Officers - Tax Savings Accounts

Columbia University offers several tax savings accounts, including the Healthcare and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) to help you save. No matter which medical plan option you choose (or if you choose not to enroll in Columbia University medical coverage), you can enroll in the Dependent Care FSA.

  • If you enroll in the 80, 90 or 100 Choice Plus plan or choose to have no medical coverage through the University: You can enroll in a Healthcare FSA. 
  • If you enroll in the HDHP: You can enroll in an HSA or the Healthcare FSA, but not both. 
  • If you choose not to enroll in Columbia University medical coverage, you can still enroll in a Healthcare FSA.

Flexible Spending Accounts

Flexible Spending Accounts allow you to contribute pre-tax money to reimburse yourself for eligible healthcare and dependent day care expenses. You must enroll within 31 days of hire or a Qualified Life Status Change, and you must also re-enroll each year during Benefits Open Enrollment to take advantage of FSAs.

Columbia University offers two types of FSAs that are administered by UHC:

  • Healthcare FSA for eligible healthcare expenses, including medical, prescription drug or dental copays and deductibles, as well as vision or hearing services. For a list of eligible expenses, please visit or IRS Publication 502.
  • Dependent Care FSA for eligible child or adult day care expenses for your dependents, such as licensed day care centers and nursery schools, beforeschool or after-school programs and home attendants. Note: for dependents’ health-related expenses, use the Healthcare FSA.  

You can enroll in the Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program (T/PRP) and Healthcare and Dependent Care FSA programs even if you do not enroll in a Columbia University medical plan.

How FSAs Work

FSAs allow you to set aside pre-tax money to reimburse yourself for eligible expenses. Since your FSA contributions reduce your gross taxable income, you pay lower taxes and take home more money.
If you elect an FSA, you contribute to it in equal installments each pay period throughout the calendar year.
You cannot change your election amount during the calendar year unless you have a Qualified Life Status Change. Please refer to Making Changes to Your Benefits for more details.
If your medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income and you itemize deductions, you may be better off deducting your expenses from your income tax rather than using either the Healthcare FSA or the HSA. You may want to consult with a tax adviser or financial professional to determine which works best for you.

Also, you may use the Dependent Care FSA, the federal tax credit or a combination of both for your eligible dependent care expenses. Your choice will depend on your family income and the number of dependents you have in eligible day care programs. Generally, if your family’s adjusted gross income exceeds $40,000, you may save more in taxes using the Dependent Care FSA. You can also go to the IRS website or consult your tax adviser or financial professional.

Health Care Spending Card

After you elect the FSA, UHC will send two Health Care Spending Cards in your name to your home mailing address. These cards are linked to any Healthcare and Dependent Care FSA accounts you elect.
When you incur an eligible healthcare or dependent care expense, such as prescription drugs or office visit copays, you can use your Health Care Spending Card to pay for the expense at participating locations.
If you do not use your card at the time of purchase, keep your receipt(s). You may need to submit an out-of-network medical claim to UHC so you can 1) be reimbursed for the out-of-pocket expense from your FSA; and/or 2) to substantiate your expenses with UHC if you are manually filing a claim.

Convenient Automatic Reimbursement

If you are enrolled in a Columbia-provided medical and/or dental plan, you will be automatically reimbursed for most medical, prescription, vision and dental out-of-pocket expenses. This convenient automated feature processes medical, dental, vision and prescription drug claims—and then automatically sends Healthcare FSA participants reimbursement checks for their out-of-pocket costs if those claims were submitted to the Columbia University health plans.
Opting out of automatic reimbursement: If you prefer to manage your FSA funds and choose which expenses are reimbursed, you can opt out of the claim autorollover at any time by logging in to If you opt out, you will need to file reimbursement claims online or manually with UHC.  

Forfeiture Rule

The IRS has strict rules regarding FSAs. It is important to estimate your expenses carefully, incur your expenses by December 31 and make sure that your claims for the calendar year are received by the FSA administrator (UHC) no later than March 31 of the following year. A balance of up to $500 in your Healthcare FSA can be rolled over to the next plan year if you do not enroll in an HSA. However, any money left in your Dependent Care FSA will be forfeited.
ImportantImportant! If you leave the University or become ineligible for benefits, you can only be reimbursed for expenses incurred prior to your employment end date or the date you become ineligible for benefits. Any remaining funds would be forfeited.

Eligibility Regarding Same-Sex Domestic Partners 

IRS regulations do not allow you to use FSA funds for expenses incurred by or on behalf of same-sex domestic partners, or their children, unless they qualify as your legal tax dependents.
If you are covered under a Columbia-provided medical plan:

1. Go to and click on “Register Now.” Your health plan ID card includes information you will need to register, or you can register using your Social Security Number and date of birth.

2. Click on “View Account Balances,” then select “Flexible Spending Account(s).”

Don’t Have a Health Plan with UHC?
You do not need to be a member of a Columbia health plan to participate in an FSA. To manage your FSA expenses, you can register using your Social Security Number and date of birth. Under group/account number, enter “902784.”
Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) vs.
Health Savings Account (HSA)
FeatureHealth Care FSAHSA
(only available with HDHP)
Pre-tax contributionsYesYes, if you are not enrolled in Medicare*
Unused funds roll over from year-to-yearYes, up to $500** Yes,full amount
Investment options with taxfree earnings
Tax-free withdrawal for eligible expenses
Can use for eligible healthcare and dental expensesYesYes
Portable – can take it with you  when you leave Columbia
Can be used to pay for retiree medical expenses
Annual elected amount available at beginning of year
Can contribute if in HDHP Yes, if you are not enrolled in the HSAYes

* If you enroll in Medicare, you cannot make new contributions to the HSA; however, you can use any accumulated HSA funds to pay for eligible medical expenses.

** In the FSA, you must incur claims or expenses by December 31 each year or any balance over $500 will be forfeited. Balances of $500 or less will roll over to the next calendar year if you remain a benefits eligible employee at Columbia University. 


Important! The IRS does not permit you to elect both a Healthcare FSA and an HSA. If your spouse has one of the two—for example, through another employer—you cannot elect another type of tax-savings vehicle. This rule does not apply to domestic partners because the IRS does not allow the use of either account for the expenses of a domestic partner. If you have a balance of $500 or less rolled over from your Healthcare FSA from 2017, you will automatically be enrolled in a Healthcare FSA in 2018. However, if you would like to contribute the maximum allowable amount in 2018, you must enroll in the Healthcare FSA during Open Enrollment.

Dependent Care FSA

The Dependent Care FSA helps you pay the cost of dependent day care services for an adult or child because you work or attend school. If you are married, your spouse must also work or go to school while you are at work in order to qualify for this coverage. You can contribute up to $5,000* to a Dependent Care FSA. If you are married, the IRS has several guidelines that might affect how much you can deposit:
  • If your spouse also has a Dependent Care FSA at work and you file a joint tax return – your combined deposits cannot exceed $5,000.
  • If you are married and file separate income taxes – the most you can contribute is $2,500.
  • If your prior year W-2 earnings exceed $120,000 – Columbia Benefits may contact you to inform you whether your contributions must be capped as a result of mandatory IRS testing.

You can be reimbursed for the cost of services provided for:

  • Dependent children under the age of 13  If your child will turn 13 during the year, you can submit claims only for expenses incurred up to the child’s birthday. You may be eligible to un-enroll from the Dependent Care FSA once your child reaches age 13 as part of a “Change in Dependent Care Cost.”
  • Other dependents, including a parent, spouse or spouse’s child who is physically or mentally unable to care for himself or herself.

For additional information, see eligible dependent care providers.

Your reimbursement for dependent care cannot exceed the balance in your account at the time of your claim. If the money in your account is insufficient to pay your claim, the balance will be paid later as your pre-tax payroll contributions accumulate in your account. When you incur an eligible dependent care expense, you can use your Health Care Spending Card to pay for the expense at participating locations. The card will only accept expenses up to the balance in your account at the time of use. 

ImportantImportant! If you leave the University or become ineligible for benefits, you can only be reimbursed for expenses incurred prior to your employment end date or the date you become ineligible for benefits. Any remaining funds would be forfeited.

Child Care Benefit 

Eligible Officers can elect to receive up to a $2,000 contribution from Columbia to a Dependent Care FSA. If you elect this benefit during the year because of a Qualified Life Status Change, you will receive a prorated portion of the benefit To be eligible for this benefit, you must meet all of the eligibility criteria below:
  • Be a full-time, benefits-eligible Officer with an Annual Benefits Salary of less than or equal to $120,000.*
  • Have a dependent child under the age of five and not yet attending kindergarten who:
    • Has been verified by the Columbia Benefits Service Center as an eligible dependent; and
    • Meets the IRS definition of a tax dependent.
  • Elect to participate in the Child Care Benefit as a new hire, during the annual Open Enrollment period or if you experience a Qualified Life Status Change.

There is a limit of a single benefit per family regardless of the number of eligible children, and regardless of whether both parents are eligible Officers.

Officers who receive the Child Care Benefit can also contribute personal pretax payroll contributions to their Dependent Care FSA. The total contributions between the Dependent Care FSA and the Child Care Benefit cannot exceed the $5,000 annual maximum. 

*IRS limits are subject to change.