Finding Unclaimed Cash

Photo (cc) by 401(K) 2012

The federal government wants to return more than $150 million to us, but can’t figure out where we live.

The IRS said at the end of November, nearly 100,000 Americans had unclaimed tax refunds, with an average check of $1,547 waiting. And if you’re thinking you’d never leave money like that on the table, think again. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state agencies are currently holding more than $32 billion in unclaimed property.

It’s not a scam, though there are certainly several of this type. Actually, the reason you may not know about the money you’re owed is because these agencies are trying to avoid rip-offs themselves. The IRS won’t contact anyone about an unclaimed refund over the phone or email, for instance. So if you’ve ever lost a financial document – in the mail, moving, or otherwise – you might be in for a surprise.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson takes a look at the types of claims you can file and where to make them. Check it out, and then read on for links to get started.

As Stacy said, about 1 in 8 people have unclaimed property waiting. So even if you don’t, someone you know probably does. Checking is free and only takes a few minutes, so there’s nothing to lose. Here’s how you look…

Start with the state you live in.

Every state has an agency that maintains records on unclaimed property including money in old bank accounts, life insurance policies, contents of safe-deposit boxes, certificates of deposit, and uncashed checks. You can find a link to those agencies through the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. After you check your current state, try all the states you or your immediately family have ever lived in. MissingMoney.com lets you search several states at once, but not all – some states don’t participate, so you’ll have to check them individually.

Check with national agencies.

There are other sources for unclaimed property to check with, most of which focus on a single type – like pensions. USA.gov has links for getting unclaimed money from several different sources, but here’s a breakdown of what you can get from where:

The USA.gov site also has links for replacing damaged currency, reporting tax violations (for rewards), and calculating savings bond interest.

Trace old stocks.

Old stock and bond certificates can still mean money if the company merged with another or changed its name. However, unlike claiming other kinds of money, this isn’t free. The SEC has a list of resources for researching old stock certificates, but they all charge a fee to do it. If you don’t think it’s worth the fee or you find out they’re worthless, you still might be able to sell them as collectibles.

Double-check and keep track.

If you ever receive offers by email that want to charge a fee to find lost cash, don’t bite. Simply contact your unclaimed property state agency and see what you’ve got coming. You should never have to pay money to get money. Then make sure you never lose money again: Cash all checks you get without delay, always update your mailing address ASAP, and create and maintain a will so your loved ones don’t lose out when you’re gone.

Looking for other “found” money? Take a look at 4 Reasons to Start Thinking Taxes Now and 10 Painless Ways to Save $1,000.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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