Do you remember the “It’s my money and I need it now!” commercials from the early 2000s that advertised JG Wentworth’s structured settlement services? If the government owes you money, you have probably said the same thing. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to Credit Karma, state governments hold nearly $40 billion in unclaimed money, and that’s not including any funds the federal government might have.
Unlike the commercials, there is no clear sign pointing you in the right direction. The lack of a convenient source to search for the money that the government owes you can be frustrating and overwhelming. That’s why we created this guide to help you learn how to get your unclaimed money.
Keep in mind that there are a growing number of bad actors impersonating government officials to scam unsuspecting victims. These unscrupulous individuals often approach people and offer to transfer unclaimed money for a price. However, no government agency — whether on the state or federal level — will ever contact you about unclaimed assets and funds.
Before we begin, here are four official, free resources to help you in your search:
- Search for unclaimed money and property in states where you have lived
- Check for unclaimed money from bank failures or unclaimed deposits from credit union closures
- Search for unclaimed or undelivered tax refunds or a refund from an FHA-insured mortgage
- Check for unclaimed back wages, pension money, or life insurance funds
What Is Unclaimed Money?
Unclaimed money is any funds you don’t collect from a company, government agency, or other sources exceeding the dormancy period. The dormancy period is the duration from the time when a bank or credit union reports an account an asset or account as unclaimed to the time when the government classifies the asset or account as abandoned.
Generally, many states have a dormancy period of five years. When the government officially deems your money, property, or assets as abandoned — or unclaimed — it begins escheatment, which is the process where the state takes possession of the property until the owner submits a claim.
Understanding Unclaimed Funds
There are many causes that can lead to unclaimed funds and other property. For instance, your state might owe you money from a previous tax refund that went unclaimed because you did not update your address with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or United States Postal Service (USPS) before a move.
Bank closures are another reason behind unclaimed assets. When a bank fails, it can produce a large volume of unclaimed money, especially when its customers do not realize that it closed or unsure who to contact to obtain their money.
Another common way that money goes unclaimed is through unclaimed pensions. This can happen when a company goes out of business, and you are unable to learn details about how to access your payments.
Types Of Unclaimed Assets
There are many kinds of unclaimed property, so it’s always good to conduct a search every once in a while. You may have unclaimed assets waiting for you right now, and you might not even realize it!
Here are a few examples:
- Uncashed payrolls checks
- Inactive stocks
- Court funds
- Checking and savings accounts
- Estate proceeds
Just as there is a broad range of assets that can go unclaimed, there are just as many reasons it occurs. Some of the most common reasons include:
- The account holder’s passing
- Neglecting to update your address after a move
- Forgetting about an account
Is Unclaimed Money Taxable?
While the funds go unclaimed, it is not subject to taxes. But once you do retake ownership of it, the government will recognize it as taxable income. However, some unclaimed assets are tax-exempt, such as those from a 401(k) or IRA.
How Can I Find Unclaimed Money?
Although the federal government doesn’t have a primary database where individuals like yourself can look for these assets, there are several free resources to guide you. This way, you don’t need to pay a business to assist you in your search.
If you want to know whether or not the federal government owes you money, your first step is finding out the benefit or payment type, such as a refund check or tax return. Additionally, you will need to find out the date you expected the payment and how it should have been sent to you.
This information will help you narrow down which federal office you should contact and make it easier for the agents responsible for verifying any amounts owed to you. You can find the title and address for every federal department in the United States Government Manual.
Here are government agencies with searchable databases to start your search for unclaimed funds:
- Treasury Hunt: Unclaimed U.S. Securities and Payments
- HUD/FHA Mortgage Insurance Refunds
- Credit Union Unclaimed Shares
- National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators
(Individual State Unclaimed Asset Web Sites)
Unclaimed.org, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators’ official website, is another great place to begin your search. This office comprises state officials responsible for helping individuals such as yourself obtain your unclaimed assets.
Their website was created by experts specializing in unclaimed property employed by the state to help the public for free to find property and money still owed to you or your family.
Look For Unclaimed Funds In Your State
Unclaimed money typically comes from bank accounts, insurance policies, trust funds, uncashed checks, or the state government. If a company, bank, insurance company, or the government tries to send you money but cannot find you, they transfer it to the state’s unclaimed property agencies.
Here is how you can find these unclaimed assets:
- Visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators at Unclaimed.org to search for unclaimed funds through your state’s unclaimed property agency.
- Go to MissingMoney.com to look for unclaimed money using its multi-state database. Enter your name to begin your search, particularly if you’ve lived in different states.
- Confirm how to declare your assets. State guidelines for verifying that the funds belong to you vary, so make sure you have the necessary information to prove your claim.
Find Money From Employers
There are two ways you can locate unclaimed funds from past and present employers:
If your employer broke labor laws, the Department of Labor (DOL) could retrieve any funds still owed to you within the last three years. If you think your employer owes you back wages, visit the DOL Wage and Hour Division webpage to begin your search. This database tracks workers’ unclaimed funds for up to three years.
Previous Employer Pensions
Besides looking for back wages and other unclaimed money, you can also find unclaimed pensions from previous employers who either permanently closed or dropped a defined pension plan.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is a government agency that helps protect workers’ retirement savings. You can find a wide range of resources, FAQs, and tools in addition to searching for your unclaimed pension. Visit their official webpage here or go to Find My Plan to see if your plan is entrusted with this organization.
Search For Funds From Insurance
Do you have insurance through the VA Life Insurance or Federal Housing Administration (FHA)? If so, you might have unclaimed money from one or even both of these organizations. Here’s how to find it:
VA Life Insurance Funds
If you are an existing or previous VA Life Insurance policyholder, or a beneficiary, you might have unclaimed money from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can search for this unclaimed insurance money on the VA’s official website here. Keep in mind that this database doesn’t include money from:
- Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) plans from 1965 to today
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
If you once held a federally-backed mortgage through the FHA, you could be entitled to a refund. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dispenses refunds, so begin your search on the HUD website. Make sure that you have your FHA case number, which contains three digits and a dash followed by six digits (e.g., 012-345678).
Claim Money From Tax Refunds
If you did not claim your refund or it was not delivered, the IRS likely owes you money. Visit the IRS’s Where’s My Refund page to find more information. You may experience slower-than-normal response times because of the coronavirus pandemic. The IRS offers advice on how to proceed on its website.
Look For Assets From Banking And Investments
There are four ways you can search for potential unclaimed funds from previous bank accounts and investments:
- Bank Failures: When a bank fails, unclaimed funds are sent directly to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). If you missed your opportunity during the closure, you could find your funds with the FDIC comprehensive database here.
- Credit Union Failures: If you banked at a credit union that closed and did not claim your funds, the money was sent to the National Credit Union Association’s (NCUA) Asset Management and Assistance Center, which you can visit here.
- SEC Claims Funds: If you are a harmed investor who lost money after investing in a company or with an individual, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a list of enforcement cases to look for your funds here.
- Savings Bonds: If you have a savings bond or registered Treasury notes or bonds that have matured and no longer accrue interest, visit TreasuryHunt.gov to begin your search and claim your funds. This website also helps you find how to restore missing or destroyed bonds.
Unclaimed Money From Abroad
Suppose you are a US national who experienced a loss of property or money due to nationalization by a foreign government, military operations, or injury. In that case, the US federal government may help you locate it. Visit the Bureau of the Fiscal Service for more information.
Undelivered And Unclaimed Money From Federal Tax Returns
According to the IRS, millions of dollars worth of tax refunds are either not delivered or go unclaimed each year. If you believe you have unclaimed money from a previous tax return, here’s how to find it.
Undelivered Federal Tax Returns
The IRS send your tax return to the address you last filed with the agency. If you move and don’t update your address with the IRS or USPS, your tax return will be mailed back to the IRS.
If you believe you were supposed to get a check from the federal government, but it never arrived, visit Where’s My Refund on the IRS website. To begin your search, make sure you have your Social Security number, filing status, and the return amount rounded to the nearest dollar. You may have to update your address on the agency’s site.
Alternatively, you can contact the IRS via phone to determine the status of your check. However, the agency’s website specifically asks that you not call them during this time because of long wait times. You can use the automated phone line and follow the prompts given on the call.
Even if you don’t file taxes, you might qualify for a tax refund from the federal government. However, that also means your money will likely go unclaimed. Filing a tax return can help you if you earned wages that were taxed by the federal government or if you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
If you didn’t file a tax return because your annual earnings did not meet the income threshold for filing, you have three years from the original filing date to file and get your old refunds.
State Refund Checks
Because each state has separate guidelines, you will need to get in touch with your state revenue department to inquire about the state’s unclaimed refund checks.
Remember, any money that the government owes you should be free to claim. If an individual or a company is requesting that you pay a fee, think twice. However, sometimes,= you have to use a third-party service to receive your money. If this is the case for you, do not make any upfront payments and do not spend more than 10% to 20% in extra charges.
The Earned Income Tax Credit
Although the EITC might not fall under the same category of “unclaimed money,” it technically is money that you can claim to supplement your income. It is a refundable tax credit that can significantly benefit individuals and families who qualify as low- to mid-income earners. Even if you owe the IRS back taxes, you can still receive this government benefit.
While the program itself is a great resource, sorting through the bureaucratic jargon can be difficult and make it harder to know whether or not you meet the qualifications. However, the EITC Assistant can guide you through the process to claim this money if you earned less than $55,952 in 2019.
The amount of money you get depends on your income, filing status, and household size. If you meet these standards, you can earn a tax credit up to:
- $529 with no qualifying children
- $3,526 with one qualifying child
- $5,828 with two qualifying children
- $6,557 with three or more qualifying children
Last year, the average EITC credit was $2,504. That money can go a long way to kick start your emergency fund, supplement your retirement, or go toward various other expenses.
How States Return Unclaimed Money
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, states give back more than one billion dollars in unclaimed money each year. State treasurers and officials responsible for running these unclaimed property programs have created several robust and valuable methods for helping owners find their property.
Depending on the state, officials might employ one or all of these strategies:
- Official government websites: State databases are free to use. If you locate an asset in your name, you do not have to pay a fee to claim it.
- Nationwide database: The majority of states are a part of MissingMoney.com, a national database containing information about unclaimed assets. It is open to the public and free to use.
- Public information: States also review available archives to reunite owners with their unclaimed property.
- Outreach events: State officials have expanded their efforts to connect people with unclaimed money through programs at started fairs, local festivals, malls, and more.
When it comes to returning the funds owed to you, it is up to the state to decide the best way to give it back to you. However, the most common methods include:
- Mailing the money to your home or work
- Newspaper advertisements
- Cash-a-thons on TV
- Partnerships with lawmakers
Getting your unclaimed money may seem difficult when you first begin. But when you know where to look and have the right phone numbers and resources, the process will be much easier and result in your getting your money faster.
- “4 Tips To Find Unclaimed Money.” USAGov, USAGov, www.usa.gov/unclaimed-money.
- “How States Return Missing Money.” National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators | A Network of the National Association of State Treasurers, unclaimed.org/how-states-return-missing-money/.
- Kagan, Julia. “Unclaimed Funds Definition.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 28 Aug. 2020, www.investopedia.com/terms/u/unclaimed-funds.asp.
- Pandise, Emily. “How to Find Unclaimed Money That May Be Owed to You.” TODAY.com, 24 Apr. 2020, www.today.com/money/how-find-unclaimed-money-may-be-owed-you-t179901.
- “Unclaimed Assets.” Bureau of the Fiscal Service – Unclaimed Assets, www.fiscal.treasury.gov/unclaimed-assets.html.
- “Unclaimed Money from the Government.” USAGov, www.usa.gov/unclaimed-money.