5 ways to find actual unclaimed government money without getting scammed

Featured

Written by:

About one in seven Americans has unclaimed funds lurking somewhere. In fact, there’s an estimated $70 billion in unclaimed assets in the United States. Typically, the amounts people receive when retrieving this money can be small (say, $20) or, in rare cases, it can be a significant amount of six figures or higher.

States typically manage these funds, which can come from forgotten bank accounts, pensions, insurance benefits, wages, savings bonds, and other sources.

If you’re wondering whether there’s any money out there that belongs to you, read on. This guide will walk you through where unclaimed money may be hiding and how to claim it.

Image Credit: hobo_018/istockphoto.

How to Find Unclaimed Money 5 Ways

Money usually remains unclaimed because owners have no idea it exists. That’s why it may be worth searching for unclaimed funds in your name just in case. So how do you go about it? Unfortunately, there’s no single place you can look for all potential unclaimed cash. It may take some work, but here are some steps you can take to help make sure you’re claiming everything that’s yours.

1. Searching State Databases

A good first step may be to hunt for unclaimed funds at the state level. Each state has an office that oversees unclaimed property, typically housed in the state treasurer’s, controller’s, or comptroller’s office. You can link to your state by visiting the website unclaimed.org, which is run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Don’t forget to search your name in the database of each state where you have lived, not just the one where you live now. Make sure that you are searching the official state site (it should have .gov in the URL) to avoid scams. If you are married and changed your name, you may want to consider searching under your maiden name too.

You can continue your search by checking MissingMoney.com, which offers a multi-state database endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

All of these searches are free to complete. If someone asks you for money to complete a search, that’s a red flag. There’s no reason to pay to access money that’s yours, unless there is a small processing fee.

If you happen to find unclaimed property, each state has its own process for proving that you’re the true owner and getting your hands on the cash. Many states allow you to file a claim electronically.

Usually you need to provide some kind of official documents to prove that you’re the person named as the owner. Luckily, there is typically no time limit for claiming the money. If the owner has died, you can often claim funds from a deceased relative. You can typically file a claim if you’re an heir, trustee, or executor of the estate.

(Learn more: Personal Loan Calculator)

Image Credit: Morsa Images/istockphoto.

2. Looking for Unpaid Wages and Pensions

Here’s another possibility in terms of how to find unclaimed funds: Hunt for back pay. If your employer owes you back wages, you can search the Department of Labor’s database. Start by inputting the name of the employer. You typically have to move quickly in this case, since the agency only keeps unpaid wages for three years.

You can also look for pensions from a former employer. Pension funds may be unclaimed if a company closed its doors or ended a particular pension plan. You can look for funds through the website of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is a government agency.

Image Credit: Ridofranz/istockphoto.

3. Checking for Unclaimed Tax Refunds

If you think you may have failed to receive a tax refund at some point, you can track that down through the Internal Revenue Service’s website. Keep in mind that you will need to know the exact refund amount in order to conduct the search.

Image Credit: Tempura/istockphoto.

4. Searching for Insurance Funds

Many insurance companies transfer unclaimed funds to states, but a couple of federal government agencies maintain their own unclaimed funds databases. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs holds onto unclaimed VA life insurance funds for most policyholders and, if they’re deceased, their beneficiaries.

People who had mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration can check for potential unclaimed refunds on the website of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Image Credit: SeventyFour/istockphoto.

5. Finding Savings Bonds

Another potential place to find unclaimed funds could be in forgotten or lost savings bonds. To check whether you have a bond that has reached maturity, check the government’s website Treasury Hunt. You’ll be prompted to enter your Social Security number and your state.

The site also offers advice on finding lost, destroyed, or stolen savings bonds.

Image Credit: mapodile/istockphoto.

Being Aware of Scams

Where there’s free money, there are bound to be con artists trying to take advantage of it. Some companies may offer to help you find unclaimed funds and recover the money for a percentage of the amount owed you. Be cautious: These can be scams. Paying these fees is pointless, since you can search for unclaimed property and reclaim it for free (or perhaps for a small processing fee to the state).

The IRS recently warned of another kind of unclaimed money scam, in which a letter arrives, claiming to be from the government, alerting you to a refund you have not yet accessed. This fraudulent communication then says that your banking details are needed to receive the money. If you send that sensitive information, you could end up losing money and having your accounts compromised.

Image Credit: Jose Gonzalez Buenaposada/istockphoto.

Using Your Unclaimed Money

If you happen to be one of the lucky people who finds cash waiting for them, what should you do with it? You may be tempted to blow the surprise windfall on those new shoes you’ve been eyeing or on a dream vacation.

But depending on the sum you receive and your financial situation, there may be smarter ways to put the unexpected money to use. Consider these possibilities.

Paying Off Debt

If you have high-interest debt, many people suggest putting much of your extra cash toward knocking it out. That’s because interest rates can cause a balance to balloon significantly over time, meaning the longer you wait to pay off your high-interest debt, the more you’ll likely pay overall.

Credit cards and payday loans tend to have high interest rates, but you may also want to check the rate you’re paying on your student loans, car loan, personal loan, or mortgage. One method for potentially paying off your debt faster is to tackle your highest-interest debt first, while staying on top of minimum payments for your other liabilities.

Building An Emergency Fund

Once you’re on top of your debt or at least the highest-interest liabilities, it may be a good idea to establish or pump up an emergency fund.

Financial experts suggest having enough saved to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

It may be a good idea to keep this money in a safe place, like a high-interest savings account, for unexpected emergencies such as car repairs, medical bills, or a layoff. Having an emergency fund may help you avoid getting into high-interest debt in the future since you have that cash cushion to see you through challenging times.

Saving for a Goal

Once you have a basic emergency fund, you may want to start setting aside money to get closer to a big financial goal. Maybe you want to have a wedding, travel, start a business, or buy a home.

Saving in advance means you may need to take out less in loans or pay less in credit card charges. Or you might be able to avoid them altogether, keeping more of your money in your pocket.

Investing for the Future

Another option is to invest your money in an individual retirement account, college savings plan, brokerage account, or another financial vehicle.

Investing your money for the long-term could allow you to take advantage of the power of compounding returns and potentially increase your chances of reaping solid growth over time. It can be tempting to spend your lucky find on short-term fun, but investing may set you up for financial freedom in the future.

Image Credit: staticnak1983/istockphoto.

The Takeaway

How do you find unclaimed funds? Typically, it involves searching on websites to see what pops up. These are usually specific to the kind of money that is sitting unclaimed, whether that means going searching for tax refunds, the contents of closed bank accounts, back wages, or insurance payments.

Whether it’s deciding what to do with reclaimed cash, if you’re owed any, or figuring out how to afford a big goal, life poses plenty of personal finance challenges. Finding the right financial partner can be an important step in making your money work harder for you.

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at sofi.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Image Credit: pixdeluxe/istockphoto.

More from MediaFeed

31 smart & simple ways to save for your dream home

Image Credit: Nuttawan Jayawan/istockphoto.

AlertMe