How To Find Out If You Have Unclaimed Money or Property

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Have you ever put on an old jacket or pair of pants you hadn't worn for a while and discovered a $10 bill, or a $20 bill, in the pocket? Do you remember how delighted you were with this "found" money? Well, there may be a stash of hundreds or even thousands of dollars with your name literally on it, waiting for you to claim it.

Unclaimed property totals billions of dollars nationwide. The Internal Revenue Service alone holds $25.6 million dollars in un-cashed tax refund checks. You may think it's unlikely that you're one of the lucky people who have unclaimed property or money waiting for them, but it's estimated that one in every four to eight Americans has unclaimed property.

What Is Abandoned or Unclaimed Property?

The most common types of unclaimed property or money are from:

  • Un-cashed payroll checks, travelers checks, or money orders
  • Forgotten savings and checking accounts
  • Unused Gift Certificates
  • Unpaid insurance policies
  • Tax returns
  • Security or utility deposits
  • Unclaimed wages or commissions
  • Inheritances
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Credit balances
  • Forgotten layaway balances
  • Refunds
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Pension benefits
  • Military benefits
  • Mortgage insurance refunds

How Does Money Goes Unclaimed

Most property becomes "lost" or "abandoned" when somebody changes their address or name (due to marriage or divorce) or when somebody dies and their family or heirs don't know about a particular investment, bank account, or other source of funds.

Where Is This Money or Property?

When money or property goes unclaimed for three to five years, the company or organization holding the money has to report it to the state of the owner's last known address. The state holds it until the rightful owner steps forward to claim it. Some states are holding money or property from as far back as the 1800s!

How To Find Out If You Have Unclaimed Money

What if you don't even know you HAVE unclaimed money or property? Most states have a website that tells you how to find out if you have unclaimed money or property in that state, and approximately half the states have searchable online databases so you can find out instantly whether the state is holding unclaimed money or property in your name. Some websites allow you to search for unclaimed money or property free, so although you'll see services that will search for you for a fee (usually a percentage of what they find), it's not necessary to use them.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) has excellent advice on how to deal with letters from "finders" who offer to help you get unclaimed money or property for a fee (click on "About Finders" on the NAUPA site).

Approximately half the states participate in this service. Links are provided to the unclaimed money or property Web sites of all states (including those that don't participate in this database) so you can obtain contact information. When searching, try using all possible variations of your name, including previous maiden or married names, middle names, initials, nicknames and common misspellings. Search in the state(s) where you or your family members have lived over the years.

If a state you've lived in doesn't have an online searchable database for unclaimed money or property, write a letter to the address shown on that state's Web site for unclaimed money or property and ask them to conduct a search for you. Include your full name(s), address, social security number and information on how to reach you.