While much of the attention on the dependent care flexible spending account focuses on using such accounts for child care purposes, employees more advanced in their careers—who are less likely to have children under the age 13 limit for child care benefits—should remember that it is not just a child care account.
The distinction could make a difference to those who have elderly parents or other close relatives who may need assistance through adult day care-type arrangements. To them, a dependent care account might be equally useful as to an employee with a young child, since those accounts allow up to $5,000 to be set aside pre-tax each year for dependent care purposes.
Dependent care FSAs allow participants you to be reimbursed on a pre-tax basis for expenses that are necessary to allow you or your spouse to work. Several IRS rules governing such accounts bear closer watching in the adult care setting than in the child care setting.
First, the FSA enrollee must be able to claim the person as a dependent on his or her income tax return. While that usually isn’t an issue with children, it might be with an adult dependent. Essentially, an adult may qualify as a dependent for tax purposes if the employee is providing more than half of that person’s maintenance for the year.
Remember, though, that once you retire, you can no longer have an FSA account. Money in a dependent care account typically is put in and paid out on a pay-as-you-go basis, so there’s generally no risk of losing money that had been put in such an account.