But wait, there's more for couples

Wow, have I got a deal for you. How does a return of more than 20 per cent, taxed at only 15 per cent, sound?

Wow, have I got a deal for you. How does a return of more than 20 per cent, taxed at only 15 per cent, sound?

Plus, just for you, I'll throw in a government guarantee.

But wait, there's more. You can have two for the price of one, with free delivery anywhere. And I'll throw in a set of steak knives. Sorry, forget the steak knives - got a bit carried away. With that return you could afford to buy your own.

Incredibly, this deal is being offered by the Gillard government, which is why you'd better get your skates on. It might not survive next week's budget.

This government isn't good at selling its achievements - not an overly long list, so you'd think what there is might have received special attention.

Yet an offer the government was convinced would appeal to 750,000 first-home buyers has signed up just 39,000.

Oh, I should have mentioned the savings break is available only to first home buyers, who must use it to buy a unit or house.

But then, it's not really - it extends to second home buyers because you can own any number of investment properties so long as you've never lived in them.

Where was I? Oh yes, a couple buying their first home can earn $2040 a year tax-free from the government for contributing to an official first-home saver account. And the interest is taxed at a flat rate of 15 per cent, no matter what your income.

How could 711,000 home buyers resist?

I suspect largely through a misunderstanding of the scheme, which looks more restrictive than it is.

The official description of the scheme says you have to contribute at least $1000 to the account for each of four financial years. The government matches that with a 17 per cent contribution up to a maximum of $1020 on $6000.

A couple can have two accounts, one for each partner, and so potentially get $1020 a year each.

Members Equity Bank, the most enthusiastic provider, pays 3.85 per cent, which is taxed at 15 per cent, so that's an annual return of almost 21 per cent.

And the four-year rule is a furphy. Let's face it, that'd be a lifetime for a first-home buyer to save or wait.

Which reminds me, if after four financial years you change your mind about buying a property or break up with your partner, the money is flicked into your super, which is more like an eternity.

But note I said financial years. That's really two years and two days, which, come to think of it, maybe the government isn't keen for you to know.

The fact there are two financial years in every ordinary year - trust me - is the let-out. The trick is to whack $1000 in (better still, $6000 if you can afford it) on June 30 this year, the same again on June 30 next year and then again the next day (which gets to three financial years).

Here's the clincher. Buy your home in that third financial year (really year two) and you won't even have to make another contribution for the fourth financial year; indeed, you won't be allowed to, because by then buying a house counts as saving.

The catch is finding a bank that offers the accounts. Forget the big ones, but some smaller banks, credit unions and building societies do (listed at apra.gov.au).

Tell them I sent you.

Read David Potts in Weekend Money, every week with The Sunday Age.

Twitter @moneypotts

Related Articles