While the benefits buzz these days is all about pretax flex spending plans, most conversations focus on healthcare spending. The lesser-known and lesser-used, but potentially more beneficial, dependent-care flex spending plans tend to get overlooked.

Consumers should know better — families who use dependent-care flex plans deposit and use an average of $4,000 a year compared to a measly $1,400 deposited in flex health plans, according to industry leader WageWorks (www.wageworks.com). While the most typical use of dependent-care plans is for day care for children younger than 13, other included expenses are preschool, adult day care, in-home nursing care, and sometimes even cooking and cleaning expenses needed by a dependent. That means anyone (not just relatives) living with you full time who is either permanently or temporarily in need of care.

Why bother? Big savings — an average of about 40 percent of total costs, says WageWorks CEO Jon Kessler. Shockingly, only about one percent of the eligible workforce participates in these programs, Kessler estimates. Part of the reason for low participation is that workers are often required to pay a provider upfront, and then must wait for reimbursement from their company. But WageWorks’ program, and several others, includes an automatic direct pay, similar to bill-pay systems available at most banks. So put your money to work for you. And the next time you write that check to your day-care provider, you can keep smiling because you’re putting some cash right back in your pocket.