Treasure Hunt: Tips to Finding Unclaimed Cash

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Whether you know it or not, someone out there might owe you money. Fortunately, finding it is as simple as typing your name into a web site (and completely free).

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), about 1 in 8 Americans have money out there waiting for them, estimated to total at least $32 billion. But where is it and how do you go about claiming it?

What is unclaimed property?

Missing money is typically called “unclaimed property”, defined by the NAUPA as “accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period.” That includes old bank accounts, old stock certificates, life insurance proceeds, un-cashed paychecks, utility deposits, savings bonds, pension benefits and income tax refunds. In short, any money you’ve got out there being held by someone who hasn’t heard from you in more than a year, is unclaimed property.

How can I claim my unclaimed property?

You do not have to pay anyone to find this stuff for you. If you’ve received a letter from a company telling you that, for a fee, they’ll find your unclaimed property for you, don’t pay them. Everything those companies can do for you, you can do for yourself simply by searching the NAUPA state databases, (run by the NAUPA) or by contacting your state’s unclaimed property office. Be sure to check every state where you have lived in the past.

If you’re trying to determine if that old stock certificate you found in the attic has in value, that requires a different approach. Visit the SEC for a list of resources to use.

And one more site you might check is this site. Here’s a cut-and-paste of some of the interesting links I found there:

How do I keep from losing property again?

The best way to handle unclaimed property is to not lose track of it in the first place; property only becomes lost when a company can’t communicate with you. So…

  • Notify institutions that hold your money or property whenever you change your address, phone number or other contact information.
  • Keep accurate records of all your insurance polices, bank accounts, stocks and utility security deposits.
  • Cash all checks you receive promptly. Don’t wait if you don’t have to.
  • If you have a safe deposit box, write down the number of the box as well as contact info for the bank where it’s housed. Then give an extra key to someone you trust.
  • Prepare a will. It might not be the most pleasant task on your to-do list, but making sure you have a legal statement that details where you stuff is and where it should go when you die can keep your assets from going missing.

So see if you’ve got any treasure out there! I didn’t find any missing money when I researched this story. But Stacy tried it and had better luck. He found a lost Uniform Gifts to Minor’s Account that he had established for his niece back in the 80s. Worth? About $1,500.

Stacy Johnson

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