Tax tips: Health insurance

Your health insurance coverage probably came in handy several times over the past year. It all seemed so simple at the time--you paid a deductible, and your insurance usually kicked in the rest. But what do you do at tax time? Just what are you taxed on, and what can you deduct on your federal income tax return?

Your income taxes may be affected by two aspects of your health insurance plan--the premiums and the benefits. Here's what you need to know.

You don't include employer-paid premiums in your income

For tax purposes, you can generally exclude from your income any health insurance premiums (including Medicare) paid by your employer. The premiums can be for insurance covering you, your spouse, and any dependents. It doesn't matter whether the premiums paid for an employer-sponsored group policy or an individual policy. You can even exclude premiums that your employer pays when you are laid off from your job.

What if your employer reimburses you for your premiums?

If you pay the premiums on your health insurance policy and receive a reimbursement from your employer for those premiums, the amount of the reimbursement is not taxable income. However, if your employer simply pays you a lump sum that may be used to pay health insurance premiums but is not required to be used for this purpose, that amount is taxable.

In most cases, you won't be able to deduct the premiums you pay

The deductibility of health insurance premiums follows the rules for deducting medical expenses. Usually, the premiums you pay on an individual health insurance policy won't be deductible. However, if you itemize deductions on Schedule A, and your unreimbursed medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in any tax year, you may be able to take a deduction. You can deduct the amount by which your unreimbursed medical expenses exceed this 7.5 percent threshold.

For example, if your AGI is $100,000, then 7.5 percent of your AGI is $7,500. If your unreimbursed medical expenses amount to $8,000 and you itemize deductions, you'll be able to deduct $500 worth of your expenses.

Unreimbursed medical expenses include premiums paid for major medical, hospital, surgical, and physician's expense insurance, and amounts paid out of your pocket for treatment not covered by your health insurance.

Note: Beginning in 2013, the threshold to deduct medical expenses will be raised from 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income to 10 percent. The threshold increase will be delayed until 2017 for those age 65 or older.

If you're self-employed, special deduction rules may apply

In addition to the general rule of deducting premiums as medical expenses, self-employed individuals can deduct a percentage of their health insurance premiums as business expenses. These deductions aren't limited to amounts over 7.5 percent of AGI, as are medical expense deductions. They are limited, though, to amounts less than an individual's earned income. The definition of self-employed individuals includes sole proprietors, partners, and 2 percent S corporation shareholders.

If you qualify, you can deduct 100 percent of the cost of health insurance that you provide for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. This deduction is taken on the front of your federal Form 1040; the portion of your health insurance premiums that is not deductible there can be added to your total medical expenses itemized in Schedule A.

Your health insurance benefits typically aren't taxable

Whether we're talking about an employer-sponsored group plan or a health insurance policy you bought on your own, you generally aren't taxed on the health insurance benefits you receive.

What about reimbursements for medical care? You can generally exclude from income reimbursements for hospital, surgical, or medical expenses that you receive from your employer's health insurance plan. These reimbursements can be for your own expenses or for those of your spouse or dependents. The exclusion applies regardless of whether your employer provides group or individual insurance, or serves as a self-insurer. The reimbursements can be for actual medical care or for insurance premiums on your own health insurance.

Note that there is no dollar limit on the amount of tax-free medical reimbursements you can receive in a year. However, if your total reimbursements for the year exceed your actual expenses, and your employer pays for all or part of your health insurance premiums, you may have to include some of the excess in your income.

The information in this document is provided by a third party and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed by Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. While the publisher has been diligent in attempting to provide accurate information, the accuracy of the information cannot be guaranteed. Laws and regulations change frequently, and are subject to differing legal interpretations. Accordingly, neither the publisher nor any of its licensees or their distributees shall be liable for any loss or damage caused, or alleged to have been caused, by the use or reliance upon this service.