Are you 18 or over and under 40? Are you saving to buy your first property? Or looking to put some money aside for retirement?

The government’s new Lifetime Individual Savings Account (LISA), available from 6 April 2017, could be for you…

What is a Lifetime ISA?

Announced in the Budget back in March 2016, Lifetime ISAs are a new tax-efficient savings scheme designed to help people aged 18 to 39 to get on the property ladder and/or enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Under the terms of the scheme, the government will pay in £1 for every £4 saved.

The maximum you can invest is £4,000 a year, meaning the 25% government top-up is worth up to £1,000 a year.

For 2017/18, the bonus will be added at the end of the year. In subsequent years, the bonus will be paid monthly (it is claimed by your ISA manager and added to the account).

The bonus is only paid on contributions made by the accountholder until he or she reaches the age of 50.

Money in the account can be used at any time to buy a first home. Otherwise, it must remain in the account until the accountholder reaches 60.

In other words, you can:

- open a Lifetime ISA while you’re under 40
- make payments into it until you’re 50
- buy a first property with it at any time
- use the cash for any purpose once you’re 60.

Who can invest in a Lifetime ISA?

To qualify for a Lifetime ISA, you will need to be 18 or over and under 40 on the date you open an account.

You can open an account alongside a standard ISA, a Help to Buy ISA and/or a pension fund. You will also be able to open a Lifetime ISA if you already own a property.

The total ISA allowance for all your ISA savings at the point when Lifetime ISAs become available will be £20,000 per year.

The ISA allowance at the moment is £15,240 – it rises to £20,000 in April.

When can I invest in a Lifetime ISA?

Lifetime ISAs will become available from 6 April 2017. You cannot open an account until then.

If you have money to save and you haven't yet maximised your current ISA allowance for 2016/17, you've basically got this week to open a normal ISA from the current selection. That will give the provider a few days to nail the paperwork.

How much can I invest in a Lifetime ISA?

You will be able to invest up to a maximum of £4,000 a year in a Lifetime ISA.

This amount will make up part of your overall Isa allowance, which is rising to £20,000 from April.

The amount the government pays into your Lifetime ISA - 25% - will be on top of this amount and will not count against your limit.

The more you save up to the £4,000 annual limit, the higher the bonus you will receive – up to a maximum of £1,000 a year.

How much will the government contribute to my fund?

Under the terms of the scheme, the government will pay in £1 for every £4 saved.

In other words, they will top your savings up with an extra 25% - pushing the amount invested in your account to a maximum of £5,000 a year.

The first government bonus will be paid into your account at the end of the 2017/18 tax year. From 2018/19 onwards, the bonus will be paid into your account each month.

Providing nothing changed in the rules governing the scheme, an 18-year old could run a Lifetime ISA for 32 years, saving a maximum of £128,000 and earning a government bonus of £32,000, giving a total of £160,000.

Interest would also be earned (tax-free) on the savings as they accrued. The amount of interest will vary from provider to provider.

Are there any drawbacks with a Lifetime ISA?

If you withdraw cash from a Lifetime ISA to do anything other than buy a home before you hit 60, you will have to repay all the money added to the pot by the government.

You will also pay a 5% early redemption or withdrawal charge.

For every £10,000 withdrawn, you will therefore lose £500 in fees alone.

The government is considering allowing people who withdraw funds before the age of 60 to reclaim their lost bonus by paying the money back into their account at a later date.

Other restrictions

When it comes to buying property, you can only use a Lifetime ISA to save for a deposit on a first home.

So, if you’re already on the property ladder, you can only use the scheme to save for retirement.

What’s more, first-time buyers can only use Lifetime ISA cash to fund a deposit if the property they are buying costs less than £450,000.

How do Lifetime ISAs differ from Help to Buy ISAs?

Help to Buy ISAs have been available since December 2015. They are:

- aimed at first time buyers looking to build up a deposit for a house
- they are open to savers who pay money in regularly
- you can pay in up to £1,200 in first month and up to £200 a month thereafter
- for every £4 you put in, the government will add £1 when you come to buy a home
- the maximum amount you can have in a Help to Buy ISA is £12,000
- this will attract a government bonus of £3,000, making a £15,000 total.
- You can use the money towards a property costing £250,000 (£450,000 in London).

With a Lifetime ISA, you get the government top-up at the end of each tax year. And you can invest in stocks and shares or cash (Help to Buy ISAs are just cash).

Also, you don’t have to save into a Lifetime ISA each month, or put in the same amount each time. You can invest a lump sum each year if that works for you.

You can use the money in a Lifetime ISA to pay for a deposit on your first home, and continue saving into the scheme after the purchase.

The maximum value of a home for which you can use Lifetime ISA cash is £450,000.

What if I already have a Help to Buy ISA?

You can keep your existing Help to Buy ISA and open a Lifetime ISA alongside, although you will only be able to claim the bonus from one account to buy a property.

Alternatively, you can transfer the amount in your Help to Buy ISA into a Lifetime Isa in April 2017.

Lifetime ISAs are one per person rather than one per home – so two first-time buyers could use two Lifetime ISA bonuses to buy a home together.

How does a Lifetime ISA compare to a pension fund?

The Treasury is keen to stress that the Lifetime ISA is not a pension and can run alongside other long-term savings accounts.

In other words, you can pay into a pension and get tax relief on your contributions while benefiting from the Lifetime IAS bonus at the same time.

Whether or not a Lifetime ISA is better for you will depend on your personal circumstances.

Employees who receive employer contributions into their pension schemes will also be better off paying into those.

The Lifetime Isa is only available to those under 40 and is limited to £4,000 of savings a year, so older savers with more to invest are likely to find pensions the best option.

Who will offer Lifetime ISAs?

Lifetime ISAs will come in both cash and stocks and shares forms.

As such, they are expected to be offered by traditional ISA providers such as banks, building societies and fund management companies.

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