Health Savings Accounts have been around since 2004, and all indications are that they’re here to stay. This form of health insurance is more in tune with our times of unemployment and lack of medical care than traditional co-payment health insurance plans. Those policies tend to have premiums on the high side, while HSA plans start with lower than average premiums. A couple of studies have shown that premiums rise slower than average for these policies, too.

Low premiums make it more affordable to maintain coverage during periods of unemployment, but that’s not the only way HSA plans can bridge gaps between jobs. As you’ve probably guessed, a Health Savings Account is specifically designed to pay for health care with benefits that standard accounts don’t provide.

Health Savings Accounts Reduce Taxes

Health Savings Accounts allow you to pay for health care with pre-tax dollars. The money you contribute to your HSA can be used to directly reduce your taxable income with an “above-the-line deduction.” That basically means you won’t need to itemize deductions to lower your income taxes. That works for federal tax returns and for all but three state returns.

After you get that tax deduction, you have a choice about how to use your HSA funds. If you use the money for health care, withdrawals won’t be taxed as long as you only spend them to pay for health care that’s deemed to be eligible. Most things are with the exception of over-the-counter medicines, like aspirin. A purchase like that would trigger a 20-percent penalty fee on the HSA withdrawal and it would become taxable income.

You can spend HSA money on things your high-deductible health plan probably won’t cover, such as dentistry or homeopathy. You can also pay for health care for family members who are not covered on your insurance policy.

HSA Plans Foster Saving For Retirement

Your other choice is to invest HSA dollars and let the balance grow with tax-free earnings as you would with an IRA. If your employer contributes to your HSA, that money is yours to keep even after that job is history. Once you turn 65, you can use HSA funds to buy anything without incurring a penalty, but it’s still taxable as income when spent on something other than qualified health care.

Many different financial institutions will let you open an HSA. Some restrict what they offer to interest-bearing savings accounts, but others will allow you to invest in stocks and bonds, or mutual funds. These accounts are becoming big business, so HSA administrators are competing with perks to attract your business. Many make it as simple to withdraw HSA money as it is to use a regular checking account. Even credit cards linked to HSA money are on the horizon.

After your HSA balance reaches an amount that you’re comfortable with, you might even consider starting a second Health Savings Account that you use strictly for the investment options. Keep one liquid for medical emergencies and devote the second one to letting the tax-free earnings help you prepare for retirement.