Dependent Care FSA FAQs

What is a dependent care (DepCare) flexible spending account?

A DepCare FSA is part of your benefits package, and it lets you use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible, work-related dependent care expenses for your dependent children or relatives.

Here's how a DepCare FSA works. Money is set aside from your paycheck before taxes are taken out. You can then use your pre-tax FSA dollars to pay for eligible dependent care expenses throughout the plan year. You save money on expenses you're already paying for like day care and preschool.

Why is it a good idea to have a DepCare FSA?

Employees with young children or dependent relatives, who are considered "qualifying individuals," can benefit from DepCare FSAs. Setting aside pre-tax dollars means you pay fewer taxes and increase your take-home pay by your tax savings. You save money on expenses that you are paying for out of your pocket. The amount you save depends on your tax bracket. For example, if you are in the 30 percent tax bracket, you can save $30 on every $100 spent on eligible expenses such as day care, after-school care, elder day care and much more.

Who is a qualifying individual?

A qualifying individual is:

  • Your dependent child under the age of 13 who lives with you for more than half the year
  • Your spouse or other qualifying dependent who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and lives with you for more than half the year

Can my spouse (or ex-spouse) and I both have a DepCare FSA?

If you and your spouse or ex-spouse are both eligible to contribute to a DepCare FSA through your respective employers, you and your spouse may not each claim $5,000. You may not "double-dip," which means that expenses reimbursed under your DepCare FSA may not be reimbursed under your spouse's DepCare FSA and vice versa.

If two or more people want to claim the same child as their qualifying child, the person with this right is:

  • The child's parent, if one person is the child's parent and the other is not
  • The parent with whom the child lives the longest during the year, if both people are the child's parents
  • The parent with the higher adjusted gross income, if both people are the child's parents and the child lives equally with both during the year
  • The person with the higher adjusted gross income, if both people aren't the child's parents

Please check with your legal or tax advisor to see if special rules apply to you that would enable your child to be claimed by the non-custodial parent or by both parents.

What is a "work-related" expense?

To be an eligible DepCare FSA expense, the care provided to your dependent must be so you (and your spouse if you're married) can work or look for work. "Work" may include actively looking for a job, but it doesn't include unpaid volunteer work or volunteer work for a nominal salary. Your spouse is considered to have worked if he or she is a full-time student for at least five calendar months during the tax year or if he or she is physically or mentally not able to take care of him or herself.

Fees you pay for dependent care when you aren't working because you're sick generally are not eligible for reimbursement. But, there is an exception to this rule. Temporary absences from work may be disregarded if you have to pay for dependent care expenses during your illness. Whether an absence is for a short time depends on the situation, but as a rule, the IRS says that an absence of up two weeks in a row due to illness or vacation is a short-term or temporary absence.

What if I work part-time?

As a rule, you must allocate (divide) expenses between the days you work and the days you don't. However, if you work part-time but are required to pay for dependent care expenses for a specific time frame (including non-working days), you do not have to allocate expenses between days worked and days not worked. Check out these examples:

  • Allocation required: You work three days a week and chose to put your child in day care five days a week to help you stay gainfully employed. Your cost for the childcare is $50 per day and $250 for the week. Because you work part-time and are not required to pay the full $250 expense, you must allocate your expenses according to your days worked. In this case, your allocated expenses equal $150 ($50 per day for the three days worked).
  • Allocation not required: The facts are the same as above, but in this case, your dependent care provider requires that you pay the full $250 weekly fee no matter how many days of the week that care is given to your child. Here, the full $250 expense may be considered a work-related expense and allocation of the expense based on days work is not required.

What expenses are covered under a DepCare FSA?

A DepCare FSA covers qualified dependent care expenses incurred for the care of one or more eligible dependent children or relatives. Typical eligible expenses include:

  • Before and after-school care
  • Preschool or nursery school
  • Extended day programs
  • Au pair services (amounts paid for the actual care of the dependent)
  • Baby sitter (in or out of your home)
  • Nanny services (amounts paid for the actual care of the dependent)
  • Summer day camp for your qualifying child under the age of 13
  • Elder day care for a qualifying individual

See more examples on our Dependent Care FSA Eligible Expenses page.

What expenses are not covered under a DepCare FSA?

Ineligible expenses include the following:

  • Money paid to your spouse, your child under age 19, a parent of your child who is not your spouse, or a person that you or your spouse is entitled to a personal tax exemption as a dependent
  • Educational expenses (such as summer school and tutoring programs)
  • Tuition for kindergarten and above
  • Food expenses (unless inseparable from care)
  • Incidental expenses (such as extra charges for supplies, special events, or activities unless inseparable from care)
  • Overnight camp

View a list of eligible and ineligible expenses on our Dependent Care FSA Eligible Expenses page.

How much can I put into a DepCare FSA?

The amount you put into an FSA is called an "election," and your election can't be more than the maximum amount set by the IRS. Currently, the maximum amount is $5,000 each plan year. However, if you're married and file separate tax returns, the maximum amount is $2,500.

Although the maximum limit is $5,000 at this time, your maximum yearly contribution amount cannot exceed the earned income limit. If you are single, the earned income limit is your salary (excluding your contributions to the DepCare FSA plan). If you are married, the earned income limit is the salary that is the lowest - either your salary (minus your DepCare FSA contribution) or your spouse's salary.

Is school tuition an eligible dependent care expense?

No. Tuition fees for kindergarten or first grade and above aren't eligible expenses under a DepCare FSA. However, expenses for before-school care, after-school care, and nursery school are eligible if the care is mainly custodial (care or services for basic needs).

I pay my neighbor to watch my 13-year-old after school. Is this an eligible expense?

No. To be an eligible expense, the care must be provided to a qualifying individual. A child age 13 or older isn't a qualifying individual.

My 16-year-old daughter cares for my 8-year-old son after school. If I pay my daughter, can I be reimbursed for the expense?

No. You may not be reimbursed for paying an older sibling that you (or your spouse) can claim a personal tax exemption as a dependent. Nor can you be reimbursed for payments made to your child who is younger than age 19 at the end of the plan year.

If I have a DepCare FSA, do I need to report anything on my tax return at the end of the year?

Yes. You must identify all people or organizations that provide care for your child or dependent. You do this by filing IRS Form 2441 - Child and Dependent Care Expenses along with your Form 1040 each year (or Schedule 2 for Form 1040A).

Please note: The IRS may change these requirements, so talk to your tax advisor for more details.

If I have a DepCare FSA, can I claim the household and dependent care credit on my tax return?

No. You may not claim any other tax benefit for the tax-free amounts received by you under the DepCare FSA, even though the balance of your eligible, work-related dependent care expenses (if any) may be eligible for the dependent care credit. Talk to your tax advisor to get more details.

I put $400 each month into my DepCare FSA, but my actual expenses are closer to $500 a month. Should I submit my claim form for $400 or for $500?

You should file your claim for the actual amount of the expense - in this case, it's $500. The maximum reimbursement you can get is equal to the current account balance in your DepCare FSA. If your request for reimbursement is more than the available balance in your DepCare FSA, the remaining amount will be put on hold and paid when funds are in your account.

What if my eligible dependent care expenses during the plan year are less than the total amount I put into my FSA?

The IRS has a "use-it-or-lose-it" rule. It requires that all money you put into your FSA must be used to reimburse qualified expenses incurred during that plan year. Funds that are left over after the plan year ends are forfeited. The unused portion of your DepCare FSA cannot be paid to you in cash or other benefits. You can't transfer money between FSAs. To reduce the risk of losing money at the end of your plan year, carefully estimate your expenses when choosing your annual election amount.

How do I keep track of my account activity?

Your account information is available anytime day or night by logging in to your online account. Log in and find:

  • Real-time account balance
  • Claims status
  • Reimbursement payment history
Where can I get a reimbursement request form?

This form is available online at Just log in to your account to find it.

What do I need to submit along with a reimbursement request form?

If the employee and provider certifications on the reimbursement request form are filled out and signed, you don't need to do anything else. If the provider certification is not completed and signed, you must submit an itemized statement from your dependent care provider. This statement must have the date(s) of service, the name(s) and date(s) of birth of your dependent(s), an itemization of charges, and the provider's name, address, and Tax ID or Social Security number.

Is there a deadline for submitting claims?

Yes, you must use your DepCare FSA funds before the end of the coverage period. To help you maximize your DepCare FSA dollars, your plan includes both a run-out period and a grace period extension.

  • Run-out period: This is a set number of days after the plan year ends that allows you to submit claims for eligible DepCare FSA expenses that were incurred during the plan year. When the run-out period ends, you forfeit any unused DepCare FSA funds.

    Example: On December 31 your plan year ends, but your plan includes a run-out period. You have until April 15 to submit claims incurred from January 1 to December 31 of the previous year.

  • Grace period: This is also a set number of days after the plan year ends that lasts two months and 15 days. During this time frame, you can use remaining DepCare FSA funds to reimburse eligible expenses incurred during the grace period.

    Example: Your plan year ends December 31; the grace period is two months and 15 days. Beginning January 1 through March 15 of the following year, you can incur expenses and use the remaining funds left in your FSA.

Even if you have a run-out period or grace period, it's important to plan carefully when you decide how much to put in your DepCare FSA. Don't think of the grace period as an extension of the plan year. It's more like a cushion in case your expenses fall a little short of what you expected.

IMPORTANT: IRS rules do not allow a DepCare FSA to have a carryover feature. Only the Health FSA allows you to carry over funds from year to year.

What if I decide to change the amount I elected?

Your election can't be changed during the plan year unless you have a change in status or other qualified event - that's an event defined by IRS rules - and the UC plan must allow the change as well. Qualified changes in status events include:

  • A change in legal marital status (marriage, divorce or death of your spouse)
  • A change in the number of your dependents (birth or adoption of a child, or death of a dependent)
  • A change in employment status of you, your spouse, or dependent
  • An event causing your dependent to satisfy or cease to satisfy an eligibility requirement for benefits

There are two parts to determining if a change in election will be allowed. First, you must experience a change in status or other qualified event. Second, your requested change must be consistent with the event. For example, if you have a baby, you could increase your FSA contribution. Please see your Summary Plan Description for more information about other qualified changes, consistency requirements, and exceptions that may apply.

You may also change your DepCare FSA election if:

  • There is a major increase or decrease in the amount you pay an independent, third-party provider (other than a relative) significantly increases or decreases the cost of dependent care
  • You have a coverage change, such as changing dependent care providers.

Please note: The information above assumes that your FSA plan allows all changes permitted under the IRS rules. An employer may restrict mid-year election changes by the way the plan is set up. Please see your Summary Plan Description for specific rules that apply to your plan. If you have a change in status or other qualified event, please contact your human resources or benefits representative to obtain the forms you will need to complete.

What happens if I stop working for UC?

If you stop working for UC or you lose your FSA eligibility, your plan participation and your pre-tax contributions will end automatically. Expenses for services you have after your termination date are not eligible for reimbursement.