Do you know where your money is? Even those consumers meticulous about their budgets could have missing cash lingering in a state property fund.
States are collectively holding on to $41.7 billion in unclaimed assets, including dormant bank accounts, stock splits, life insurance payouts, gift cards and uncashed payroll checks among other funds, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, a collective of state officials. In 2010, the association estimated, the value of property being held was $32.8 billion.
"This is an area that's growing," said Joshua Joyce, administrator of unclaimed property at the Arizona Department of Revenue. He also serves as senior vice president of NAUPA. "It's still surprising how many people don't know that government programs exist."
The big hurdle is that most people assume they don't have anything to claim. "Everybody thinks it doesn't apply to them," said Mary Pitman, author of "The Little Book of Missing Money." But it's incredibly easy for money to end up in the hands of the state, she said, and some states have been more aggressive about snagging dormant funds.
Over the past two years, for example, Minnesota has reached six settlement agreements with insurers to track down residents owed unpaid insurance policies, annuity contracts and retained asset accounts. The agreements have resulted in $30 million in new insurance payments, they said, with unclaimed assets now residing in the state's unclaimed property fund.
Most unclaimed funds go missing in the first place due to simple lost contact—moving without telling financial institutions your new address, or failing to respond to mailed notices. That can set the dormancy clock running even on assets you're aware of, like safe deposit boxes, mutual fund shares and pensions from former employers, said Joyce. It also results in plenty of surprise lost funds, such as utility deposits and last paychecks.
Poor estate planning is another common generator of lost money. "If the family members didn't know where all the assets were spread out ... they wouldn't have any way to contact those companies," he said.