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Where to Find Unclaimed Money

There are a raft of databases for finding lost or unclaimed money from financial institutions, including banks, insurance companies and the U.S. Treasury. Say you closed out an old bank account and failed to withdraw payments from a former employer. Or you switched jobs and forgot about a former retirement or pension plan. Maybe you moved and neglected to update your address, resulting in a misaddressed payment or tax refund.

While the money you're owed may not be substantial, it's still important to know where to find lost or forgotten money. So, if you're wondering where to find unclaimed cash, check out these sources.

[See: 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2019.]

Former pension and retirement plans. To pinpoint an unclaimed pension from an old job, check out Pbgc.gov/search-unclaimed-pensions, a website run by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a U.S. government agency. PenChecks Trust, which offers retirement plan distributions, also has a registry database of unclaimed retirement benefits, where both employers and employees may pinpoint unclaimed retirement funds.

Life insurance policies. If you're looking for an unclaimed life insurance policy benefit, check out insurance.va.gov/UnclaimedFunds, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Federal tax returns. If you think the Internal Revenue Service owes you a refund, check out the Where's My Refund site, managed by the IRS. The only catch: There's a three-year cap for claiming a refund from the IRS before the money belongs to the U.S. Treasury. Also, if you've recently moved, make sure you haven't provided an incorrect address when filing your taxes to prevent having to track down an undeliverable check from Uncle Sam.

State departments of taxation. Most states have their own websites where you can look for unclaimed money, such as state tax refunds, though you may find other types of money owed, like cash sitting in abandoned bank accounts. Type your state and "unclaimed money" or "unclaimed cash," into a search engine such as Google, and you'll find your state's unclaimed money website.

"It's easy to log on to your state's unclaimed property page and search for your name," says Cynthia Flannigan, a San Francisco-based certified financial planner with MainStreet Financial Planning. "I've searched for unclaimed property for my family and found stock for my mother that was likely lost in the shuffle when her mother died," she says. "I've even found a residual bank balance for myself."

She was able to submit a form and collect a whopping $1.27. "The balances I've seen can be pretty small," Flannigan says, "but it's worth it to claim your assets, clean up your own balance sheet and use the money for something you want to do."

Bank accounts. If you believe you have unclaimed money left in a bank account long ago, check out MissingMoney.com or Unclaimed.org, which are both operated by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. If you used to belong to a credit union, you may want to consult www.ncua.gov/support-services/unclaimed-deposits, a site managed by the National Credit Union Administration, where you may find an unclaimed deposit.

Unpaid back wages. Maybe you worked somewhere years ago and left in a hurry and didn't collect a final paycheck. If you think you might be owed unpaid back wages, visit http://webapps.dol.gov/wow, a website run by Wage and Hour Division in the Department of Labor.

Savings bonds. Richard Sabo, a financial advisor and the owner of RPS Financial Solutions in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, says that if you think you have lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds, you can contact the U.S. Treasury.

"You used to be able to go to the Treasury Direct website and do a search for unclaimed U.S. savings bonds, but they no longer have the search available online, and you have to submit a physical Form 1048 for lost, stolen or destroyed savings bonds," Sabo says. "They then let you know if there are any floating around that you are not aware of." The form can be found at Treasurydirect.gov.

[Read: How to Earn Money Online.]

Before you recover lost or forgotten funds, it's important to take caution to sidestep common missing-money scams. Once you tap into resources for finding unclaimed money, apply these strategies to stay prepared and avoid scams.

Do not pay somebody to find money for you. Occasionally, you might encounter a company or an individual that will offer to collect your unclaimed funds for you -- for a price. "Usually 10 to 20 percent of funds," says Anthony Park, a New York City-based probate attorney and executor. Even if the company or individual is legitimate, that's a lot of money to pay for a phone call or two. "Skip these guys and go direct to the source," Park advises. "Contact the unclaimed funds department to collect your money."

You should also exercise caution if you receive any letters or emails that suggest you can be reunited with some unclaimed property, for a fee. Any email or mail notification following this pattern is likely a scam.

Arrive with the appropriate documentation and proof of your identity. "The state needs rock-solid proof before it will release your money," Park says. "For a deceased relative, this means a full probate court order, not just a death certificate. It can also mean proving your address from years, even decades ago. You'll need an old utility bill, or tax return showing that address."

You may also need to answer a number of questions from your financial past before money will be released. Sometimes, the amount of hoops you need to jump through depends on the amount of unclaimed cash you're trying to collect.

Remember: There are other resources to look for unclaimed money. If you have a financial planner, he or she may be able to help you. "I offer a free service to my clients to help them look for any unclaimed money that they or a relative may be owed, since a lot of my clients are older and either don't have computers or aren't computer savvy, and we can do the research for them," Sabo says.

[See: 9 Times You Need to Talk to a Financial Advisor.]

Dennis LaVoy, a certified financial planner with Telos Financial in Plymouth, Michigan, says that he, too, regularly helps clients find missing money. "Typically, we'll use the state of Michigan's website and track it down and I assist in navigating the paperwork and making sure they follow up on it," he says. "The biggest ones have been those who have a deceased spouse who had accounts they weren't aware of or other inherited assets."

You never know what you might find, says Marc Andre, a personal finance blogger in York, Pennsylvania, who runs Vital Dollar. "A few months ago, I took five minutes to search MissingMoney.com and Unclaimed.org. Unclaimed.org didn't find anything, but MissingMoney.com found $150 I was owed from an old PayPal account that I had forgotten about. I had moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and PayPal only had my NJ address, so they hadn't been able to get the money to me. Just five minutes of time, and in a few weeks I had a check for $150."

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