7 Places to Look for Unclaimed Money

Across the U.S., millions of dollars wait in old bank accounts, forgotten retirement and pension plans, and tax refunds for their legal owners to claim them. Most frequently, money goes unclaimed because of misaddressed mail or checks, or notifications weren't forwarded after recipients moved. Once you know where to look, you also can apply some basic methods for getting that money back.

The first place to look often is with state repositories. Every state has a program or department responsible for helping residents find unclaimed money that might belong to them. Check your own state government's website for more information, or visit the website for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), which links to each state's department.

The Internal Revenue Service

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Each year, thousands of income tax refund checks are returned to the IRS as undeliverable because the taxpayer has moved or the check generated from the return has an incomplete or improper address. Contact the IRS to track down any lost tax refunds or unclaimed money.

If you haven't filed a tax return for a prior year and you have a refund coming to you, the IRS does not penalize you for filing late. However, you have only three years to claim any outstanding refund before the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

If you believe you're owed a refund but you have not received it, you can use the IRS's Where's My Refund site.

State Departments of Taxation

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Just like federal tax refunds, state tax refunds often don't find their intended recipients because of name changes, moves, or an undeliverable address. Check the website unclaimed.org, which provides a way for you to search by clicking on a state, territory, or province from a map or drop-down box. Be sure to search in every state where you have had an address.

Employer Retirement Plans

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Sometimes people change jobs, forgetting about a small balance in their previous employer's retirement plan. And sometimes, years later, that balance has grown quite pleasantly. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits can help you locate such surprises. The registry is a free resource: a public service organization devoted to helping former employees locate lost or forgotten benefits. This site also can be useful for executors of estates who are trying to track down unclaimed money on behalf of a loved one or deceased person.

Failed Pension Plans

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If you worked for a company whose pension plan failed, don't assume all is lost. It might be that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which insures pension benefits, owes you some money; it may not be the full amount due, but it'd be something. Start digging for your long-lost treasure at the Find a Trusted Pension Plan section of the PBGC site.

Old Bank Accounts

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You may have unclaimed funds in old bank accounts, in the shape of insurance premium refunds, utility or phone account deposits, dividend payments, escrow accounts, or wages owed to you by a former employer. Using a database of governmental unclaimed property records, the site missingmoney.com provides a place to look for many of these types of errant funds all at once.

If you had funds in a bank that was closed between January 1989 and June 1993, you may be able to make a claim with the FDIC, assuming your deposits were insured and the bank remains in FDIC receivership. Since June 1993, such funds have been turned over to state agencies.

The U.S. Treasury

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The Treasury Department says that 25,000 payments of various types are returned annually as undeliverable. The Treasury Department also has a record of billions of dollars of savings bonds that no longer pay interest and yet have not been redeemed by the bond owner. If you still have these savings bonds, you'll want to cash them in or reinvest them so that your money can start working for you again. If you think you have such bonds but can't locate them, the Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service offers a claim form for lost, stolen, or destroyed items. 

Life Insurance Policies

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Life insurance benefits go unclaimed more often than you might think. If you owned a life insurance policy from a company that demutualized, it may owe you cash or stock; if you had a relative pass away, unclaimed life insurance benefits might be waiting out there for you. In either case, the place to start your search is at demutualization-claims.com.