How To Get Better Interest Rates.
A money market account (or "MMA") is a FDIC-insured savings accounts (unlike money market
funds, which are not insured.) Most MMAs let you write 3 checks per month.
Banks require a minimum balance, usually between $500 and $2,000.
Many people settle for mediocre MMA rates offered by a local bank; a
guide recommends some good choices that pay around 5% interest, or you can compare rates yourself using
BankRate's MMA Rate Search.
How To Invest Wisely.
You basically have three choices:
(1) invest diversely while minimizing fees, (2) learn how to invest smart, or
(3) use a local fee-only financial planner. The first option is right for most people:
it gives you average returns, requires relatively little planning time, and protects you from a severe downside.
Investing smart is far more difficult than you might imagine:
even professional fund managers usually don't outperform the stock market, and many people with
high optimism and little experience get burned trying to outperform it.
Fee-only means that the planner doesn't get a commission for selling you anything, and therefore
is likely to be unbiased -- but he'll charge 1% to 2%, which probably means surrendering between 15% and 30% of
your gains. You can learn how to find a good financial planner
using this five-page tutorial
by Money Magazine.