You might have money and not even know it. In some cases, you might have property or cash that has been sitting with a state government, unclaimed. Thousands of people find out that they have unclaimed property, sometimes called missing money, every year. As long as you know what to do about it, you can claim what is already yours, and enjoy a bit of a windfall.
What is Unclaimed Property?
What qualifies as unclaimed property varies according to state. For the most part, insurance companies, investment companies, utilities, banks, and other business (like medical testing businesses), are required to turn over inactive accounts. This property is considered “unclaimed” or “abandoned.” If you can prove you own the property, you can claim it for your own.
Here are some examples of what might be considered unclaimed money or property:
- Uncashed paychecks
- What’s in a safe deposit box
- Savings and checking accounts
- Accounts at failed banks and credit unions
- Payments you are owed from various businesses (such as with pharmaceutical trial participation)
- Positive utility accounts that still contain money after you’ve disconnected
- Unused gift certificates/gift cards (but only in a few states)
Many states use this money to fund various operations. The money is still yours, but states can earn interest on it. Once you prove that you own the money, you can claim it, and the government will turn it over.
Locating Your Unclaimed Money
It’s possible to fairly easily locate your unclaimed property, if you have any. One of the best places to look is MissingMoney.com. This site lists unclaimed property held by states, where the money came from, and how much is available. It’s also possible to use the Treasury Hunt tool at TreasuryDirect.gov to find out if you have unclaimed savings bonds.
The FDIC and NCUA offer tools for finding money at failed financial institutions, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp also provides information about abandoned defined-benefit plans, and the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits offers something similar for 401(k)s. Sometimes, you’ll actually be called in the event of a forgotten account.
Claiming Your Money
In order to claim your money, you will have to prove you are the true owner, through documentation. In some cases, the unclaimed property you find actually belonged to someone who has passed on. In that case, you will need to show a death certificate, and prove that you are an heir, and authorized to collect the money on behalf of the estate. Once you locate your unclaimed property, find out from the agency that has it what you need to show as proof of your right to it.
Realize that you don’t need to pay anyone to claim your property. There are firms that can track down your unclaimed property and help you get it back, but these are completely unnecessary. You can get the information for free, and there is no reason to ever pay anyone to get what’s already rightfully yours. The best step to take is to go to directly to your State Controller’s website. This is the single best source to check and see if any money being held by your state belongs to you. Your state’s site will direct you on the proper steps you need to take to collect your money.
With a few minutes of digging, you can find out if you have unclaimed property waiting for you. It’s not a bad way to spend a little time, and you just might profit from it.