by Elizabeth Dengler
Have you ever put on a jacket you haven’t worn in a while, reached your hand in the pocket, and found $10? Were you surprised? Or maybe you’ve gone to vacuum under your couch cushions and found some loose change? I find a dollar or two regularly while doing the laundry. Did you know there’s actually a place you can go to find lost money that may yield more than your sofa? I’m talking about an unclaimed property search.
Earlier this year my sister, Jennifer Higdon, texted me that she did a search of my name and found that I had unclaimed property in WA State. Now, when my little sister gives me any advice, information, or guidance about numbers and money, I listen! Money and numbers are her jam. She has a BS in Finance and an MBA. She worked in banking and lending before managing kids, a husband and a home. And she’s the only reason I passed any of my college algebra and statistics classes. When it comes to numbers, Jennifer knows what she’s talking about and she has a passion for helping people with their finances.
I followed her advice and ended up at the WA State Department of Revenue Unclaimed Property website page and entered my name into the search. Sure enough, there were six unclaimed property items that I could claim. Now, you may be asking yourself, “what is unclaimed property?” Well, the US has billions of dollars in unclaimed property being held by state governments.
Unclaimed property, according to the WA Department of Revenue, means “property held by an organization who has not had contact with the owner for an extended period of time. Unclaimed property does not include real estate, vehicles, and most other physical property.
Unclaimed Property includes:
- Checking and savings accounts.
- Certificates of deposit (CD).
- Over payments.
- Insurance checks.
- Payroll checks.
- Refund checks (utilities, memberships, etc.).
- Money orders.
- Uncashed checks.
- Stocks and bonds.
- Contents of a safe deposit box.
Unclaimed property laws began in the United States as a consumer protection program and they have evolved to protect not only the owners, but their heirs and estates as well.” For example, let’s say you moved to a different town and didn’t provide a forwarding address to your utility company when you closed your account. At the time you didn’t know you had a refund coming to you, so the utility company being unable to get the refund to you has to turn the money over to the state. That money will sit there until you claim it.
Now, you may be asking, “is there any unclaimed property sitting out there for me”? According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, approximately 1 in 10 people have unclaimed property being held. How do you find out if you have unclaimed property out there? First, it’s 100% free to search. If anyone reaches out to you and says you need to pay, don’t. You can do this all easily on your own for no charge. Also, don’t give anyone who reaches out to you your social security number or any personal information. We want you to be safe. Do NOT google or use a search engine to search for missing money or unclaimed property as a bunch of sites that will charge you a fee will come up or you’ll get sucked into a scam.
My sister found out about www.missingmoney.com years ago and she’s been conducting searches and helping friends and family recover money ever since. Each state is different in how you go about claiming unclaimed property. But starting the search is pretty straight forward. You can go to www.missingmoney.com and conduct a nationwide search with your name or you can go to unclaimed.org and search a specific state or Canadian province. Both these websites are free and sponsored by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, a Network of the National Association of State Treasurers.
Here are some of Jennifer’s tips and recommendations to conduct your search for unclaimed property. First, she recommends starting your search nationwide at missingmoney.com on their main page “name search”. She suggests the nationwide search to start with because you may have forgotten you lived in Coeur d’Alene, ID for 6 months. Keep your initial search broad, unless you have a very common name. There are some states that haven’t submitted their data to the national missingmoney.com database, so you will need to do a state specific search at unclaimed.org, like those of us who reside or resided in WA State.
Jennifer has discovered 8 different ways you can enter your name in the missing money database search to see if you have unclaimed property out there. Remember, data entry is subject to human error and interpretation, so she recommends the following different name search entries using Wilma Flinstone’s name as an example:
- Wilma Flintstone (first and last name)
- Mrs. Fred Flintstone (for married)
- Wimla Flinstone, (leave letters out, transpose letters, normal human input errors)
- Name: Flintstone, City: Bedrock (just last name and city)
- Flintstone Wilma (switch first name with last name)
- Willie Flintstone (if you ever used a nickname)
- Wilma Slaghoople (maiden name)
- Slaghoople Family Trust (Trusts can be set up and heirs not know about them)
Jennifer suggests that you ask yourself the following questions as you get results: “Is this me, was this my address, could this be a relative?” It’s also important to note you may not initially be able to see what the real dollar amount of your unclaimed property is until you open up a claim. You will most likely see a dollar range, such as “more than $100” or “$1-$10”. Heads up, you usually have to pay taxes on your claim. Jennifer points out, if you’re concerned about taxes, talk to your accountant. You can conduct a search on behalf of a deceased relative. However, if you find unclaimed property, you may need to speak with an attorney as probate may need to be opened to disburse the funds. If the claim is less than $25, it may not be worth it to claim as an heir, you be the judge. Jennifer recommends you conduct a search once a year. And don’t forget, children can also be beneficiaries of unclaimed property.
By the time I had submitted my paperwork through the WA State DOR website for my six unclaimed property claims, it took about 3 weeks to receive my check. I didn’t know how much I would be getting as I was just given a range of “over $100” or “under $10”. Much to my surprise I received one check with all 6 unclaimed property claims totaled up with an itemized accounting of each claim. One of my itemized unclaimed property values was $1.56 and another was $359.70! I never found that much doing laundry!
While Jennifer and I are excited to share the possibility that you may have unclaimed property out there, we can’t stress enough that you please search responsibly and be smart. Don’t share personal information over the phone with people who called you. Don’t click on unverified links in emails or text messages, scammers are out there.
Email me and let me know if you’ve had any success firstname.lastname@example.org.