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Looking for cash? 6 ways to find unclaimed money

Key takeaways

  • Slashing expenses and earning more aren't the only ways to find money in your budget.
  • Offloading unused gift cards, redeeming credit card rewards, and taking advantage of work perks could help you get more cash fast.
  • Search for unclaimed property too. Many Americans are owed unclaimed funds or other assets, and states returned more than $5 billion to rightful owners in a year.

Generating more income and cutting expenses can be helpful ways to reach a financial goal, whether that's kickstarting your emergency savings with $1,000 in the bank, investing more, or covering a big bill. But they’re not the only ways to uncover more cash. When you're earning as much as possible and come up empty on fresh ideas to save more, try these 6 tactics for finding money you didn't realize you had.

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1. Search for unclaimed money

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), about 1 in 7 Americans has unclaimed funds or property owed to them by financial institutions, businesses, or governments. Think: forgotten bank and retirement accounts, insurance payments, refunds, safety deposit box contents, CDs, paychecks, and security deposits.

From summer 2022 to summer 2023, states returned more than $5 billion to their owners, according to NAUPA. The average claim, per NAUPA, is $1,609, while the median claim is $100. Sites to search include, which allows you to search multiple states (individual states also have their own sites and search functions) and, where you can also search by state.

Plus, you can proactively contact individual federal agencies to see if they have money that’s yours, such as the Department of Labor for missing paychecks, the US Treasury for abandoned bonds, or the IRS for uncashed tax refund checks. According to the IRS, unclaimed refunds are mostly due to not filing a tax return for a potential refund owed (you have 3 years to claim it by law, otherwise it’s forfeited). If you filed a tax return, however, and your refund from that return was mailed but was uncashed or undelivered, due to an address change issue, for example, then generally your right to that money in theory never expires.

2. Sell or use old gift cards

Assuming digging through your sofa cushions and old winter coats for spare change didn’t yield much, open your wallet next. Got an unused gift card that’s been taking up space for too long? Actually using it on something you were already planning to buy could help free up cash in your budget.

Don’t need or want anything from that retailer? Turn your unused gift card into cash by reselling or trading it on an online marketplace, donating it (and possibly getting a tax deduction), or depositing the balance into an investment account. (Psst ... The Fidelity Youth™ app is a free financial app for teens that allows them to save, spend, or invest. One feature: a gift card exchange that turns unused balances into a cash deposit into their Fidelity Youth™ Account less any commission fee.)

3. Peek inside your virtual wallet

Check payment apps for forgotten balances that could be transferred to your checking or savings account. It’s generally a good idea not to leave balances sitting in payment apps indefinitely anyway, as they don’t offer bank protections, such as insurance by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) of up to $250,000.

4. Earn and redeem credit card rewards

Depending on the type of rewards credit card you have, you might earn cash back with every purchase and possibly even more on special rotating categories. For example, maybe you earn 1% on everyday purchases but a higher percentage of 3% from January through March on groceries. The following quarter, perhaps buying gas leads to higher rewards. Whenever possible, strategically time your purchases to earn more cash back—and get closer to your money goals—during bonus category months. You can typically redeem those rewards in a variety of ways, including as a statement credit, gift card, or into a linked brokerage account.

5. Work your perks

Getting to know your employee perks could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars in found money. For example, employers might contribute to or match your contributions (up to a certain percentage) to retirement plans or accounts like health savings accounts (HSAs) or emergency savings accounts.

Your company might also offer reimbursements for a portion of wellness-, phone-, or tech-related expenses—or help with covering school tuition or student loan payments. Some offer to cover a chunk of fertility and adoption-related costs as well. Keep in mind that some of these perks may need to be reported as taxable income on your tax return.

Besides cash, your employer could offer free services that can put some money back in your pocket, such as flu shots or skin cancer screenings, lab tests, backup child care, and transportation, including pre-tax commuter benefits or free rideshares after unexpected late nights or in an emergency.

6. Try (passive income) streaming

Another example of found money could be passive income streams—aka money you receive without much effort required to earn it—such as collecting interest paid on savings in a high-yield savings account or a money market fund.

If you have a side gig that generates income, like a blog with ads, an e-book, or images you’ve contributed to an online stock photography agency, see if you have balances in your account from ad revenue, royalties, or usage fees. You’ll likely owe income taxes on those earnings, so look for a 1099 come tax season.

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