Have you ever turned over a couch cushion and found a couple dollars in change, or pulled a $10 bill out of the pocket of your jeans while doing laundry? Remember the spark of joy you felt, however small, at finding missing money you didn’t even realize existed? Well, just imagine how you’d feel if you found out the government has been sitting on unclaimed money of yours, too, and all you have to do go get it.
That’s the position thousands of people are in and most don’t even know it. In fact, according to CNN Money, the government currently has over $58 billion in missing funds — roughly $186 for every U.S. resident — that is sitting around, waiting to be claimed by its owners. Maybe some of it belongs to you.
How the Government Ends Up with Missing Money
There are a variety of ways money can go missing. A paycheck gets lost in the mail, a person moves or changes names, a deceased parent leaves behind an annuity no one knew existed. Financial institutions are legally required to try and find the beneficiary of such money, but it’s impossible to track everyone down.
So when a bank account or check is considered dormant, abandoned or unclaimed, and the rightful owner is nowhere to be found, the U.S. government becomes the custodian until that money is collected by its rightful owner.
How to Find Missing Money and Claim Your Funds
If you knew you had money coming to you and never received it, it’s doubtful you just let it go. However, as mentioned, most people don’t have any idea their money is missing in the first place. Since there is no one centralized government service or database for tracking these missing funds, you have to contact each federal agency individually to find out if you’re owed anything. Luckily, there are a number of websites that make this pretty easy:
1. MissingMoney.com: This is a national database set up by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). In participation with state and local governments, it helps you search for any missing assets in your name. According to the site, you can uncover common unclaimed property like:
- Abandoned bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
- Investments like stocks, mutual funds, bonds and dividends
- Uncashed paychecks
- Insurance policies
- Utility deposits
If it turns out you do have something listed, you can claim lost money for free.
2. Where’s My Refund?: If you’ve been expecting a tax refund but haven’t received a check yet, you can look up its status using the Where’s My Refund? tool on the IRS website. However, you can’t do a blind search in the hopes that something comes up in this case. You’ll need to provide your social security number, filing status and the exact amount your refund is supposed to be.
3. PBGC.gov: The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation website allows you to find any pension benefits owed to you. Obviously, if you’ve never participated in a pension program, you’re not going to uncover any money here.
4. TreasuryDirect.gov: This site is run by the U.S. Treasury Department. Using the “Treasury Hunt” feature, you can find out if there are any savings bonds in your name that have matured. The site claims billions of dollars in savings bonds have stopped earning interest but haven’t been cashed, so who knows, maybe some of it it yours. Unfortunately, however, they don’t have a record of all savings bonds–only Series E bonds issued in 1974 and later.
It’s very possible that nothing will turn up after you search through all these databases, but what’s ten minutes when you could actually discover a small fortune waiting for you? Just know that you shouldn’t pay a service that offers to find missing money for you. As you can see, you can easily do it yourself.
If you do find missing money, fight the urge to spend it right away. There’s nothing better for your savings account than a surprise check from Uncle Sam.