Would you like to reduce your health insurance costs, save on taxes, and put away more money for retirement? If you meet certain rules, an Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA) may be just what you're looking for.

What is an Archer MSA?

An Archer MSA is a tax-exempt trust or custodial account set up with a financial institution such as a bank or an insurance company. Contributions you make to the account can be used to pay for health-care expenses not covered by your health insurance plan.

Note: The Archer MSA program expired on December 31, 2007. After this date, no new Archer MSAs can be established, but Archer MSAs established before this date can continue to be used and receive contributions.

Here are some of the benefits of using an Archer MSA:

  • You can lower your insurance costs
  • Your contributions and any earnings or interest on those contributions grow tax free until withdrawn, and like contributions, will be tax free when withdrawn if used to pay qualified medical expenses
  • You can deduct your contributions on the front of your federal income tax return, even if you don't itemize

Archer MSA must be coupled with a high-deductible health plan

Typically, an Archer MSA works in tandem with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). An HDHP has a higher deductible than most health plans and has a maximum limit on the amount you must pay for covered out-of-pocket expenses.

The premiums for an HDHP are generally lower than for a low-deductible health plan. If you are self-employed, they are tax deductible.

An HDHP must meet certain IRS requirements in order to be used in conjunction with an Archer MSA. In 2018, an HDHP must have the following limits to qualify:

Making contributions to your Archer MSA

Tax-deductible contributions to an Archer MSA can be made by you or your employer, but not by both in the same year. You must be covered by an HDHP for the entire year to deduct the full amount. Employer contributions are nontaxable to you.

There are limits to the amount that can be contributed to your Archer MSA. The maximum is 75 percent of your annual health plan deductible if you have a family plan and 65 percent if you have an individual plan.

Any contributions over the maximum are not tax deductible, and you will have to pay a 6 percent excise tax on those amounts. The other limitation is that contributions cannot be more than you earned for the year.

Withdrawing money from your Archer MSA

You can withdraw funds from your Archer MSA to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses. Some trustees furnish checks for you to write yourself. Others will give you a debit card that provides instant access to your Archer MSA funds.

You and your trustee are required to report distributions. However, you will not have to pay income tax on this money as long as it was used for qualified medical expenses such as:

  • Ambulance service
  • COBRA continuation coverage
  • Dental expenses
  • Doctor's office visits
  • Emergency treatment
  • Health insurance premiums while unemployed
  • Hospitalization
  • Lab services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Vision care (including eyeglasses)
  • Chiropractic and acupuncture
  • Wellness and preventive programs

If any part of the distribution was used for nonqualified medical expenses, such as premiums for your HDHP or elective cosmetic surgery, you will have to pay income tax plus a 20 percent penalty tax on that amount. There is no penalty tax if you are disabled, are age 65 or older, or die during the year.

Archer MSAs are portable and will remain with you even if you change employers. Any money not used each year for medical expenses will continue to grow tax deferred in the account. The investment option you choose will affect the rate of return you receive. As with any investment, make sure you understand the risks before you sign up.

After age 65, you can withdraw money from your Archer MSA to add to your retirement income. The withdrawals will be taxable, similar to a traditional IRA.

Caution: Expenses incurred for over-the-counter (OTC) medications are not eligible for payment or reimbursement from any of the health-care accounts (Archer MSAs, FSAs, HRAs, and HSAs). However, OTC medicines obtained with a prescription and insulin may be reimbursed or paid tax-free from these accounts.

Choosing between an Archer MSA and an HSA

If you currently have an Archer MSA, you may want to look into establishing a similar type of savings vehicle, called a health savings account (HSA). HSAs, created as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, expand upon the benefits offered by Archer MSAs. Funds from an Archer MSA can be rolled over to an HSA, making it simple for you to switch from one type of account to the other. But before you do so, make sure you understand the differences between the two, including the following:

  • Any eligible individual under age 65 who is covered by a qualifying HDHP can establish an HSA; only a self-employed individual or an employee of a small business covered by a qualifying HDHP could establish an Archer MSA.
  • In 2019, the minimum annual deductible that applies to an HDHP used in conjunction with an HSA is $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family, lower than the minimum annual deductible that applies to an HDHP used in conjunction with an Archer MSA.
  • Both you and your employer (if any) can contribute to an HSA during the same year; an Archer MSA does not allow contributions from both individuals and employers during the same year.
  • You can contribute more each year to an HSA than to an Archer MSA. Annual contributions to an HSA are limited in 2019 to $3,500 for an individual or $7,000 for a family.
  • If you reach age 55 by the end of the tax year you can make catch-up contributions to your HSA up to $1,000; no catch-up contributions can be made to an Archer MSA.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of  The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

The Retirement Group is a Registered Investment Advisor not affiliated with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Tags: Financial Planning, Lump Sum, Pension