A MoneySaving couple from Colchester have told how they became two of the first people in the country to benefit from the Help to Buy ISA scheme after exchanging contracts on a house.
The Help to Buy ISA offers first-time buyers such as Jason Page and Caroline North the chance to earn up to 4% interest tax-free, then top up savings for a property with a state bonus of 25%, up to a maximum of £3,000.
Jason and his partner Caroline heard about the new Help to Buy ISAs after watching the Martin Lewis Money Show, and took one out at the first opportunity when the product launched in December 2015.
After delaying their purchase to ensure they could collect the Help to Buy bonus, they exchanged contracts and received £800 as a couple last week.
Their success comes as one building society said more than 40 Help to Buy ISA savers have now closed their balance in order to claim their bonus, and the Government revealed more than 250,000 Help to Buy ISAs have been opened. See our Help to Buy ISA guide for full details on how they work and the top pick ISAs.
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How did Jason and Caroline do it?
Jason, a 30-year-old sustainability consultant and Caroline, a 27-year-old nutritionist, are first-time buyers, so were able to each individually open their own Help to Buy ISA.
Jason, who contacted MoneySavingExpert to share his story, said: "We already had a deposit and saw the Help to Buy ISA as a chance to make our money stretch a little further."
Both opted for the MSE top pick Help to Buy ISA which pays 4% interest. They knew they could each put in £200 a month, plus an extra £1,000 in the first month, so planned to reach the £1,600 minimum required to claim the state bonus before completing on their property.
After opening the ISAs on 9 December, they found a new-build three-bedroom semi-detached house in Colchester on 19 December.
However after having their offer accepted, they were asked to exchange contracts within 28 days, which would have meant they wouldn't have been able to deposit the £1,600 minimum before exchange.
Jason said: "We discussed this with the developers who agreed to hold the exchange window open until 10 February to allow time for getting the bonus applied for."
On the morning of 1 February Jason and Caroline made their last £200 payments. "We went into the Halifax branch in the afternoon and closed the account and got the closing documents within half an hour.
"We scanned these and sent them over to our solicitor. The following day we were advised that our developer had our deposit in full including the bonus and that we had exchanged. The process was very quick and painless and we are £800 better off – we effectively opened the account and closed it six weeks later having earned the bonus."
We want to hear your success stories – if you've cashed in your Help to Buy ISA email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
250,000 Help to Buy ISAs opened
There's been huge interest in Help to Buy ISAs since they launched, with Chancellor George Osborne last week revealing some 250,000 accounts have been opened in this time.
The ISAs work with any residential mortgage and on any home provided it's purchased for under £250,000 (under £450,000 in Greater London).
Jason and Caroline are among the first in the country to cash in on the Help to Buy ISA bonus, but they're not alone.
Nationwide Building Society says one saver from Northampton claimed the bonus and completed on a property last Thursday (4 February), while four joint applicants, from Glasgow and Derby, were due to have completed this week.
In total the building society says it's seen more than 40 savers claim the bonus so far, and others registered with alternative providers are also likely to have done so.
Help to Buy ISAs 'a no-brainer'
Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com founder, says: "Help to Buy ISAs are a no-brainer for anyone aged over 16 who's not owned a house before. With interest as high as 4%, even if you saved in one and then didn't end up buying a house, or a qualifying house, nothing is lost as you can still take the money out. If you do buy a house then you get the big boost to your deposit – which in turn could mean a lower interest rate.
"Many people who are buying soon though aren't opening these thinking it's a long-term gain – Jason and Caroline are proof that it's worth doing quickly.
"Technically it is possible to contribute enough to qualify for the minimum £400 bonus within one month and two days – if you opened an ISA on the last day of a month, then contributed the next month and on the first of the following month. Then you're only reliant on how quickly your solicitor can process it."
For full help and the top pick products see the Top Help to Buy ISAs guide.