Free money – sounds seductive doesn’t it? The idea that somewhere out there is unclaimed money with your name on it, sitting and waiting for you to come and claim it… sounds awesome. It is not really free money, it is rightfully yours, but that doesn’t reduce the enjoyment of found money a bit, whether it is $20 in your very old wallet that you forgot about or discovering that your grandmother left you a tiny inheritance that even she forgot about.
I first experienced the “free money” euphoria almost 5 years ago. I filed my tax return for the first time when I was in school. I used free software the school provided us. I got my refund, I was happy, spent the money and forgot about it. Few years later, when I got a job I had to get the tax return copy from that first year. So I called the state revenue dept., updated my address, all that good stuff and requested the transcript. Along with it came a check!!! Apparently there was a software glitch and I was owed some money. They even paid some interest for all the years I didn’t collect! Immediately I tried to go look up how I can find out if I am owed money from anywhere else as I had worked in another state on an internship and had filed taxes there using the same software. I stumbled upon the site – Missingmoney.com.
Unclaimed Money/Unclaimed property : How did I miss it in the first place?
Not all the unclaimed money is your fault. Sometimes someone might have opened an annuity or a small savings account in your name, put some money and forgotten about it (including mentioning it to you). Or may be there was a class action suit in which you were owed money but you never followed up, or it could be your own fault by not tracking all your financial assets like an old 401k when you left your employer. Essentially any money owed to you or any property that belongs to you and left abandoned is categorized as unclaimed money/property.
According to missing money,
Common types of unclaimed property include:
- Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
- Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends
- Uncashed checks and wages
- Insurance policies, CD’s, trust funds
- Utility deposits, escrow accounts
So how do you find the lost loot that has your name on it? It depends on what kind of unclaimed property it is. If it is a state tax refund it will be held by the state, if it is an abandoned bank account it might be held by FDIC. Here are the ways to look for them (look through all of them as they might not overlap).
Unclaimed money/property held by state
Most States have departments whose sole job is to take the money to its rightful owner. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is a non profit organization that works in connecting the State treasurers to the public. You can start with the group’s website, unclaimed.org and search under participating states. NAUPA also runs another site that I mentioned at the start of the post, Missingmoney.com. This includes all participating organizations not just the state treasurers. Missing money claims to have information on over $16 Billion in lost stock shares, bank accounts, retirement accounts, tax refunds and many more.
Not all states’ information is in Missing Money (though it is a great place to start). Here is the link to the unclaimed money/property departments in each state and in Canada.
You will need to put your full name and the state in which you are treasure hunting.
U.S. Treasury securities
For unclaimed U.S. Savings bonds, visit Treasury Hunt at the U.S. government’s Treasury Direct site. This is not comprehensive though, from the Treasure direct site -
Please Note: The Treasury Hunt database is limited.
- Treasury Hunt does not contain a record of all savings bonds. This system only provides information on Series E bonds issued in 1974 and after.
- Treasury Hunt may not completely identify any/all savings bonds you may have lost, only those that have reached final maturity and were issued in 1974 and after. You can’t search for undeliverable bonds in Treasury Hunt. To file a claim for bonds, you must submit one of the following:
- For lost, stolen or destroyed bonds, submit Form PD F 1048.
- For undeliverable bonds (bonds not received), submit Form PD F 3062-4.
You will need to provide information about dates of purchase, names on bonds, and other pertinent data.
- Most records for registered Treasury notes and bonds can be searched through this system.
- Please keep in mind, under the Privacy Act of 1974, if you are not the bond owner or co-owner, we are limited in the information we can provide
Note: To avoid losing a paper savings bond it might be a good idea to convert the paper bonds to electronic ones using SmartExchange.
Federal Tax Refund
A lot of people eagerly wait for their refunds, so not many people miss this. But if it was a situation like mine where I didn’t know I was owed a refund and moved, it would be a good idea to check – Where’s my refund?.
There are very few companies that give pension benefits these days, but they still exist. If you worked for such a company for a short time, you might not have been eligible for full pension but some tiny fraction of it. So you might have forgotten all about it and the company might have discontinued the pension plan. To track down an abandoned defined-benefit pension, check out the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation missing participant database. If the plan is still active, you’ll need to read the “Finding a Lost Pension” part of this PDF.
It is ALWAYS a good idea to take your 401k with you when you change employers. But you can choose to leave it with your former employer if your account is worth more than $5,000. In that case you will have to make an effort to keep track of it and keep them in the loop whenever you move. If your account is worth less than $5,000 and you neglect to take it with you, then your employer can transfer the money to a default IRA that is invested in safe options like CD or Money market funds. If your account is worth even less, less than $1000 it might go to an FDIC insured bank or your state unclaimed division. In the mean time your former employer might merge with another company, go bankrupt or even abandon the plan. So take your money with you. If you do lose track of a 401(k) and cannot get in touch with your company, start at National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Apparently the site accounts for more than $80 million in benefits… who would have thought there was that much nest egg abandoned… If you don’t find any results and believe you have some retirement money waiting for you out there, read the “Finding a Lost Pension” part of this PDF. If the plan was abandoned, you should search the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Abandoned plan database as well.
Accounts from banks & credit unions
If you had a bank account with a failed bank and you didn’t collect the FDIC insurance, you are owed that money. For accounts at a failed bank, visit the FDIC unclaimed funds site. For accounts at failed credit unions, visit the NCUA unclaimed funds site.
Life insurance policies
May be your loved one took a life insurance policy, put you as the beneficiary and forgot to tell you or you knew about the policy but never took any action to claim it. You can start with the Missing Money site. If that didn’t work, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a life insurance company location system that will allow you to look for a lost policy. They also have a guide to help you locate lost policies. The American Council of Life Insurers’ website has some tips too. Click on “Missing Policy Tips” under “Tools.”
Don’t forget to go about the old way, checking the decedent’s address book for the names of insurance agents, as well as checkbooks and credit-card statements for records of premium payments and calling call your loved one’s last employer about their group policy.
Free Money from the Government
No, the Government won’t hand away free money for everyone who asks. Don’t believe the scam emails you get. But there are some folks who might be eligible for some benefits or grants due to their situation. And the legitimate way to find if you are one of them would be to search in the Government Benefits Finder. Also if you live in one of the disaster-struck areas, don’t forget to check DisasterAssistance.gov to see if you qualify for any disaster-relief programs.
Unclaimed money Scams
Finally this post will not be complete without a word of caution about scams related to unclaimed money. There are a LOT of them. It is easy to fall for these scams due to the easy money part. But please always remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. If you have any doubt about money owed to you, use one of the sites that are managed by the Government. If you don’t believe these sites, just get on the phone and dial the relevant department number. IRS or any state treasury will point you in the right direction.
Now that we got that out of the way, you should take time to check these sites out. It won’t cost you any money, but will cost you some time. It might be fun when you are bored I thought I won’t have any free money but turns out I am wrong. My husband has ~$50 from two different sources. I don’t know why Microsoft is paying him, but I will take it .
From now onwards, I am adding it to my annual financial health checkup routine.