In this economy, many people hang on to difficult jobs just for the health insurance benefits. In the days when I was employed by a company, I paid about $240 a month for two people through the group plan. I quit my job and continued my work health plan through the government's COBRA program.

Sticker shock set in after one month when I paid nearly $900! So I decided to shop around. I found several private plans that were still at least $500 a month for two people. Then I learned how to save big money and lower my yearly income tax bill through a high-deductible health insurance plan that included a health savings account (HSA).

HSAs allow individuals and families to set aside money in a separate account designated solely for health and medical care costs. Those contributions are untaxed. Individuals may contribute up to $3,100 and families $6,250, respectively, from 2012 pre-tax income. Then you can deduct the contributions when you file taxes in 2013. Anyone 55 or older may contribute an extra $1,000 into their HSA account. And when you spend those dollars on qualified health and medical care expenses, they remain tax free.

Think of an HSA like an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account. But unlike FSA accounts, you aren't obligated to use all your funds by year's end.

If you're thinking of starting an HSA, be sure to first purchase a high deductible health insurance plan that includes an HSA account. Many such plans carry a yearly deductible of up to $5,000 per year. This means that you'll need to spend $5,000 of your own money before your insurance company pays any of your health and medical care costs. Examine each plan closely before you buy and factor in your overall health. For example, if you are planning on having a baby or have a major health issue, a high-deductible plan may not be for you. Most HSA-based plans have a waiting period before they cover pre-existing conditions.

I pay $256 a month for a plan with a $1,000 deductible. I estimate my savings at $16,000 a year over the COBRA-based plan. Further, I lower my income tax bracket by maximizing my contributions to the HSA.

This has been a guest post by Halina from Madison, WI.
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