Piles of Money Could Be Waiting for You

From expired gift certificates to old bank accounts, Americans are missing out on billions of dollars simply because they don't know it's there. Could a lost treasure be waiting for you to claim?

In lean economic times like these, coming into unexpected cash is reason for celebration. While the possibility always exists of finding some extra change under the cushions or some cash in your jacket pocket, there may be some truly significant money out there for your taking.

Unclaimed property refund checks are often in the $800 to $1,000 range, yet each year, states return only 4 percent of unclaimed assets to their rightful owners, since most owners don't know they have money coming.

It is very simple to find the unclaimed money that the state or federal government is waiting for you to take.

Assets Unclaimed

It's been reported that one out of eight persons in the United States is owed unclaimed money that, in total, equals between $10 billion and $20 billion.

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, uncashed dividends, stocks, customer deposits or overpayments, certificates of deposit, credit balances, refunds, 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.

Treasure Hunting

When it comes to hunting for your own potentially hidden treasures, most states have made finding and recovering unclaimed property pretty simple. Most states publish all unclaimed property in the newspaper, twice a year.

Also, many states offer free online access to property databases and even online claim forms. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (www.unclaimed.org), a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, is an excellent source of information on unclaimed property.

NAUPA's site links to individual state Web sites that allow you to search for your property. If your state does not offer the ability to search unclaimed property records, you should call you state treasurer's office directly and ask to speak to someone in the unclaimed property division. They may ask you to write a formal letter providing specific information, including your full name, last address and Social Security number. In Illinois, for example, you must complete a form requiring your Social Security number, proof of the original address, and your signature guaranteed by a notary public.

If the unclaimed property is not in your name, you must prove that you are the legal guardian, representative of the owner or heir to recoup it. Keep in mind, the state acts as a custodian until the rightful owner, or his or her heir, makes a claim to the assets, so the state is merely a holding place — not the owner —of your unclaimed property.

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