What Is Unclaimed Property?

finding unclaimed property

A guy at work told me there is a website where I can find money I'm owed that I didn’t even know about. Is this a scam? — Marcy

It's hard to believe, but over $40 billion (yes, billion) is sitting in state coffers waiting for you to claim your property. What type of property? Anything from certificates of deposits and stock dividends to utility deposits, uncashed payroll checks and life insurance policies and refunds.

I'm really disciplined about maintaining organized financial records, so I was surprised when I searched my own name on www.unclaimed.org and found dividends worth $53 from a stock I held more than 10 years ago. It was more fun than when I take my jeans out of the dryer and find a $20 bill in the pocket! The best part is it took only a few minutes. I’ve also visited www.missingmoney.com to do a multi-state search. When searching these sites, make sure you check all the states in which you ever lived and all the names you have ever used.

Beware of websites, however, that charge a fee for something you can do for free. While not necessarily a "scam," why pay a third party to do something you can do just as quickly yourself? If a site tries to charge you a fee, don't use it.

If you want to protect your property from becoming lost in the future, check your accounts at least once a year. And if you change addresses, make sure to inform entities that hold your money. Further, I recommend not leaving your 401(k) with an old employer. If the company is acquired or goes out of business, it might be time-consuming to track down your money. So when you leave a job, consider transferring your assets from a 401(k) to a Rollover IRA. You'll have more investment choices, potentially lower fees and know where your money is. If you think you might have a missing 401(k), another site to check is www.unclaimedretirementbenefits.com.

Happy hunting!

Laurie Itkin is the founder of The Options Lady and a financial advisor with Coastwise Capital Group. To order a copy of her book “Every Woman Should Know Her Options: Invest Your Way to Financial Empowerment,” go to www.theoptionslady.com

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