Did you know that the government holds unclaimed assets until the rightful owners or beneficiaries request them? Finding unclaimed money can be as easy as filling out some forms – digital or paper, depending on your state – from the comfort of your home. You can do a free unclaimed funds search through your state website or other government resources.
Unclaimed funds can include cash from old accounts, property, lost paychecks, and more. You may not realize you are missing any money until you complete a search. A free unclaimed money search could mean a couple of bucks or even thousands back in your pocket.
How You Can Have Unclaimed Money Without Knowing It
You may think it is not worth checking for unclaimed money if you are on top of your finances or have few assets to keep track of. But you might be surprised what an unclaimed assets search can turn up, such as overpaid balances or unknown inheritance. Some people even have unclaimed money from deceased relatives without knowing it.
Assets become “unclaimed” when the agency cannot find the owner. For example, checking and savings bank accounts become dormant – or inactive – after a period without transactions, like deposits and withdrawals. After a year or two of no activity, the bank can close the account and turn funds over to the government.
Likewise, you can conduct an unclaimed property search for unpaid wages, retirement accounts, and pensions from former employers. Former employers might transfer your 401(k) to the state if you fail to transfer the money when you switch jobs.
The most common types of unclaimed assets include the following:
- Credit balances and overpayments
- Dormant bank accounts
- Stocks, dividends, and annuities
- Trust distributions
- Uncashed checks
- Unclaimed insurance payments
Millions in IRS unclaimed money sits with the agency if it cannot deliver federal tax refunds or if taxpayers do not claim their funds. For instance, the IRS may send your refund to the wrong address if you fail to tell them you moved.
You can lose, forget, or otherwise overlook money. System glitches can erase contact information, organizations can close, and checks go to the wrong address. Whatever the reason, you can search for your missing money in just minutes.
Where to Search for Unclaimed Property
Each state has a government list of unclaimed assets, usually on the treasurer’s website. You may need to do an unclaimed assets search on several websites if you have lived in multiple states. Likewise, some databases are for particular asset types.
Whatever the reason, you can search for missing money on your state’s website. You may be able to use a multi-state database for some states, but not all states have this option. Each state sets its rules on how to claim assets.
For instance, some have a free unclaimed money search by Social Security number, while others only require your name. Almost all government sites allow you to search free of charge.
Some other government agencies that have unclaimed asset databases include:
- The Department of Labor for money from employers
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for funds from failed banks
- The National Credit Union Administration for unclaimed deposits
- The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for retirement benefits
- The Security and Exchange Commission for money owed to investors
- HUD/FHA for mortgage insurance refunds
- National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators for state databases
- Treasury Hunt for unclaimed U.S. securities and payments
- Veterans Affairs for VA life insurance
- U.S. Courts for unclaimed funds in bankruptcy cases
Generally, you do not need to pay anything to search for misplaced money. However, you may consider hiring a firm if you are looking for several thousands of dollars. For instance, you may need professional help to find money you inherited or lost from a business closure.
Finder firms can charge 10 to 40 percent of your claimed assets. Some firms can locate your assets before the state or federal government possesses them. You may be able to avoid paying the fee by waiting a year or two and then claiming the funds on your own. Also be very careful when interacting with a finder firm to avoid fraud or scams.
About the Unclaimed Asset Process
Most free unclaimed money search platforms are simple to use. Depending on which type of unclaimed property you are looking for, you may just need your name and some documents to prove you are the rightful owner. The claims process varies by state and agency.
The usual steps to claim assets are as follows:
- Go to the appropriate website, such as the unclaimed assets office for your state and federal agencies.
- Search for your assets by entering your personal information, like name and location. You may need to enter your Social Security number for some government databases.
- Submit required information. Once you identify your property, you may need to furnish a copy of your identification or other documents and information that prove you are the rightful owner. The agency may require notary services in some cases, such as for more than $1,000.
- Wait for claim processing, which can take around 30 to 90 days.
- Receive your payment. Most agencies mail a check for the amount of your funds.
The claims process may be different in your state. Likewise, who you are in relation to the funds can affect which information to submit. For example, you may have more paperwork or steps if you are the successor or any other claimant type besides the owner.
What to Do With Unclaimed Assets
Unexpected unclaimed property can help pay for life’s many expenses. You can cover the cost of a coffee or college, depending on the amount of your recently discovered assets. Generally, you can use the cash however you want.
Some assets may have limited options. For instance, funds from 401(k)s and IRAs may need to remain retirement funds or you risk incurring an early withdrawal tax.
Physical assets – such as jewelry or land – may also have some conditions. If you discover you are a land owner after a distant relative deeds property to you, you may owe back taxes or have other expenses. Or, you may need to talk with other owners if you own just a fraction of an asset, such as a split inheritance with your siblings.
You could cash out or continue to hold newly claimed stocks and bonds. The current value of these assets could be wildly different than when initially purchased. The value would be the amount sold if the organization or government liquified the investments.