By Jason Alderman
You may not know it, but millions of Americans are owed money from long-forgotten government payments, stock sales, bank accounts and other lost accounts. When the entities holding these funds can’t find the rightful recipients, they turn over the money to individual states, which hold it in escrow until claimed.
State treasuries and other government agencies are sitting on more than $33 billion in unclaimed assets. And that doesn’t include billions of dollars in unredeemed U.S. savings and treasury bonds, unclaimed pensions and income tax refunds returned to the IRS as undeliverable.
Here’s a guide to locating unclaimed assets that may belong to you:
Money winds up in government lost-and-found agencies for many reasons, including:
• People move and don’t leave accurate forwarding addresses; or, they forget to update companies where they do business, hold investments or have earned retirement benefits.
• Dying without a will leaves it up to the court to assign assets.
• You could unknowingly be named as beneficiary of an insurance policy or other account.
• Forgotten utility deposits, bank accounts or product rebates.
• Overpaid mortgage payments after a home sale.
• Name changes after marriage or divorce.
Start your search with the nonprofit National Association of Property Administrators (NAUPA), which provides tips on finding your money, as well as links to unclaimed property programs maintained by each state (www.unclaimed.org). Many individual state programs also participate in MissingMoney.com (www.missingmoney.com), a free, centralized database endorsed by NAUPA.
Companies are required to surrender balances from accounts that have been inactive for one year or longer to the state government of your last known address; also check with other states where you’ve lived or done business, just in case. To improve your chances, search using different variations of your name (such as first name and middle initial, first and middle initials, last name first, etc.), as well as common misspellings.
NAUPA also provides a handy round-up of links to other sources for unclaimed property such as unclaimed veteran’s benefits, refunds from HUD/FHA-insured mortgages and unclaimed foreign bank accounts.
Other helpful sites include:
• The IRS’ “Where’s My Refund?” page, where you can track down an expected federal tax refund you never received – or check the status of your current filing (www.irs.gov).
• The Treasury Department’s “Treasury Hunt” search engine can help you find and redeem matured, uncashed Series E savings bonds issued since 1974 (www.treasurydirect.gov).
• The Public Benefit Guaranty Corporation (www.pbgc.gov) can help you track down forgotten pension benefits you’ve earned. Other helpful sites include PensionHelp America (www.pensionhelp.org), and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (www.dol.gov/ebsa).
• The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits can help you find an unclaimed defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan (https://www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com).
Many legitimate companies use states’ freedom of information acts to obtain owner information for unclaimed accounts. They contact individuals and offer to help find lost property for a fee (often a percentage of the total). This is the same information you can find yourself, for free.
Also, beware of emails or letters purporting to be from the state treasurer asking you to supply personal information – either by mail or by logging into a link provided. This is how many cases of identity theft begin. If in doubt, contact your state treasurer or controller’s office to ensure the contact was legitimate.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.