Satisfaction is not guaranteed with trackers

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The Independent Online

The quarter-point drop in the base rate to 4.5 per cent in August prompted a swathe of cuts in savings account rates, with a handful of providers lopping more than 0.25 percentage points off their deals.

Not everyone, though, keeps a close eye on their provider or is prepared to move to a new bank if it fails to pass on cuts fairly.

One way to protect yourself is to invest in a tracker savings account that follows the base rate. That sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, there are other factors to watch out for beyond the headline rate. Bonuses that fall away, penalties for accessing your cash, restrictions on the number of withdrawals and high minimum investments can make these deals less attractive.

Leeds Building Society pays 4.85 per cent gross on its Direct Bonus Tracker postal account, but this includes a guaranteed bonus of 0.35 per cent until 1 August next year. From this date, the account guarantees to pay base rate less 0.25 percentage points until August 2007. You must have at least £5,000 to qualify and can make only two withdrawals without notice, or loss of interest, before the second August deadline.

Further, these withdrawals themselves must be big, at least £2,000, and the minimum £5,000 balance has to be maintained.

"Trackers are useful as they offer peace of mind," says Sue Hannums at independent finan- cial adviser Chase de Vere. "But the Leeds account is complicated, with a bonus that falls away and limited withdrawals."

The Co-op bank recently launched a tracker that guarantees to stay within 0.25 per cent of the base rate until the end of 2008. It currently pays 4.25 per cent gross and, after 12 months, adds a guaranteed bonus of 0.5 per cent - provided you keep a minimum £5,000 in the account. There are no withdrawal restrictions.

But Ms Hannums says better deals are available. Nationwide's e-savings account pledges to "beat or match base rate" until 30 September 2006; it currently pays 4.75 per cent and requires a minimum deposit of just £1.

Financial analyst Moneyfacts is dismissive of trackers. "Rate guarantees are marketing tools and don't mean you necessarily get a good deal," says spokes- woman Rachel Thrussell.

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