Most unclaimed money is held by the states – about $42 billion at last count. That's because state law requires banks, brokerage firms and other companies that handle people's money to turn unclaimed funds over to the states for safekeeping if they can't locate the rightful owners. So the states are the place to begin your search.
But don't stop there!
The federal government has its own "buried treasure" that you can find, too. And some private entities also have helpful tools for you to try. All but one below are free. If you are asked to pay a large flat fee or a percentage of the unclaimed money you find, you are probably dealing with a professional "finder." It is never necessary to pay a fee or finder for information you can quickly look up on your own.
Below are a dozen different sources you can search to find your own forgotten money.
1. Your State
The first place you should search is your home state. Unclaimed money is usually -- though not always -- held by the state where the account was originally located. Things like abandoned safety deposit boxes, uncashed overtime checks, and forgotten apartment security deposits. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a non-profit association that represents unclaimed money departments from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, runs a free website that will link you to any state you want to search. You will find it HERE.
The best part is that you can search for yourself or others without even entering a Social Security or account number Rather, you search the system by name and then verify that it's really you by checking to see if you have ever lived at the corresponding address listed. (IMPORTANT: For those who want to go back to the site later on their own, please note that it is a .ORG site, NOT a .com site. www.unclaimed.ORG.)
2. Other States
Unclaimed money is usually held in the state where the account was originally located, so if you have lived in multiple states, you will want to search all of them. Additionally, in some instances, unclaimed money is held by the state where the business is headquartered. If you are fairly certain that you lost track of money, you could look up where the company is based and search that state. But in the last decade, so many banks and brokerage firms have bought each other or merged that it's often hard to trace.
So here's the solution: There's another free website where you can search 37 states and the District of Columbia all at once. (Not all states participate.) That free site is HERE. When you first search, you are prompted to enter your home state. After that, you have the opportunity to search again. This time choose "all states and provinces" on the drop-down menu. Be sure to look at the map of which states participate, located HERE. If you have lived in one that does not, go back to unclaimed.ORG and search it individually there. To cover your bases for company headquarters, you might choose to search all 13 states that don't participate individually.
3. Local Governments
Some states require local governments to turn unclaimed money over to them, but others do not. So another lucrative source of unclaimed funds is your city, county, town or village. I know of no centralized repository of information about these locally held funds, so you'll want to do some sleuthing on the Internet. Try different combinations of keywords, like, "Town of (your town name)" and "unclaimed property." Keep in mind that governments usually refer to unclaimed money as unclaimed property, but they don't typically mean real estate. They mean money.
For more details about finding money held by local jurisdictions, click HERE.
4. The Treasury Department
The Treasury Department's Bureau of Public Debt is holding billions of dollars worth of what it calls "matured, unredeemed savings bonds." In other words, unclaimed savings bonds! You can see how they'd get lost, since they typically take 30 years to mature. Fortunately, the Treasury Department has embraced the Internet with a website, HERE, where you can search for forgotten bonds that belong to you and are no longer earning interest. You should search using your Social Security number or, if the savings bond was a gift, you should also check the Social of the person who gave it to you. Often, those who give savings bonds as presents don't know the Social Security number of the person they are giving it to, so they use their own. If you find a bond in your name, you can then begin the claims process right online. A federal worker will then contact you and complete the process over the phone and by mail.
For additional advice about collecting unclaimed savings bonds, click HERE.
5. The FDIC
As you know, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, insures banks. That means if the bank goes under, the FDIC makes sure all depositors get their money back. (There's currently a $250,000 limit.) This is a tremendously consumer-friendly system developed after the Great Depression in an effort to give people the confidence to deposit money in banks rather than stuffing it in their mattresses. If you didn't collect your money when your bank failed, you should contact the FDIC ASAP! If you are correct, the FDIC will be holding your money and will return it to you. The best part? You can check right this second, by using the FDIC's search website located HERE.
6. The National Credit Union Administration
Similar to the FDIC, the National Credit Union Administration takes possession of credit union funds when credit unions fail. The NCUA is a federal agency, not to be confused with the Credit Union National Association, an industry group. Once again, the feds are on it, and have set up a website where credit union customers can search for their forgotten funds. Click HERE to track down your money.
7. The IRS
We love to joke about how we hate the Internal Revenue Service, but you could learn to love the IRS if you were expecting a tax refund and never received it. To give you an idea, in 2012 the IRS announced that 111,893 citizens had not received their refund checks for a total of more than $16 million. Are you one of them? The IRS now provides a "Where's my Refund?" feature on its website. You can look up your missing check by entering the amount you are owed, plus your Social Security number.
For advice on how to search for unclaimed child support money, click HERE.
8. Fair Housing Administration
If you purchased your home with an FHA-insured mortgage, you may be owed a refund and have no idea! It can happen if you paid a lump sum for your FHA insurance premium at closing, but were also charged for it monthly. Another scenario: Maybe you started with an FHA loan but then refinanced into a conventional loan. Beware: The refund money is not held indefinitely. According to the rules, HUD can keep your refund if you don't claim it within six years. So, you better get on this one! HERE is the link to the HUD/FHA page to search. You can search using your name or your FHA case number.
9. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
If you are due a pension, but have not received it, first you should contact the company where you were employed. If the company no longer exists, there is a little known federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), that safeguards private pensions. You can try to track down your pension HERE on the PBGC website.
10. The Employee Benefits Security Administration
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), is the federal agency charged with making sure retirement money is reunited with its rightful owners. Unlike the PBGC, the EBSA typically gets involved in cases of wrongdoing where a company has misappropriated employees' pension accounts. The EBSA sometimes even sues to seize retirement money before it disappears. You can utilize the agency's services by clicking HERE.
For warnings about unclaimed money scams, click HERE.
11. Former Employers
In this day and age, pensions are increasingly rare, and 401(k) plans have taken over. You have the right to roll over your 401(k) to your new company or into another retirement investment like an IRA, but in the flurry of changing employers many people forget. So if you have left behind a 401(k), it's time to search for it. Fortunately, companies that administer 401(k) plans have teamed up to create a search engine you can use to track down your 401(k).
12. MIB Solutions
Typically unpaid life insurance policies are turned over to the states, so following step 1 or 2 outlined above should turn them up. But so often, the beneficiaries of life insurance policies don't even realize that their deceased loved one left them a policy. And, believe it or not, life insurance companies are not required to search out policy recipients. They typically wait for the claimants to come forward. Because this is a situation where you may have no idea where to start and where the benefit to you could be large, this is the one time I offer up a search service you have to pay a small fee for. You can hire a company called MIB Solutions to search for you. MIB is a private company that houses life insurance application information for much of the industry. It costs $75 to search. Go to www.policylocator.com for more information.