Is The Government Holding Your Unclaimed Money?

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By Jason Alderman

Considering how frequently many people move, switch jobs and change their names, it’s not surprising that state treasuries and other agencies are sitting on more than $33 billion in unclaimed assets. That doesn’t even include billions of dollars in unredeemed U.S. savings and treasury bonds and undeliverable federal income tax refunds.

Whether you’re pinching pennies or simply want to claim what’s rightfully yours, consider spending a few minutes searching for forgotten accounts that belong to you, your family or deceased relatives.

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Start with the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. This non-profit organization provides tips on finding your money, as well as links to unclaimed property programs maintained by each state. Click on “Compliance Resources” at their website, www.unclaimed.org, for links to each state’s program.

Companies are required to surrender balances from accounts that have been inactive for one year or longer to the state of the owner’s last known address, but you should also check sites for other states where you have lived or done business, just in case. To broaden your chances, search under several variations of your name (including combinations of first and middle initials) as well as common misspellings.

Unclaimed property held by states might include: checking and savings accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, state tax refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, insurance payments or refunds, annuities, CDs, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, and proceeds from auctions of contents from safe deposit boxes.

Another bountiful resource is the IRS. In 2009, the IRS retained more than $120 million in unclaimed federal income tax refund checks, mostly those that had been sent to the wrong address. If you never received an expected refund or simply want to check the status of your current filing, go to the “Where’s My Refund” page at www.irs.gov for instructions. Two tips:

  • Verify that the IRS has your correct address whenever you file taxes.
  • Sign up for direct deposit of future refunds to prevent misdirected checks.

Find old pensions. Although pension plans are becoming increasingly rare, if you’ve had a long work history and several employers, you may have accrued pension benefits along the way. Unless you’ve been diligent about updating your address with old employers, however, they might have difficulty finding you at retirement. Plus, many companies have merged or gone out of business.

To find previous employers or their successor companies, run a search through a library, historical society or chamber of commerce where the company operated, or contact former coworkers or unions. Other helpful organizations include the Public Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which protects and guarantees most pension plans, including those that closed or went bankrupt (www.pbgc.gov), PensionHelp America (www.pensionhelp.org), and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (www.dol.gov/ebsa).

A couple of cautions: Although many legitimate companies exist that will help you find lost property for a fee (often a percentage of the total), scams do exist, so make sure the company is legitimate before signing a contract. Also, beware of emails or letters purporting to be from the state treasurer asking for personal information – this could lead to identity theft.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.


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