There's a good chance that you tend to accumulate money over time. A paycheck comes in, and bills get paid. Another paycheck comes in, more bills get paid. Meanwhile, your account's balance is slowly rising.

What you do with that money is kind of important. I suspect you know that, but you may not be taking action to maximize the potential of your dollars. You may, in fact, be leaving thousands in your bank checking account, perhaps where it's earning only 0.50% interest. Surely you can do better than that! Let's consider some options.

If you really want the biggest bang for the buck, you might buy some lottery tickets -- a jackpot will reward you with millions, after all. But, OK, you knew I was kidding. Yes, there's a high reward, but there's a high risk, too. Better to find a robust reward with just reasonable risk.

Stocks are one possibility. Plunk your money into some stable and growing blue chips, for example, and over time you may do rather well. Check out these average annual returns over the past 15 years:

  • Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), 31%
  • Countrywide Financial (NYSE:CFC), 19%
  • Target (NYSE:TGT), 19%

So for your long-term dollars, consider stocks. Or mutual funds -- a simple index fund can give you the stock market's return, which has averaged around 10% annually over many decades. Carefully selected managed funds, like those recommended in our Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter, can do even better.

I hope you see that taking some action can give you considerably better returns than leaving your money in the bank with a paltry interest rate.

But remember...
Still, stocks do carry some risk. Some companies just don't perform well over long periods, while others go out of business. (Remember Woolworth's? Pan Am?) This is why it's important to choose carefully and to diversify.

If you'll need your money within five or 10 years, you might choose to avoid stocks, since they can be especially volatile over shorter time frames.

More conservative options
If you're not ready to take on more risk, or the money you have to invest is short-term, you're not out of luck. You can still earn some solid returns. According to the folks at, for example, average money market rates were in the mid-3% range recently, while one-year CDs were yielding around 4.86%. Not too shabby, eh? If you've got $5,000 burning a hole in your pocket, it can make $243 in a CD, versus maybe $25 in your checking account.

Don't forget brokerages
One way to get the most out of your money is to use a good brokerage. There are many factors on which to compare and evaluate brokerages, but a good one to consider is how a brokerage treats cash sitting in your account. Some will pay you relatively little interest, while others will pay you well. Often, it depends on how much money you have in your account -- the more you have, the more they'll pay you. (Hmmph.)

To learn more about how to make sure your brokerage is the best for you, visit our Broker Center, where you can also compare four solid brokerages via a handy broker comparison table.

Paying attention to where all your money is and how effectively it's working for you can really pay off.

Now go get your financial ducks in a row! is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.