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Budgeting & Banking

Lifetime ISA (LISA) – how they work & best providers

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Stressed over how you'll ever afford to buy a house? A Lifetime ISA could get you £1,000s of free cash for your first home. 

woman thinking next to house on money

Credit: Ink Drop (background), WAYHOME studio (foreground) – Shutterstock

In our most recent Student Banking Survey, 31% of surveyed students said they had a LISA. With as much as £1,000 a year of free money up for grabs, we consider it our duty to shout about it!

The main draw of the Lifetime ISA (essentially a souped-up tax-free savings account) is that, for many young people, it could be the only hope of scraping together enough money to get on the property ladder.

LISAs are also a great way to get into the habit of putting money aside each month. There's often no minimum monthly savings amount, meaning you can save as little as you like. So, how do they work?

Lifetime ISA summary

If you don't have time to read about the LISA in detail, here's a quick summary of all the main details:

  1. You can pay a maximum of £4,000 into your Lifetime ISA each year
  2. The government will then give you a 25% bonus of what you save (so a maximum of £1,000 each year)
  3. The earliest you can use your LISA fund is one year after making your first deposit
  4. You must be aged between 18–39 to open a Lifetime ISA
  5. You're able to make deposits and get the 25% bonus on savings each year up to the age of 50
  6. You can't use the money in your LISA unless it's to buy your first home, you're aged 60 or over, or (sadly) if you're terminally ill with less than 12 months to live
  7. The maximum house value you can put the LISA towards is £450,000 (on a property anywhere in the UK)
  8. You can combine your LISA with a partner to buy a house (who can also use their own LISA)
  9. You can't use the LISA to buy a property to let – you must intend to live there
  10. You are allowed to have a Help to Buy ISA open at the same time as a LISA, but you cannot use both to buy a property (note: you can no longer open Help to Buy ISA accounts)
  11. You can transfer any Help to Buy funds into your LISA
  12. WARNING: If you withdraw the money early (i.e. before age 60 without putting it towards your first house) you'll be charged a 25% fee (equivalent to losing your 25% bonus and a fine of 6.25% on what's left).

What is a Lifetime ISA?

lady holding a pound coin putting into a wallet

Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva – Shutterstock

Let's start with the basics: an ISA (Individual Savings Account) is a bank account that allows you to save cash tax-free each year.

Previously, the appeal of an ISA was that you'd be required to pay tax on the interest earned in a regular savings account, whereas ISAs were exempt from tax (provided that you stick to the rules – more on that later).

However, now basic-rate taxpayers (anyone earning less than £50,270 per year) can earn up to £1,000 of interest each year across all of their accounts without having to pay any tax.

This has led some to suggest that the ISA is now defunct. Whether or not this is true for standard ISAs is a debate of its own, but one thing's for sure: the Lifetime ISA (LISA) is a different kettle of fish, and one we're very fond of.

The LISA is, in part, the government's way of helping young people get on the property ladder, contributing an extra 25% on top of what they save towards the deposit for a first home.

We'll go into more detail later on, but you could earn up to an additional £1,000 per year in free money from the state.

And, if you're not interested in using the LISA to buy a property, it can also be used as a retirement fund (more on that below).

Should students get a Lifetime ISA?

Clearly, Lifetime ISAs are a great saving option for anyone thinking about securing their future – and that includes students and graduates.

Preparing to buy your first home or retire might seem like a long way off for you now, but remember that saving takes time. It's good to start thinking about this as early as you can.

It's also worth noting that having a LISA won't affect how big a Maintenance Loan you're eligible for or impact Student Loan repayments.

Reasons to open a LISA

Here are some good reasons to open a Lifetime ISA:

  • You've received some inheritance money and are unsure how to invest it
  • You find you normally have a bit of money left over each term, but normally just put it in a savings account or treat yourself to something nice
  • You're thinking about buying your first home within the next 10 years
  • You'd like to become self-employed after uni so might not have a workplace pension.
Want an ISA that allows you to access money when you need it? We've researched the best ISAs available to students.

What is a Lifetime ISA for?

You can only withdraw money from your Lifetime ISA (without being charged) in three instances.

Other than having a terminal illness and being given less than 12 months to live (sorry it's bleak, but we had to mention it!), the other two instances in which you can withdraw from your LISA are:

Buying your first house

If you're thinking about getting on the property ladder as soon as possible, the LISA is a great choice as long as you:

  1. Are looking to buy a property in the UK
  2. Don't already own a property or have a share of a property (anywhere in the world)
  3. Are planning to buy a property to live in yourself rather than rent out to others
  4. Will be looking to buy a house that costs less than £450,000.

You and a partner can combine your LISAs to purchase a new property together.

And, crucially, your LISA won't automatically be closed once you purchase a property. You can either choose to close it or continue using it to save towards a retirement fund.

Saving for retirement

If you start saving for a property but then, for whatever reason, decide you don't want to use the LISA to buy your first home, you can avoid losing your bonus money (and incurring the penalty) by continuing to use your LISA as savings for retirement.

You don't have to do anything in this situation, but it does mean you won't have access to the money until your 60th birthday (although the bonuses will stop being paid from your 50th birthday onwards).

If you do decide to use your LISA for retirement, it shouldn't be seen as a substitute for a pension scheme, which will usually get you a much better deal in the long run. Instead, it's a nice added bonus.

As with any loan or savings account, the terms of the LISA could change before you turn 60.

How much can you save with a Lifetime ISA?

piggy bank wearing glasses

Credit: TierneyMJ – Shutterstock

How much you save with a LISA depends on how much you put into the account each year. There's no minimum amount that you have to pay in monthly or annually, so you can pay in dribs and drabs if and when you can afford to.

There is a maximum amount, though: you can only deposit up to £4,000 a year into your LISA. With the annual 25% bonus from the government, you can earn up to an extra £1,000 in cash, bringing your annual savings to £5,000.

Don't forget that ISAs run according to the tax year (6th April to 5th April), regardless of when you open your account. If you open it in January, you have until 5th April that year to make a deposit (up to £4,000) and secure that year's bonus.

Best case scenario: If you were to open your LISA at the age of 18 and save the maximum amount of £4,000 each year, by the time you retire you'd have saved £128,000 and received an extra £32,000 from the government. That's a lot of free cash, and a total pot of £160,000 in today's money (not accounting for the added interest over time).

And remember, the bonus you receive is only based on what you put in. It doesn't matter what the interest rate is on your cash LISA, or how much you make with a Stocks and Shares LISA, the government bonus will always be the same.

How do you get your Lifetime ISA bonus?

The 25% bonus on your Lifetime ISA will be paid monthly and you can earn interest on the total amount in your account. However, the interest earned does not count towards your £4,000, so you can't use it to earn more of a bonus.

And, even with the 25% bonus being paid monthly, that doesn't mean you need to make monthly deposits to receive it. If you'd rather just make a lump sum deposit once a year, you'll still earn 25% on whatever you pay in.

It's also worth noting that if you use the LISA to purchase a property, the funds will go straight from the bank to the solicitor handling the property purchase.

This means that although you'll be able to see the bonuses come in and watch your money grow, you won't be able to get your hands on the cash as it will be passed between the banks and lawyers.

The only exceptions to this are if you choose to withdraw it early (incurring a penalty) or after your 60th birthday, in which case the money goes straight to you.

Early withdrawals and other Lifetime ISA risks

ISAs are a good way of keeping your money safe – particularly from yourself! There are always going to be certain risks involved, and although these shouldn't be a huge worry, they should still be taken into consideration.

If you change your mind about the bank or building society that holds your LISA, don't panic. You can easily transfer from one provider to another without losing the interest or bonuses (although some providers may charge a one-off admin fee for this).

However, if you decide you want your cash before you turn 60 and don't want to buy your first property with it, there's usually a 25% fee on the total you withdraw.

This works out as the entire 25% bonus you received from the government plus an extra 6.25%. This is because the 25% charge would be applied to the money you've saved after the government bonus has been added.

For example, imagine you've got £1,000 in your LISA and received a 25% bonus of £250. If you withdraw early, you'll have to pay a 25% charge on the total of £1,250, which works out to £312.50. As a result, you'll only take home £937.50 instead of your original £1,000.

There are also additional risks linked with the two types of Lifetime ISA:

Cash LISA risks

This is most similar to a regular savings account, in that you choose how much you pay in and receive a pre-defined amount of tax-free interest on it.

The main risk involved in this option would be if the bank you have your LISA with goes bust, in which case you'll be protected for up to £85,000. While this sounds like a lot (and, to be fair, it is), if your LISA balance is above this amount, anything above £85,000 could be lost if the bank collapses.

Stocks and shares LISA risks

This version involves investing your LISA money directly into stocks and shares.

As is always the case with anything that relies on the stock market, this option involves more risk-taking but can see a higher return if your shares do well. Of course, if your investments perform badly, you could lose money.

There are also fees linked with stocks and shares LISAs, and these will eat into your savings (perhaps not a great deal, but it's still your money!).

Because of the uncertainty and risks involved, we'd always recommend that you carefully research and seek professional advice before investing this way.

How do you open a Lifetime ISA?

people signing documents

Opening an ISA is a pretty simple process and shouldn't take much time. That said, you may need some paperwork, and you'll definitely need your National Insurance number.

Can your parents open a LISA on your behalf?

Your parents can guide you as much as is necessary, of course, but since ISAs are individual banking products you need to open the account yourself (armed with the info above to get started).

However, your parents are allowed to 'gift' you money tax-free each year to pay into your Lifetime ISA, so remember to be nice!

Can you have more than one Lifetime ISA?

You can have more than one ISA at one time that you pay into each month and gain interest on.

You can also have more than one Lifetime ISA. However, you can only open one Lifetime ISA per tax year, and you can only pay into one Lifetime ISA in a single tax year.

The maximum amount you're allowed to save in all your ISAs combined is £20,000 per year.

If you were born in the UK between 1st September 2002 and 2nd January 2011, check how to find your Child Trust Fund.

Best Lifetime ISA providers

Since the LISA was launched in April 2017, banks haven't exactly jumped at the chance to start offering them to the public. Luckily, some have, and we've listed the best LISA providers below.

Remember to think carefully about whether you want a cash or stocks and shares LISA, and know what the differences are.

Best cash Lifetime ISAs

These are the cash Lifetime ISAs offering the best interest rates:

  1. Tembo Lifetime ISA (4.3%)

    Tembo logo

    • Minimum investment – £1
    • Interest paid – Monthly
    • How to open/access – App.

    Tembo (formerly Nude) is a newer player in the LISA market. They currently offer a market-leading interest rate as there's no drop in interest after year one.

    The LISA is offered via an app on the App Store or on Google Play. Signing up and opening an account is very easy.

    Apply for this LISA »


  2. Moneybox Lifetime ISA (5% incl. 12 month 1% bonus)

    moneybox logo

    • Minimum investment – £1
    • Interest paid – Monthly
    • How to open/access – App.

    This LISA from Moneybox, another app-only option, offers one of the highest interest rates on the market (although the 4% base rate is variable, so the overall rate could rise or fall).

    The Moneybox app is super easy to use and opening a LISA takes just a few minutes, making it an ideal choice for someone still getting to grips with the ins and outs of their finances.

    Apply for this LISA »


  3. Beehive Money Lifetime ISA (3.5%)

    beehive money logo

    • Minimum investment – £1
    • Interest paid – Annually
    • How to open/access – App.

    The Beehive Money Lifetime ISA is one of the newer additions to the market. But having taken on all of the customers of the former Nottingham Building Society LISA in 2021, it's also one of the most popular options.

    Beehive's LISA can only be accessed and managed via an app – and, thankfully, it's super clear and easy to use.

    Apply for this LISA »


  4. Skipton Building Society Lifetime ISA (3.25%)

    skipton building society logo

    • Minimum investment – £1
    • Interest paid – Annually
    • How to open/access – Online.

    Although its interest rate is less than the amount offered by Moneybox or Beehive Money, Skipton's Lifetime ISA is still comfortably ahead of the other cash LISAs on the market.

    In addition to the annual government bonus, first-time house buyers with a Skipton LISA who use a Skipton mortgage to purchase their home will be eligible for £250 cashback.

    Apply for this LISA »


Best stocks and shares Lifetime ISAs

WARNING: As with all investing, your capital is at risk. The value of your portfolio can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you invest. Lifetime ISA rules apply.

The market for stocks and shares LISAs is a little bigger than the cash equivalent, although it's still relatively slim pickings.

How much you can ultimately make from these LISAs depends on where you choose to invest your cash.

We're not here to tell you where and how much to invest, but what we can do is outline which LISAs offer a greater range of funds for you to invest in, and which will completely manage your investments for you.

With that in mind, here are the best stocks and shares LISAs:

  1. Hargreaves Lansdown stocks and shares Lifetime ISA

    Hargreaves Landown logo

    • Minimum investment – £100 lump sum or £25/month
    • Annual fees – 0.25% base charge, plus additional charges on transactions.

    Hargreaves Lansdown has thousands of investment options to choose from (more than 3,000!).

    While this sounds great, it also means that it's best for people with knowledge of investment who want to be more hands-on when deciding where to invest.

    But that's not to say you'll be left in the dark. Their financial advisors can help out if there's anything you're unsure about.

    Apply for this LISA »


  2. AJ Bell Youinvest stocks and shares Lifetime ISA

    aj bell you invest logo

    • Minimum investment – £25/month
    • Annual fees – 0.25% base charge, plus additional charges on transactions.

    AJ Bell's Lifetime ISA offers a massive range of investment options, including shares, funds and exchange-traded funds.

    Of course, all of this requires knowledge (and, preferably, experience) of what you're investing in. If you're more of a rookie, AJ Bell also offers complete portfolios for you to invest in, with varying levels of risk.

    Apply for this LISA »


  3. Nutmeg stocks and shares Lifetime ISA

    nutmeg logo

    • Minimum investment – £100 lump sum
    • Annual fees – Varies by portfolio.

    Nutmeg is an app/robo-advisor which takes away the hassle of deciding where to invest and makes your investments for you based on how much risk you want to go for.

    They'll ask you a few questions which will determine whether you want to play it safe or go for some riskier options. Then, one of their investment professionals will take the reigns.

    They offer five main LISA options. With a Fully Managed portfolio, the team will regularly monitor your investment and make strategic decisions to protect against losses. They also now offer Socially Responsible portfolios, which are essentially the same but with a focus on investing in companies with "high environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards".

    Their Thematic Investing portfolio focuses on growing trends in the world, including AI and energy generation. You can choose your own future-focused theme and risk level to start investing.

    Meanwhile, the Smart Alpha option is powered by J.P. Morgan Asset Management and aims to adapt your portfolio to changing market conditions.

    Finally, there's the Fixed Allocation portfolio – a cheaper option (with a 0.45% fee instead of 0.75%) which is designed to perform without intervention. See their website for more details.

    Apply for this LISA »


  4. Moneybox stocks and shares Lifetime ISA

    moneybox logo

    • Minimum investment – £1
    • Annual fees – £1 per month (free for the first three months), plus 0.45% monthly platform fee, plus additional fund provider fees (these vary depending on the fund provider and can be found in each fund's key investor information document).

    As we explained earlier, the Moneybox app is really easy to use, making it a great shout for those who are new to the investment scene.

    They simply have three investment options (Cautious, Balanced or Adventurous) and you choose one based on how much risk you're willing to take.

    But our favourite Moneybox feature is the ability to automatically invest your 'spare change'. Simply hook up your debit/credit card to the app and, for every purchase you make, they'll round it up to the nearest pound and invest the difference.

    So, for example, if you spend £2.80 on a sandwich, they'll round it up to £3 and automatically invest the 20p for you.

    Apply for this LISA »


Help to Buy ISA vs Lifetime ISA

The Help to Buy (HTB) ISA is very similar to the LISA – so much so that it has been speculated that the HTB might've been launched as a stepping stone that the government used to test the waters before announcing the Lifetime ISA.

Indeed, in the time since the Lifetime ISA was launched, the Help to Buy ISA has closed to new customers.

However, if you have a HTB and are considering switching to a LISA, it's worth getting clued up on the similarities and differences between the two.

Help to Buy and Lifetime ISA differences

These are the most important differences between the Help to Buy and Lifetime ISAs:

  • The Help to Buy ISA can only be used to buy your first property, whereas the LISA can be for first-time buyers or retirement funds.
  • You can save more with a LISA (£4,000 per year compared with HTB's £2,400 per year).
  • Help to Buy assumes you'll be saving more short term and therefore has a maximum bonus of £3,000, whereas the LISA can also be used for retirement so can accumulate up to £32,000.
  • The bonus isn't applied until you buy a home with the HTB, so you never earn interest on the bonus itself (unlike the LISA).
  • Because the bonus isn't applied until after the sale is made, the HTB also can't be used towards a deposit on a property, whereas the LISA can.
  • You can buy a house with the money you've saved in an HTB ISA once you've saved £1,600 (which can potentially be achieved within three months), whereas you need to wait a year before you can spend LISA savings.
  • If you're looking to buy in London, both the HTB and LISA can be used on properties up to a maximum value of £450,000. In fact, the LISA can be used to buy a property up to that value anywhere in the UK, but with HTB the cap drops to £250,000 outside of London.
  • HTB ISAs were available to any first-time buyer over 16, whereas LISAs are for 18+.
  • HTB ISAs are cash-only, whereas LISAs offer both cash and stocks and share ISAs.

Wondering how you'll be able to fill your Lifetime ISA with cash? Check out our list of expensive habits to give up which could save you £100s (if not more!) each year.

Katie Paterson

WRITTEN BY Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson is an accomplished writer from Glasgow. She studied English Literature at the University of Strathclyde, then went on to do a Research Masters in Literature at the University of Amsterdam. As Lead Editor for Save the Student, Katie has covered topics from career tips to ways to make money go further as a student.
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