22 Sep

Save for Your Future with a Health Savings Account

Did you know that a health savings account (HSA) can be a powerful tool to help you save for your health and your future?

HSAs are designed to work with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) so you have more control over your health care dollars. The money in your HSA can be used for current medical expenses. But that’s not all!

You can use an HSA to pay for medical expenses anytime in the future. An HSA can ramp up your retirement savings, too. Perhaps you’re already saving in a retirement plan at work and/or an individual retirement account (IRA). An HSA provides another option for taxadvantaged savings in the long run. Think of it as an IRA for your health.

HSA Funds Are Flexible

Are you making the most of your HSA? Consider saving more money in your HSA to take full advantage of the tax benefits now and in the future. The contribution limits in 2015 are $3,350 for individuals and $6,650 for families, plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’re age 55 or older.

Use it now: A health savings account can be used to pay for costs for you and your family — it’s there if you need it. For example: You go to the doctor and submit the expense for reimbursement (or pay with a debit card linked to your HSA, if you have one). The money you take out of your HSA is tax-free when it’s used to pay for qualifying health care expenses for you and your dependents.

Save it for later: You can sock away money that can be used for health care expenses later in life. There are no “use it or lose it” rules as there are with flexible spending accounts (FSAs), so your unspent balance in an HSA accumulates from year to year. You own the account, which means you can take it with you even if you change health plans or leave your employer.

Spend it in retirement: HSA funds can be used tax-free to pay for qualifying health expenses before and during retirement. After age 65, HSA funds can be used for expenses other than health care without penalty (though ordinary income taxes will be due).

Talk to a financial advisor at NCU Wealth Management to create a financial plan that addresses your retirement goals and future health care expenses. To Schedule your appointment, call 228-474-3427.

TRIPLE TAX ADVANTAGE OF AN HSA
HSAs offer tax benefits including pretax or tax-deductible contributions, plus tax-free earnings and tax-free distributions when used for qualified medical expenses.

  1. Tax-deductible contributions. The money you put into your HSA may be tax-deductible. 
  2. Tax-free growth: Earnings in the account are not taxed.
  3. Tax-free distributions: The money you withdraw from your HSA is not taxed (if used for qualified medical expenses).
09 Apr

The Low-down on Artificial Sweeteners

The holidays and all the sweet treats they bring may be a distant memory, but spring can bring on sugar shock, too. How many chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and King cakes will you try to resist this year?

You may wonder if there isn’t a better way to enjoy sweets without all the calories. Artificial sweeteners can seem like the logical choice. They’re sweet, readily available, have zero to few calories and don’t have an impact on your blood sugar. But are they too good to be true?

Sweetening Safely

There are so many artificial sweeteners on the market, you might feel overwhelmed by the choices. What’s the difference between those pink, blue and yellow packets, and which ones are safe?

Saccharin, commonly sold as Sweet ‘N Low®, has been around since 1879. It’s one of the more controversial artificial sweeteners, due to studies in the late 1950s that suggested it caused cancer in animals. While the Food and Drug Administration wanted to ban saccharin in 1977, the product was kept on the market with a safety warning. In 2000 a study by the National Toxicology Department found that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, and the warning was removed from packaging.

Aspartame, such as NutraSweet® and Equal®, is added to many diet and sugarfree products. It was approved by the FDA in 1981. While it is approved as a safe food additive, people with phenylketonuria (or PKU) have trouble breaking down the phenylalanine in aspartame, and should not consume these products.

Sucralose, sold as Splenda®, is one of the newer artificial sweeteners, and was FDA approved in 1998. It is heat stable, and can be used for baking. Sucralose is made by combining table sugar with chlorine.

Xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol are sugar alcohols, and are recognized as generally safe by the FDA. Xylitol and sorbitol do contain some calories – two per serving – while erythritol does not. All sugar alcohols can cause a laxative effect if eaten in large doses. Studies show that gum and mints containing xylitol can help reduce cavities.

Enjoying Everything … in Moderation

If you like the taste of artificial sweeteners, they can be a safe addition to a healthy diet. However, just like fat and real sugar, they should be consumed in moderation. For more information on nutrition, contact your health care professional.

BAKING WITHOUT SUGAR

Baking without sugar can be a challenge, because sugar is often necessary to obtain the right texture of baked goods. You need to use a heat-stable artificial sweetener, such as saccharin or sucralose. Try the following sugar-free recipe for a sweet indulgence. Some other options for lower-sugar treats are substituting applesauce, maple syrup or fruit juice for some, or all, of the sugar.

SUGAR-FREE CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS
Crust:
1 cup crushed sugar-free cookies, such as Murray® Sugar Free Gingersnaps or Shortbread
2 tablespoons Splenda® granulated
2 tablespoons melted butter
Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages regular or fat-free cream cheese
1¼ cup Splenda
4 eggs
1½ teaspoon lemon juice
1½ teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crust ingredients in a bowl, and press into a spring form pan. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until crust is browned.

Beat cream cheese and sweetener with a mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Slowly add lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Beat until well combined. Pour over crust and bake 60 minutes, or until center is set.