Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Saving Money

Cash From the Lost and Found

Billions of dollars of unclaimed funds are sitting in federal coffers. Find out if some of it belongs to you.

iStockphoto

Federal and state coffers hold billions of dollars’ worth of unclaimed property. Some of it could be yours, but it's up to you to track down the cash.

Gifts from the Feds

The federal government hangs on to tax refunds, savings bonds, government-guaranteed mortgage insurance refunds and pensions. There's no central database to search for these missing funds, so you'll have to check with the government agency that owes you money.

Unclaimed tax refunds. The IRS is sitting on millions of dollars in undelivered tax refunds. Frequently, checks don't reach taxpayers because they move or change their names.

There's no statute of limitations for claiming tax refunds that are lost or stolen. And if you didn't file your return but were owed a refund, there's no penalty for filing late. However, you have only three years from the time you should have filed to claim your refund. You might be due a refund if you had too little income to file a return but had taxes withheld from your wages or made quarterly estimated tax payments.

Advertisement

You can track down refunds for the most-recent filing year with the agency's online tool. If you think you're owed a refund from an earlier year, call 800-829-1040.

To prevent your refund from getting lost in the mail, notify the IRS when you move by filing a Form 8822 "Change of Address." You also can choose to have your refunds deposited directly to a bank account.

Savings bonds. Savings bonds are more often forgotten than lost. Billions of dollars in savings bonds have stopped earning interest but never been cashed. Most bonds stop accruing interest after 30 years. Use the Bureau of Public Debt's Treasury Hunt tool to find out if you have savings bonds that are no longer earning interest or check this list. If you've got one that's been collecting dust, cash it in at a bank. To cash bonds worth more than $1,000, you'll probably have to sign the request for payment on the back of the bonds in front of a bank officer, provide your Social security number and mail it to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis ( learn more).

Mortgage refunds. If you had a Federal Housing Administration insured mortgage and paid a mortgage insurance premium, you should get that money back after selling your home. But during the move, the letter the FHA sends notifying you of the refund could easily get misplaced.

Advertisement

To see if you're owed a refund, search the Housing and Urban Development's database by name or case number. Call 800-697-6967 if your name is on the list.

Pensions. Were you a participant in a pension plan offered by a company that went out of business or closed its plan? Millions of dollars of pension benefits go unclaimed because those owed the money can't be found, according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

When your former employer can't find you, your pension money goes to the PBGC, a government agency that protects retirement income. Check PBGC's Pension Search Directory. If you're on the list, or are a survivor of a person listed, either call the PBGC at 800-326-5678 or e-mail found@pbgc.gov to get an application for your pension benefit.

Try your luck with the states

States are holding more than $40 billion in unclaimed property, according to National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Companies often lose track of a customer, former employee or shareholder. They turn over uncashed dividend checks, returned deposits, unclaimed refunds and uncollected insurance benefits to the state where your last known address is (after three, five or seven years, depending on the state). Each state maintains its own database of unclaimed property but most participate in the MissingMoney.com unclaimed property database. (It provides links to the unclaimed property Web sites of the 12 states that don't participate.)

Advertisement

Missingmoney lets you do individual, family or business searches. Just type in your last name or business name. If your name appears in the database, you can start the claims process on the site (the service is free).

If nothing shows up, don't give up. Some states list only their most recent records. You can write directly to states where you've lived to ask if any property belonging to you or a family member has been turned over to them.