While the possibility always exists of finding some extra change under the couch cushions, or a forgotten dollar bill or two in the pocket of a pair of pants, or a jacket, more significant sums of money may be out there for your taking — you just need to find it. In fact, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state governments have about $32.8 billion in unclaimed assets.
In 2006, the last year NAUPA tracked unclaimed assets, 1.9 million successful claims were made, which resulted in $1.7 billion in property being returned to its rightful owners.
One out of eight people in the United States have unclaimed property, according to the NAUPA, with the average claim in the range of $800 to $1,000.
"Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson answers some frequently asked questions about how to find out if you have unclaimed assets.
Can you explain what exactly constitutes unclaimed property?
Unclaimed property is generally defined as any financial asset that has had no activity by its owner for a period of five years or more. This includes savings accounts, safety deposit boxes, checking accounts, stocks, certificates of deposit, matured life insurance policies, and uncashed death benefit checks.
For example, if you have ever moved without getting your utility deposit back, or forgotten about an old checking or savings account, you are entitled to those funds from your state. Unclaimed property is normally turned over to the state or federal government by financial institutions until the rightful recipient (you!) recovers them, or until the property is sold at auction.
How can you find out if you have unclaimed property?
Go online. The easiest way to search for property is go to the NAUPA Web site www.unclaimed.org. NAUPA is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, and is the source for information on unclaimed property. NAUPA's site links to individual state Web sites, which allow you to search for your property.
As an alternative to conducting an online search, most states publish — twice a year — all unclaimed property in newspapers, so, keep an eye out for your name.
Finally, you can call the office of your state treasurer directly. However, they cannot give you any information over the phone, unless you submit a written inquiry.
What about fee-based services that claim they can find unclaimed property for you? Should you enlist their services?
Absolutely not. This is a search you should do on your own. In fact, if you hire someone, you may end up spending more on their services than what you may find. The legitimate Web sites and resources available through your state treasurer's office are nearly identical to any fee-based search company, so it is not necessary to pay for search services.
Outside of contacting your state treasurer, where else might you discover unfound money?
Remember those savings bonds that grandma and grandpa gave to you for your birthdays and graduations? More than $15 billion worth of matured savings bonds have never been cashed. Additionally, over 15,000 savings bonds and 25,000 payments are returned to the Department of the Treasury as undeliverable each year.
If you have matured and uncashed savings bonds, bring them to your local bank, where they will cash them in for you.
If you think you have lost a savings bond and have record of the serial numbers, the Bureau of Public Debt (www.publicdebt.treas.gov) can look up their status. Also, bonds that are lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed can be replaced free of charge as long as the Bureau of the Public Debt can establish that the bonds have not been cashed.
Finally, can you give some parting tips on how you can keep your assets from going unclaimed?
Keep accurate and current records of bank accounts, insurance policies, stock certificates, utility and rent deposits, and safe deposit box locations.
Keep accounts active through customer-initiated contact with the holders of your property, through activity on your account — not merely the accrual of interest.
Notify a family member or trusted advisor of the location of your records.
Notify all institutions every time you move.