Wow! My heart jumps with just a little bit of excitement when I discover some cash in the pocket of a jacket that I have not donned for a couple of years. Have you ever picked up laundry from your local drycleaner to find a twenty-dollar bill pinned to the claim check!? Winning! (Insert visual of you doing the running man and flexing your muscles!) Sometimes I place the funds in a “change” jar along with other treasure found between the sofa cushions or under the car seats. If I find a fair amount of “change”, let’s say five dollars or more, I set aside the recovered funds for a specific savings goal. I also give consideration to decluttering the area where the money was found. The final thought leads me to this question: When was the last time you checked your state’s department of revenue or controller website for unclaimed property that belongs to you?
If you have ever changed your residence, changed employers, not filed taxes because you were not required to file, or had accounts at or ownership in a company that went bankrupt, you should take a look at government unclaimed property websites for intangible property that belongs to you. Inactive or closed consumer accounts with remaining balances are considered “abandoned” or “unclaimed.” Each state is required to set up laws that require: 1) businesses to transfer the unclaimed property to a designated division or agency (the state controller, for example) after three years of inactivity; 2) the state to hold the assets for the benefit of the consumers, and potentially their heirs, until the items are claimed; 3) the state agency or unclaimed property organization to return the assets to the rightful owners upon verification of identity; and 4) the state agency or unclaimed property organization to maintain a database and a process for attempting to locate the owners and heirs of abandoned property. Vehicles, real estate and most physical property are not considered unclaimed property. Refer to individual state statutes and unclaimed property divisions for specifics on laws, procedures and policies.
In fiscal year 2015, state governments returned $3.235 billion dollars to rightful owners, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a non profit organization comprised of professionals that are responsible for administration of state unclaimed property programs. During that same year $7.763 billion was collected! These funds go unclaimed because the business entities that owe the funds lose contact with the individuals that own the funds. NAUPA recommends consumers cash checks received in a timely manner, respond to legitimate requests for account balances and stockholder proxies, record safe deposit box information and give an extra key to a trusted person, and prepare a will that delineates how your assets are to be distributed. Talk with your financial planning and/or estate planning professionals to assist you in developing an estate plan that best preserves your privacy and ensures your assets are distributed as you wish.
Check the websites for the following organizations to determine if you own a portion of the billions of dollars waiting to be claimed by rightful owners. While this is not an exhaustive list, it’s a good starting place.
- Your state’s (current and previous) department of revenue or controller for refunds from bank accounts, insurance proceeds, securities (stocks, bonds, and mutual funds), items abandoned in safe deposit boxes and utility and phone company balances. You may also find other undeliverable funds like uncashed payroll checks, insurance payments and travelers’ checks.
- The US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for unclaimed wages from a previous employer
- Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for unclaimed pensions
- Internal Revenue Service for unclaimed refunds
- US Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service for unclaimed property owed to you by foreign governments or from foreign transactions
A list of more organizations that facilitate the collection and delivery of unclaimed property can be found at www.usa.gov/unclaimed-money. And remember, the government is not going to call you about unclaimed funds, so BE CAREFUL to avoid scams. Do not send money or provide personal information to someone that promises to send you “free money.” Review the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams for tips on avoiding government imposter scams.
Consider the amount you discover and how best to use the funds in accordance with your financial planning goals. Use the funds to supplement a rainy-day savings account, fund a retirement account, start an education account, pay for school supplies, or donate to a non-profit of your choice. You may decide that it is just the right amount to go out for coffee with a friend, ice-cream with the kids, or a family day at a local museum. After all, I am a firm believer in investing in relationships with the ones we love and our communities. Whatever you decide to do with the funds, the key take away is that they are YOUR funds, so put them to work as you see fit. Think of the search for unclaimed property as a simple treasure hunt-like exercise in decluttering your financial past and making the most of a sweet surprise along your journey to your financial planning goals. – Terry