June 28, 2018.
It’s hard to pass up the offer of free money, especially when you’re trying to scrape together the funds for a down payment, monthly mortgage payment, or monthly bills. The amount of unclaimed funds out there is sizable, and it varies by state. In New York, more than $15.5 billion is waiting to be claimed, with over 39 million accounts sitting uncollected. The Texas Comptroller confirms that more than $2 billion in unclaimed funds have been returned to their rightful owners since the state program started in 1962.
So where can you get yours?
6 effective ways to find unclaimed money without getting stuck in red tape
You, like many people, might have overpaid a utility bill or forgotten about money left in savings after switching banks. That’s why local and state agencies, insurance companies, banks, and other institutions often find themselves in the strange position of sitting on extra cash. If an organization can’t find you after putting forth the effort, they’ll eventually be forced to clear the account and credit the money to the state.
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There’s no one official place to find unclaimed money, but it’s worthwhile to do a little digging. It’s also important to only use legitimate resources when searching for funds that are unclaimed. The U.S. government notes that government officials will never call you directly about unclaimed assets. As you can imagine, there are plenty of scams that arise when searching for unclaimed money online. And yet, many people never touch their funds because they fear fraud or a too-good-to-be-true opportunity.
Using one of these legitimate resources will simplify the vetting process and can make finding your funds easy:
1. Search by state.
While it may sound silly, Dock David Treece, financial analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com, says he’s easily — and successfully — found unclaimed funds by using state-specific searches. Treece suggests doing a Google search for “state of _________ unclaimed funds search” (no quotes) and inserting your state. Typically, one of the first results will be to a Comptroller or Treasurer of State website where you can search for unclaimed funds by first and last name.
“In some states, such as Massachusetts, it’s handled by the state treasurer. For other states, including New York and California, it’s the state comptroller. In many cases, there’s a dedicated website that’s easy to find by searching for ‘Unclaimed property (state name),'” Adam Grossman, CFA, of Mayport Wealth Management says.
“One of the most important things to remember if you’re looking for unclaimed funds is that you may need to check other states that you wouldn’t normally think of,” Treece explains. “I’ve found thousands of dollars of unclaimed funds for friends and family members by conducting searches this way. If you’ve done business in other states — or with companies headquartered in other states — then you may have unclaimed funds in that state.” Using this method, Treece helped locate unclaimed funds in North Carolina for a friend who lived in Ohio. While Treece’s friend had never lived or worked in North Carolina, he had invested with a company headquartered there. Treece found one of his friend’s dividend checks that had been undelivered years prior and returned to sender.
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2. Dig up old bank, life insurance, and retirement accounts.
Checking into old accounts can keep you busy. It could also put you in touch with an untapped “wealth” of benefits. MissingMoney.com, officially endorsed by participating states and provinces and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, offers a free government search for unclaimed money and lets you search by name and state of residence. Depending on what you find, you can use the site to contact states and provinces directly to help you locate your funds without having to hunt down another government organization.
Some of the most common sources of unclaimed government property (or funds) include forgotten:
- Bank accounts and safety deposit boxes.
- Checks and wages.
- Insurance policies, trust funds, and CDs.
- Stocks, bonds, dividends, and mutual funds.
- Utility deposits and escrow accounts.
You can also search the National Credit Union Administration for unclaimed deposits, the Labor Department Wage and Hour Division records for unpaid wages or the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for unpaid pensions, and the free, nonprofit National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits for overlooked employment benefits.
3. Check old tax records.
In 2018, the IRS issued a statement that they were sitting on more than $1.1 billion in unclaimed federal tax funds from the estimated 1 million taxpayers who didn’t file in 2014. The deadline to claim these 2014 funds has passed, but it’s not uncommon to find that Uncle Sam has something waiting for you. Students and part-timers might not earn enough income to be required to file a tax return but could still have withheld taxes owed to them. Refunds can also go undelivered after a move or an address change.
You can visit the IRS Where’s My Refund? page to find a missing refund or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to file late. Unclaimed refunds must be filed through the IRS no more than three years after the return due date. Thankfully, the Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter says, “There’s no penalty for filing a late return if you’re due a refund.”
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4. Hunt down treasury funds.
Going on a “treasury hunt” for unclaimed money can be as fun as it sounds. Especially when you can do it all online. Though the catchy Treasury Hunt database is no longer available to look up lost or stolen savings bonds, you can submit FS Form 1048 to the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service. If you found a bond in step 2 but don’t have all the details needed to claim, it still could be worth submitting. The Treasury Department may be able to locate missing or unclaimed bonds based on name and Social Security number. Each year, millions of bonds are added to the Treasury Department database as they mature. Individual unclaimed funds can often add up to thousands of dollars.
5. Find unclaimed life insurance benefits.
Major insurance providers admit that unpaid life insurance benefits are a whole lot more common than most people think. These benefits can easily go unclaimed because of outdated account information. For example, an insurance company may not have your updated contact information as a named beneficiary. As a result, they may not know where to send your payment when a policyholder has died. Add to that the issue of the major discrepancies in life insurance payouts discovered when large insurers “demutualized” in the 1990s. Once insurance providers found they couldn’t get in touch with the millions of policyholders they needed to purchase ownership interest from in order to go public, state Comptrollers began the first wave of audits on lost benefits.
Nowadays, you can use Demutualization-Claims.com to search for the life insurance payouts you may be missing. You can also plug your information into the free NAIC Life Insurance Policy Locator to search for your life insurance policy, including one for a deceased relative, by state.
6. Look for a mortgage insurance refund.
Good news for homeowners with an FHA mortgage: You may have money waiting. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, homeowners who took out an FHA loan may be eligible for an HUD/FHA refund. This refund may come from a portion of the mortgage insurance you paid each month or as a share of any FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund earnings.
To check your status:
- Visit HUD.gov and enter your last name or FHA case number into the database.
- You can also enter the city or state where your property was owned to narrow the search.
- If your name is found, you’ll collect your refund payment from the HUD directly. The HUD reminds homeowners that it’s important not to pay a third-party service to help you get your payout; claiming your FHA refund is easy to do over the phone or online.
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For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.