How to Find Money You Didn’t Know You Had

Forgotten stocks, unclaimed wages and more -- the money out there will surprise you and could mean a substantial payoff.

You’ve found forgotten friends, forgotten images and even forgotten episodes of TV shows through free online searches.

Now you can find lost money in much the same way.

Finding that money in many cases is as easy as typing your name and address onto a website. You don’t need to register with a service, pay a fee or give sensitive personal information to strangers. Technology does all of the work for you.

Before you dismiss the notion of this idea as a scam, think back to the various jobs, investments and different accounts where you have saved, earned or deposited money through the years. Haste, misunderstanding, moving from one location to another — in short, life — can cause us to leave loose ends, including money, behind.

Sometimes that money is significant. Angela Silverstein, a resident of New York state, discovered $13,000 owed to her, . Utility refunds, a leasing refund, commission checks and a dividend account were among the found money owed to Silverstein, according to the report. It turned out that she had already paid taxes on the money so it was hers with no strings attached.

It’s true that most payouts are not as large as that. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) says the average claim in 2011 was $892. That year a total of 2.5 million claims resulted in $2.25 billion in unclaimed funds returning to the rightful owners. According to the NAUPA, state unclaimed property programs currently have $41.7 billion waiting to be returned.

“I advise clients to check unclaimed property in their states every year to 18 months, as remnant passbook accounts and other accounts seem to be left behind,” Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital, told “I think it’s a good exercise. I would say the majority of my clients have found something lying out there in unclaimed property.”

Here’s where to look and what to know about finding your lost money:

1. Unclaimed money from state governments

StockStudio / Shutterstock.comStockStudio /

is a database of unclaimed governmental property records from U.S. states and Canadian provinces. According to the site these records include:

  • Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
  • Stocks, mutual funds, bonds and dividends
  • Uncashed checks and wages
  • Insurance policies, CDs and trust funds
  • Utility deposits and escrow accounts

[A note from the editor: While reading through this article by Nancy, I typed my information into this site — nothing there, but I did find unclaimed property under my husband’s name that appears to be something owed by an insurance company from when he lived in Anchorage, Alaska, about 30 years ago. I don’t yet know what the total value is — I have email verification of the claim stating that it could take three to four weeks — but I’m holding out for a big payout.]

2. Old stocks and bonds

Olivier Le Queiniec / Shutterstock.comOlivier Le Queiniec /

If you hold an old stock or bond certificate, it may still have value even if it no longer trades under the name printed on the certificate, though claiming the value is not quite as easy as a click of the button. As the explains:

The company may have merged with another company or simply changed its name. Keep in mind that due to corporate reorganizations (such as splits, mergers, or reverse mergers), the current share price may not be useful in determining the certificate’s value, if any. If the name of the transfer agent is printed on the certificate, ing the transfer agent is the easiest way to learn about the certificate.

If you don’t find the transfer agent, the SEC website offers other avenues you can check to follow up on your claim.

3. Unclaimed bank funds

Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.comMark Van Scyoc /

Most accounts held in banks and savings and loans are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC. So, if your financial institution goes under, the FDIC is responsible for payment of insured deposits and the liquidation of the remaining assets. If you had an account or owned shares in an institution that fails, this will help you claim money you are owed money for:

  • Unclaimed insured deposits up to the insurance limit
  • Dividends declared on excess deposits over the insurance limit
  • Dividends declared on general creditor claims
  • Funds distributed to the shareholders of the failed institution

4. Savings bonds and Treasury funds

larry1235 / Shutterstock.comlarry1235 /

Back in the day, people hooted at the stereotypical U.S. Savings Bond gifted to a new baby or young child. Those were considered the dud gifts you gave that meant, well, nothing because who wanted to wait years for maturity of the bonds? Well those hoots may turn to ones of joy if you were gifted such bonds or other Treasury funds and they’ve sat unclaimed for decades.

Not too long ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was holding $16.3 billion of matured, unredeemed savings bonds, Wonder if any of those are yours? Just go to , a service of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service, and take a look.

5. Unclaimed pension funds

Muhammad amin / Shutterstock.comMuhammad amin /

This is the U.S. government agency that insures retirement benefits that are promised to employees in case of a pension failure.

If you worked for a company that offered retirement benefits but then went out of business, to is see whether the PBGC is the “trustee” responsible for paying your benefits.

6. Unclaimed tax refunds

Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.comAntonio Guillem /

Do you ever feel like your whole paycheck goes to taxes? Well now there’s a chance to get some of it back. There are millions of dollars in unclaimed tax refunds just waiting for their rightful recipients.

The impact is so substantial that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in 2011 implored New York state residents to claim some of the $50 million in unclaimed tax money before a deadline, . Wonder how to find out if you’re owned federal or state tax money? Easy — a government information and services website.

7. Other unclaimed money from the government

Straight 8 Photography / Shutterstock.comStraight 8 Photography /

In the whirl of modern life, it’s easy to lose track of cash rightfully owed you. So don’t stop with the places we’ve listed above. Continue your search for more funds including , and even unclaimed funds from . Investing a small amount of time in such searches could result in a major, tangible payoff.

8. Skip the middleman

kudla / Shutterstock.comkudla /

Some people find this cash when they are notified by self-described “claim recovery services.” The downside is that such firms charge fees for recovering the money, a task that can easily be completed by the recipients.

That’s what happened to North Carolina resident Denise Underwood, .

Underwood signed a contract with the recovery service and paid $81. In return they returned the $407 owed her.

“It’s upsetting, and the main reason I ed you is I don’t want anyone else to go through this,” Underwood told WRAL, which reported that state’s Missing Money database currently has about $440 million in unclaimed cash.

So, bottom line — getting your lost money is easy, so claim it and pay yourself as soon as possible.

Do you think you might have some unclaimed treasures out there? Check it out, and share what you find with us in comments below or on our .

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.


1,077 Active Deals

More Deals