What is a Help to Buy ISA?
A Help to Buy ISA is a type of savings account that the government will top-up with a 25% bonus - if you meet certain savings targets.
You can pay in up to £1,200 in the first month that you open a Help to Buy ISA, and after that your maximum monthly contributions are capped at £200.
Unlike cash ISAs, where you can have several accounts opened in different tax years, you’re only allowed one Help to Buy account at any one moment. You can, however, transfer from one provider to another if you find a better interest rate elsewhere.
There is some restriction on who is eligible to open a Help to Buy ISA, which is outlined below.
The best thing about Help to Buy ISAs is that the government will contribute to your account on your behalf, topping up your payments by 25%. That means that for every £200 you pay in, the government will pay in another £50. These contributions are on top of any interest you earn.
The most the government will contribute is £3,000 – but you need to have paid in £12,000 to get this. If you paid in £1,200 during your first month and put £200 away every month, you’d take four years and seven months to hit the target.
You don’t need to save the full £12,000 to receive a bonus, however, as the government will top-up your savings once you’ve paid in £1,600.
How much bonus can you earn?
The table below outlines how much you can earn as a bonus depending on how much you pay in:
How is the bonus paid?
It’s important to note that you won’t actually receive the money until you’ve complete the purchase of your first home – which also means the government bonus can’t be used for a deposit to secure your property.
However, when you’re ready to take out a mortgage, you can choose any kind of mortgage from any provider, as long as it is a residential mortgage and not a buy-to-let mortgage.
Once the purchase has completed, the money goes directly to your mortgage lender via the solicitor who is managing your property purchase.
If you’re concerned you won’t be able to afford the initial deposit without receiving the bonus, it’s worth asking the seller’s solicitor if you can pay a smaller deposit at this stage and pay the remainder at completion, when you have received your bonus.
If the seller won’t allow this, you’ll need to fund the shortfall yourself and then use the bonus towards your mortgage payments.
Your solicitor will only be able to apply for the government bonus once you’ve provided him or her with a closing letter from your Help to Buy ISA provider. There will usually be a charge from your solicitor for sorting this out, typically around £50.
If you decide you don’t want to buy a property after all, you won’t be entitled to a bonus, but you’ll still get your savings and any interest you’ve earned.
You must be a first-time buyer aged 16 or over to be eligible to open a Help to Buy ISA.
If you’ve owned a property in the past, or part of one, you won’t qualify. You also won’t be eligible if you’ve ever inherited a property.
You can only open an account on your own or, if you are saving with a partner to get on the property ladder, each of you can open a Help to Buy ISA.
The money you save into a Help to Buy ISA must be put towards a property which costs no more than £250,000, or £450,000 if you live in London.
Once you’ve opened a Help to Buy ISA, you can’t open a cash ISA in the same tax year. If you’ve already opened a cash ISA this tax year, which started on April 6, 2018, you’ll have to take out your money before you can start paying into a Help to Buy ISA.
If you’ve got £1,200 or less in your cash ISA, you can transfer this money directly into a Help to Buy ISA. You’ll have to move the full amount though – partial transfers aren’t allowed.
Some Help to Buy ISA providers, however, allow what is known as a ‘split ISA’. This means that you can effectively hold a Help to Buy and a Cash ISA in the same wrapper, provided their combined value doesn’t exceed the £20,000 maximum you can invest in ISAs this tax year. Learn more about ISAs.
The downside of opting for a split ISA is that rates may be lower if you link your ISAs together.
Once you’ve chosen a Help to Buy ISA, remember that you don’t have to take out your mortgage with the same provider. You can choose any kind of mortgage from any provider, as long as it is a residential mortgage and not a buy-to-let mortgage. The mortgage you choose does not have to be a Help to Buy mortgage, although it can be if you want.
Managing your account
Once you’ve chosen a provider and made your initial deposit into your Help to Buy ISA, you can set up a standing order for up to £200 a month to be paid into the account.
You can make withdrawals from your account whenever you want, but you won’t be able to claim any bonus on the funds you’ve taken out.
Interest on your account will usually be calculated daily and paid yearly on the anniversary of the date you opened your account.
Savings held in a Help to Buy ISA are covered by the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which protects up to the first £85,000 (as of January 2017) per person, per financial institution in the event that the bank or building society supplying the account goes bust.
Help to Buy ISAs will be on sale until 30 November 2019. If you’ve opened one before then, you can keep it running until 1 December 2030, when you must claim your bonus from the government of the day.