Thursday, May 17, 2007

Unclaimed Money

(As Updated Jan. 26, 2013)

There are billions of dollars worth of unclaimed assets in America. It's important to marshal your assets, particularly as you approach retirement. If you've been careful about your finances, chances are that you have everything that you're entitled to. But there are places you can check to make sure you haven't left any money on the table. Remember that you may have money coming to you directly, or perhaps from a deceased family member through inheritance. That means you should check under your name and the deceased person's name. And if your spouse is busy unloading the dishwasher, you may want to check for him or her as well.

Old bank accounts, shares of stock, insurance policy assets and payments, annuities, uncashed checks, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates, security deposits, contents of safe deposit boxes, customer overpayments, and other financial assets must be turned over to the state of the customer's last known address, if the customer has not made any contact or engaged in any activity for a period of time (such as a year or more). You can search at Also, you can go to to get more search options (this site can link you to each state's treasurer, which allows you to search individual states). If you search individual states, make sure to check all states where you, your spouse, your kids, your late parent, or your deceased wealthy uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, sugar daddy, sugar mommy or other potential benefactor lived, as far back as you have information.

Remember that there is a chicken and egg problem with unclaimed property. You may have forgotten to cash a check. Maybe a small bank account slipped your mind when you moved some years ago. You may not know that you're a beneficiary of a will or insurance policy. Or you may not realize that your late parent, in the forgetfulness of old age, lost a number of checks without depositing them. You can't get what you've forgotten or never knew about in the first place. States, facing severe budgetary pressure, have become aggressive about getting these assets from insurance companies, corporations, banks, and so on. While the states are looking out for themselves, the consolidation of all this unclaimed property into the hands of state treasurers gives unknowing beneficiaries and claimants centralized places to look for assets to which they may be entitled. So don't be shy about poking around. You have nothing to lose.

You can check for an unclaimed federal income tax refund at Use the "Where's My Refund" feature on the front page. State tax agencies usually provide a way to check online for the status of a refund.

If you think you may have a claim to a matured U.S. Savings Bond, check at  You might locate bonds you bought yourself but forgot, and bonds that your parents, relatives or others bought for you.

If you worked 10 years or more for an employer with a pension plan, you may have earned the right to a pension, even if you no longer work there. You can check with the employer. If it has gone out of business, its pension may have been taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. This is a federal agency that guarantees pension benefits up to a limit (around $49,500 for pensions with a single beneficiary). You can check at to see if you might have a pension claim. Even if your name doesn't appear in this search, you may want to find out if the pension plan is now being administered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Search at There's always a chance your name is spelled differently in the government's records, so you should find out who's taken over the plan and then figure out how to establish any claim you may have. Another resource for finding or dealing with a pension plan would be a regional pension counseling project. These projects are listed by the Pension Rights Center, a nonprofit organization, at You can also try the federal Employee Benefits Security Administration at 1-866-444-3272 or You can get the address and phone number of a local EBSA office where you could seek assistance. If you need help figuring out whether the amount of pension benefits your employer promises is correct, you can get four hours of free assistance from the American Academy of Actuaries. See

What if an old employer had a 401(k) plan, and you want to check to see if you have an account? Contact your old employer. If your old employer has gone out of business, you can search a Department of Labor website for information:

Of course, keep track of your Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration, in a deplorable display of exceptional penny-wise pound-foolishness, announced in early 2011 that it would no longer send out annual benefit statements. You also can no longer request a copy at The Social Security Administration has said that it would allow citizens Internet access to electronic statements of their accounts, although that system isn't ready yet and may not be ready until the end of 2011 or early 2012. Until then, all you can do is wait and hope they get your record right. Whenever it is that you can again check on your benefits, remember that not only do you get benefits, but your spouse and perhaps even your dependent children may get benefits. This is something we discussed earlier at Make sure everyone in your household gets the benefits to which they're entitled.

Veterans of limited financial means may be eligible for an income supplement called the Veterans Pension. This pension supplements other income you have to bring your total income up to levels prescribed by Congress. For those who served during the Vietnam War or earlier, benefits may be available if you had at least 90 days of active service, with at least 1 day during wartime. Veterans whose active duty service began on or after Sept. 7, 1980 need at least 24 months of active service (or the full time period for which they were called up for active duty). For more information, go to the Veterans Administration website at It's very important to note that veterans eligible for a basic veterans pension, who have serious health problems and need assistance from others for personal living tasks, or who have one or more disabilities, may also be eligible for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits, which are paid in addition to the basic veterans pension. For a vet facing nursing home expenses, or the costs of home health care, Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits can make a difference.

For more information about Social Security, read our May 1, 2007 blog, and May 2, 2007 blog,

To avoid having your money or property go unclaimed, see

Animal News: if you're stressed out by work and want an escape, here's a soothing animal story.

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