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Personal Finance

You may have lost or forgotten cash in an old account — here's how to find unclaimed funds

Unclaimed funds are any money that's owed to you by an organization that you haven't collected.

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In times of financial uncertainty, it's always helpful to find a new source of cash. One often-unknown way to get some extra money is by tapping into potentially unclaimed funds you may have accumulated over the years without even realizing it. Even better, this money can be found relatively easily and in many different places.

There's a lot to learn when it comes to unclaimed funds but, below, Select breaks down what you need to know about unclaimed funds — including how to find out if you have any.

What are unclaimed funds? 

Unclaimed funds are any amount of money or assets that a government office, business or other entity owes that you haven't collected. You could have unclaimed money from a bankruptcy filing, an old job or even from paying taxes. Examples of unclaimed property include things like cash, checks, security deposits, money orders and the contents of safe deposit boxes.

Typically after you fail to claim your funds, they enter what's known as a dormancy period, which is the duration of time from when a financial institution reports an unclaimed asset to when the government decides that asset is abandoned.

In most states, the dormancy period lasts five years, and it's important to claim your funds before that period expires. When this period expires, the state claims ownership of your property. From there, you'll have to go through a process to claim your funds from your state.

Why should you care? 

Unclaimed money that rightfully belongs to you can help you make critical progress toward your financial goals, such as buying a home or some other big-ticket purchase. The amount of unclaimed money you have may not always be a huge amount but in some cases, unclaimed funds can turn out to be life-changing.

You may think you have no unclaimed funds or a minimal amount, but you could have considerable amounts of cash that you don't even know about.

According to CNN, there are many cases of unclaimed pension fund money, which is consequential because that is money you would use for retirement. Someone once claimed $32 million from unclaimed stock sales. It's worth noting, though, that not every instance of unclaimed money will be that life-changing — but still, a little can go a long way.

How to find unclaimed funds

An easy way to find unclaimed money is to search by state — to do this, go to Unclaimed.org. Select your state and enter information like your first and last name. Or if you're searching on behalf of your business, you can enter your organization's name. For a state tax refund check, you'll have to contact your state revenue department.

One common source of unclaimed money is through tax refunds. Let's say you were eligible for a federal tax refund but didn't file; your refund will remain unclaimed. It's a good idea to file a return if federal taxes were withheld from your pay or if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might owe you some money if your refund was either unclaimed or never delivered to you. 

In some cases, even if you filed for a refund, you might not have gotten the tax refund check itself. These checks are mailed to your last known address, so if you moved without informing the IRS or the US Postal Service, your refund check might have been returned to the IRS. You can check the IRS Where's My Refund page to access your refund if it was undelivered. You'll enter your social security number, filing status and the exact whole dollar amount you are owed, and the site may ask you to change your address online.

You can also call the IRS to check on the status of your refund, but wait times are notoriously long, so you'll want to skip the waiting by using their automated phone system. To avoid this confusion and an undelivered refund, submit a Change of Address - Form 8822 to the IRS when you move. You should also send a Change of Address to the USPS.

Another way to find any unclaimed funds is to check if your employer broke any labor laws because that would mean you're owed unpaid wages, and the Department of Labor (DOL) could have recovered them for you. If you think your employer owes you wages, search the DOL database of workers who have unclaimed money. The site records and holds unpaid wages for three years. You can also search for unclaimed pensions from businesses that either went out of business or ended a defined pension plan.

Old bank accounts and investments can also be a form of unclaimed funds. You can search for unclaimed money from failed banks through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). You can also find unclaimed funds from credit union failures. One other option is if you have unclaimed funds in a bank, you can check MissingMoney.com or Unclaimed.org, which are both operated by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also lists cases of when a company or person owes investors money. To collect potentially unclaimed money from savings bonds, go to TreasuryHunt.gov to locate matured savings bonds that have stopped earning interests and to learn how to replace a lost or destroyed savings bond. 

Be sure to also search for unclaimed funds from a bankruptcy. You can do this by using the US Courts Unclaimed Funds Locator.

What to do with funds you've claimed

The best way to use cash from your unclaimed funds ultimately depends on your specific situation. If you have no emergency fund, that newly claimed money is probably best used to start building that fund. On the other hand, if you're in a secure place financially and already have a fully funded emergency fund and are paying off debt each month, it would be smart to put that new money into a high-yield savings account or invest it.

Checks for cash that have been claimed can be deposited into a high-yield savings account. Select ranked Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings as the best high-yield savings account for no fees. The SoFi Checking and Savings account is another notable one and offers a welcome bonus. Be sure to look at Select's full list of the best high-yield savings accounts.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings

Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    4.40% APY

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    At this time, there is no limit to the number of withdrawals or transfers you can make from your online savings account

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    None

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

Terms apply.

Bottom line

With so many potential sources of unclaimed funds, it's possible you have a considerable amount of money waiting to be claimed. It's important to claim any money you find because that cash can be crucial in helping you reach your financial goals. How to use those unclaimed funds is dependent on your individual situation, and there are plenty of ways the money can be useful.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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