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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Find Free Money!

State coffers are full of money belonging to citizens. It’s simple to check if some of it is yours.  

With all the worry and unease these days, we thought we’d write about something that could be both fun and lucrative. Right this minute, states are sitting on nearly $100 billion in unclaimed assets that they want to disperse to the rightful owners. You can go on a treasure hunt and see if any of it is yours!

Unclaimed property can be any kind of an asset: pension checks, rebates, tax refunds, long-forgotten bank accounts, dividends, security deposits, and more. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) keeps track of the money and says that over $14.86 billion was paid out between 2013 and 2017 alone. And there’s plenty more waiting to be claimed.

Anyone with access to a computer can quickly run a search to claim money and confirm their identity. States really do want the rightful owner to have the money.

“It used to be, if someone comes and finds it, great,” says Mark Bracken, president of NAUPA. “But now, absolutely 100%, from all 50 states, the attitude is, ‘We are just custodians of the money. We’re here to safeguard the money, but more importantly, to return it.’”

Some states are taking the unusual step of reaching out to potential claimants. For instance, Illinois is able to match names of taxpayers with unclaimed-property holders to reunite them to assets under $2,000. The state has an up-to-date address, and can send a check in the mail. “That cleaned up a lot of the smaller amounts that people weren’t claiming or weren’t aware of,” says Michael Frerichs, Illinois state treasurer.

Most states keep the money in a trust or general fund, and only disperse it when someone makes a claim. Is there a problem with identity theft, you might wonder? “We don’t really run into … identity-theft issues. We are more likely to run into family members trying to convince us that other family members say it’s OK for us to give them the person’s money,” says Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois State Treasurer. Most sites list only a name, an address, a cryptic explanation of the asset and if the value is above or below a certain level. The claimant needs to fill in birthdate, Social Security number, address and phone number. If the claimant is an heir or has power of attorney, documents must verify the information.

I tried it out on a lark and found a decades-old bank account sum and two small amounts owed my deceased father. Not a goldmine, but free money nonetheless.

If you’re ready to go mining, check into the databases on or People, businesses and nonprofits can all run searches directly on either site. Some states, such as California, are not affiliated with NAUPA but the websites have direct links to the state treasurer’s office for unclaimed property.

Good luck!