How to Handle HSA Excess Employer Contributions

I was covered under a high deductible plan but also by my parents’ plan. I didn’t realize my employer would be putting money in an HSA for me. I tried to request a distribution for ineligible contribution from my HSA but the HSA custodian wouldn’t release the money to me since my employer put it in. What are my options?

Add Excess Contributions to Income

It sounds like you had excess employer contributions in 2018. Often this occurs when an employer contributes more than your contribution limit for the year. It also occurs when you receive contributions but are HSA ineligible, like in your case due to multiple insurance coverage. This isn’t the worst thing in the world as it is free money, and all you need to do is add it to income to pay taxes on it. Per Form 969:


As you can see, you just add the excess contributions to income and leave the employer contributions in the HSA.

Excess Contributions made by your employer are included in your gross income.

By paying tax on them and keeping them in your HSA, this fulfills their original intent of the contribution being used for qualified medical expenses. The downside here is you have less flexibility on your post tax dollars (compared to if they were in your pocket), but it was free money to begin with.

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Spending HSA Funds on Step Children


You have HSA eligible coverage and opened a Health Savings Account, diligently making contributions throughout the year. You now have a nice nest egg to protect yourself from routine care, medical surprises, and emergencies. However, on whom you can spend your HSA funds can be confusing. We have previously discussed who can use your HSA funds but the issue of step children, or children of separated parents, is a special case. Sometimes, taxes and step children can be a tricky situation. In this article, we will discuss that step children can be the beneficiaries of your HSA funds.

The IRS Chimes In

The IRS generally lists 4 categories of people on whom you can spend your HSA contributions:

  1. You
  2. Your spouse
  3. Your dependents
  4. Anyone you could claim as a dependent

You will notice that step children are not mentioned in the common recipients here. But if you dig a little deeper into the IRS materials you will find a surprising answer. In a rare moment of foresight, the IRS directly addresses the case of step children issue in a follow up discussion of this rule. This appears in Form 969:


The IRS states that if the parents have been divorced or separated or living apart for the last 6 months of the calendar year, the child is considered a dependent for both parents. That child then falls into point 3 in the above list of HSA eligible expenses, so you can spend your HSA on them.

A child of parents that are divorced, separated, or living apart for the past 6 months of the calendar year is treated as the dependent of both parents.

However, it isn’t clear if this “6 months” applies only to the 3rd case (living apart) or all three cases (divorced and separated). All hail the Oxford comma! Why the IRS includes this confusing 6 months of calendar year test is beyond me, perhaps it is used as some basis to confirm the parents are actually living apart for good. So what if the parents separated in January-June versus later in the year, say September? Does the 6 months of a calendar year (July-December) have to be satisfied before the child is treated as a dependent? That just seems weird to me.

HSA’s and Step Children

My interpretation (which has not been confirmed) is that the 6 months applies only to parents living apart. Thus, if you are divorced or separated, your HSA funds can be applied to your step children, regardless of who has custody of the children. Also note that this applies to your spouse’s children i.e. your stepchildren.

Let’s assume a situation where a mother and father with 1 child separate and remarry; here are some examples of who can spend HSA funds:

  • Mother spends HSA on child
  • Stepfather spends HSA on child (technically their stepchild)
  • Father spends HSA on child
  • Stepmother spends HSA on child (technically their stepchild)

In addition, if the mother and father remarry and their respective spouse has children, they now have stepchildren of their own and can spend their HSA on them:

  • Mother spends HSA on their stepchild
  • Father spends HSA on their stepchild

In sum, the HSA is flexible enough to allow for spending funds on stepchildren, if you can make your way past the IRS wording.

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Remove Amount Greater than Excess Contribution from HSA

This question was sent in by HSA Edge reader Dale. Feel free to send in your own question.

I was only eligible for an HSA in 2018 for July and switched health plans immediately after my contribution. I contributed $685 which is more than 1/12 of my allowable amount ($371). If I request an Excess Contribution Reversal for the entire $685 + interest, am I allowed to consider my entire $685 as Other Income and just pay income tax on it?

Making and Removing Excess Contributions

Each year, the IRS determines the contribution limit, or maximum amount, one is allowed to contribute to the HSA. However, note that your contribution limit may differ from the IRS limit. Reasons that this may differ are:

Anything above your personally calculated contribution limit is considered an excess contribution. Excess contributions are not good – in effect, you have exceeded the tax deduction afforded you by the IRS. The IRS likes to collect what is due to them, so, understandably, frowns on this.

You can remove excess contributions from your account in the tax year they occur without penalty.

Luckily, there are options to correct Excess Contributions after they occur. This involves removing your excess contribution from your HSA before the tax date of a given year. For most people, this is mid April, though extensions do apply. If excess contributions are not removed, a 6% penalty is due each year for as long as the excess contributions remain in the account. This can add up over time.

You are correct that you can remove the excess contribution for 2018 up until your tax filing deadline (with extension). Per Form 969:


Removing non-Excess Contributions

However, one very important point is that you cannot just remove funds willy nilly from you HSA. In your above example, you contributed $685 compared to your contribution limit of $371. This means you have a $314 excess contribution that can be removed. The whole $685 cannot be removed without penalty.

Any funds removed from your account that are not excess contributions face penalty and tax.

The IRS is firm on the fact that once funds go into the HSA account, they are to be used for medical purposes. Besides excess contribution correction, any removal of funds from the account are considered “Non Qualified Deductions”. Per IRS 696:


Note that the above text “not used for qualified medical expenses” is incredibly broad. It includes any sort of scenario, other than removing excess contributions, where HSA funds are coming out of your HSA and not being spent on qualified medical expenses. This comes up often from readers as they assume they have flexibility to contribute / distribute from the HSA as they see fit. The IRS does not agree, and once the money goes in, it is not easy to just take out. Thus, care and planning should occur for calculating how much to contribute to your HSA during a year.

Calculating Non Qualified Distribution Penalty

Removing funds from the HSA not spent on medical expenses is costly. If this applies to you, see our article “Can You Cash Out An HSA?” for options on getting the money out.

If the penalty is indeed due, you will need to pay both tax and penalty on the amount. This sort of makes sense – the IRS is 1) undoing the tax benefit you got from the initial contribution and 2) penalizing you for not following the rules. This assessment occurs in Part 2 of Form 8889 under “HSA Distributions”. Here is what that section looks like:


As you can see above, assume you have a non qualified or “excess” distribution that came out of your HSA. #1 indicates where your non qualified distribution is added to income and is taxed. #2 indicates where the 20% penalty is calculated and added to your tax bill due.

Overall, it is an expensive way of getting your money out. Plan accordingly.

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