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IRS Clarifies FSA Relief and Provides Flexibility for Health Plan Elections

February 19, 2021


On February 18, the IRS released Notice 2021-15 (the Notice) to clarify the application of the Flexible Spending Account (FSA) relief provided for under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Tax Act of 2020 (the Act). The Notice also provides additional flexibility under Internal Revenue Code Sec. 125 for group health plans.


Clarity on FSA Relief Included in the Act

The Act, which delivered a second round of COVID-19 stimulus funding, was signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020. Also included in the Act are various provisions affecting FSAs – both Health FSAs and Dependent Care FSAs – that are aimed at providing plan participants with temporary flexibility in light of the ongoing public health emergency. These provisions are all optional for employer-sponsors, not mandatory.


In the Notice, the IRS issues important clarifications with respect to several of these provisions:


If an employer-sponsor chooses to implement this carryover feature, it may place a cap on the amount that can be carried over and may also limit the application or availability of the carryover funds up to a specified date in the plan year. Finally, employers and participants should be mindful that carryovers are an extension of FSA coverage and, with respect to Health FSA coverage, will be disqualifying for purposes of HSA eligibility unless the employee either waives the carryover amounts or converts the amounts to a Limited Purpose FSA.


As a practical matter, the unlimited carryover and extended grace period provide similar relief, as both provisions allow all unused FSA balances to remain available in the next plan year


Additional Relief for Health Plans

In addition to the FSA relief provided for by the Act, the Notice introduces flexibility measures for group health plan coverage, as well. Specifically, for health coverage elections made under a Sec. 125 Plan, employer-sponsors may permit mid-year election changes absent a qualifying event for plan years ending in 2021. This relief is identical to the temporary relief the IRS provided for health coverage elections in 2020.


Employer Action

Because these flexibility provisions are optional, employer-sponsors should consider which provisions – if any – it wishes to incorporate. In addition to the potential advantages these provisions will offer to employees, employers should evaluate their own administrative capabilities and limitations, including any limitations that a Third-Party Administrator may impose.


Where the employer also offers high-deductible health plan coverage to employees, the impact of the carryover and grace period provisions on HSA eligibility should be carefully evaluated. To avoid a negative impact on HSA eligibility, employers will likely wish to implement a Limited Purpose FSA option.


Finally, if an employer chooses to incorporate any of these provisions, it must adopt appropriate plan amendments no later than the last day of the calendar year beginning after the end of the plan year to which the change relates. For example, for a change made to a 2021 calendar year plan, an amendment must be adopted no later than December 31, 2022. For ERISA plans, these amendments will trigger the requirement to distribute a Summary of Material Modification or an updated Summary Plan Description to participants.


Additional Resources



This Benefits Brief is not intended to be exhaustive, it is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal or tax advice. A qualified attorney or other appropriate professional should be consulted on all legal compliance matters.


Posted by in Blog, Health & Benefits, Human Resources

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