How To Find Unclaimed Money
It sounds too good to be true, but there may be unclaimed money out there with your name on it just waiting for you to collect it. What is unclaimed money?
Any financial asset that has no activity with its owner for a long period of time can be considered unclaimed money. Most often, it is money being held by the government or financial institutions due to dormant accounts, refunds you did not receive or insurance policies that were never cashed.
There are many sources of unclaimed funds and you may have unclaimed money or property in every state where you have lived. Each state has its own unclaimed money programs, but beware of individuals who contact you promising to connect you with unclaimed money for a fee.
Types of Unclaimed Money Available
Once you decide to check for unclaimed money in your name, you need to know where to look. There is no central, all-in-one source to find all types of unclaimed money.
Most types of unclaimed money fall into one of the following categories.
- IRS Refunds: Every year, the IRS receives undeliverable refund checks that are returned due to errors in the address or the recipient moving and not providing a correct forwarding address. Contact the IRS if you think they may have an unclaimed refund in your name. Note that you only have three years to claim missing refunds from the IRS. After that, the funds become the property of the United States Treasury.
- State Tax Refunds: You could be missing a state income tax refund if you moved, changed your name or the state misprinted your mailing address. Several legitimate websites allow you to search for unclaimed refunds by state.
- Old Bank or Credit Union Accounts: Sometimes people move and forget to close bank accounts or credit union accounts, leaving money and dividend payments behind. Without a forwarding address, the financial institution holds onto your money until you come back to claim it.
- Utility Deposits: This common source of unclaimed money happens when you move and forget to get your security deposits back from utility companies.
- Retirement Benefits and Pension Plans: If you change jobs, then you may forget to check for any balances on retirement plans you may have paid into during your employment. There is a national registry that you can use to check for unclaimed retirement benefits.
- Life Insurance Payouts: If a relative passed away, then he or she may have left you life insurance benefits that remain unclaimed. Or, you may have purchased a plan for yourself that demutualized. This means that a member-owned mutual company converted into a shareholder-owned company. When this happens, the members usually receive a payout on their policies. For various reasons, these big payouts may not be received.
- Treasury Funds or Savings Bonds: The U.S. Treasury Department receives over 25,000 returned payments each year for various reasons. Many of these are savings bonds that have stopped paying interest but were never cashed in. If you own savings bonds, then you can contact the Treasury and check for unclaimed money.
- Unpaid Wages: Check with the Labor Department if you think you may have unpaid wages from a previous employer.
- FHA–Insured Mortgage Refunds: If you ever purchased mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), then you may be eligible for a refund. Search the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) database with your FHA case number to look for these refunds.
- Unclaimed Child Support Payments: Some states’ department of social services may be holding child support payments that you never received.
Tips for Collecting Unclaimed Money
Searching for unclaimed money can take some time, but if you uncover a big windfall, then it is worth it.
Follow these tips to make sure you check every possible source of unclaimed money.
- Make sure you check every state where you have ever lived for unclaimed state income tax refunds, utility company deposits or abandoned bank account funds. Some legitimate missing money sites allow you to search several states at once.
- Contact any former banks or credit unions and make sure you properly closed your account and claimed any remaining funds.
- If you left a job in a hurry or if the company closed, then you may have left behind a severance payment, back wages, commission payments, pension money, life insurance funds or retirement investments.
- Unclaimed property can also include tangible items such as jewelry, coins, stamps and other items frequently found in abandoned safe deposit boxes. Your state’s unclaimed property website can help you search for these types of unclaimed valuables. Note that some unclaimed property records can date back several decades.
- Be ready to provide identifying information such as your Social Security number, previous mailing addresses and documentation that proves your connection to an individual who may have left you a life insurance payout or other property.
- Be patient. It can take 90 days or longer to process claims for unclaimed assets.
How to Prevent Money from Becoming Unclaimed
Once you claim any assets due you, there are things you can do to ensure that you do not leave valuables unclaimed again in the future. Always keep an accurate record of all bank accounts, retirement accounts and stock certificates.
Try to make a deposit or withdrawal from all of your accounts at least once every couple of years. Record all deposits you pay to utility companies, including cable, gas and electricity deposits and make sure each company issues you a refund every time you move.
Another simple way to make sure your money never goes unclaimed is to promptly cash any checks you receive, regardless of how much they are for.
Additionally, any time your living situation changes due to a marriage, divorce or move, notify employers, insurance companies and financial institutions with your address or name change as soon as possible.