Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs, were designed to fight poverty and help people of modest means get an economic foothold in society. Read on to see how these accounts work and if one might help you quickly save a down payment for a home. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are special savings accounts for low-to-moderate income people. You don't just earn interest on these accounts -- the best part is that every dollar you contribute is matched. Depending on the IDA in your area, matching donations may range from 1:1 (every dollar you deposit is matched by a one dollar donation) to 1:4 (every dollar you contribute is matched by four donated dollars).

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You must complete free financial education classes and use the savings for an acceptable purpose:

* college or vocation education education or job training

* home purchase

* funding a business

In addition to earning matching contributions, you'll learn about budgeting, saving, and how to purchase and maintain your home. The money comes from good-guy financial institutions like banks and credit unions partnered with local nonprofit organizations or program sponsors. The program sponsors recruit people for the program, provide the financial education classes, and supplies the home ownership education and counseling.

Once you're approved to join the program, you open a savings account with the partnering bank or credit union. That institution handles all your transactions to and from the IDA, and you get regular statements showing how much you've saved and what matching donations you've earned. Pretty cool.

How long does it take to save the money you need? That depends on your goal (how much house you want to buy and what kind of down payment you need), the program matching structure, and how much you are capable of saving. Keep in mind that the better your credit, the less money you'll have to save. So while you're embarking in this savings program and becoming financially smarter, you ought to resolve any credit problems as well. You'll need to save a lot less if you have good credit than if you have bad credit. Your IDA program can run from six months to several years from beginning to end. And you get to withdraw your money as soon as you have reached your savings goal, as long as you have the approval from your IDA program sponsor.