Claiming Your Forgotten Loot

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 06/10/2008 - 8:50pm.

If the rising cost of gas and food has you foraging through your sofa cushions for spare change, here's one possible source of cash to explore: About $32.8 billion in unclaimed property is sitting in state treasuries around the country. Some of it could be yours, and thanks to the Internet, it's easy to do a search to find out.

The chances of finding a surprise cache are better than winning the lottery, though the take is likely to be small—several states say the average is about $100 per person. In 2006, more than $1.7 billion, representing 1.9 million claims, was distributed. Those unclaimed funds consist of money and other assets considered lost or abandoned after several years when no owner can be located. The exact number of years depends on state law and the kind of property. In most states, bank accounts or safe-deposit boxes are considered unclaimed after three to five years of inactivity; uncashed payroll checks and returned utility deposits are deemed abandoned after one year.

The property can be a financial asset, including stocks, uncashed dividend or travelers checks, bank accounts, life-insurance proceeds, customer deposits, or money orders. The money also might be from court settlements, credit balances, or undelivered refunds. In other words, states collect almost everything but real estate, vehicles, boats, and federal funds.

To see if any of it belongs to you, go to MissingMoney.com or unclaimed.org, Web sites maintained by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators that contain the records from most state unclaimed-property programs. Both sites also have links to official state Web sites. Check MissingMoney.com as well as the sites of every state you've lived in.

If you find a match, contact the state and follow directions to get the lost loot. States might ask for information to verify that you're the rightful owner, including a Social Security number and proof of previous addresses. If the funds are inherited, a death certificate, copy of the will, and statement from the estate's administrator may be required. Don't expect to get your money quickly. In New York, for instance, it can take 90 days or more for claims to be verified.

You might get solicitations from companies offering to conduct a search for you for a fee. But NAUPA officials say they have no speedier access to funds than you do. In fact, unclaimed-property officials warn consumers to be wary of these "finder" firms, particularly if they are seeking a flat fee, such as $14.95. According to NAUPA, the firms generally have no idea whether you are in fact entitled to such funds. After collecting the fee, they usually send you a list of unclaimed-property offices throughout the U.S. and generic information on how to file a claim.

Caroline Mayer - May 29, 2008 - posted at http://blogs.consumerreports.org/money/2008/05/unclaimed_money.html

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 06/10/2008 - 8:50pm.