As a new cash Lifetime ISA is launched, which is better - the Help to Buy Isa or LISA?

Following the launch of a new cash Lifetime ISA by Nottingham Building Society, AJ Bell looks at whether the Help to Buy ISA or Lifetime ISA is better for different customers.
Laura Suter
23 August 2018

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, comments:

“It’s good to see more competition in the Lifetime ISA market, particularly as until now there has only been one cash Lifetime ISA provider. We hope that as more providers offer a Lifetime ISA the competition will push rates up for end investors.

“While a cash Lifetime ISA may be the default option for some, if you areaving for retirement or are more than five years away from buying your first property, savers should consider investing the money for higher returns. This is particularly the case as inflation is currently high and outstripping the 1% rate on offer from these cash providers.

“Those with their money still sitting in a Help to Buy ISA should consider moving it to a Lifetime ISA, which offers a larger potential bonus, the ability to put more money away each year and the ability to buy a more expensive property outside of London. However, it’s not for everyone and rates for cash accounts are lower, for example.”

See our guide to whether the Help to Buy ISA or Lifetime ISA is right for you:

You can save a larger amount in the Lifetime ISA – You can save up to £4,000 a year into the Lifetime ISA, compared to the Help to Buy ISA where you can save up to £200 a month, plus an extra £1,200 in the first month of opening the account.

With the Lifetime ISA you can get more free money – Both the Help to Buy ISA and Lifetime ISA get the same 25% Government bonus, but with the Help to Buy ISA this is limited to the first £12,000 saved – meaning a maximum bonus of £3,000. With the Lifetime ISA you can get up to £1,000 a year in Government bonus, up until the age of 50. If you opened a Lifetime ISA at age 18, that is a maximum Government bonus of £32,000 (or £33,000 if you’re lucky enough to have your 18th birthday before 6th April).

Need to buy in 12 months? Use a Help to Buy ISA – You have to have the Lifetime Isa open for 12 months before you can use the money to buy your first home. This means if you plan to buy in the next year, you should use a Help to Buy Isa, which has no such restriction.

You can invest a lump sum in a Lifetime ISA, but only save monthly into a Help to Buy ISA – With the Help to Buy ISA you are limited to saving £200 a month. If you miss a month, you cannot pay double in the next month. With the Lifetime ISA you can contribute up to £4,000 a year, in one or more lump sums or as a regular monthly saving.

Help to Buy ISA cash rates are higher – If you want to keep your money in cash the interest rate you can get on Help to Buy ISAs is better than Lifetime ISAs. In addition to Nottingham Building Society’s cash Lifetime ISA, the only other cash LISA provider is Skipton Building Society and it pays 0.75% a year in interest. According to Moneyfacts, the best Help to Buy ISA cash rate is currently 2.56% from Newcastle Building Society. However, the higher annual limit, and so higher Government bonus, wipes some of this advantage out.

Cash Lifetime ISA: At 0.75% interest, on the maximum £4,000 saved, you’d end up with £5,037.50 with the Government bonus on the Lifetime ISA after one year – a £1,037.50 increase.
At 2.56% interest on the maximum £2,400 saved with a Help to Buy ISA, you’d end up with £3,076.80 after one year – an increase of £676.80.

You can have an investment Lifetime ISA – you can only hold your Help to Buy ISA in cash, while you can invest your Lifetime ISA in funds, shares, investment trusts and ready-made portfolios. This means if you are saving your money for longer you have the potential to generate greater returns by investing.

If you live outside London you can buy a more expensive property with the Lifetime ISA – With the Help to Buy ISA you can use it on a property worth up to £450,000 in London, but only on property worth up to £250,000 outside London. This has proved a problem for some in expensive areas outside of London, such as Cambridge and Brighton. With the Lifetime ISA there is a limit of £450,000 regardless of what area of the UK you’re buying in.

You can use the Lifetime ISA bonus for a house deposit, where the Help to Buy ISA bonus is only available after exchange – The Help to Buy ISA Government bonus is only issued after you have exchanged on a property, so cannot be used for the initial deposit, which has to be handed over at exchange. With a Lifetime ISA the Government bonus is paid monthly, meaning it can be used towards your deposit at exchange.

You can only use the Lifetime ISA if you’re between 18 and 40 years old – if you are over the age of 40, and have not yet opened a Lifetime ISA, you have missed the boat. This means your only option is to use a Help to Buy ISA to buy your first property.

If you change your mind, you’ll pay an exit fee on the Lifetime ISA – With the Help to Buy ISA, if you change your mind or want to make a withdrawal, for something other than buying your first home, you can redeem your money. As the Government bonus will not have been paid into the account, you don’t need to return any money. With the Lifetime ISA, if you want to withdraw money for anything other than buying a first home, retirement, or if you have a terminal illness, you will pay an exit fee. This is intended to claw back the 25% Government bonus, but it actually results in you losing the Government bonus and paying A 6.25% fee on top.

For example, if you invest £4,000, you’ll get the 25% government top-up and have £5,000 in total. If you choose to withdraw the money not for a first home or retirement, you’ll be charged 25%, which equates to £1,250. This means you have £3,750 left, £250 less than your initial investment.

Laura Suter
Personal Finance Analyst
Laura Suter is personal finance analyst at AJ Bell. She is a multi-award winning former financial journalist, having specialised in investments. Laura joined AJ Bell from the Daily Telegraph, where she was investment editor. She has previously worked for adviser publications Money Marketing and Money Management, and has worked for an investment publication in New York. She has a degree in Journalism Studies from University of Sheffield.
Follow us: