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How to Find Lost or Unclaimed Money

April 2017

If you’re like most people in today’s economy, the prospect of “lost” money is unthinkable. But even when you’re the type who counts every penny and keeps a padlock on your wallet, it’s possible that you’re owed money from a government, business or other entity that’s simply waiting to be found, lost in an obscure account somewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a single national database of unclaimed money, but all of the most common avenues for finding money you’re owed have online resources to help you find the lost funds.

Unclaimed Back Wages

The U.S. Department of Labor is responsible for ensuring employers are paying their employees in accordance with wage laws and other agreements. When that’s not true, and the department decides that a business owes back wages to its employees, the labor department typically sequesters those wages and holds the funds while attempting to alert relevant workers.

In many cases, those workers have gone on to other jobs and other home addresses, never claiming those funds. If you’re like most Americans, you’ve moved through a variety of jobs over the last 10 to 20 years and may have no idea that the labor department dinged a previous employer for underpaying its workers. 

Fortunately, through the Workers Owed Wages site the government provides an easy way to search for any back wages due. Simply enter your information to see if any old employers have owed you money.

Unpaid Retirement Funds

While pensions and mandatory retirement funds are less common in the modern employment market, it wasn’t that long ago that most full-time employees were offered some sort of retirement benefit from their employers.

If you used to work at a company that withheld money for a retirement account or promised you a pension, you might be owed that money even if you hadn’t accrued enough credit to actually retire. This is especially true if the company went out of business or otherwise lost responsibility for its pension fund.

To see if you’re owed for a lost pension, search the Pension Benefit Guaranty site, a U.S. agency responsible for overseeing pensions. Simply enter your information into the search bar, and then click on the “Unclaimed Pensions” tab.

Tax Refunds

While the IRS is always diligent about collecting taxes you owe, it may not be as diligent about tracking down taxpayers who are owed a refund. This is especially true if you move frequently, or have otherwise had inconsistent contact information over the years.

If you think this may be true, check the IRS’ unclaimed refund resources as soon as possible. If the money was owed in a year during which you made enough income to require filing a return, you only have three years from that date to claim the missing refund. After that point, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury and you’re out of luck.

Mortgage Insurance Refunds

If you’ve ever had a mortgage that participated in a Federal Housing Administration program, it’s possible you’re owed a refund. Refunds can happen for a variety of reasons, either due to clerical errors with your mortgage, or simply a change of law or policy over the years.

To find out if you’re owed a refund, check the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s refund lookup page. For the best chance of a positive result, make sure you have your FHA case number that should have been assigned during the initial mortgage process.

Bank Failures

While this category was rare until recently, the 2008 financial crisis led to a number of Americans discovering that their bank had failed or otherwise gone out of business. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of your funds, so any money “lost” during such an event is not truly lost. Instead, the FDIC may be holding it while waiting for you to file a valid claim. Visit the FDIC’s Closed Banks search engine to see if you’re listed.

If you were a customer of a credit union that went under, search the National Credit Union Administration’s unclaimed deposits page, instead.

Search Engines

Unclaimed funds can result from a variety of other circumstances not covered by one of the agencies listed above. Most notably, state agencies vary widely, with a wide variety of circumstances and rules that might lead to unclaimed funds being held in your name.

The most thorough way to search for such funds is to contact your state government directly and seek advice, but you can also get a lot of mileage out of two of the most common meta-search engines for unclaimed funds. 

Both unclaimed.org and missingmoney.com offer quick state-level searches that can help you track down lost funds, along with the information required to claim those funds. Note that you’ll be required to offer proof of your identity and eligibility to claim the funds in most cases.

From old pensions and bank accounts to back wages and more, there are innumerable reasons you might be owed money from one party or another. While you’ll need to search a variety of sources to cover the entire landscape of possibilities, most searches are quick and easy to complete.

Contact the tax professionals at Goldin Peiser & Peiser for advice on how proper tax planning can help save you money.

Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.

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