We have so many accounts these days. Bank accounts, website logins, investment sites, government logins, stock trading apps — the list goes on and on. There are so many places we can keep our money, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Sometimes, money in a bank account gets forgotten. Or you don’t realize you have a credit with the utility company from when you moved a few years ago.
After a while, the bank or company that has your unclaimed money no longer wants to deal with the cost associated with maintaining the account. The money is then turned over to the state. The state holds the money until someone claims it. (That someone is usually the rightful owner or their heir.) In many cases, the state might even invest the money before it’s claimed. That means it will earn interest for the government until the rightful owner comes forward.
Most people who have unclaimed money waiting for them will likely only discover small amounts. It might be a few dollars. In will almost certainly be less than $100. However, in some cases, there is more at stake. There are plenty of true stories out there about people who have been surprised to find that they have hundreds of dollars in unclaimed money. But you’ll never know if you don’t look for yourself.
How to Find Out if You Have Unclaimed Money
You don’t want to leave money that belongs to you just sitting out there. You should definitely look to see if there is any unclaimed money owed to you. The good news is that finding out if you have unclaimed property is fairly easy. There are two main sites that can help.
It’s important to understand that these are sites that make use of databases from individual states. Every state has its own database. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators runs Unclaimed.org as a way to let you get access to state databases.
How They Work
Your search for missing money through these channels is always free. Don’t be fooled by scammers who will try to get you to pay for these searches. You can do it yourself using the free resources available to you. It’s a fairly quick process, too.
I would start with MissingMoney first. It will search multiple states for you with one search inquiry. Then, I would round out the search with Unclaimed. It’s worth doing both sites, since MissingMoney doesn’t search every state. For example, California (where I live) is one state that chose not to participate.
When I looked up my name at Unclaimed, they directed me to the government website where they found a few bucks of un-redeemed gift certificates American Express reported for me. I was surprised by this, since I’m usually on top of my finances. However, I’m pretty sure this is cashback money that was unclaimed when I canceled an American Express credit card years ago. The check they subsequently sent must have been lost.
We ran a search for my wife too. It turns out that she over-payed some bill by $0.14. We probably won’t file a claim for this unless they allow us to submit it electronically. It would cost more in postage than what we could get from the claim. We will file a claim for my un-redeemed gift certificates though.
Claiming the Money
If you do have unclaimed money, you need to establish your claim to it. States aren’t going to release this money to just anyone. You are going to need to show proof of identity. If the original owner of the property has passed away, you’ll need to have proof of the death. You will probably also need to provide proof that you are a rightful heir.
When you locate unclaimed money that is yours, contact the appropriate state office. Find out exactly whayou need to do in order to claim it. Knowing ahead of time can help you gather the documentation you need to make your claim.
Some states make it easier, by allowing you to submit your claim electronically. My search on Unclaimed landed me at the government website, but they said I needed to submit a paper claim via mail. The website listed a few reasons why my claim couldn’t be filed electronically.
- The property may have more than one listed owner.
- The property may include cashier’s checks, money orders, royalties, safe deposit box contents or other types of properties which cannot be claimed online.
- Additional proof of ownership may be required.
What a bummer.
Still, the website did pre-fill the paper claim form for me with all the relevant information. I’m still required to print, sign, and mail the form myself (as well as provide all the required documentation to proof my identity). But at least the hard work of knowing how to fill out the form is done for you.
The Bottom Line
If you have been scrupulous about your record-keeping and are efficient with your finances, there’s a good chance that you don’t have any unclaimed money. After all, how likely are you to forget about hundreds of dollars owed to you? However, it never hurts to check. I thought I was pretty good with everything related to money, but I still managed to miss this one. Checking only takes a few minutes. Then you can find out whether you have a small windfall coming your way. You never know.
It’s calculated that there is roughly $49 billion in unclaimed money floating around the system. The states process and give back $3 billion in claims to their rightful owner every year. In 2012, there was a Connecticut resident who was able to claim back $32.7 million in a stock sale, according to the state treasurer’s office. Could this be you? Check for any unclaimed money now. What do you have to lose?