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What Is Unclaimed Money?
Unclaimed money is a term for financial assets considered abandoned by the owner after a statutory period elapses, usually one to five years. The statutory dormancy period before money becomes unclaimed depends on the type of money. Unclaimed money typically includes bank account balances, uncashed checks, public benefits, tax refunds, back wages, and veterans’ insurance funds. Less often, unclaimed money includes undistributed bankruptcy funds, investments, and unclaimed deposits from credit unions.
The US Banking Code directs banks and financial institutions to turn these funds to designated agencies for safekeeping. States also enact their own Unclaimed Property Act to set rules and regulations over unclaimed funds and appoint agencies as holders. These agencies don’t take ownership of unclaimed property. Instead, they act as temporary custodians of unclaimed money and accrued interest until the rightful owner, or the owners’ heirs, recover the unclaimed funds.
How To Find Unclaimed Money
Finding unclaimed money depends on the designated trustee. Different government agencies take temporary custody of unclaimed money because the US federal government lacks a central database. Thus, concerned persons must directly contact the state or federal agency currently acting as trustee. Alternatively, interested persons may use the online resources provided for the search. For instance, the National Association of State Treasurers maintains a directory of state agencies that act as temporary trustees for unclaimed money in various states.
Unclaimed money in the United States is public and can be accessed by anyone through official or non-governmental services. Third-party unclaimed money search engines are easy to use and deliver fast results not limited by geographic region. Users can typically search for unclaimed money through third-party search sites using just a full name or business name. However, because these sites are not government-sponsored, the availability and accuracy of results can vary.
How Do I Find Unclaimed Money For Free?
The recovery of unclaimed money in the United States is free. Designated temporary trustees do not ask owners of unclaimed money to pay percentages, processing fees, or service charges. Furthermore, persons who receive notifications of unclaimed money from third parties are not legally obligated to follow through with that third party’s services. Unclaimed money trustees typically have resources that owners can use to find unclaimed money for no cost.
How To Claim Unclaimed Money
Upon finding unclaimed money, the rightful owner can initiate recovery by following instructions provided by the agency acting as temporary trustee or holder. Generally, the owner would need to confirm that the agency does indeed have the money in custody — by calling the agency or searching its database. Then, the individual must initiate an application to claim unclaimed money, providing the necessary documents to file the claim.
Most agencies allow concerned persons to file a claim online. Still, it is common for an agency to request a notarised mail application, especially if the unclaimed money is sizable. All claimants must present supporting documents, such as a government-issued photo ID, social security number, proof of ownership, and proof of address.
Parties with unclaimed funds should contact the official trustee directly — by phone call, mail, in-person visitation, or online search — and confirm the existence of such unclaimed money. The trustee will provide specific instructions to repossess the unclaimed funds once it certifies the inquirer’s ownership. The list below contains various classes of unclaimed money, the designated trustee, as well as the trustees’ contact information, including the physical addresses to visit:
Unclaimed Bank Account Balances and Uncashed Checks
Bank account balances usually account for the most unclaimed funds in the United States. This typically happens when account owners die, relocate, or switch financial institutions and leave the balance untouched. Of course, the bank will continue to maintain the account; all applicable charges will remain, and the balance will accrue interests, albeit meager. However, when the bank’s system detects that the account owner has not performed any activities or transactions for a long time, state laws require institutions to report the money as unclaimed.
National Association of State Treasurers
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004
Unclaimed State Tax Refunds
State Departments of Revenue — or designated agencies that handle state taxes — also reimburse residents who overpay their taxes by issuing tax refunds. Often, these refunds go unclaimed, especially when a person is unaware of the refund or deliberately puts off claiming the refund until later. In any way, interested persons may search for unclaimed state tax refunds on databases maintained by their state agencies using the State Departments of Revenue databases.
Unpaid Back Wages and Salaries
The Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor routinely finds violations of US labor laws, especially where employers may pay employees below the minimum wage or owed wages. In such cases, the Division takes administrative and civil actions to recover the amount due from the said employer and pays the affected employee. Often, however, this money remains unclaimed by the employee. Concerned persons and their relatives may find unclaimed back wages and salaries by searching the unclaimed money database the Department of Labor has set up for this purpose. Alternatively, call the Division on (866) 487-9243 or visit the local office.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is an agency set up to help Americans who lose their retirement benefits or pension for one reason or another. Some common reasons include the company going bankrupt, changing its name, merging with another company, or even splitting into several independent companies. For these reasons and many others, pension plans often go unclaimed. The PBGC has a guide for pensioners with unclaimed money and maintains a database these individuals and their relatives can use to find unclaimed pensions. Concerned persons may also contact the PBGC at:
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
1200 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005-4026
Phone: (800) 326-5678
Unclaimed Veterans’ Life Insurance Funds
The veterans’ life insurance fund is a financial security that the Department of Veterans’ affairs set up for veterans, service members, and their dependents. This money offers financial coverage to disabled veterans, injured service members, and the immediate family members of service members who die after discharge or during active duty. These individuals can find unclaimed insurance benefits by searching the Department of Veteran Affairs database or contacting the agency using the information below:
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
See local office directory
Phone: (800) 827-1000
Unclaimed Federal Tax Refunds
The Internal Revenue Service reimburses Americans who overpay their taxes every year. Although it is possible to avoid overpaying taxes, this mistake happens more often than not. When this happens, the IRS subtracts the tax owed from the amount paid and refunds the taxpayer via personal checks, savings bonds, or direct deposit to the individual’s bank account. Many of these refunds remain unclaimed for years. Persons who wish to find out if they — or a relative — have outstanding tax refunds may search the Internal Revenue Service refunds database. Alternatively, the taxpayer may visit the local IRS office (see local office directory) or call the IRS helpline on (800) 829-1040.
Unclaimed Credit Union Deposits
Credit unions are financial institutions that offer traditional banking services to persons who sign up as members. These members are usually persons with common interests, such as employees of a large organization. However, it is not uncommon for members of the public to join credit unions, mainly because credit unions offer better rates than traditional banks. And as with banks, members must have an account with the credit union of choice, where they receive loans and may deposit money for loan repayments. Often, members tend to leave or forget about the money in their accounts for a long time. In such cases, the credit union will report the money as unclaimed. Interested persons may search the National Credit Union Administration database for unclaimed credit union deposits. Alternatively, parties can contact the administration via:
National Credit Union Administration
4807 Spicewood Springs Road, Suite 5100
Austin, TX 78759
Phone: (512) 231-7900
Fax: (512) 231-7920
Unclaimed Harmed Investors’ Funds
The Securities and Exchange Commission is a federal agency set up to protect individuals who invest in US securities — that is, stocks, commodities, derivatives, and other financial instruments. The agency also investigates and watches for fraudulent activities by corporations, brokers, financial advisors, and bookrunners. When investigating an entity for fraud, the agency seizes the entity’s financial and non-financial assets. If the entity is found complicit in securities fraud, the SEC shall set up a third-party funds administrator, whose responsibility is to liquidate these assets and distribute investors’ money up to a certain amount. Investors who have been victims of securities fraud may search the US Securities and Exchange Commission database for unclaimed funds. Alternatively, visit the regional office or call the helpline.
100 F Street, NE
Washington, DC 20549
Regional offices directory
Phone: (202) 551-6551
Unclaimed Funds in a Foreign Country
US nationals whose property was nationalized by a foreign government are eligible to submit a claim for “covered losses.” The same applies to persons who suffered bodily injury, loss, or property damage due to military operations in a foreign country. Affected persons and surviving relatives may file a claim or recover unclaimed payments by checking the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission database. Alternatively, contact the government agency on:
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission
441 G Street, NW, Room 6330
Washington, DC 20579
Unclaimed Matured Savings Bonds
Savings bonds are government debt sold to interested individuals and entities looking to receive guaranteed, albeit modest returns, compared to the broader securities market. Bonds typically have a maturation date after which the bondholder may redeem the investment. Often, the face value of the bonds and accrued interests go unclaimed for several years after maturation. In such cases, the investment firm or the US Treasury Department will report the funds as unclaimed. Concerned persons may find unclaimed bonds for themselves and relatives by searching the US Treasury Department database. Alternatively, contact the government agency on (844) 284-2676 and (202) 622-2000. Claimants may also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unclaimed Bankruptcy Funds
Bankruptcy often involves liquidating a debtor’s assets to repay creditors or setting up a payment plan to repay a debt over three to five years. Either way, a court-assigned bankruptcy trustee oversees the liquidation and repayment to creditors. However, the proceeds from straight liquidation or debt repayment often remain unclaimed by creditors for several reasons, such as death, uncashed distribution checks, and listing an invalid address. In any way, the court shall make efforts to contact the creditor while holding on to the unclaimed bankruptcy funds. Creditors and relatives may check for unclaimed funds using the US Courts Unclaimed Funds Locator. Alternatively, contact the bankruptcy court where the bankruptcy case was adjudicated.
US Bankruptcy Courts
Administrative Office of the United States Courts
One Columbus Circle, NE
Washington, DC 20544
Unclaimed Mortgage Refunds
Persons who have a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured mortgage may have unclaimed refunds from when the Department of Housing and Urban Development issues refunds for canceled premiums or distributive share payments. In any way, eligible persons may search the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for unclaimed premium refunds and share payments. Alternatively, contact the government agency at:
451 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20410
Phone: (800) 697-6967
How Long Does It Take To Get Unclaimed Money?
The duration of time it takes to get unclaimed money depends on the agency designated as the temporary trustee. Generally, unclaimed money takes 30 to 90 days to process and receive. For unclaimed funds where the claimant is not the original owner or a direct heir, the processing time is longer. In some cases, processing time can be up to 120 days.
Who Can Claim Unclaimed Money From Deceased Relatives?
Persons who can claim unclaimed money from deceased relatives include immediate family members, persons named as beneficiaries on the account, and direct heirs through probate. These individuals must present proof of the account owner’s death, i.e., a certified death certificate, and documents establishing a relationship with the deceased, e.g., marriage records, birth certificate, or adoption records.
What Happens to Unclaimed Money if No One Claims It?
Unclaimed property and unclaimed money often remain claimable for several generations, Most states do not set time limits for rightful owners. Thus, persons who have the right to claim unclaimed money, as well as the heirs of such people, can claim the money at any time. There is typically a government list of unclaimed money, and some states advertise newly found unclaimed property in newspapers. Other times, a special public outreach officer team attends public events year-round to find rightful owners. When the owners show up to collect the funds, the trustee will transfer the funds and accrued interest.