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Time is running out to open a Help to Buy ISA

Written by: Emma Lunn
The clock is ticking for savers who want to open a Help to Buy ISA – new accounts are only available up until 30 November.

First-time buyers have just a few weeks left to open a Help to Buy Isa which can give them up to £3,000 in free cash from the government.

People can save £1,200 in the first month of holding a Help to Buy ISA and £200 per month subsequently. The government adds a 25 per cent bonus up to a total of £3,000. The bonus money is handed over once a house deal is completed.

Help to Buy ISAs are ending because, in 2017, the government superseded it with the Lifetime ISA.

Both the Help to Buy ISA and Lifetime ISA offer the same 25 per cent government bonus, but with the Help to Buy ISA this is limited to the first £12,000 saved – meaning a maximum bonus of £3,000.

With the Lifetime ISA you can get up to £1,000 a year in government bonus, up until the age of 50. If you opened a Lifetime ISA at age 18, that is a maximum government bonus of £32,000. Money in a Lifetime ISA needs to be spent on a property purchase or to fund retirement post-60.

However, you need to be 39 or under to open a Lifetime ISA. The Help To Buy ISA does not have an age limit.

Also you must have held a Lifetime ISA and made an initial contribution at least 12 months before you can use the money to buy your first home. This means if you plan to buy in the next year you should use a Help to Buy ISA, which doesn’t have this restriction.

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, said: “The clock is ticking, as anyone who wants to open a Help to Buy ISA and has been putting it off, now only has a month to do so. After 30 November no-one can open a new account as the government phases the Help to Buy ISA out.

“If you’ve already got a Help to Buy ISA open you don’t need to panic, you can keep paying into it and have more than a decade until you need to claim your bonus – the deadline is 1 December 2030. Alternatively you can switch your money to a Lifetime ISA, where you have the ability to save more each year and so benefit from a bigger potential government bonus.”

Whilst there are a good number of stocks and shares Lifetime ISAs available, the number of companies offering the cash Lifetime ISA has been slow to take off, with only four providers.

The best rate pays 1.4 per cent, which is close to the top rate easy-access savings account and means if you pay in the full £4,000, a year later you’d have £5,070 with the government bonus – a decent boost to your house deposit. The Help to Buy ISA market is still far bigger, with 26 providers.

“However, the government still needs to tackle the unnecessary complications in the ISA market,” added Suter, “At the very least it should sort out the Lifetime ISA exit penalty and age restrictions, but ultimately a simplification of the entire ISA market would resolve the need for this unnecessary tinkering around the edges and create a market that’s easier for savers to understand and use.”

With the Help to Buy ISA, if you change your mind or want to make a withdrawal, for something other than buying your first home, you can redeem your money. As the government bonus will not have been paid into the account, you don’t need to return any money.

With the Lifetime ISA, if you want to withdraw money for anything other than buying a first home, retirement, or if you have a terminal illness, you will pay an exit fee. This is intended to claw back the 25 per cent government bonus, but it actually results in you losing the bonus and paying £6.25 for every £100 you withdraw.

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