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Top 10 reasons to use health savings accounts

The HSA is a Swiss-Army knife of tax-advantaged accounts, a financial tool for paying medical expenses with pre-tax dollars ... or saving for the long term

Key takeaways

You’ve probably heard of health savings accounts (HSAs), and you may have wondered if one would be a good fit for you. You aren’t alone.

According to a survey released in 2023, there were more than 35 million HSAs in the U.S. in 2022, benefitting nearly 72 million people.1

An HSA is coupled with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to pay for current and future healthcare costs. More than half of American workers with employer-sponsored health coverage were enrolled in HDHPs as of 2022 (some people have an HDHP but opt not to open an HSA; you’re allowed to contribute to an HSA if you have HDHP coverage, but are not required to do so).

HSAs have increased in popularity since their debut in 2004. Understanding the increase in enrollment isn’t difficult when one takes a closer look at how HSAs work and the impressive array of benefits they offer to people willing and able to use them.

Who can utilize HSAs?

To contribute to an HSA, you must be covered under an HSA-qualified high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), either obtained through your employer or purchased on your own.

More than half of workers with employer-sponsored health coverage had at least one HDHP option available to them in 2023.2 And HDHPs are available for purchase in the individual market nearly everywhere in the country. That means you can have an HDHP and HSA even if you buy your own health insurance. An employer doesn’t have to be involved.

Once you’re enrolled in an HDHP, you can open an HSA (or sign up for the one your employer uses) and begin making contributions. And if you’re on the fence about whether it’s the right move for you, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. HSAs offer a triple tax advantage

The HSA is a rare breed in terms of tax-advantaged accounts:

  • The money you put into your HSA is pre-tax (the IRS limits how much you can contribute).
  • While the money is in your HSA, there’s no tax on investment gains or interest earned in the account.
  • And then when you withdraw the money, it’s still tax-free – as long as you use it to pay for qualified medical expenses.

In 2024, the maximum amount you can contribute to an HSA is $4,150 if your HDHP covers just yourself, or $8,300 if your HDHP covers at least one additional family member.3 The HSA contribution limits for 2025 will be $4,300 for someone with self-only HDHP coverage, and $8,550 for someone with family HDHP coverage.4

Contributing to your HSA reduces your ACA-specific modified adjusted gross income, which is important to keep in mind if you’re buying your own coverage in the health insurance Marketplace/exchange. The higher your ACA-specific MAGI, the smaller your premium subsidy will be (normally, there’s an income cap for subsidy eligibility, equal to 400% of the poverty level; that’s been eliminated through 2025, as a result of the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act). You might find that an HSA contribution makes you eligible for a larger premium subsidy. Here’s more about how this works.

2. Paying medical expenses with pre-tax dollars

Once you’ve put money in your HSA, you can withdraw it at any time to pay for a qualified medical expense. And qualified medical expenses go well beyond the out-of-pocket costs for services covered by your health insurance plan. They also include things like dental and vision costs, and products like sunscreen (SPF 30+), bandages, and lip balm.

If you don’t have an HSA, you can only deduct medical expenses by itemizing your deductions on your tax return. And even if you itemize, you can only deduct medical expenses that are in excess of 7.5% of your income.

3. Your HSA can be a backup retirement account

If you withdraw money from your HSA before you turn 65 and you’re not using it to pay for qualified medical expenses, you’ll have to pay income tax and a 20% penalty. (Don’t do this unless it’s a dire emergency!)

But once you turn 65, that 20% penalty no longer applies. You can continue to use your HSA funds for medical expenses, avoiding taxes altogether on the withdrawals. But if you withdraw the money for other purposes, you’ll just pay income tax. This is similar to how a traditional IRA works in terms of taxes. (Note that with a traditional IRA, you can start to withdraw money penalty-free at age 59.5, whereas with an HSA, you have to be 65.)

And unlike traditional IRAs, you’re not required to start withdrawing money from your HSA when you turn 72 or 73. If you want to leave it in the account to continue to grow, you can do that.

4. Pre-tax contributions … regardless of your income

Although you can think of your HSA as a backup retirement account, there is no income limit – on the low end or the high end – for deducting HSA contributions.

This is not the case for IRAs: There’s an income limit for Roth IRA contributions, and an income limit for being about to contribute pre-tax money to a traditional IRA if you also have a retirement plan at work. And both require you (or your spouse) to have enough earned income to cover the contributions.5

But to contribute to an HSA, you just need coverage under an HSA-qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP) without any additional major medical coverage, and you can’t be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. Your income isn’t a factor.

5. The money in your HSA continues to grow …

With an HSA, there’s no “use it or lose it” provision. This is one of the primary differences between an HSA and an FSA. If you put money in your HSA and then don’t withdraw it, it will remain in the account and be available to you in future years.

6. … and you can choose how your HSA grows

HSA funds can be kept in basic interest-bearing accounts – similar to a regular savings account at a bank or credit union – or, if you choose an HSA custodian that offers it, you can invest your HSA funds in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.

There’s no single right answer in terms of what you should do with the money in your HSA before you need to use it. If you plan to withdraw all or most of your contributions each year to fund ongoing medical expenses, an FDIC-insured institution might be the best choice. The account will likely only generate small amounts of interest, but it will also be protected from losses.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at your HSA as a long-term investment and your risk tolerance is suited to the stock market’s volatility, you might prefer to invest your HSA funds. Note that most HSA owners do not have their HSA funds invested. For some, this is a calculated decision based on their risk tolerance and their need to access the money in the near future. But for others, the account might serve them better if the funds were invested, but they may not understand the available options.

If you buy your own HDHP, you can select from any available HSA custodian. (Pay attention to fees, investment options, and expense ratios, as is always the case with investment accounts.)

If you have an HSA through your employer, you might be limited to using the HSA custodian your employer has selected, at least as far as your employer’s contributions go. And HSA contributions made via payroll deduction are typically free of income tax and payroll tax. You can’t avoid payroll taxes if you make your own HSA contributions outside of your employer’s payroll.

But you’re free to establish a separate HSA on your own, and transfer money out of the HSA your employer selected, and into the one you picked yourself. The IRS considers this a transfer, instead of a rollover, so there are no limits on how often you can do this.

7. You can leave your job and take your HSA

If you have an HSA through your employer, the money in the account is yours. When you leave your job, you can take the remaining HSA balance with you. This is another difference between FSAs and HSAs.

You can choose a new HSA custodian and transfer the money if you wish. There are no taxes on the HSA money you take with you when you leave your job, unless you withdraw the money and don’t use it for medical expenses.

8. Deductibles aren’t necessarily higher than other plans

You must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to contribute to an HSA. And it’s understandable that the term “high-deductible” makes people nervous. But the deductibles aren’t necessarily higher than deductibles for non-HDHPs, and in some cases, they’re even lower.

For 2024, IRS regulations require HDHPs to have deductibles of at least $1,600 for an individual and $3,200 for a family.3 But average deductibles for Bronze and Silver plans in the individual market are considerably higher than that. Among people with employer-sponsored plans that include deductibles (about 88% do), the average deductible for a single employee was more than $1,700 in 2023.6

And the maximum out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs are lower than the maximum out-of-pocket limits for other plans. In 2024, HDHPs have to cap out-of-pocket costs at no more than $8,050 for an individual, and $16,100 for a family.3 In contrast, ACA regulations allow non-HDHPs in 2024 to have out-of-pocket limits as high as $9,450 for an individual, and $18,900 for a family.7

(For 2025, HDHPs must have minimum deductibles of $1,650 for an individual and $3,300 for a family. Maximum out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs will be $8,300 for an individual and $16,600 for a family,4 versus $9,200 for an individual in a non-HDHP and $18,400 for a family in a non-HDHP. 8)

So although HSA-qualified plans are officially “high-deductible,” they can have deductibles and out-of-pocket limits that are lower than other available plans.

Until 2019, HDHPs were limited to covering only preventive care — as defined by ACA implementation regulations — before the deductible (meaning before the insured met the minimum deductible amount that the IRS sets each year). The definition of preventive care was updated in 2013 to align with the preventive services that the ACA requires all non-grandfathered health plans to cover.

But in July 2019, in response to an executive order signed the month before, the IRS issued new guidelines for preventive care that can be covered before the deductible on an HDHP without forfeiting the plan’s HSA eligibility. Under these rules, an HDHP can cover, pre-deductible, certain specific health care benefits for people with certain chronic conditions and the health plan can remain HSA-eligible (assuming it meets all of the other requirements for HSA-eligibility). For people with the following chronic conditions, these services can be covered before the deductible on an HDHP:

  • Congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease: ACE inhibitors and/or beta blockers
  • Heart disease: Statins and LDL cholesterol testing
  • Hypertension: Blood pressure monitor
  • Diabetes: ACE inhibitors, insulin or other glucose-lowering agents, retinopathy screening, glucometer, hemoglobin A1c testing, and statins
  • Asthma: Inhalers and peak flow meters
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia: Anti-resorptive therapy
  • Liver disease or bleeding disorders: International Normalized Ratio (INR) testing
  • Depression: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Note that HDHPs are not required to offer any of these benefits pre-deductible, unless a state requires it on state-regulated plans. These are benefits that go above and beyond the federally-required preventive care services, so whether to offer these services pre-deductible is up to each insurer. But offering them will not cause a plan to lose HDHP status, which would have been the case before July 2019.

9. There’s no deadline for reimbursing yourself from your HSA

When you pay a medical bill and you have an HSA, you are not required to withdraw money from your HSA to pay the medical bill. And there’s also no time limit on when you can reimburse yourself. As long as the medical expense was incurred after you established the HSA, and you didn’t take it as an itemized deduction, you can reimburse yourself years or decades later — after letting your HSA funds grow in the meantime.9

So imagine that you’re contributing to your HSA each year, and also spending a few hundred or a few thousand dollars each year in medical expenses. You pay those bills from your regular bank account, keeping careful track of how much you pay and retaining your receipts.

Now let’s say that you decide you want to retire a few years early, before you can start withdrawing money from your regular retirement account. At that point, you can gather up all of the receipts from all the medical expenses you’ve paid since you opened your HSA, and reimburse yourself all at once This is why it’s so important to keep your receipts — if you’re ever audited, you’ll need to be able to show that the amount you withdrew from your HSA was equal to the amount you had paid in medical bills over the years.

The money you withdraw is still tax-free at that point, since all you’re doing is reimbursing medical expenses (again, be careful not to withdraw more than you’ve spent in documented medical expenses; if you do, you’ll have to pay income tax and a 20% penalty on the excess withdrawal). But because you waited a few decades to reimburse yourself, you’ve given the money in your HSA many years to grow, tax-free, resulting in a potentially larger stash of funds.

10. Your HSA can be your long-term care fund

If you’re healthy and don’t have much in the way of medical expenses, you can think of your HSA as a very long-term investment. You’ll have to stop contributing to it once you’re enrolled in Medicare, but the money already in the account can continue to grow from one year to the next during your retirement.

You might find that you want to use your HSA funds, tax-free, to pay Medicare premiums. (That’s Part A if you’re not eligible for premium-free Part A, as well as Part B and Part D. You can also pay Medicare Advantage premiums with HSA funds, but you cannot pay Medigap premiums with tax-free HSA money.) Or you might need the HSA funds to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses during retirement.

But if you end up needing long-term care, the cost is likely to dwarf the out-of-pocket medical expenses you had earlier in your retirement. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care, and Medicaid only steps in if your income is low and you have exhausted almost all of your assets.

You can buy private long-term care insurance, but some people opt to treat an HSA as an investment earmarked for potential long-term care bills incurred late in life. If you don’t end up needing long-term care, your HSA can be passed on to your heirs, similar to a retirement account.

Clearly, there are a lot of advantages to an HSA. You’ll want to discuss the details with a certified tax advisor, to make sure you understand the tax implications of an HSA for your particular situation. But in general, if you’re enrolled in an HDHP, it’s in your best interest to set up an HSA and fund it. And if you don’t currently have HDHP coverage, it’s well worth considering as a future option.

Note that the information in this article is provided as background, and is not intended to be financial advice. If you have questions about your own financial situation, we recommend that you reach out to a trusted financial advisor or accountant.

Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for


  1. Survey: More Americans using health savings accounts” ABA Banking Journal. July 13, 2023 
  2. High deductible health plans and health savings accounts” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed May 22, 2024 
  3. Revenue Procedure 2023-23” Internal Revenue Service. Accessed May 22, 2024   
  4. Revenue Procedure 2024-25” Internal Revenue Service. Accessed May 22, 2024  
  5. Retirement topics – IRA contribution limits” Internal Revenue Service. Accessed May 22, 2024 
  6. Employer Health Benefits, 2023 Annual Survey” KFF. October 2023. 
  7. Premium Adjustment Percentage, Maximum Annual Limitation on Cost Sharing, Reduced Maximum Annual Limitation on Cost Sharing, and Required Contribution Percentage for the 2024 Benefit Year” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Dec. 12, 2022. 
  8. Premium Adjustment Percentage, Maximum Annual Limitation on Cost Sharing, Reduced Maximum Annual Limitation on Cost Sharing, and Required Contribution Percentage for the 2025 Benefit Year” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. November 15, 2023. 
  9. Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans” Internal Revenue Service. Accessed May 22, 2024 

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