Unclaimed Assets: An Overlooked Source of Cash

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, oneill@aesop.rutgers.edu

Military families move around a lot and this can lead to instances of “missing money.” It is estimated that some $300 billion in personal financial assets are “missing” nationwide. This figure includes wages, insurance proceeds and dividends, bank accounts, stock and bond payments, utility company deposits, pension benefits, and tax refunds.

How does so much money get “lost” by so many people? There are a number of reasons:

  • People neglect to retrieve a utility security deposit after moving
  • Stock dividends or other payments are sent to the wrong address and never forwarded
  • People move or switch banks and fail to close out all their accounts
  • People change jobs and former employers don’t know where to send pension benefits or final wages
  • Clueless heirs are unaware that they are entitled to life insurance or cash left by a deceased relative
  • “Snowbirds” lose mail between their summer and winter homes

The good news is that, thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to search for unclaimed property. The Web site, www.missingmoney.com, run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, allows people to easily conduct a search. Another helpful resource is state unclaimed property agencies.

What do state governments have to do with unclaimed property? Plenty! By law, after a certain period of time (generally 3 to 10 years), unclaimed assets must be turned over to the state through a process called escheat. Hundreds of millions of dollars are escheated to states each year. Companies that don’t comply can be assessed fines. States keep this money until a rightful owner shows up to claim it.

It is advisable to conduct a search of every other state you (or a deceased relative) have lived in, as well as New York and Delaware, because that’s where a lot of financial institutions are incorporated. If you are due money, you’ll be sent an abandoned property claim form, which should be returned with proof of identity.

Another source of missing money is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at 800-829-1040. You can also check with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for missing pensions. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. says it’s holding $265 million in unclaimed pensions and the average lost pension is worth about $1,100.

Will military families become wealthy from unclaimed property? Probably not. While there are some exceptionally large payments that occasionally make headlines, most claims are for less than $1,000. Nevertheless, a dollar is a dollar. Why not check to see if there’s hidden treasure with your name on it?

For further information about unclaimed assets, see MissingMoney.com and “6 Things to Know About Finding Unclaimed Assets.”

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