You may not believe it, but at a time when unemployment is nearly double digits... when housing foreclosures are more common than ever... and when there is still risk of a double-dip recession... billions of dollars are being forgotten by literally millions of people.
In fact, a total of $58 billion -- coming from every state in the U.S. and even some Canadian provinces -- is currently being safeguarded, simply waiting for its rightful owners. That comes out to a total of about $186 for every U.S. citizen. But in reality not every person is entitled to a share of this money, meaning those who are entitled could stand to claim more than $186... much more.
So how can it be that $58 billion has been 'forgotten'? And how can find out if you have a stake waiting to be claimed?
You see, each year millions of accounts -- including savings accounts, brokerage accounts, and even utility services -- are closed, forgotten about, or simply don't have the addresses associated with them changed, making the owner impossible to find. Yet, these accounts still owe money to the account holders.
When institutions can't return monies associated with these accounts or haven't been able to contact the owner for one year or more, these funds are considered 'unclaimed property.'
Unclaimed property can come from many different sources, but most commonly they are stocks, uncashed dividends, overpayments, or interest payments on forgotten accounts.
Today, as a way to protect consumers, each state has enacted laws for this unclaimed property that keeps it from going back to the originating company. Instead, the funds are turned over to the state, which then tries to find the rightful owner.
And thanks to the Internet, finding your own share of unclaimed property has never been easier. Each state has its own searchable online database, which makes searching as easy as typing your name.
To start your hunt for unclaimed property, you simply need to visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) website at Unclaimed.org.
On this site, you can click on any state in which you have lived to be taken to its respective database. If you have property waiting for you, a quick search of your name will bring it to your attention in a matter of seconds. Keep in mind, however, that the states' databases are not linked -- it's important that you search each state where you have lived to make sure you don't miss any property that you can rightfully claim.
Once you've found any property belonging to you, you can usually start the claim process on the state's website in a matter of seconds.
One note of warning: Your unclaimed property is public record. As a result, a number of companies will find persons with forgotten assets and contact them offering to search for their property -- or obtain their unclaimed property -- for a fee, of course. While this practice is perfectly legal, searching for and claiming your property is free of charge. You should only use these services if you don't find it worth the few minutes it takes to search for yourself online.
Of course, the easiest way to access your 'forgotten' money is to take steps to prevent it in the first place. The usual cause of having unclaimed property is that the institutions owing you money can't contact you. In the age of identity theft, many financial institutions won't forward mail if an address changes, even if a forwarding address is provided.
Instead, the best way to keep unclaimed property to a minimum is to contact any financial company you deal with of your new address, should it change. This includes banks, brokerages, and even past utility companies even though they may not provide you service any more. You never know when they might have an overpayment or deposit to return to you that you have forgotten about.