Unclaimed Money: How to Get What You’re Owed

What if we told you that the US government was sitting on billions of dollars owed to millions of citizens? What if we insisted that this money could be yours and all you had to do was file a claim?

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You’d probably smell a scam, and we wouldn’t blame you. But it’s true. There really are vast sums of money out there just waiting to be collected and the process of collecting is as easy as making a few phone calls or clicking a few links.

What’s more, you don’t have to pay a single cent to get this money.

What is Unclaimed Money?

Unclaimed money is cash that goes to the state after the rightful owner has failed to collect it, either because they moved, forgot, fell ill or died. 

As an example, let’s imagine that you move to another state and close a couple of smaller bank accounts, believing they didn’t have any money in them. Upon closing the account, the bank sends you the balance by check, but you’ve already moved, and your mail doesn’t get redirected, so the check is returned to the bank. 

After a fixed period, often a year or more, the money will be given to the state, where it will be protected until an owner comes forward. 

That may not seem like much of a big deal. After all, you’d have to be pretty absentminded to forget that you had several hundred or several thousand dollars waiting in a checking account, and if it was only a few bucks, who cares?

However, unclaimed money isn’t limited to savings accounts and checking accounts and can also come from:

  • Unclaimed Paychecks: Checks can get lost in the mail and may be sent to the Labor Department, just waiting for you to make a claim.
  • Investment Accounts: Like bank accounts and checking accounts, investment accounts can generate money without your knowledge and if you forget, you’ll be due the balance in full.
  • Rebates, Underpayments, and Overpayments: You may be owed money from tax rebates and other overpayments, in which case the amounts could be substantial.
  • Online Earnings: If you have sold any items online and were unable to claim the money for whatever reason, it may be sitting in the government coffers and waiting for you to collect.
  • Life Insurance Policies: You should be informed when a relative dies and you are owed any money from a life insurance policy, but that isn’t at least the case, especially if you didn’t know that policy was purchased in the first place.

We’re not talking about chump change here and it isn’t something that’s only available to a select few citizens. There is currently around $40 billion in unclaimed money and there could be millions of potential claimants just waiting to secure their share of the spoils.

How to Get Unclaimed Money from the State

Each state has its own rules and regulations concerning unclaimed money. These state laws are actually one of the reasons unclaimed money is so common in the first place, because as soon as you move across state lines, you become harder to track.

You can use the Missing Money website, funded by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to search for unclaimed money in your current or previous state. The site was founded in 1999 and has helped citizens to claim billions of dollars over the years, money that would have otherwise gone untouched.

All states have their own programs and their own funds. California, unsurprisingly, is sitting on one of the largest pots of unclaimed cash, but all states have stacks of cash waiting to be claimed.

To file a claim, you will typically be asked to provide the following:

  • A copy of your driver’s license.
  • Your Social Security Number.
  • Proof of previous address.
  • Proof of current address.

Some states make this process incredibly easy and allow you to apply online in a few clicks. Others task you with submitting documents by mail. In either case, it’s a relatively pain-free process as the government makes an active effort to offload those unclaimed funds.

Other Ways to Get Unclaimed Money

The money doesn’t have to be with the government for you to make a claim. You can also try the following methods to collect money that’s owed to you:

Contact Banks

If you have any money waiting for you from old bank accounts and investments accounts, there’s a good chance it will be with the government now. However, that isn’t always the case and if you contact your bank you can request information on old accounts that were all but forgotten about. 

Interest, dividends, utility deposits—all these things can give you more money than you thought you had and could even build a substantial balance if left untouched for many years.

A claim can still be made even if the bank closed down thanks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Check Pensions

If you have changed your career in the past, you may be due a pension fund that was never paid to you. Check the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, search the database, and make a claim if you’re entitled. According to the PBCG’s own estimates, over 80,000 citizens have claimed in excess of $400 million using this method.

Check Class Action Lawsuits

By law, attorneys are required to contact all potential claimants in a class action lawsuit. However, this isn’t always possible, and their messages may have gone unseen. If you visit the Class Action website, you can check for previous and ongoing lawsuits to see if any of them are relevant to you and if you are owed any money as a result.

Summary: Be Careful

Unclaimed money is not free money, as it’s still your money, you just didn’t know it existed. However, it’s a chance to get a cash windfall that you would have otherwise missed out on, one that can provide a helping hand if you need to clear some credit card debt, build towards a down payment or even just take a vacation.

You might not have any money waiting for you, but at the same time, there could be a fortune lying in wait. The older you are, and the more you have moved around in your past the more chances you have of collecting a big windfall. But it doesn’t cost anything to apply and make a few inquiries, so it’s worth taking the time to do this even if you’re young and have lived in the same place all your life.