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Help to Buy ISAs

First-time buyers can get £3,000 help to buy a property

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Martin | Edited by Amy

Updated May 2016

Help to Buy ISAs are a no-brainer if you’re a first-time buyer saving for a mortgage deposit. You can earn up to 3% interest tax-free and then the state will add 25% free cash, and it could be £1,000s, on top of what you save.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about Help to Buy ISAs, who can get them, how to use them, what you can do if you change your mind and then we compare all the best-buy Help to Buy ISA deals.

The 12 Help to Buy ISA need-to-knows

  • You can save up to £1,200 in your first month, then up to £200 a month after that

    If you've got less, you can put in less and it'll still work, and you can keep contributing as long as the scheme lasts.

    If you miss a contribution one month, it's not a problem, though you can't make it up the next month (ie, you can still only put £200 in the next month).

    If I don’t have the full £1,200 should I wait to open one?

    Are my savings safe in a Help to Buy ISA?

  • The state adds 25% tax-free to whatever is in the ISA when you use it to buy a home

    Even with all the hype about the new personal savings allowance, if you're a first-time buyer, putting your cash in a Help to Buy ISA before thinking about any other savings is a no brainer.

    So at the point you use the ISA to buy your first home, all the money you have put in and the interest will have 25% added to it, with two exceptions:

    • You need to have at least £1,600 saved to get the bonus (so you'd get £400 extra).
    • The most you'll get the bonus on is £12,000 (so a £3,000 bonus). If you have more than that you can still use the ISA to save, you just won't get more than £3,000 on top.
    How much state top-up you'll get
    Amount in Help to Buy ISA Bonus Added Amount in Help to Buy ISA Bonus Added
    £1,600 (the minimum to get bonus) £400 £7,000 £1,750
    £2,000 £500 £8,000 £2,000
    £3,000 £750 £9,000 £2,250
    £4,000 £1,000 £10,000 £2,500
    £5,000 £1,250 £11,000 £2,750
    £6,000 £1,500 £12,000 £3,000

    The bonus scheme's set to keep paying out on Help to Buy ISA savings until December 2030. So you could put in just a small amount per month and take years to build up your bonus. However, you risk a future government changing the rules before 2030, meaning they'll stop paying bonuses.

    Is it worth me getting one if I'm buying a home in the next few months?

  • Every first-time buyer aged 16 and over can open one

    Anyone can get one, as long as you're a first-time buyer or plan to be in the future and frankly even if you've only an inkling you may buy a house, it's worth starting it off.

    You can open one anytime between 1 December 2015 and December 2019 and you'll still get the bonus added as long as you use it for a deposit until 2030.

    As for what a first-time buyer is – the definition is strict. It's someone who doesn't own and has NEVER owned an interest in a residential property, either inside or outside the UK, whether it was bought or inherited.

    Can I open one for my children? Is it a good idea?

    Can 16 & 17 year olds have a Help to Buy ISA and a Junior ISA at the same time?

  • It's an individual product, couples are treated separately

    Help to Buy ISAs are for individuals, it's not about who's buying the house, it's simply about whether you're a first-time buyer. To make it plain:

    • If you're a first-time buyer, buying with someone who's owned before, you CAN open one, they CAN'T.
    • If you're a first-time buyer, buying with another first-time buyer, you CAN BOTH open one. So, together, you can save £400 a month and double the bonus.
  • It can be used for any property costing under £250,000 (£450,000 in London) and any mortgage

    The bonus will only be available on homes worth up to £250,000, or £450,000 in London (defined as inner and outer London boroughs). Unlike some other government schemes, you're not restricted to buying a new build; any property works - provided you're buying with a mortgage (you won't get the bonus if you're a cash buyer).

    • You can use it with any mortgage type, it DOESN'T have to be a Help to Buy mortgage (though it can be), but it must be a residential mortgage, including self-build and shared ownership, but not buy-to-let.
    • It doesn't need to be your sole deposit money, you can combine it with other savings (see where to save the rest).
    • You're not tied into getting a mortgage from the same bank you open your Help to Buy ISA with. Always check the whole mortgage market before you choose one, our mortgage comparison can help and get the free first-time buyers' mortgage guide too.

  • You CAN rent out your property if you've used a Help to Buy ISA as part of the deposit

    When you use a Help to Buy ISA to buy a home, you sign a declaration saying that you won't rent the property out - the Government's idea is to encourage homeownership, not help people start burgeoning property empires.

    But this was such a restriction, we queried it with the Treasury - what happens if people's circumstances change? For example, if you had a job abroad for a couple of years, but wanted to keep the home and move back in when you came back to the UK - would you have to sell the property?

    The Government saw the sense in the question, and has now partly relented...you will be able to rent your property out if your circumstances change down the line.

    However, if you're buying the property with the sole intention to rent it out, this still isn't allowed. If caught, the government would seek to get its bonus money back from you.

    Read full details of our challenge to the Treasury in Martin's can I rent out my home if I used a Help to Buy ISA?

  • You can only open one Help to Buy ISA, but you can transfer it to up the rate

    Unlike a cash ISA – where you can open a new one each tax year – you're only allowed one Help to Buy ISA (ie, from one provider) full stop. But you can continue to add to it each tax year.

    And although you're only allowed to get one Help to Buy account, you can transfer it between different providers to chase the best interest rates.

    So it's important to monitor the interest rate you're getting and, if it drops, find a new Help to Buy ISA provider paying a better rate (you'll need to ask it to transfer your existing one when you open your new account – don't take the money out yourself).

    And of course with the Help to Buy ISA, just like any other ISA, the interest you earn is tax free, so you get to keep all of it.

  • You’re not supposed to contribute to a Help to Buy ISA and a cash ISA in the same year, but…

    The rules say you can’t open a cash ISA and a Help to Buy ISA at the same time in the same tax year. Though nothing prevents you opening a Help to Buy ISA if you have cash ISAs from previous years, or a stocks & shares ISA from any year.

    Yet there is a way round this. Five providers allow ‘split ISAs’ – here they manipulate the rules to put the Help to Buy ISA and a cash ISA together in the same wrapper, effectively allowing you to have both. Remember, your maximum ISA allowance per tax year is £15,240 so your combined ISA savings (the amount you put into an ISA) can't exceed this.

    Doing this is great for those who've already opened a cash ISA this tax year, as you can transfer it in and use some for Help to Buy. If this works for you see the top pick Help to Buy ISA split below.

    The only negative for doing this is you may get lower rates on both your Help to Buy ISA and cash ISA by linking them together. If this isn’t for you it’s worth remembering while a cash ISA lets you save more, getting a Help to Buy ISA still beats it as the 25% state-added bonus is far bigger.

    What should I do if I've already opened a cash ISA?

  • You need to get your solicitor to apply for the bonus cash when you buy a home

    When you're ready to buy, to get the bonus, you close down your Help to Buy ISA account, and transfer the funds into another account (or your solicitor's account). You'll then receive a closing letter from your ISA provider, which you need to give to your solicitor.

    The solicitor then uses the letter to apply online for the government bonus. However, you can only use the bonus for your mortgage deposit, not your home deposit. What this means in practice is that the Government bonus can't be used toward the deposit you pay to the seller when you exchange contracts, it can only be used at completion (see Buying a Home - the Timeline to learn about the difference).

    Beware! Because it's admin work, and takes time, solicitors are allowed to charge for this service up to a maximum of £60 (£50 + VAT).

  • You can take the money out whenever you want even if you're not buying a property

    Pound Sign If you decide not to buy your first home (or to buy one costing more than the qualifying amount) you don't lose the money. You can take money out of a Help to Buy ISA whenever you want – you just miss out on the bonus. It'll still be tax-free and you'll still get the interest you're due.

    The rules also allow you to make partial withdrawals, while keeping the Help to Buy ISA open (though withdrawal rules will depend on your provider). You won't be eligible for the bonus on the amount withdrawn, but you can still keep contributing afterwards and will still get the bonus on whatever is in the account when you use it for a deposit.

    It's this fact that makes the accounts such a no-brainer – especially as the Help to Buy ISA rates tend to be higher than normal cash ISAs. So you can put your cash in IN CASE you may buy a home with it, and there's little downside if you don't (barring missing out on the larger tax-free amount you can save in a cash ISA) and a huge upside if you do.

  • It's worth doing even if you're buying soon and have already saved

    The minimum amount you need to get a bonus is £1,600 (you would get £400) and while that takes ‘three months’ to do, in practice you can do it far quicker with most accounts. The reason it’s three months' worth is because you can deposit £1,200 in month one then up to £200 in each subsequent month.

    Yet as a month is a calendar month, in practice you may be able to do this far more quickly, if the dates fall for you.

    For example you could put £1,200 in on 31 January, then £200 in during February, and the final £200 in on 1 March just 30 days later and you’d be ready to go.

    Therefore, assuming you're eligible, even if you have savings elsewhere, if you won't be completing within the next month, it's worth moving what you can into the Help to Buy ISA to get the bonus. Do check that your bank allows this - some have a cut-off date each month for paying in.

  • A new Lifetime ISA launches in April 2017 - but don't wait

    The Lifetime ISA (LISA) is due to launch in April 2017, and just like the Help to Buy ISA, it will give a 25% bonus on top of what you save. It's called a Lifetime ISA as it's designed both to help you buy your first home, and to save for retirement.

    The main difference is that you can save £4,000 a year in a Lifetime ISA, compared with £2,400 (£3,400 in year one) in a Help to Buy ISA. The bonus is also paid differently - with a Lifetime ISA you can get a maximum of £1,000 - 25% of the max £4,000 saving - paid at the end of every tax year. So how do the two interact?

    • You can have both Help to Buy ISA and a Lifetime ISA
    • However you can only use the bonus from one of them towards buying a house.
    • Use the LISA for the 25% bonus to buy a home, you won't get the bonus with the Help to Buy ISA, but you can still keep the money plus the interest (and use it towards buying your home).
    • Use the Help to Buy ISA for the 25% bonus, and you'd have to pay a penalty to use your LISA savings for a property, though you would still be able to use it and get the bonus for retirement savings.

    But, it's not worth waiting for the Lifetime ISA to launch, as you can save in the Help to Buy ISA and then merge the two once they launch - then getting the 25% bonus on both. Martin's blog has full details on how Help to Buy ISAs and Lifetime ISAs compare, but here's a quick rundown:

      Lifetime ISA Help to Buy ISA
    How much can you save? £4,000/yr £2,400/yr (£3,400 in year one)
    Can you put lump sums in? Yes No, need to save monthly
    What's the max bonus £32,000 (max contribution over 32 years) £3,000 (max contribution over 4yrs 8mths)
    When's the bonus paid? Annually When you buy a home
    Can you invest as well as save? Yes. With cash & shares LISAs No. Cash only.
    What's the max property price? £450,000 £250,000 (£450k in London)
    When can you buy & get the bonus? After the ISA's been open 12mths Once you've £1,600+ saved
    Who can open it? Anyone aged 18 to 39 Any first-time buyer aged 16+

    Should I open a Help to Buy ISA or wait for a Lifetime ISA?

  • Where to save for your deposit if you’ve filled your Help to Buy ISA

    We've coloured this number in red as it's not really about Help to Buy ISAs. But, if you've got a lump sum, or you're saving over £200/mth (£400/mth if a couple of first timers buying together), you'll need to save elsewhere too.

    Quite simply, you want to put your cash in the account paying the highest after-tax interest. The new personal savings allowance means basic-rate taxpayers can earn £1,000 interest a year without tax, higher rate £500, so for most people tax is no longer such a big issue on where you save. So here are top tips:

    • Earn 3% on up to £20,000. Switch bank to Santander 123* and you get 3% AER on balances of £3,000 to £20,000. It does charge a £5/mth fee but this is usually covered by the up to 3% cashback you get if you pay bills via it. For smaller amounts, other banks pay more. See Top Interest-Paying Bank Accounts.
    • Top cash ISAs. You can still have past years' cash ISAs with a Help to Buy ISA (see Top ISA Transfers to max the rate). Yet for new money you'll need to use a split ISA like Nationwide's Help to Buy to be able to get a cash ISA too.
    • Get up to 6% with a regular saver. Some bank accounts also offer customers access to linked regular saver accounts where you can put up to £300/mth in with top rates. See Top Regular Savers.

    Have a question we've not answered? Let us know in the Help to Buy ISA forum discussion.

Best BuysHelp to Buy ISAs

Three things you need to know about all the products below:

  • Anyone can open them, you don’t need to bank with that provider.
  • If you get one you don’t need to then get that provider's mortgage.
  • This is still a new product, more deals may launch.

Virgin Money symbol

Top rate and you can open it online

Virgin Money 3% AER

Virgin Money pays one of the highest Help to Buy ISA rates, and you can open it online with just £1.

Like all other Help to Buy ISAs currently on the market though, this is a variable rate, meaning you should monitor it in case it drops.

Payments must be received by the end of the calendar month. You can use standing orders, cash/cheque deposit or bank account transfers to fund the ISA.

SUMMARY:

Rate: 3% AER variable | Min deposit: £1 | Access: Online | Interest paid: Annually or monthly | Allows previous ISA transfers? Yes | ISA split allowed? No |
Min age: 16 | Linked account needed? No | Linked benefits? None | Withdrawal penalty: None

Nationwide Bank symbol

Top if you also want a cash ISA in the same tax year

Nationwide* 2% AER

The Nationwide Help to Buy ISA* pays 2%, pretty similar to most other deals. Yet it is one of the few that offers a 'split ISA' – for the others doing this see below, or Aldermore's offering below this.

This means it has manipulated the rules to allow you to have a cash ISA alongside a Help to Buy ISA, as it’s all in one wrapper.

So if you’ve already saved in a cash ISA since 6 April 2016 you can transfer it in here, and then move money each month to the Help to Buy ISA, while keeping your cash ISA status. Or, equally, you can open it with new money and save both in the cash ISA and the Help to Buy ISA.

The reason we put it ahead of the other four that allow splits, even though they have the same Help to Buy ISA rates, is because it has the best cash ISA rates of the five. Its easy access ISA pays 1.1% (1.3% if you have a 'Flex' current account), not far from the best buys.

SUMMARY:

Rate: 2% AER variable | Min deposit: £1 | Access: Online/branch/phone | Interest paid: On account anniversary| Allows previous ISA transfers? Yes | ISA split allowed? Yes
| Min age: 16 | Linked account needed? No | Linked benefits? Access 'Save to Buy' mortgages | Withdrawal penalty: None

Aldermore Bank symbol

Decent alternative to Nationwide

Aldermore 2% AER

The Aldermore Help to Buy ISA pays 2%, pretty similar to most other deals. Like Nationwide above, it's one of the few that offers a ‘split ISA’.

You can split your funds between its 30-Day Notice Cash ISA which pays 1.05% (unlimited withdrawals but you must give 30-days notice each time you wish to make one) and your Help to Buy ISA.

SUMMARY:

Rate: 2% AER variable | Min deposit: £1 | Access: Online/post/phone | Interest paid: Monthly/annually| Allows previous ISA transfers? Yes | ISA split allowed? Yes
| Min age: 16 | Linked account needed? No | Linked benefits? None | Withdrawal penalty: None

Other providers offering Help to Buy ISAs

There are few circumstances we can think of where these deals beat the ones above – but you’ve asked for a full list, so here it is:

Straight Help to Buy ISAs

Split ISAs – so you can get Help to Buy ISA & cash ISA together

  • NatWest – 2% AER variable on Help to Buy, 0.25% on easy access cash ISA
  • Ulster Bank – 2% AER variable on Help to Buy, 0.5% on easy access cash ISA
  • Newcastle Building Society – 1.51% AER variable on Help to Buy, 1% on easy access ISA

Rather watch than read? Martin Lewis Help to Buy ISA video briefing

Some people find it easier to watch than read – if that's you, here's a quick video to help you understand Help to Buy ISAs.