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 worth of unclaimed property with your name literally on it, waiting for you to claim it.
Nationwide, there are billions of dollars of unclaimed property. The Internal Revenue Service estimated in 2020 that $1.5 billion in tax refunds went unclaimed for the 2016 tax year alone. 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 10 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, traveler's checks, or money orders
- Forgotten savings and checking accounts
- Unused Gift Certificates
- Unpaid insurance policies
- Income tax refunds
- Security or utility deposits
- Unclaimed wages or commissions
- Stocks and bonds
- Credit balances
- Forgotten layaway balances
- Safe deposit boxes
- Pension benefits
- Military benefits
- Mortgage insurance refunds
How Does Money Goes Unclaimed
For the most part, the 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 sources holding 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—known as escheatment. 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.
Find out If You Have Unclaimed Money
Most states have a website that tells you how to find out if you have unclaimed money or property in that state. The best place to start may be to search the government website, the by state National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), or the multi-state database.
The 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. Once you navigate to the site listed above, you can click on "About Finders" to learn more about these practices.
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. However, you'll also see services that will search for you for a fee—usually a percentage of what they find—it's not necessary to use them.
In the states participating in this service, links are provided to the unclaimed money or property websites of each state—including those that don't participate in this database. So, at the least, 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. In some cases, you may even be able to claim funds owed to heirs.
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 website 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.