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There’s a guy named Harold in California who has more than $300 coming to him. All he has to do is claim it.
There might be money waiting for you, too.
State treasuries and unclaimed property divisions hold billions waiting to be distributed to the rightful owners. More than $3 billion was returned in 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available.
It is easy to see information on these rightful owners — all you have to do is enter a name in the appropriate state database. You’ll find that a person named Harold in California is due more than $300, Mary in Indiana can claim more than $100, and there are thousands more who could ask a state treasurer to cut them a check.
This forgotten money — known as unclaimed property — can come from a number of sources, including forgotten bank accounts, utility deposit refunds and uncashed paychecks from previous employers.
This money can come from forgotten bank accounts, utility deposit refunds and uncashed paychecks from previous employers.”
By law, organizations holding property are required to try to contact the rightful owner and deliver it. But sometimes the owner can’t be reached. The person may have moved to an unknown address, for example. If the owner can’t be located in a time frame mandated by the state, say five years, the funds must be turned over to the state. The money will remain there until the owner — or an heir — claims it.
» MORE: Read how to switch banks without leaving money behind
Finding lost treasure
Wondering if you’re owed money? You can find out by contacting your state’s unclaimed property division. The website Unclaimed.org, which is run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, has links to databases for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as U.S. territories.
The online databases generally require you to enter the potential owner’s last name, then have optional fields for the first name and address. You can search your current name and any others you may have used, such as a maiden name. You may also want to search for the names of family members, living and deceased.
In addition to searching your current state's database, it’s smart to look at databases for other states where you lived or worked.
If there are matching records, you’ll want to know how much money the state is holding. Some databases will list the amount on the results page, down to the penny. Others give ranges, such as “more than $100.” Some may not provide a dollar amount; you’ll have to fill out a claim form to find out the value.
How to claim your money
The matching record page generally provides a link to the state's claim form. You may be able to fill it out online, depending on the type of asset and its value.
Be prepared to provide identifying information similar to what’s required when you open a bank account: a government-issued photo ID, Social Security number and proof of address. In Harold’s case, if he submits a claim with a copy of his driver’s license and Social Security card, along with a pay stub or utility bill with his current mailing address, he should be good to go.
You’ll also need to affirm you’re the rightful owner of the property. If you are filing a claim as an heir, you may need to provide a copy of the owner’s death certificate and other documentation, such as a copy of the will.
Each state has its own laws for how long it takes to process a claim. In California, for example, a simple claim could be paid in 30 to 60 days. Harold, if you’re reading this, that means you could receive your money in less than two months! But California law allows up to 180 days to process a claim, which may be necessary for complicated cases.
» MORE: Learn about savings accounts and how to choose one
There are companies that will conduct unclaimed-property searches for you. But they charge finder's fees, usually a percentage of the property claimed. Some states have laws that limit the percentage to around 10%. But if you do it yourself, it’s free.
Like Harold, you could have money in a state’s unclaimed property department. It may have been there for years, but there's no need for it to sit any longer. Go and claim it.