Discovering unclaimed property is a great feeling. And according to a recent article in the New York Times dated November 6, 2019, there billions of dollars of missing money in unclaimed property accounts just waiting to be reunited with their rightful owners. (See “There Are Billions in Unclaimed Assets Out There. Some Could Be Yours.” )
Maybe it’s time to see if there’s anything you can collect.
Many people who retire find it hard to live on a reduced income, so any windfall is a delight. From bank accounts to life insurance, utility company security deposits and retirement accounts, you might have anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds or thousands of dollars sitting around gathering dust. The trick is to know where to look, since you might not remember all the possible companies that still have some of your money. Here are some tips for seniors on how to find money in forgotten accounts.
Where to Look for Old Bank or Investment Accounts
If you had money in a bank or brokerage account you did not use for several years, the bank probably sent the funds to the state of your last known address. Your last known address usually means the last address the bank had for you, when you actively banked with them.
Let’s say you went to college out of state. You opened a checking account at a local bank for convenience while in school. After graduation, you forgot about the account. Eventually, the bank will send the remaining balance to that state or the state from the permanent address you gave when you opened the account.
You can try to track down obsolete accounts online. For unclaimed property in California, go to California Unclaimed Property. You can also search unclaimed.org and check every state where you have lived. You will have to fill out and send in a form, either online or by mail, to request the funds. These websites contain funds that other types of companies, like utilities, have also surrendered to the state.
This type of search can be time-consuming, but the rewards can make your efforts worthwhile. If you have ever gone by another name, be sure to check under all the names you have used. If you use a nickname, check under all possible combinations of last names, legal first name and nickname.
If you have a common name, you might have to sift through many possible accounts to find yours. You might also be surprised at how many other people have the same name as you.
Pensions and Retirement Accounts
You have several options to try to dig up an old employer-sponsored retirement account, including pensions. You need to find the current administrator of that employer’s plan. You might be able to find the contact information for the plan administrator on freeERISA.com or by calling the personnel office of that employer.
Sometimes a 401(k) plan gets terminated. In that situation, you can look for contact information on the Employee Benefits Security Administration’s website. Additional options include the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or the nonprofit Pension Rights Center.
How to Search for Life Insurance Policies
You can look for an old life insurance policy you owned or of a deceased relative, by using the Life Insurance Policy Locator. Some life insurance policies show up on unclaimed.org, but for others, you might have to find the name of the insurance company at naic.org and then contact the insurer.
Some companies defrauded people by charging exorbitant fees to conduct searches for them, but do not deliver the promised service. If a company charges a fee upfront, before they find your lost funds, that is a red flag the firm is fraudulent. If you want someone else to do the search for you, only agree to pay a percentage of the money recovered. The search firm’s cut should not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the recovered funds.
AARP. “How to Find “Forgotten” Cash.” (accessed October 2, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-
New York Times. “There Are Billions in Unclaimed Assets Out There. Some Could Be Yours.” (November 6, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/your-money/unclaimed-assets.html