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Have you ever gotten any junk mail that says you have free unclaimed money waiting for you, and all you have to do is pay a small fee to get it? It sounds like a scam, I know, but there is a kernel of truth to it.
Unclaimed money is real in the United States (as well as in several other countries) and you never have to pay fees to claim that money. If anyone asks you to pay them to claim your funds for you, ignore them and move on. You can do it yourself.
Skeptical? That’s fine — I was when I first heard about it — but don’t stop reading yet. In this post we’ll explain how unclaimed money works, why it exists, and what you can do to reclaim those precious dollars.
What Is “Unclaimed Money”?
Simply put, unclaimed money is money that rightfully belongs to you but isn’t currently in your possession and hasn’t entered into the possession of another entity. This applies to both money and property, and terms like “unclaimed,” “lost,” and “abandoned” are often interchangeable.
At this point, most people are thinking the same thing: how does one lose money, especially in significant amounts, without realizing it? It’s actually easier than you think, especially if you aren’t so good with managing your money:
- If you have unpaid wages from a previous job, that money is unclaimed.
- If your paychecks were ever sent to an old or wrong address, that money is unclaimed.
- If your money accounts, such as checking or savings accounts, have ever been closed with a balance and that balance or any accrued interest never found its way to you, that money is unclaimed.
- If you ever overpaid on a bill and never received a refund, that money is unclaimed.
- If you never received rightful payouts for things like insurance, that money is unclaimed.
- If an entity like a landlord owed you a return deposit but wasn’t able to find you, that money is unclaimed.
- If you have unspent gift card balances, that money is unclaimed. (Not all gift card balances may be reclaimable in this way.)
- If you have stocks, bonds, or mutual funds that you were meant to inherit but never did, that property is unclaimed.
- If you have lost or forgotten safe deposit boxes, the contents are still your property and remains unclaimed.
At the end of the day, your money is your money and your property is your property, and in the U.S. most state governments obligate companies to hand over unclaimed money and properties so that you can reclaim what’s rightfully yours.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is the primary authority on all things related to unclaimed property in the U.S. Any site that is officially endorsed by the NAUPA can be considered trustworthy as far as reclaiming is concerned.
How much can you expect to reclaim? It depends. The older you are and/or the more disorganized you are with your money, the more likely it is that you’ll have unclaimed money floating around. If you’re young and/or on top of your finances, you probably don’t have much.
As such, some people only find $50 or less while others can find upwards of $1,000 or more, but most people fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
How to Claim Your Missing Money
The claims process is pretty straightforward, though not always easy (depending on what kinds of money and property are waiting for you). There is one main website you should use, as this one is the most effective and reputable.
MissingMoney.com is the official NAUPA-sponsored search engine for finding unclaimed money and property throughout the U.S. Unclaimed properties are added weekly and existing properties are updated daily. MissingMoney is unavailable in these states.
Here’s how to start the claims process:
Go to MissingMoney and use the free search at the top to type in your name (use your full name for maximum accuracy) along with your state of residence, then click Go.
Depending on how common your name is, the results could include thousands of names or they may be close to empty. Use the Held In column to find your state of residence and the Last Known Address to find the properties that belong to you. The Reported By column provides extra context to help you out.
Note that your first name may be reported only as the first initial! You’ll also note that the Amount column only shows three amounts: Under $100, Over $100, or Unknown. You won’t know the exact amount until you actually start the claims process.
Click on your name in the relevant row(s) to get started.
Next you’ll be asked to confirm whether or not this property listing is one that you can claim. At the top, you’ll see a new field called Property Type that sheds a bit more light on what kind of unclaimed money is involved.
If it sounds like you fit the match, click Yes I can Claim. If it doesn’t sound right, don’t. You’ll need to submit relevant legal documentation (e.g. proofs of identity, proofs of residence, marriage or death certificates in some cases, and so on) so don’t even try to claim money that isn’t yours.
At this point, the instructions diverge based on which state is holding your money. Some states, like Pennsylvania, require the process to be done on the state’s own websites. Others may take place on MissingMoney itself. Just follow the instructions on screen and you’ll be good to go.
What to Do With Your Reclaimed Funds
It may take up to several weeks for your claim to be processed and your money to be returned to you, so once you’ve submitted all of the paperwork, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait.
In the meantime, you should think about what you’re going to do with that money once it arrives.
If the reclaimed amount is small, you could go ahead and treat yourself to something nice like a brand new Kindle, a tailor-fitted Chromebook, a digital drawing tablet, an Amazon entertainment device, or even an upgrade to your PC.
If the reclaimed amount is significant, we recommend using it to propel yourself out of consumer debt (just make sure you’re slashing your debt the right way). A windfall payment to debt could save hundreds or thousands on the interest you owe over the next several years.
Either way, enjoy it. It’s your money and you deserve it.
Did you find any unclaimed money for yourself? If you’re comfortable, feel free to share how much and what you’re going to do with it in a comment down below!
Image Credits: Fun Way Illustration/Shutterstock