Elements Financial HSA Still The Best Despite New Wire Transfer Fee

In previous articles I said Elements Financial, formerly Eli Lilly Federal Credit Union (Elfcu), offered the best HSA for investing HSA money. I moved my HSA there. I documented the setup process in details in Setting Up HSA at Elements Financial.

New Wire Transfer Fee

Reader John brought to my attention that Elements started a new wire transfer fee for transfers from the savings account to TD Ameritrade for investing. I logged into my account and lo-and-behold I see a fee change notice in the message center, which reads:

Effective April 15th [2014], Elfcu will be assessing a $24.00 wire transfer fee for all OUTGOING Wires being debited from HSA Accounts. Wire transfers are generally requested to transfer HSA funds for investment with TD Ameritrade. To correctly fund the wire, you must leave enough funds in the HSA account to cover the $24.00 wire fee. If funds are insufficient to cover the fee, the wire will be rejected and returned by the Special Accounts Department.

This certainly increases the cost of using Elements for HSA. On the other hand, $24 for a wire transfer isn’t that out of line. For instance Ally Bank charges $20 for a domestic outgoing wire transfer. So does PenFed. Alliant Credit Union, where I have my primary checking account, charges $25.

Why Wire?

I don’t understand why the transfer from the credit union to TD Ameritrade has to go by wire. A push by ACH delays the transfer by one day but it costs nearly nothing. I contacted Elements customer service and asked them to consider doing the transfers by ACH, or (gasp!) by paper check.

Of course they won’t just change their business process just because I said so. Does this $24 transfer fee make Elements not the best HSA provider any more?

Fund and Transfer Once A Year

For the way I use the HSA, and I imagine the same way many of you use it, I think Elements is still the best.

I make my HSA contributions by payroll deduction to the HSA provider chosen by my employer. Once every rolling 12 months I ask for a distribution from my employer’s HSA provider. Then I make a rollover contribution to my own provider, in this case Elements Financial. Once the money is credited, I transfer it to TD Ameritrade for investing. See previous article How To Rollover an HSA On Your Own and Avoid Trustee Transfer Fee.

If you don’t go through an employer, you can still fund the account once a year and transfer to TD Ameritrade once a year. You would pay the $24 fee once a year. It’s not a big deal.

[Update: Starting in July 2014, Elements will also charge a $3 monthly fee if the average daily balance on the savings account side is below $2,500. See follow-up post Elements Financial HSA Adds Monthly Fee, Slipping Away From The Best.]

If you don’t like the fee increase, you have some alternatives.

HSA Bank

At HSA Bank you can pay $66 in fees per year or leave $5,000 behind earning 0.25%. This is more expensive than Elements if you fund and transfer to investments once a year. It’s less expensive than Elements if you transfer frequently.

Saturna Brokerage Services

Saturna Capital offers HSA in a brokerage account operated by Pershing. You can buy ETFs or index funds at $14.95 a trade. It’s less expensive than Elements if you do one trade per year. It’s more expensive if you trade more often.

Stay or Move?

I’m staying with Elements. By the time I need to do the rollover and transfer again next year, I hope they will have figured out how to do the transfers by ACH or paper check. If not, paying $24 once a year is still not that bad. Most people fund their IRA once a year as opposed to monthly. You just add HSA to the list. That’s why you keep a cash reserve/emergency fund. You dip into it when you need money. Then you fill it back up.

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  1. furwut says

    Thanks for the heads up. I urge everybody using ELFCU to leave a comment requesting a cheaper transfer option.

  2. OB says

    Can the new $24.00 fee be bypassed by directly doing a custodian transfer to TD Ameritrade? Or must all funds ‘land’ first at ELFCU before it can be transferred over to TD Ameritrade?

    • Harry Sit says

      The latter. TD Ameritrade isn’t offering an HSA. Elfcu is. If you are familiar with a self-directed brokerage account within a 401k plan, such as Fidelity BrokerageLink or Schwab PCRA, it’s the same model. The brokerage account is part of the HSA. You can’t put money into it directly.

  3. OB says

    I hope there aren’t any new fees, fee increases or account restrictions to be introduced at ELFCU (maintenance fees, higher maintaining balances etc). Just when you thought you found your “Dream HSA” for investing money, then surprise! I bet they had a flood of HSA transfers in the past year and someone found a way to get a bit more money from account holders who will most likely stay with them anyway.
    If only you could have paid for the fees with outside HSA money…

    • Harry Sit says

      I see it as an internal operational inefficiency that they were able to tolerate at low volume but not at a much higher volume after people discovered that they offered the best deal in the country. I don’t think they are trying to gouge the members. They just haven’t figured out or haven’t placed a high enough priority to figure out how to do the transfers by ACH. System changes require IT investment, which has to compete with other IT projects. Before they make the necessary system changes, they want to stop doing so many wire transfers, which are very labor intensive.

  4. Alskar says

    FWIW, my employer pays the monthly maintenance fee for HSA Bank. I’m not privy to the details, but I suspect that HSA Bank waived the monthly fee to attract my employer. We’ll see what happens next year.

    My local credit union’s HSA account earns 0.99% APY so I just keep most of my money there.

  5. Victor says

    I have an account at HSA administrator and looking to move to ELFCU. I spoke to ELFCU customer service, $24 fee is for wire transfer if you initiate wire transfer from ELFCU HSA account. After talking to Ameritrade, my understanding is, you could avoid fee by initiating ACH from Ameritrade Account. If that is true then ELFCU is still better option.
    Can anybody know for sure?

    • Harry Sit says

      I don’t see any way to initiate an ACH from the TD Ameritrade account. It’s a special type of account. Not all functions in a retail TD Ameritrade account are available.

  6. Jon says

    I transferred my HSA to ELFCU a couple months ago (before the new wire transfer fee). It struck me at the time that the existing fee structure was too good to last. My entire account balance is invested through TD Ameritrade, and I pay zero fees, ever. I am no longer eligible to contribute to an HSA, so for the foreseeable future I will not touch the account. I’m sure ELFCU is incurring costs to administer my account, yet they are collecting nothing from me. The new transfer fee might be their way of “fixing the glitch.”

  7. Harry @ PF Pro says

    I guess no one is making money off me because I have all my HSA with ElfCU and I got the transfer in a month or two ago to TDA where I’m now invested in all no cost ETF’s haha.

    I did contact ElfCU via Twitter/e-mail and they basically just told me that it’s TDA’s fault since they won’t accept ACH or some BS like that. Do they actually make money off these fees or does it somehow cost them money to send a wire? I don’t even know what a wire is or how it works 🙂

    • Harry Sit says

      A wire is a faster and more expensive way to transfer money between banks. While the wire itself isn’t that expensive to a bank (starts at $0.69 each and goes down with volume, compared to $0.003 each for ACH), doing a wire involves a lot of manual work. There’s a labor cost. That’s why banks usually charge $20-25 for each outgoing wire.

      I don’t think they want to make money off these wires. Nobody in their right mind will do 12 wires at $24 each. They want you to do fewer transfers so they don’t have to do so much manual work.

  8. Melissa says

    I’m really, really bummed about this. I just switched my HSA over in the past month. I have the money come out of my paycheck and my employer let us choose our own custodian, so I’m going to have tons of money sitting in a savings account until I have enough to make it worth a $24 fee. Please, please switch over to ACH!!

  9. Victor says

    I just chat with ELFCU agent and she said ELFCU HSA account will be charge $3/Mo from July 2014 for an account balance below $2500. that makes HSA Bank option better as it only cost $66 / year to have investment account provided HSA Bank don’t increase fees. I am ok with ELFCU charging $3 fee but wire transfer fee is very prohibitive to use HSA account effectively. like monthly contribution to investment account.

    • Harry Sit says

      Do you know if the $2,500 includes money invested at TD Ameritrade? If you want to invest monthly I agree HSA Bank is a better option.

  10. Samir says

    Starting July 1, 2014, a $3/month account maintenance fee will be assessed on HSAs with an average daily balance less than $2,500.00 in the savings portion (regardless of the balance in the investment portion).

    From Elfcu Customer Service:

    The $24 wire fee on our Health Savings Account falls within our account disclosures and fee schedule, and it aligns with industry pricing for wire fees. While previously Elfcu was waiving this fee for our HSA accountholders, we’ve recently reviewed the product and its pricing structure and have elected to implement this change and charge the existing fee. We opt for a wire transfer versus an ACH transfer for efficiency in proper tax reporting procedures.

    We’d also like to provide you with advance notice of a $3 monthly account maintenance fee we will implement July 1, 2014 on accounts that fall below a $2,500 average daily balance in the savings portion– not the investments portion – of the Elfcu HSA.

  11. bn says


    Thanks for alerting us to the disappointing news. Seems like as soon as a good HSA contender pops up, it doesn’t last. Given the new wire and low savings account balance fee, who is the best HSA provider? I’m starting to think just leaving it in my credit union paying 1.99% is the best option.

  12. Mark says

    Would there be a problem sending a contribution to the TD account through the Bill Payment system in Elfcu? In the Credit Union I use for my checking account (not Elfcu) I use the bill payment system for deposits to my ROTH IRA, 529 accounts, and others. Would this work?

    • Harry Sit says

      I doubt it. Even if the money gets to the right place through the Bill Payment system, the move probably won’t be coded correctly as a trustee-to-trustee transfer. If it’s treated as a distribution, you are limited by law to have only one rollover per rolling 12-month period.

  13. California Dreamer says

    The 24 dollar wire fee has been on the Elfcu fee schedule for sometime, they just had not been enforcing it. Being in the financial services industry for some time, bank wires are extremely labor intensive due to government regulations and third party merchants involved in the actual transfer of money. I am fairly confident Elfcu is barely breaking even on the wire fee. Elfcu is one of my favorite financial institutions and one I routinely use for other products and services. Nothing is free folks. I would be willing to bet that if all the folks taking advantage of the HSA deal would become more engaged at the credit union, they would probably waive the wire and account maintenance fees.

    • Harry Sit says

      As I wrote in the article, the $24 fee itself isn’t out of line but nobody asked Elfcu to do them by wire to begin with. Other banks and credit unions aren’t doing it by wire. As a member I won’t mind if they mail a check taking a week to get there. Having to do the transfers by wire actually shows some incompetency in managing IT integration between the credit union and its third-party partners.

  14. Ken says

    I am just learning about the $24 wire transfer fee and the $3 per month account maintenance fee at ELFCU through this website. Were account holders notified of these new fees? I don’t recall receiving any notices through the mail or email about this? This is making me paranoid that fees can just be added any of my financial accounts without prior or adequate disclosure.

    • Harry Sit says

      The $3 monthly fee for low balance in the savings account isn’t going into effect until July. No official notification yet. The $24 wire transfer fee appeared in the secure message center after you log in to the HSA account. It was categorized as an existing fee, just never charged in practice. Therefore advance notification wasn’t necessary. Probably technically true. An advance notice would’ve been nice though.

  15. David Mouw says

    I too just received notice of both the wire transfer and account maintenance fee and I find it appalling and absurd. Remember the mission of a credit union is much different from a bank. We are the shareholders of this economic cooperative and therefore have the ability to change the board and ultimately the CEO. I served on the board of directors for a credit union for over 10 years. This is a 1Billion dollar financial institution. I am sure they have enough money in their retained earnings account to cover these absurd fees. I called Eli Lily about what this maintenance fee goes for and the representative couldn’t tell me. Just stuff.

    I would encourage anyone reading this to email the CEO:
    Lisa A. Schlehuber
    Title: Chief Executive Officer
    Email: lschlehuber at elfcu dot org

    Please remind them of the Mission behind a Credit Union and it’s value to the members/shareholders. Remember too that members vote every year for the board of directors. If you don’t like what is happening to our credit union, let our voting do the talking.

  16. RIMD says


    It is interesting. As per your suggestion, I communicated with Element’s CEO. Here is her reply.

    “We are looking at this issue and have plan in place to revise options.”

    Stay tuned. Keep me posted, if you hear anything.

    Thanks for your postings/blog.

  17. Thinh says

    You could open one at HealthSavings.com. They have 22 really low cost Vanguard funds (Admiral shares) where the 10k minimum doesn’t apply here. The only fee is the $45 annual fee.

    • Harry Sit says

      $45 annual fee, plus 0.25% per year on investments with no cap (another $25 per $10,000). As your balance grows, the fee gets larger. At $50,000 balance, the fee grows to $170/year, versus Elements just $24 per year if you keep $2,500 in cash and do one transfer per year to TD Ameritrade, or $60 per year if choose not to keep $2,500 in cash.

    • Michael says

      Thank you for your reasoning. It’s interesting then that Vanguard implicitly recommends them on their own site. It’s the only HSA provider mentioned (complete with URL to apply). I guess because they offer ONLY Vanguard options.

    • Brad says

      Do you find it inconvenient that you cannot setup direct deposit from your paycheck to Saturna? How do you plan to fund your HSA with Saturna?


  18. Brad says

    If I am interpreting IRS Publication 969 correctly (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf), it appears you can do unlimited transfers between HSA accounts with no tax implications. True or false?

    I’m looking at Saturna and I’m mainly concerned with direct deposit in order to have immediate tax savings. So, it seems that one could setup direct deposit to somewhere like Alliant Credit Union where there is no minimum balance/account maintenance fees and then transfer to Saturna. Once transferred, make one investment per year to keep fees down to ~$25/year, plus ER for fund.

    What’s your gut on this? Am I just going rogue or could this be a super hack?

    Thanks for the post(s)!

    • Harry Sit says

      It’s not clear to me what you meant by “immediate tax savings.” If you are contributing on your own, you get the tax deduction when you file your taxes next year. It’s not immediate. If you have other money, you can just make one contribution at the beginning of the year. Whether you do it by check or direct deposit makes little difference for just one contribution. Over the course of the year you then replenish your other money.

  19. Thinh says

    It’s “immediate” because you get to deduct your taxes now (when you file your taxes), versus a Roth where your savings are taxed free many years later down the road when you withdraw it. That’s what the IRS publication means.

    • Brad says

      I am looking for the 2016 year and I mean immediate tax savings as in using pre-tax dollars to fund my HSA vs. after-tax dollars and deducting at the end of the year.

    • Harry Sit says

      If you want to use pre-tax dollars from paychecks you usually have to go with the provider chosen by your employer. I never heard of any employer allowing you to pick any provider and still making it pre-tax.

    • Brad says

      I work for a consulting firm and am enrolled in health insurance through Covered California. My firm doesn’t have an HSA provider they go through, you can choose the HSA custodian you want, as long as you’re in an eligible health plan, and are able to enroll in direct deposit.

    • Harry Sit says

      Enrolling in direct deposit doesn’t automatically mean it will be pre-tax. Maybe your employer is special but I would double-check it’s pre-tax. To make it pre-tax, the employer has to have a section 125 plan and make the HSA part of the section 125 plan. The contribution is officially employer contribution. The employer can’t be certain the account is an HSA just by getting a routing number and an account number from you. That’s why the employer usually picks a provider when it makes pre-tax contributions on your behalf, just to be sure it’s an HSA in your name.

    • Chris says

      my employer allowed us to pick any HSA for pre-tax payroll deductions. Until recently, that is! Now we have to use Bank of America, but with no fees & investment options for any balances over $1000. Good cheap Vanguard investment options (& other more expensive ones too).
      Great deal for me, but I wonder how much my employer is paying…

  20. linda says

    Hi, Harry:

    Would you please give us an update of currently the best HSA provider? is it still Elements?

    I also run into this subject where my friend’s employer offers HDHP but no HSA provider. so he chooses Wells Fargo’s HSA and direct deposits into it, thinking it’s pre-tax. His employer (small group practice) offers no guidance or help over HSA account or pre-tax issue. I frown but I couldn’t figure it out.

    Appreciate your help.

  21. Lyss says

    I tried to open an HSA at ELFCU after joining Tru Direction but was required to “come into a branch to verify my identity”. Although I tried to work with them to email, fax, or mail my ID confirmation, they wouldn’t budge. I didn’t plan on visiting Indiana soon, so I cancelled. I was a Wells Fargo HSA customer for a year but their web interface and customer service was extremely limited. I spoke to a rep about it and he said it is not their core business, so it does not get much attention. (Somebody tell Warren Buffett about this!) I have been using my employer sponsored HSA at Optum Bank, but their fees are not optimal. I’m generally distrustful of captive funds like the ones Wells Fargo and Optum offer, since I’m sure they fortify any shortfall in their monthly fees with load fees in their funds. I plan on transferring my HSA to Saturna because they have low fees for an investor type HSA, have self-directed investment choices down to individual stocks, and they at least offer some funds with well disclosed principles.

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