Losing track of money might seem hard to imagine, but it’s actually not uncommon to forget about an old bank account or other source of money that is rightfully yours.
It could be an account you opened a long time ago that, after one or two moves, became both out of sight and out of mind. Or, it might be lost paycheck, an old 401(k), or an unclaimed pension.
In fact, roughly 1 in 10 people have unclaimed assets waiting for them, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) . They report that billions of dollars in unclaimed property are currently being held by state governments and treasuries within the U.S.
If you’ve lost track of money that belongs to you, however, there’s no reason to panic, or consider the money gone for good.
There are a number of ways to locate lost assets from a bank or other type of financial account, and most of them are completely free.
It might take a bit of (virtual) leg work, but finding the unclaimed money due to you can be worth the effort.
How to Find an Old Bank Account
If you’ve accessed the account within the past year, you might be able to recover the account directly from the bank.
Exactly how to recover a lost bank account will likely vary based on the financial institution. Your account information can be found on checks and often on old account statements.
If it’s been longer than a year, you might have to dig a little deeper to recover a lost bank account.
When a bank or other business loses contact with an account holder, they are legally required to turn any assets over to the state, typically after two to three years of inactivity or returned mail.
That’s why a good place to start a quest for older unclaimed property is often through your state’s unclaimed property office. The unclaimed funds held by the state are typically from bank accounts, insurance policies, or your state government.
When you click on a state, you will be directed to its official website. To search for your unclaimed money, you may want to use both your current and maiden name (if you legally changed your last name).
Another good resource for tracking down unclaimed money is MissingMoney.com. This is a multi-state directory operated by the NAUPA that allows you to search by name for missing or unclaimed money.
If you belonged to a credit union in the past, it may be worth checking the unclaimed deposits listing run by the National Credit Union Administration.
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Other Sources of Unclaimed Money
Unclaimed money isn’t limited to forgotten bank accounts.
There are a variety of reasons you could be missing money due to you—perhaps you switched jobs and lost track of a pension plan or 401(k). Or, maybe you forgot to update your address and missed a payment or tax refund.
If you previously worked for a company that offered a pension plan, you can search the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s unclaimed pension database.
For lost or missing retirement plan funds, you could check the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, which is operated by PenChecks Trust, one of the largest providers of retirement plan distribution services.
USA.gov helps you search for assets due from employers, insurance companies, and the government (including tax refunds).
Recommended: Finding Unclaimed Money from the Government
How to Claim Lost Money
If you find unclaimed assets in your name, the next step is to fill out a form or make an online request to make your claim.
Each state will typically have its own rules and regulations for how individuals should go about proving ownership of the unclaimed money held by the government. Generally, states will require substantial evidence that the money rightfully belongs to you.
Claims typically require showing proof of identity (such as information from a driver’s license or passport), any former residential addresses, and documentation showing your right to ownership of the assets.
If the owner is deceased and you inherited the assets, additional documents are typically required. This may include a death certificate, as well as a probate court order.
Are Companies that Help You Reclaim Assets Legit?
As you’re searching for lost bank accounts, you may find businesses that offer to find unclaimed money, generally for a fee.
Sometimes known as “finders,” these are companies that are looking to earn money by reunited people with their lost assets.
While it’s fine to pay someone to help you get lost money returned to you, you may want to keep in mind that you can complete a search and submit a claim for free by yourself.
It’s also a good idea to keep your eyes open to potential fraud. Unsolicited emails or letters offering to return unclaimed property to you for a fee, for example, are often scams.
You may also want to be wary of an organization or individual who claims to be a part of the government and offers to send you unclaimed money for a fee, as these are likely to be scams. Government agencies will not contact individuals about unclaimed money, nor will they charge a fee.
If somebody contacts you regarding missing money, it’s a smart idea to do some research on the business before handing over any personal information, and also to avoid paying any money up front.
Many people have unclaimed money floating around somewhere.
Often this money comes from funds found in banks, financial institutions, or companies that haven’t been in contact with the owner for over a year and, as a result, the funds have been turned over to the state.
A good place to start looking for unclaimed assets is NAUPA’s database of records from all 50 states. From there, you can find links to each state’s official unclaimed property program.
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