Finding an extra couple of dollars you didn’t realize you had is one of those small joys in life that never gets old. And if you’re short on cash, it can feel like winning the lottery. But what if you found more missing money ― a lot more?
There’s a chance you could, but not in a coat pocket or under a couch cushion. Governments collect billions of dollars in unclaimed assets every year, and it’s up to the owners to find theirs.
In 2015, for example, state governments collected $7.763 billion in unclaimed property. Only $3.235 billion made its way back to the rightful owners. That’s a lot of money sitting around waiting to be claimed.
There’s a good chance some of it belongs to you. Whether you have $5 or $5,000 floating around, it’s definitely worth checking. Here’s what you need to know about finding and claiming missing money from the government.
How does money go missing?
If you’ve lived in multiple states or simply moved around a lot, there’s a good chance you’ve become separated from money that belongs to you, said Riley Adams, a certified public accountant, a senior financial analyst at Entergy and the owner of personal finance blog Young and the Invested. But even if you’ve largely stayed put, you could still have missing money.
For example, you could have left a few dollars sitting in a bank account that you never bothered to close. “Who knows? Maybe you left money in an interest-bearing account and your money made even more money for you to have,” he said. You could also have made an excess payment to an old credit card and not realized it. “After closing the account, the positive balance might not have made its way back to you.”
Another common scenario is that a relative dies and leaves you a portion of the estate. “The executor of the estate might not have known how to contact you or attempted to but wasn’t successful,” Adams said. “A judge could have seen the reasonable attempts as adequate and executed the estate without disbursing your money to you.” The same goes for any life insurance proceeds that may have been awarded to you but never made it to your hands.
The point is, there are a lot of ways your money can get lost, so it’s a good idea to investigate whether there’s anything out there.
Where to look for unclaimed money and property
Rather than let all this money sit around indefinitely, the government uses it to fund important programs like ones for public schools and college scholarships. But don’t worry: Enough cash is kept on hand so that any people claiming their money can get it as soon as possible.
If you want to find out if there’s unclaimed property out there with your name on it, there are several places you can look.
Unclaimed funds by state: Unfortunately, there’s no national database of missing money. To find out if you have money from bank accounts, life insurance policies, Social Security and pension payments or other sources, you’ll need to search by your state. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators offers a directory you can use to find your state’s unclaimed-property website. Credit Karma offers a missing money search tool, though not all states are supported. When searching by state, be sure to check states where you lived previously and not just where you are now.
Here’s a list of the websites for the 10 most populous states to get you started:
- California: sco.ca.gov/upd_msg.html
- Texas: claimittexas.org
- Florida: fltreasurehunt.org/index.jsp
- New York: osc.state.ny.us/ouf/index.htm
- Illinois: icash.illinoistreasurer.gov
- Pennsylvania: patreasury.gov
- Ohio: com.ohio.gov/unfd
- Georgia: dor.georgia.gov/georgia-unclaimed-property
- North Carolina: nctreasurer.com/Claim-Your-Cash/Claim-Your-NC_Cash/Pages/default.aspx
- Michigan: unclaimedproperty.michigan.gov
Old bank accounts: Though the above sites can help direct you to missing funds from old bank accounts, you can also double-check the FDIC’s unclaimed funds database to find out if you had money sitting in a bank that has gone under. And if you ever belonged to a credit union, you may want to check with the National Credit Union Administration’s unclaimed funds division to see if you left any money behind.
Back wages: The wage and hour division of the Department of Labor offers a tool that lets you check for wages owed to you by previous employers. Start by searching its database of employers; if a company you worked for is listed, you can then enter your first initial and last name to see if you’re owed wages. If so, you can file a claim.
Pensions and retirement benefits: If you ever worked for a company that offered a pension, you can find out if you left behind any benefits by visiting the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.’s unclaimed pension search tool. Simply enter a company’s name in the search bar and check to see if you’re listed as a beneficiary with unclaimed funds. PenChecks Trust, the largest independent provider of retirement plan distribution services, operates the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, where employers and employees can search for missing retirement plan funds.
Tax refunds: If you think there’s a chance that the IRS owes you a refund, you’ll have to act fast: You have three years to claim it before the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury for good. To check on a missing refund, visit the IRS’ Where’s My Refund tool. You’ll need to know your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.
VA life insurance funds: If you’re a current or former policyholder or beneficiary of a life insurance policy provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, you can use its unclaimed funds search tool to find out if you’re owed any unclaimed benefits.
Savings bonds: Previously, you could visit the Treasury Direct website to search for lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds. Now the only way to way is to fill out and mail a physical Form 1048. The Treasury Department will then let you know if you have unclaimed saving bonds.
FHA mortgage insurance: If you ever had a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration, you could be eligible for a refund on a portion of the mortgage insurance. To find out, grab your FHA case number and search the Housing and Urban Development database.
Class-action settlements: Another way you can end up with money you had no idea was coming to you is through class actions, which are lawsuits filed by a group of people who all experienced some kind of loss due to the same defective product or service. Usually, you’ll be contacted if there’s a pending case that’s relevant to you, but not always. To find out if you’re eligible to claim part of a settlement that resulted from one of these lawsuits, you can search the Class Action Database for open, closed and pending lawsuits. You can also check Class Action Rebates for settlements related to defective products. If you learn that you qualify, you’ll need to file a claim.
Watch out for lost money scams
Finding out whether you have unclaimed property can be as easy as a few clicks to search the above databases. And claiming any assets you find, though not always the most timely process, is also pretty simple. Plus, it’s all free. So there’s no reason to pay anyone to do these tasks for you.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of legit-sounding services that weasel their way into unsuspecting people’s mailboxes and voicemails, offering to recover missing money for a fee. If you ever receive any such offers, ignore them, because they don’t do anything you can’t easily do yourself.