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Start an ISA: opening a Lifetime ISA, with a tax-free wrapper, lets you save up to £4,000 every year with the government adding a 25% bonus of £1,000 on top of what you save.
What is the deal exactly?
A Lifetime ISA (LISA) could be a game-changer to your savings. This account offers the chance to save money in a tax-free wrapper and receive a 25% bonus from the government.
For example, if you save £4,000, in a tax year (6 April to 5 April) the government will give you £1,000.
Start an ISA whilst you can
However, you need to be between the ages of 18 – 39 to open an account, and saving for a house or retirement as the money isn’t ‘easy access.’
If you’re nearing 40, make sure you open a LISA before you hit the cut-off age. You can continue to put money into the account until the day before your 50th birthday.
You can open two kinds of LISA – cash or stocks and shares. If you’re looking to buy a house in the near future (less than five years), cash is generally best as you won’t be affected by short-term stock market fluctuations.
If you’re using the LISA to save for the long-term, then stocks and shares are better as you’re in with a better chance of growing your money above inflation over the long-term.
Stock market returns aren’t guaranteed but broadly over long time horizons do rise and will grow your money.
Why should I care?
With the end of the tax year approaching in April, there’s no better time to choose an ISA to get a 25% bonus each tax year on up to £4,000.
This is especially true if you have savings languishing in a cash account earning very little interest and losing value against inflation.
If you want to save money for your retirement or house, a 25% bonus each year could help a long way to accomplishing those goals.
What’s the catch?
There are quite a few conditions when opening a LISA.
You can only deposit a limited amount in a LISA – the maximum you can save is £4,000 per year, meaning that you’ll only get £1,000 from the government.
LISAs can only be used to buy a house or for retirement – and there are more limits set within those two options.
Currently, the LISA’s limit stands at a purchase of up to £450,000 in London. If you go over the limit, money can’t be withdrawn from your LISA, or you could lose the bonus and face a 5% government withdrawal charge.
You’ll pay a penalty if you withdraw the cash and don’t use it for a first home or retirement. If you do cash out the money for something else rather than a property or pension, then you’re charged 25% of the amount withdrawn.
What other options do I have?
Help to Buy ISAs were the precursor to the LISA, until they stopped being available after 30 November 2019.
However, if you’ve opened a Help to Buy ISA before that date, then you’d be able to save £200 every month towards your first home, with a 25% bonus from the government. You’d then be able to claim your bonus by 1 December 2030.
The alternative to a LISA includes regular cash ISAs or stocks and shares ISAs. As mentioned above, you should be using stocks and shares and investing if your time horizon for saving is longer than around five years.
Where can I find out more?
Dana is a former reporter at Mouthy Money, having previously worked for Times Money Mentor and the BBC.