Maybe you pick up coins in the street or search for loose change in purses and sofas – but have you ever checked to see if you have unclaimed money that is yours for the asking? It could be a deposit for a utility service that you never requested when you moved, interest from a bank account, a trust fund distribution, insurance payments or refunds, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, even the contents of safe deposit boxes.
Though millions of people have already claimed property that rightfully belongs to them, it has been estimated that there is more than $41 billion in unclaimed money in the United States — money its owners don’t know about.
Finding out if you may have left behind money, perhaps at an old address or in a state where you no longer live is easy. First, try the website for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Here you’ll find information about unclaimed property laws in every U.S. state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.
Each state’s department of treasury or revenue has a website at which you can find out whether you are owed money. You can find links to all state websites on the NAUPA site. However, as most states participate in MissingMoney, search there first to get results from all over the U.S.
These searches don’t take much time and the results could put much-needed money in your pocket. Though NAUPA states that the average claim amounts to $892, it has been reported that a Missouri woman recently discovered she had $6.1 million in unclaimed money.
You may file a claim for money that belongs to you – and also for money for which you are the legal heir. If you’re a business owner, you may file on behalf of your business.
A word of caution
If you’re ever contacted by someone offering to do this kind of search for you, be careful: It may be a scam, especially if payment is requested. And even if it is legitimate, why pay someone to do something you can easily do yourself? Note that the Connecticut State Treasurer’s Office issued a consumer alert regarding a fraudulent email, in which a Mr. Jeff Smith alleged that he was the director of NAUPA working with the FBI to return unclaimed property to owners. The consumer alert stated that the Office of the State Treasurer is responsible for reuniting owners with their unclaimed property.
An ounce of prevention
To ensure that you (or your heirs) don’t miss out on property/money that is yours, follow these simple steps:
- Cash all checks for wages, dividends and settlements promptly.
- Respond to requests for information from your bank or financial institution. (Since email requests are often fraudulent, call the bank or provide the information in person.)
- When you move, be sure to notify every company with which you’ve had financial dealings.
- If you have a safe deposit box, give the extra key to a trusted person.
- Keep accurate financial records listing insurance policies, bank account information, stock certificates, rent and utility deposits. Store this information with your will.