Don't miss out on first-time buyer freebies

First-time buyers need to wise up to free money offered by ISAs and LISAs. Sharon Dale reports.

The Help to Buy equity loan scheme, available on new-build homes, is well known thanks to developers who widely promote its benefits.

It is set to end in March 2021 when it will be replaced by a new government-backed scheme set to run until March 2023.

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This will be restricted to first-time buyers and includes regional property price caps to ensure the scheme reaches people who need it most.

As with the current scheme, the government will lend buyers up to 20 per cent of the cost of a newly-built home, and up to 40 per cent in London. The loan will be interest-free for the first five years.

Far more generous but not half as well known is the Help to Buy ISA, which offers“free money” for first-time buyers saving for a deposit.

This remarkable offer comes to an end in November 2019, so now is the time to think about taking advantage of it.

If you are saving to buy your first home and put your money into an Help to Buy ISA, the government will add another 25 per cent to it.

You can deposit up to £1,200 in the first month and up to £200 a month after that. So for every £200 monthly deposit you receive a cash bonus of £50.

The maximum government bonus you can receive is £3,000 and you need to have saved at least £1,600 in the ISA before becoming eligible for this top up.

If you are purchasing a home with a sibling, partner or friend, they can also open their own Help to Buy ISA – providing they are a first-time buyer.

So, if you both save the maximum amount, then you can get a bonus of up to £6,000.

To qualify for the Help to Buy ISA bonus, your first home must be bought using a mortgage and must have a purchase price of up to £250,000 or up to £450,000 if you are buying in London. It also has to be your main home, so you can't use this scheme for buy-to-let.

You can open a Help to Buy ISA any time before the November 30, 2019 deadline and continue to receive the government bonus for up to 10 years.

All Help to Buy ISA accounts will close for contributions on November 30, 2029 and you must claim your bonus by December 1, 2030. You can withdraw the money at any time but you won't get the bonus cash if you don't use it to buy a property.

If you aren't quite ready to save for a home yet and can't open a Help to Buy ISA before next November's deadline, there is an alternative.

It is generous but there are more strings attached.

The Lifetime ISA –LISA –allows you to save up to £4,000 a year and the government will give you a 25 per cent bonus, so up to £1,000 per year.

This is a better deal than the Help to Buy Isa, which has a £2,400 annual savings limit and an annual £600 maximum bonus. Plus, savings can be deposited at any time in a LISA with no monthly cap.

If you start saving at 18 and pay in the maximum £4,000 a year until the age of 50, you could earn a £33,000 bonus.

LISAs can also be used as a deposit on more expensive properties with a price cap of £450,000.

However, a LISA can be only be used for a deposit on a house or withdrawn at the age of 50, otherwise there is a 25 per cent withdrawal charge, which means you could get back less than you paid in.

There's also an age limit. LISAs are only available to those aged between 18 and 39. Another clause states that you must have the LISA for at least a year before you redeem the bonus.

Here are some more first-time buyer tips:

*Rent is probably your biggest outlay so look at moving somewhere cheaper or back in with parents. If you don't mind roughing it a little then consider being a property guardian for Ad Hoc. The licence fees including bills are as little as £250 a month. Ad Hoc specialises in creating temporary homes in empty building,

*Make sure you are “mortgage ready”. Lenders will look at your credit history and will hunt for debts and missed payments. They also like to see proof that you can repay responsibly. So it can help to spend on a credit card but pay it back in full each month. They scrutinise bank statements and outgoings so cut back on anything that looks like a luxury.

It's all about affordability. Lenders don't just look at your annual income, they examine your outgoings, including the bills, loans, credit card payments and the flat white you buy every morning before work.

They also factor in possible mortgage rates rise to make sure you can cope with an increase.

A good independent mortgage adviser will help with this and they can help hunt down a good deal, though they will charge up to £300.

*Don't just rely on Rightmove and other online property portals. Register your search with local estate agents and visit the branch in person. They will be keen to help you secure your first home and they will alert you to new properties.