Dependent Care Accounts
Companies also offer dependent care flexible spending accounts, which can help offset costs for workers with young children or elderly parents.
The idea behind dependent care accounts is to help pay for care while you're at work. That means that if you have a spouse, you both have to be working — or looking for work — to qualify. An exception is if one spouse is in school.
Keep in mind that these accounts aren't intended to offer tax advantages to pay for an occasional babysitter for personal reasons.
"It's not to hire the college student next door while you go to movies," Perlman said.
Although fewer workers participate in dependent care FSAs, the average annual contribution among those that do is $3,100, according to Mercer. That's likely because it's far easier to predict care costs and exhaust savings. The current $5,000 cap on dependent care FSAs will stay in place and will not be affected by the new cap on health care FSAs.
Other Tax Savings
Open enrollment season is also a good time to review any other tax benefits your employer might offer.
The biggest work-related tax benefit for most is a 401(k) retirement plan. And starting next year, workers should note that the maximum pre-tax contribution will increase to $17,000, from $16, 500. Workers over 50 and older should note that they can also kick in an additional $5,500 to catch up on savings.
Separately, many employers also let workers use pre-tax earnings for transportation costs. For 2012, the maximum benefit for public transit passes will be $125 a month, unless Congress extends this year's maximum of $240. The maximum for parking expenses is $240 a month. And unlike FSAs, this is a benefit workers don't have to commit to for the year.
"It's a very easy benefit to jump in and out of," said Dan Corbett of WageWorks, which helps companies provide benefits. "If they go on vacation, they can cancel it for that month."
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