Property is considered “unclaimed” or “abandoned” if it is held in accounts that have had no activity for a sustained period of time, with no contact from the account holder. These could be bank accounts where a person has disappeared without leaving a forwarding address, utility deposits that can’t be returned without a current address, traveler’s checks that were purchased and never used, uncashed dividend or payroll checks, pension payments to people who can’t be located and don’t remember they were eligible for a pension, and more.
You might think it would be rare for a person to be entitled to such money and not know it, but in fact there are billions of dollars worth of such assets being held in wait for the owner to claim them. Perhaps some of it belongs to you.
There are many websites that claim they will help you locate any unclaimed money lying around that belongs to you. The catch is they’ll charge you to search, and charge you even more to claim what they find for you. Indeed, some insist on splitting whatever they find of yours 50-50.
Don’t fall for it. With a minimal amount of time and effort, you can do your own search for free, and make your own claims for free or close to it.
The website you’ll want to start with is http://www.missingmoney.com maintained by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. This site has centralized the records of most states for unclaimed money. Just enter your name and search, and it’ll tell you if there’s anything in the database under that name. The site also includes instructions for how to claim anything you do find. For some states in fact, you can fill out the form right on the website and it’ll automatically be e-mailed to the state for you.
Because not all states participate in the Missing Money site yet, and because some that do only provide some of their records to the site, your next step is to go directly to each state where you think you might have unclaimed money. You can find links to each state’s unclaimed property page on the Missing Money site.
If you think you may have failed to zero out a bank account at some point in the past, of course you can check directly with the bank. Or, at www.fdic.gov you can look up whether your bank still exists, if it’s been taken over or merged, or if it’s gone entirely and its unclaimed funds turned over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
If you think you might have had a U.S. Savings Bond and lost it, you can get it reissued if you have enough information, such as when the bond was issued or the Social Security number on it. Go to treasurydirect.gov/indiv/indiv.htm and look under “Treasury Hunt.”
When a company with a pension plan goes out of business, the pension plan is turned over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. To see if they might have any funds for you, go to search.pbgc.gov/mp.
Don’t get your hopes up; if you’re not aware of any money out there that’s yours, chances are you don’t have any waiting for you. But there’s always a chance, so why not give it a shot? But remember, search on these free sites, don’t pay someone else to search for you. Free money is great. Free money you unnecessarily pay for, not so much.