How to Find Forgotten Money

Whether you’ve moved around a bit or just lost track of an old account, you may be missing out on unclaimed cash. But like any lost treasure, a bit of digging can recover your abandoned property.

If you’ve ever misplaced a gift card or lost track of an old savings or checking account, you’re not alone. It may seem hard to believe, but your state’s unclaimed property division may hold millions in forgotten funds. 

States hold about $42 billion in unclaimed property from financial institutions and other businesses, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

If you think some of that $42 billion may be yours, here’s what you need to know to reclaim it.

You’ve Got Mail. Claim your Cash.

After three to five years, most states consider apartment security deposits, uncashed traveler’s checks and other property as unclaimed or inactive. Before turning over property to the customer’s state agency, financial institutions and businesses must notify account owners with balance over the state minimum, typically $50.

“Last year, we mailed more than 33,000 search letters to customers with inactive accounts or uncashed checks, and that number grows every year,” said Ann Loperfito, an oversight manager with PNC’s escheat department.  “It’s not unusual for people to say ‘I forgot all about that check’ or ‘I’m the executor of my dad’s will - I didn’t know he had that account.’”

As a result of PNC’s due diligence and thorough research, on average only about 10% of PNC’s accounts end up as unclaimed money, adds Loperfito. But some unclaimed items, such as gift card balances, uncashed cashier’s checks and even safe deposit items have to be turned over to the state.

Depending on state laws, an account can be considered abandoned, even if there is activity on it such as automated deposits, withdrawals or bill pay.

“In some states, account owners have to actively communicate with their financial institution to keep an account ’alive‘, said Loperfito. “To avoid state transfer, it’s very important to contact your bank at least once a year and to keep current contact information on file with your financial institution(s).”

Tracking Down Your Missing Money

Most unclaimed items go to the state where you have lived. But abandoned property can be kept in the state where the financial institution is incorporated. And that’s where it stays, until it’s claimed.

“Many people don’t call us until it’s too late. Unfortunately, once the money goes to the state, it is usually up to the customer to reclaim it,” said Loperfito.

Fortunately for forgetful owners, technology has made it easier to track down missing property. Most states have websites for tracking down accounts. A quick search with the state’s name and “unclaimed property” will get you started. The IRS, the Department of Labor and websites like Missingmoney.com also offer free, nationwide searches for unclaimed property.

When searching, type in your current name and any other names you’ve used in the past. If you find a match, you can contact the state’s unclaimed property agency to file a claim.

Because some items may be reported to the firm’s state of incorporation rather than the owners home state, don’t forget to check states where many financial services firms are registered. Companies like PNC are often registered in other states such as Delaware or Maryland.

Of course, the best way to avoid losing assets to the state is to keep track of it.

Avoid Losing Money in the Future

Remember, property becomes lost due to a company having no communication with the owner. You should contact institutions that hold your money or property every year, especially when there is an address change or change in marital status. For security reasons, most financial institutions do not forward mail.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Keep accurate financial records and record all types of accounts, stock certificates, and rent and utility deposits.
  • Cash all checks for dividends, wages and insurance settlements promptly.
  • Review all mail from your financial institution, even if it appears to be junk mail. Most states require account holders to send notice of unclaimed assets, and you only have a certain amount of time to respond before the state claims it.
  • Respond to requests for confirmation of account balances and stockholder proxies.
  • If you have a safe deposit box, record its number, bank name and address
  • Finally, prepare and file a will detailing all of your assets.

Do You Have Unclaimed Property?

Every state enforces a unique set of escheat (transfer) laws that apply to businesses holding many different types of obligations. Common forms of unclaimed property include:

  • Savings or checking accounts
  • Stocks
  • Uncashed official checks, dividends or payroll checks
  • Refunds
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Trust distributions
  • Unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states)
  • Insurance payments or refunds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Customer overpayments
  • Utility security deposits
  • Mineral royalty payments
  • Safe Deposit Box contents