You can no longer open a first home buyers savings account and there have been changes to existing accounts as well.
First home saver accounts (FHSAs) gave Australians a good way to save for their first homes, given that these accounts came with government contributions and tax benefits. Unfortunately, the government has abolished its FHSA scheme. What this basically means is you cannot open an FHSA account any more, and all existing FHSA accounts have now become ordinary savings accounts.
Compare alternatives to FHSAs below
How did the first home buyers savings account work?
FHSAs classified as special purpose accounts, because account holders had to use the money in their accounts for buying or building their first homes. These accounts attracted contributions from the government each year, up to a maximum limit. The interest such accounts earned was not subject to tax. People who had FHSAs could not make withdrawals from their accounts until a given time period.
The abolishment of FHSAs, effective 1st July, 2015, led to the following changes:
- If you opened an FHSA after 07:30pm, 13th May, 2014, it is not entitled to any contributions from the government
- If you’re an existing FHSA account holder you will not receive contributions from the government towards deposits you made after the 2013-2014 fiscal year
- Social security and tax concessions ended on 1st July, 2015
- Withdrawal restrictions ceased on 1st July, 2015
How can I compare First Home Saver Accounts?
Many Australian banks offered first home saver accounts, and not all these accounts were the same. While the banks in question don’t provide FHSAs anymore, they continue offering savings accounts. If you're considering opening a savings account, make sure you pay attention to the following aspects.
- Interest. One key differentiating factor between savings and everyday accounts is that the former let you earn interest. How much you earn as interest can not only vary from one financial institution to the next, but also between accounts offered by the same institution.
- Fees and charges. Most savings accounts don’t require you to pay any ongoing monthly or annual account keeping fees, but some may. You may also have to pay some transaction based fees and charges from time to time, and these would depend on the financial institution and account you choose.
- Access to funds. Select an account in accordance to how you wish to access funds in your account. Not many savings accounts come with debit cards, but most give you access to your money through online and phone banking. You may be able to use your account for setting up direct debits and credits, and some such accounts let you pay bills via BPAY.
- Branch and ATM network. Branch network plays a role if you prefer banking in person. If your account comes with a linked debit card you should find out if there is a limit on the number of times you can use it at your bank’s ATMs for free. Find out how extensive the ATM network is, and if your bank is part of a larger ATM network.
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What were the pros and cons of First Home Saver Accounts?
- Government contributions. The government made a contribution of 17% for up to a given limit you deposited in your FHSA every financial year. It made this contribution directly to your FHSA account. You could deposit more than the given limit in your account, but the excess amount would not be subject to the government benefit.
- No account keeping fees. Financial institutions that offered FHSAs normally did not charge any ongoing account keeping fees.
- Tax breaks. While the government taxed interest such accounts earned at 15%, it was the account provider that paid this tax, and not the account holder. Your and the government’s contribution did not attract any tax, and you did not have to pay any tax when you withdrew the money for the originally intended purpose of buying or building a home.
- Restrictions. You could withdraw the money from your account only when you planned to buy a build your first home, and you could do so only after making minimum required contributions for four years. If you chose not to buy or build a home, you could withdraw the money into your superannuation fund.
- Minimum deposit requirement. To receive government benefits, account holders were required to save a minimum of $1,000 annually for four years, but the years did not have to be concurrent.
What FHSA account holders need to know?
If you had an FHSA remember that you have to start reporting the interest your account earns in your tax return from 1st July, 2015. From this date, your account finds inclusion in all asset tests that apply to government benefits.
If you have not received a government contribution for any period before 30th June, 2014, you can file a claim for it until 30th June, 2017. If you’ve closed your account you can tell the government where to send the outstanding amount by completing the government contribution destination nomination form. If you don’t complete the form the government will issue a cheque.
Frequently asked questions
Do I have to do anything before I can receive my pending government contribution?
Yes. You should file a tax return, and if you don’t need to then you have to complete and submit an FHSA notification of eligibility form. You account provider is required to file an activity report before 31st October every year.
How long can it take for me to receive the government contribution?
Once the government gets all the required information it can take up to 60 days to pay the contribution. As a result, you may not receive the contribution until the following January.
Did the deposit threshold change over the years?
Yes, it did. In 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 the deposit threshold stood at $5,000, it increased to $5,500 in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 and to $6,000 in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.