expenses from your federal income tax. You must choose one or the other. So talk to your HR representative and see if you qualify for a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account, and choose whichever option is best for your family’s needs.