Where to find unclaimed money

Don't overlook former bank accounts and retirement accounts for unclaimed funds.

  • By Geoff Williams,
  • U.S. News & World Report
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There are a raft of databases for finding lost or unclaimed money from financial institutions, including banks, insurance companies and the U.S. Treasury. Say you closed out an old bank account and failed to withdraw payments from a former employer. Or you switched jobs and forgot about a former retirement or pension plan. Maybe you moved and neglected to update your address, resulting in a misaddressed payment or tax refund.

Here's where to find unclaimed money:

Former pension and retirement plans.

  • Life insurance policies.
  • Federal tax returns.
  • State departments of taxation.
  • Bank accounts.
  • Unpaid back wages.
  • Savings bonds.

So, if you're wondering where to find unclaimed cash, check out these sources.

Former pension and retirement plans

To pinpoint an unclaimed pension from an old job, check out Pbgc.gov/search-unclaimed-pensions, a website run by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a U.S. government agency. PenChecks Trust, which offers retirement plan distributions, also has a registry database of unclaimed retirement benefits, where both employers and employees may pinpoint unclaimed retirement funds.

Life insurance policies

If you're looking for an unclaimed life insurance policy benefit, check out insurance.va.gov/UnclaimedFunds, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

You may also want to consult https://eapps.naic.org/life-policy-locator, a website run by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "The service searches the national database and sends requests to insurance companies on your behalf. If you suspect or want to confirm whether a life insurance policy exists, utilize the NAIC's free service," says Brian Greenberg, founder and CEO of True Blue Life Insurance Inc., an insurance agency in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Federal tax returns

If you think the Internal Revenue Service owes you a refund, check out the Where's My Refund site, managed by the IRS. The only catch: There's a three-year cap for claiming a refund from the IRS before the money belongs to the U.S. Treasury. Also, if you've recently moved, make sure you haven't provided an incorrect address when filing your taxes to prevent having to track down an undeliverable check from Uncle Sam.

State departments of taxation

Most states have their own websites where you can look for unclaimed money, such as state tax refunds, although you may find other types of money owed, like cash sitting in abandoned bank accounts. Type your state and "unclaimed money" or "unclaimed cash" into a search engine such as Google, and you'll find your state's unclaimed money website.

Bank accounts

If you believe you have unclaimed money left in a bank account long ago, check out MissingMoney.com or Unclaimed.org, which are both operated by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. If you used to belong to a credit union, you may want to consult www.ncua.gov/support-services/unclaimed-deposits, a site managed by the National Credit Union Administration, where you may find an unclaimed deposit.

Steve Wiegenstein, an author in Columbia, Missouri, suggests visiting MissingMoney.com. "I recently found $178 from the state of Illinois that was owed to me as an unclaimed escrow return from the sale of a house that occurred nearly 10 years ago," he says.

He adds that he then recommended MissingMoney.com to his daughter. "She found a utility refund from Iowa that dated back to her college years," he says.

Unpaid back wages

Maybe you worked somewhere years ago and left in a hurry and didn't collect a final paycheck. If you think you might be owed unpaid back wages, visit https://webapps.dol.gov/wow, a website run by the Wage and Hour Division in the Department of Labor.

Savings bonds

If you think you have lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds, you can contact the U.S. Treasury at Treasurydirect.gov. You'll have to submit a form, Form 1048, for lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds.

Before you recover lost or forgotten funds, it's important to take caution to sidestep common missing-money scams. Once you tap into resources for finding unclaimed money, apply these strategies to stay prepared and avoid scams.

Do not pay somebody to find money for you

Occasionally, you might encounter a company or an individual offering to collect your unclaimed funds for you – for a price. Before you hire someone, do some digging to ensure the individual or company is reputable. If you opt to hire someone rather than going directly to the source, keep in mind that you'll likely pay 10 to 20 percent of the money you collect.

You should also exercise caution if you receive any letters or emails that suggest you can be reunited with some unclaimed property for a fee. Any email or mail notification following this pattern is likely a scam. Also, keep in mind that If you have a financial planner, he or she may be able to help you, too.

Arrive with the appropriate documentation and proof of your identity

You may need to bring a death certificate or even a full probate court order if you're trying to collect money from a deceased relative's estate. You may also need to answer a number of questions pertaining to your financial history before money will be released. Sometimes, the amount of hoops you need to jump through depends on the amount of unclaimed cash you're trying to collect.

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