It seems everyone is keeping a closer eye on their wallets these days. That’s why it’s hard to believe that national and state government agencies are holding on to billions of dollars, unclaimed and seemingly forgotten.
Money and other assets are considered abandoned after a state or federal agency, or a private company, has attempted unsuccessfully to contact its rightful owner. Typically, abandonment is declared three to five years after a business has lost contact with you and three months after it makes a final effort to reach you at your last known address, explains Joan Caplin of Money Magazine. These abandoned assets are called unclaimed property.
State governments then acquire the unclaimed property and attempt to locate its owner. “Finding the rightful recipients of all that money can be daunting. The average state unclaimed-property office has almost 60,000 accounts per staff member” says Caplin. While some overloaded offices do little to reach out, some actively pursue rightful recipients. Tactics range from sending out mass-mailings, manning booths at local fairs, broadcasting TV commercials, even visiting retirement homes. If they’re still unable to reach an individual who is owed, states will hold the funds indefinitely, until either the owner or next of kin makes a claim.
How are today’s frugal wallet-watchdogs letting their dues go unclaimed? Losing track is easier than you’d think.
Typical Types of Forgotten Funds
Serving as the site’s Guide to U.S. Government, About.com contributor Robert Longley lists the most common forms of unclaimed assets:
- Unreturned utility deposits
- Non-refunded credit balances
- Uncashed dividend, payroll, traveler’s, or cashier’s checks
- Uncashed stock certificates, savings bonds, and mutual funds
- Unclaimed pension and insurance payments
- Unused checking or savings accounts
- Returned or uncashed tax-refund checks
- Unclaimed royalties
- Unclaimed safe deposit boxes
- Unused gift certificates
- Undistributed wages
- Various over-payments
Lost in the Shuffle
Longley also outlines how money changes hands.
- Whether a forwarding address is provided or not, moving is the primary reason for unclaimed utility deposits.
- Retirement, reassignment, or a lay-off can potentially lead to a wide array of losses.
- Three seems to be the magic number; both bank accounts with three years’ inactivity or checks in your name that go uncashed over a three year period are considered abandoned.
- If you abruptly stop receiving dividend, interest, or royalty checks, your money may be awaiting claim.
- If you abruptly stopped payments on a life insurance policy, money may be owed you.
- Settling the estate of a deceased family member often leads to unclaimed assets.
- Discarding mail without reviewing it is an easy way to unknowingly misplace funds.
Look No Further
Luckily, you can reclaim what is rightfully yours. And with state treasuries in possession of nearly $33 billion in unclaimed funds, there just may be a chunk of that change that’s rightfully yours. Money Magazine senior writer George Mannes reported in December of 2009 that claimants nationwide averaged $900 in unclaimed funds. The Minnesota Commerce webpage reports Minnesotans have a one in twenty chance of being on the list of those owed $100 or more.
Although most federal offices have their own website which can link to its unclaimed property department, searching each site individually would be taxing.
That’s why Missingmoney.com, a webpage maintained by Fiserv, a worldwide leader in financial services technology, and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administers, compiles all record of unclaimed funds. Simply enter your name and select your state of residence (hint: be sure to check for entries in every state you have lived). Search results comprise matching names with a last-known address and an amount owed, if any. To make a claim, follow the site’s prompts. Proof of identity will be required.
Show Me the Money: Additional Resources
Still searching? Money Magazine’s Joan Caplin offers tips:
When a company closes or goes bankrupt, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation typically assumes responsibility for residual defined-benefit pension plans. If you believe you are owed a pension, visit search.pbgc.gov
With a span of thirty to forty years between purchase and maturation, many U.S. Savings Bonds are misplaced, damaged, ruined, or simply forgotten. Visit the Bureau of Public Debt’s webpage (www.publicdebt.treas.gov) if you think you may have unredeemed bonds.
When tax-refund checks issued by the IRS are returned or uncashed, the agency makes no attempt to contact the taxpayers to whom money is owed. If you are concerned that you lost or never received a refund check, visit www.irs.gov or call 1-800-829-1040.
It’s estimated that employers hold $10 billion in unclaimed disability, health, and life insurance, and pension and severance payments (including uncashed or returned checks and benefits that were never requested). Contact your former employer’s human-resources department to investigate missing funds.
Visiting Missingmoney.com or taking advantage of the other resources listed above is like checking the sofa cushions for loose change; it may just lead to a pleasant surprise.