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How to Find Unclaimed Money That Belongs to You

Feb 08, 2021 4 min read Ben Gran

Key takeaways

  • State governments return billions of unclaimed dollars to residents each year.
  • Unclaimed money often comes from forgotten financial accounts, overpayments and uncashed checks.
  • Specialized websites and free government tools can help you find and claim money that belongs to you.

 

It's a pleasant surprise to find a few bucks in your jacket or pants pocket. But what if you could find even more "free" money to add to your budget or boost your investments? Across America, billions of dollars sit waiting to be rediscovered and claimed. Why? Most often, the owners simply don't know this money exists.

Finding money that you hadn't accounted for can be a great help, especially if you're financially stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If any unclaimed money belongs to you, you have the right and the ability to get it back.

 

 

What is unclaimed money?

One out of 10 people Opens in new window in the U.S. has unclaimed property, and state governments return more than $3 billion of it every year. Sometimes the assets are tangible, like the contents of a safe deposit box. But much of it comes from financial accounts or uncashed refund checks.

Among the most common types of unclaimed money Opens in new window include:

  • Annuities
  • Bank accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Customer overpayments
  • Insurance payments or refunds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Security/utility deposits
  • Stocks
  • Uncashed checks (such as payroll or dividend payments)

 

How assets go "unclaimed"

Sometimes people forget about their financial accounts. Maybe you forgot to close a bank account before you moved to a different state, or interest hadn't yet been applied to an account you left behind. Perhaps you've fallen out of contact with a financial institution, or you simply haven't been using an account. In any of these cases, your account might go "dormant" even if it's not empty.

If an organization has had no contact with an account holder for a certain time, the account is designated "unclaimed" and, by law, must be turned over to the state. States manage and protect the property so it can be returned to the rightful owners. Although it varies by state, property is usually designated unclaimed after three to five years with no contact from the account holder.

 

How to find what you're due

Each state and a few U.S. territories have their own unclaimed property programs, administered by the state's (or territory's) treasury office. To see if you have unclaimed money, use the map at Unclaimed.org Opens in new window to find your current or former state's program. Once on your state's page, enter your information to search for unclaimed money.

Also, if you think you might have uncashed U.S. savings bonds or missing payments, the Treasury Department's Treasury Hunt Opens in new window tool can help you find them.

These government and related search tools and services are free. And because state records change over time, it can pay to check back often.

 

Don't forget old retirement accounts or pensions

Many people forget about their old workplace retirement accounts when switching jobs. In fact, USA Today reported that in 2015 alone, Americans lost track of more than $7.7 billion in retirement assets from old 401(k)s, pensions and other workplace retirement plans.1

If you recently lost or changed jobs, consider rolling over your old workplace retirement into an IRA or your new employer's retirement plan if available.

If it's been several years since you left an employer and you've lost track of a "defined contribution" retirement plan like a 401(k), contact that employer. If they're still in business and managing a plan for employees, they might be able to help you. Alternatively, contact the financial firm—often a big one like Prudential, Vanguard or Fidelity—that managed your former employer's plan. If the program is still active, your assets might be available under your name. (If you can't do either of these, use the Department of Labor's Abandoned Plan Search Opens in new window tool.)

Finally, if you have a forgotten, missing or unclaimed pension, contact the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Opens in new window.

 

Beware of fees—and scams

Third-party services might contact you with offers to help find your unclaimed property for a fee. These services might be legal businesses—or totally illegitimate operations2 that will take your money and run. But remember: You can get your unclaimed money back for free as long as you go through your state's official government program.

To avoid fees and scams, always start the claim process yourself, and treat questionable offers like "spam" calls and emails: Don't open unsolicited links or talk with unexpected callers.

 

How is COVID-19 affecting claims?

Many state treasurers and unclaimed money programs are using modified processes Opens in new window and limited office hours during COVID-19. You might have to apply online to claim your money, and you could face processing delays. And with the pandemic creating financial stress, more people than usual might be searching for extra money—so be prepared to wait when using these services.

 

What you can do next

Visit Unclaimed.org Opens in new window or other free search sites and find your state's unclaimed money search tools. Enter your name and information to see if you're entitled to any money. Finally, consider setting an annual calendar reminder to search for unclaimed money each year, perhaps around the time you usually do your taxes. With a small effort, you could locate money you forgot (or never knew) about long ago—and can put to use in supporting your finances today.

Footnotes

  1. 1Ken Fisher, "Left your 401(k) at an old job? Here's how to find it." USA Today, Feb. 25, 2018
  2. 2 Sarah Hall, “Free Money? The Truth About Unclaimed Money Scams,” Consumer Education Services, Inc., Jan. 8, 2020

 

Ben Gran is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about personal finance, public policy, financial services, technology and business.

 

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