|How To Find and Collect Your Unclaimed Property|
Questions and Answers
- What exactly is "unclaimed property"? Unclaimed property is money and other assets held by the states and federal agencies. It is money considered lost, forgotten, or abandoned after an owner cannot be located for a specific period of time. The time varies by state. Once the time expires, the funds must be turned over to the state by the business that holds the funds on behalf of a citizen whom they could not locate. Now the states and federal agencies hold onto the money until it is claimed.
- What money are we talking about? YOUR money, which includes checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, over payments, gift certificates, unpaid wages, commissions, uncashed checks, annuities, paid-up life insurance policies, death benefits, insurance payments, refunds, dividends, stocks, utility deposits and overpayments.
- Why couldn't they find me and just return my money to me? Two of the most common reasons are: you moved and they did not have your new address, or a relative died and checks were returned to the sender.
- Is there an expiration date? No, the money is held "forever" until an owner or their heir claims it.
- How do I know if anyone owes me money? You will need to run a search, either on a state unclaimed property website for free, by contacting federal agencies, or with a for-profit unclaimed property search firm. Be sure to search each state where you have ever lived or worked.
- How do I claim my money? Once you have discovered that a state or federal agency is holding money on your behalf, you complete and file a claim form. Many claim forms can be completed online, printed, and then mailed along with proof of identify and claim.
- Where do I find the free state unclaimed property websites? The easiest would be to start at the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website. They have links to all of the participating states. They also feature a link to MissingMoney.com which searches all of the databases at once. However, that website can be a little confusing and limiting.
- Where do I find the free Federal Agency unclaimed property websites? Start at the
Financial Management Service website. They are a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury. Depending upon your circumstances, you might also consider checking with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
- Can I pay someone to conduct the search for me? Yes, if you have already searched the free state databases or just want someone to do it for you, you can hire a company to run a search on your behalf. They usually charge a "finder's fee" which can be run 10% to 50% of the total value. You can find them online by Googling "unclaimed property search". Caution: unclaimed property scams are a problem. Before working with any firm: be sure to check out them out at BBB.org, and the state unclaimed property office --- and don't pay any money up front.
- A firm contacted me, told me they found money, and want me to pay them to identify the source! This is fairly common. You can try to find the money yourself by running the searches described above or you can pay the search firm their finder's fee. Search firms buy lists from the states and then contact folks with a promise to release the information in return for a "finders fee" of 10% to 50% (this is sometimes negotiable). Folks either consider this a great service or a rip-off --- it's money that you didn't know about, but sometimes the fee is a bit steep. Caution: this could also be a scam. Before working with any firm: be sure to check out them out at BBB.org, and the state unclaimed property office --- and don't pay any money up front.