Most of us don’t have long-lost relatives destined to leave us fortunes. But a surprising number of people do have unclaimed money they don’t know about. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), one in 10 Americans have unclaimed property, and states return more than $3 billion dollars annually to rightful owners.
Why Does Money Go Unclaimed?
As you get older and your financial portfolio gets more complicated, it can be easy to lose track of money stored in an account or tied to something from your past. Additionally, you may be owed money through a source that you are unaware of, such as a long-lost relative leaving an inheritance or a payment from a class action lawsuit.
State governments across the U.S. routinely return money. According to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, the state is holding $16.5 billion in lost money and returns $1.5 million a day to those who file claims.
Sometimes referred to as abandoned, unclaimed funds are money left in financial institutions and companies. When the accounts containing the money experience no activity for a year or longer, the funds are considered unclaimed. By law, the organization holding the money must hand over the money to state governments.
When attempts to contact the owner regarding the money fail, the money is given to the respective state where the person is a resident. Some funds are held by the federal government, but most go to the state. The state treasury holds the money until someone comes to claim it. Claims can be made indefinitely, including by a person’s heirs.
There is no central source to discover unclaimed property being held by the federal government. Each state, however, has an unclaimed property statute and agencies designed to hold the funds and seek out individuals for distribution. Since there are so many people owed money, however, it’s difficult for government agencies to keep up to date on this task. It’s therefore a good idea for you to do your own search, which is relatively easy to accomplish.
How to Find Unclaimed Money
Most unclaimed funds are held at the state level. You can generally begin your search online. The site MissingMoney.com is a clearinghouse for many state treasurers. Use the site to do a multi-state search. When you enter your name and location, the site indicates if you have any unclaimed funds.
Not all states participate in the MissingMoney.com clearinghouse. If your state is not a participant, you will get a message that indicates this, along with a link to your state’s comptroller or controller where you can conduct a search. There is also a page on the website containing a map that allows you to click on your state and connect to your treasurer’s website. NAUPA also has a map search function that allows you to click on your state and discover if you’re owed money. If you believe you have unclaimed money that isn’t showing on a database, you can check by contacting a representative of the organization who owes you money such as a former employer or bank.
Average Amount of Unclaimed Funds
For most people who are owed money, the amount tends to be in the hundreds in terms of dollars. However, there are instances when a person is due a large amount of money. In New York state, for instance, if the $13 billion in unclaimed funds was doled out equally to citizens, every man, woman and child in the state would be given more than $600. In California, the average claim is around $277. But much larger claims are possible.
According to SmartAsset, a company specializing in personal finance technology, certain states lead the way in terms of unclaimed property. These include New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona and California. The most populous states have the most unclaimed money. This is to be expected, given the higher number of residents.
How to See if I’m Owed Money
There are many types of unclaimed funds. It’s possible you could have money owed to you or a large sum of “hidden” money currently in your possession in one or more of the following categories. See if any of these sources of unclaimed funds sound familiar, and check with an appropriate representative from the group or work with a financial advisor to determine if you are owed money.
Bank accounts and safe deposit box items
You’d be surprised at how many checking and savings accounts go forgotten. For a variety of reasons, safety deposit box contents also go untouched. It’s also possible that there is forgotten money in an account left by a deceased relative that belongs to you. Find such accounts through your state.
Additionally, banks fail, but money can still be claimed when it’s owed. Search for unclaimed funds after bank failures at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The same goes for credit union failures. Check for any unclaimed deposits with the National Credit Union Administration.
Since savings bonds take a while to mature, many people tuck them away and forget about them. At some point, bonds stop making interest and should be cashed. The U.S. Department of Treasury reports billions in un-cashed bonds. Consult with the National Association of State Treasurers, advocates for the 2019 Unclaimed Savings Bond Act. Additionally, you can replace a lost or destroyed paper savings bond by visiting TreasuryDirect.
Life insurance policy proceeds
A much-overlooked form of lost money constitutes life insurance policies. This often occurs because beneficiaries don’t know of their existence after a family member dies. If the benefits aren’t held by the state, check with the insurance company where the policy was held.
Another option is to sell your life insurance policy for a lump cash sum. Many people don’t realize that if you meet certain eligibility requirements, you might be able to sell your policy for up to 60 percent of its death benefit value. This is offered through Harbor Life Settlements and is known as a life settlement. It’s an excellent way to stop paying steadily increasing premiums and enjoy some “found” mone
Find out how much your policy is worth.
Pensions from former employers
If a person has had several jobs or passes away, pension funds may become forgotten. You can go directly to the company if they are still in existence to find your lost funds. If they have closed, consult with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. You can use this organization’s website to search for unclaimed pensions from companies that ended a defined pension plan or went out of business.
Missing 401(k) income
If you ever left a job and left the 401(k) behind, this could be your lucky day. Many companies that are administrators of 401(k) plans participate in the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, which gives you the opportunity to find missing 401(K) income.
If your employer broke labor laws, and you didn’t get paid as you should have, The Department of Labor (DOL) can recover unpaid back wages for you. Search their database to see if you have money waiting. The DOL will hold back wages for up to three years.
Tax return money
Surprisingly, the Department of Treasury gets tax refund payments returned each year. This often occurs because refund checks are sent to a person’s last known address, and the individual has moved. If you changed residences and didn’t notify the IRS, you may have a refund check that never made it to you.
An easy way to see if you’ve missed cashing a check that was sent or a direct deposit failed is to go to the IRS Where’s My Refund page and enter your information.
Veterans and their dependents can get a variety of benefits, but many go uncollected. Such benefits include pensions, home loan guarantees, life insurance, educational financial assistance and healthcare.
If you are a vet or a relative of one, check on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website to find out if there is money on your behalf. This includes unclaimed insurance funds, which can be accessed by visiting here https://insurance.va.gov/UnclaimedFunds.
SEC claims funds
When the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determines that a company or person owes investors money, you might be on the list and eligible for a payment return.
Additional Sources of Unclaimed Money
- Mutual funds
- Certificates of deposit (CDs)
- Cashier’s and traveler’s checks or money orders
- Mineral interests
- Mortgage insurance refunds
- Escrow account refunds
- Credit balances
- Mineral interests
- HUD/FHA mortgage insurance refunds
- Utility deposits
- Credit balances
- Store refunds
- Gift certificates
- Traveler’s checks
- Royalty payments
- Court payments or deposits
- Trust fund distributions
- Class action settlements
Use Caution When Collecting Unclaimed Money
While it’s definitely a positive if you can locate and claim money that you had no idea you had, use caution during your search. Help ensure that the experience is as positive as possible by using government and nonprofit websites. Private recovery agencies exist that may offer to assist you in finding cash you didn’t know you had, for a price. That price could eat into any money that you manage to collect.
Keep in mind that legitimate recovery websites are free. If someone asks you to pay for the service that is an indication that the company may not be legitimate. You can easily discover how to find money left to you without paying anyone for assistance.
Discovering money that you never knew you had can be a gratifying experience. Armed with the right information and using a little legwork, you may be able to find funds that can help you take care of debt or fill up your emergency savings account. Either way, finding unclaimed money is an exciting and potentially financially fulfilling undertaking.