Find Missing Money
A pile of lost riches waiting for you might sound too good to be true – and it is for most people – but there might be at least a modest sum of lost money out there with your name on it. Over 40 billion dollars of unclaimed property still exists, and states make millions of claim payments to individuals and businesses every year.
The most important thing to know is that missing money is easy to find and it’s worth searching for. Everything you need is available free of charge, and it’s easy to do everything yourself.
Why Money goes Missing
When businesses or other organizations hold your assets, they are required to follow certain laws. In most states, that means keeping in touch with you and letting you take what’s yours. But that’s a challenge – for example, when somebody moves or dies, the first priority might not be to notify everybody of a new mailing address. After one or two moves, you might even forget about a few accounts.
When businesses lose contact with accountholders, they are required to turn any assets over to the state. In most states, two to three years of inactivity or returned mail will require that assets be handed over (or escheated). Similarly, checks written to you – that you never cashed or received – are still your property and you’re allowed to claim those funds even if the checks have gone stale.
Why do states take your assets? The theory is that states should safeguard assets because they may be more inclined to return missing money to citizens. Presumably the state has the resources to manage unclaimed property and will still exist in perpetuity, whereas a business might not be around forever and might be tempted to use the funds during hard times.
While most lost money belongs to individuals, businesses can also search for and claim assets that have gone missing.
How to Find and Claim Assets
Finding money is easy, and you can do it yourself. Start by searching for assets that have been turned over to any state that you ever lived in (assets are generally turned over to the state with your last known address). There are several free services that make searching easy, including:
- MissingMoney.com – includes data from most US states, Puerto Rico, and parts of Canada
- Unclaimed.org – links directly to unclaimed property divisions of any state (or you can just search for your state’s Unclaimed Property office)
- USA.gov – search for assets due from government agencies and foreign governments
If you find assets in your name, you’ll need to fill out a form or online request to make your claim. This claim will need to include proof of identity (a driver’s license or passport, for example), any former addresses you’ve used, and documentation showing your right to ownership of the assets. If the owner is deceased and you’re inheriting the assets, additional documents are required.
If you can’t find money that you know is missing, contact your state and ask about other options for research. It’s possible that your funds are not showing in the online databases correctly.
Should you Pay a Finder?
Lists of unclaimed property are freely available, so it’s possible that somebody will find you before you find your money. In most cases, these are private businesses known as “finders” who hope to earn revenue by reuniting you with your money. Most state governments will not contact you directly – they don’t have the resources to track you down and reach out.
If you want to pay a finder, you’re free to do so if you think they provided a valuable service to you. But there is absolutely no requirement that you pay a fee to reclaim assets from your state – and you can do all of the searching and paperwork yourself for free.
If somebody contacts you regarding missing money, do some research before handing over any payment or personal information. Some of these approaches are legitimate, but some are scams. They can end up being a waste of money and they can also lead to identity theft. Again, contact your state’s Unclaimed Property office directly before moving forward.
What will you Get?
In most cases, you’ll get the value of your assets when they were turned over to the state – and nothing more. If the money was invested in instruments that gained market value after going missing, don’t get your hopes up: states often sell assets and convert them to cash for easier management. The same is true for collectibles and jewelry – that’s why it’s best to keep close track of items with sentimental value (family heirlooms and unique items, for example). Safe deposit box contents are sometimes kept, but many items are auctioned and you’ll just get the sales proceeds.
What about interest earned on that cash over all the years? Don’t be surprised if you don’t get any. If it’s any consolation, some states use interest earnings to subsidize programs that benefit low-income residents.
What Types of Assets get Lost?
You might think you’ve kept track of everything, but a wide variety of assets can turn into unclaimed property. Any kind of financial account, as well as any payment you never received (or checks you received but never deposited) might still be out there. Examples include:
- Checking and savings accounts
- Brokerage and retirement accounts
- Insurance benefits
- Escrow accounts
- Employment earnings
- Pension payments
- Tax refunds
- Utility deposits
- Safe deposit box contents
- Certificates of Deposit (CDs) that matured several years ago
- And others