Piles of Money Waiting to be Found
- Friday, January 06, 2006
It’s a long story how Mark and Rosalie lost 5,000 shares of Texaco-Canada stock. But they did.
They believed their money was well-invested when they relocated to the U.S. They were unaware that when the company was sold to Texaco USA, all shares were liquidated and the proceeds returned to their rightful owners. No doubt a check was mailed to them, but by then they were long gone and their forwarding information expired.
So what happened to those funds? That’s what I set out to discover. And in the process I discovered a lot more.
Mark and Rosalie are not alone. From security deposits to expired gift certificates, insurance refunds to old bank accounts and proceeds from class action suits, Americans are missing out on billions of dollars simply because they are unaware.
Unclaimed property refund checks are often in the $800 to $1,000 range. Even so each year states return only 4 percent of unclaimed assets to their rightful owners. Most owners don’t know they have money coming and it is simple to find the money that the state or federal governments have for you to claim.
Unclaimed property is generally defined as any financial asset that has had no activity by its owner for a period of five years or more. This includes savings accounts, safety deposit boxes, checking accounts, uncashed dividends, stocks, customer deposits or overpayments, certificates of deposit, credit balances, refunds, matured life insurance policies and uncashed death benefit checks.
For example, if you have ever moved without getting your utility deposit back or forgotten about an old checking or savings account, you are entitled to those funds. Banks, insurance and utility companies, landlords or brokerage firms cannot keep your money simply because they cannot find you or you fail to pick it up. Federal and state laws require that those funds be held in safekeeping until their rightful owners (you!) claim them or until the property is sold at auction.
Many states offer free online access to property databases and even online claim forms. To find that online do a simple google search, i.e. "unclaimed funds California."
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (www.unclaimed.org), a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, is an excellent source of information on unclaimed property. You can access all states through their website.
The IRS provides specific information on its website (www.irs.gov) on how to obtain a past refund that remains unclaimed. You can also try its toll-free phone number, 800 829-1040.
If the unclaimed property is not in your name, you must prove that you are the legal guardian or rightful heir to recoup it. That is not a difficult task.
More than $8 billion worth of matured savings bonds have never been cashed. You can bring your uncashed savings bonds to your local bank, which will cash them in for you. If you think you have lost a savings bond and have a record of the serial numbers go to www.publicdebt.treas.gov to look up its status. Also, bonds that are lost, stolen, mutilated or destroyed can be replaced free of charge as long as the Bureau of the Public Debt can establish that the bonds haven’t been cashed.
While I have still not been successful locating Mark and Rosalie’s stock sale proceeds, I did find $43.54 with their name on it, just waiting to be claimed. It seems the insurance company misspelled their street name so a refund was returned as undeliverable and eventually turned over to the State of California.
But that’s not all. In searching under the names of family members I found $85.90 for my husband’s parents (a refund that was mailed to an old address after forwarding information expired).
Still more: I searched for myself and found a $125 insurance check that was returned as undeliverable because the sender failed to include our zip code. I have no idea the reason for this refund, but I’m not asking questions. I completed the simple claim form, sent in copies of identifying information and am looking for a check any day now.
"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.
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