This was an Ask to Answer question submitted on Quora. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I withdraw from my HSA this year for a medical expense paid by cash during the previous financial year?
You can definitely do this, and in fact this can be a recommended strategy.
Your HSA is used to pay for health services and avoid paying tax. However, there are many methods you can use to implement this. The most straightforward is using a debit card linked to your HSA to purchase qualified medical expenses, so that that cost is immediately removed from your HSA. Another option is to pay for health services using a non-HSA method (cash, credit, check) and then reimburse yourself from your HSA. The reimbursement is generally just a bank transfer from HSA > checking account (or wherever) but can occur at any time.
The 2nd option is the one you are using, with a 1 year delay. You made a purchase in the prior year, and are now reimbursing yourself using your HSA. When you file Form 8889 for the reimbursing year, this amount will appear on lines 14 (distributions) and 15 (distributions paying qualified medical expenses), so there is no tax impact. Playing it exactly by the book.
The reason you may want to employ this strategy is it builds up reimbursable “credits” in your HSA account. You have this money as a safety net that you can withdraw at any time, since you already paid for the expense. Moreover, if you are investing your HSA, you are allowing that money to grow tax free.