Somehow, money gets lost. We leave cash in odd places. Given how hard we work for money, it’s hard to believe how easily we misplace it.
I’m talking about back wages, old 401Ks, bank failures, utility deposits, unclaimed life insurance, FHA refunds, undelivered tax refund checks – the list goes on and on, amounting to billions of dollars.
In my home state of Arizona, more than $1.5 billion sits in unclaimed property, waiting for rightful owners to collect their cash.
One of my editors helped her mother find over $5,000 that belonged to her mother’s parents who died in the 1990s. She found two life insurance policies, retirement benefits, and rebates from utilities sitting unclaimed in her grandparents’ names for more than 20 years.
While you’re rooting around for cash, here are seven clever sites that can help you save money.
The best part: it’s free. And it’s yours. Helping everyday citizens claim lost money is one of the duties of the U.S. Treasury Department. You don’t need to hire a dubious service or spend money to make money. You are entitled to those funds. If anyone asks for payment to help you find unclaimed property, ditch them.
They’re not the only ones trying to trick you out of money, of course. There’s been a trend of fake crowdfunding scams that you should know about before “investing.”
Here are effective ways to track down those dormant dollars.
1. Start your search for missing money in your home state
Finding money is pretty simple, but your search depends on where you live. Each state has an independent treasury website, which has a special search function for unpaid dues. For example, if you live or lived in North Carolina, you can go to www.nctreasurer.com, click the "Claim your NC Cash" tab and select "search for your unclaimed property."
Each site is a little different, but follow the step-by-step instructions, enter your information, and the database will do the rest. As always, use a secure network; this is precisely the kind of data that cybercriminals love to gather and use against you.
To find the link for your state’s treasury website, go to Google and type unclaimed funds + state name. Make sure the treasury site is real (it should have a “dot-gov” address). There are plenty of scammers on the internet, and phony websites are definitely in the realm of possibility.
Pro Tip in a Tip: If you have a name that is frequently misspelled or has variations that are often confused (Schmid, Schmidt, Schmitt), search those misspellings on the unclaimed fund's sites as well.
2. Next, search for unclaimed property nationally
If you’ve lived or done business in many states, I recommend using MissingMoney, which is designed to connect you to the correct treasury departments.
MissingMoney is a free government search site. All the site asks for is your name and your resident state(s). Living in several places does complicate your search, so you may have to sift through the results; you will likely find other residents with the same name. But MissingMoney helpfully aggregates all this financial data in one place.
3. Check the IRS for unclaimed tax refunds
If you think the IRS might owe you money, you can file a claim to the IRS to update them about your new address. Additionally, if an employer withholds funds from you, the IRS gives you up to three years to submit a claim to collect the money you are owed.
If you haven't moved, and you're just curious where your refund is, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can explain exactly where it is and when you should expect to receive it.
4. Look for retirement funds
Every retirement plan is different, and things can get complicated if you move from one company to another. As a former employee, it’s your task to see whether past benefits or retirement savings can be transferred or cashed out. Similarly, pension plans and retirement benefits are controlled by different governmental sectors. If you need to search for what money you are entitled to, you can find either online.
The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits will help you find money being held from prior employers, while the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation can assist in your search for money tied into pension plans.
How to collect those funds
Each website details how to collect your earnings, and you can expect to complete paperwork and to provide proof of your identity. You may even need to have signatures notarized. The time to collect depends on each government agency; it can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but it works.
Make it an annual practice to search for unclaimed funds. Do it on an anniversary, your birthday, Fourth of July, or some other important day that you’ll remember each year.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.