Unclaimed Money: Find and Claim It

The States are Holding Billions of It

Illustration of Edmond Dantes Discovering the Treasure of the Island of Monte Cristo
Illustration of Edmond Dantes Discovering the Treasure of the Island of Monte Cristo. Stefano Bianchetti / Getty Images

Unclaimed money is money left behind in the form of forgotten bank accounts, utility deposits, wages, tax refunds, pensions, life insurance policies and more. In most cases, unclaimed money can be recovered by the rightful owners. 

Both the state and federal governments may be holding unclaimed money and both provide resources for finding and recovering it.

You Might Have Unclaimed Property If…

  • You have moved -- with or without—leaving a forwarding address. (Moving is the main source of abandoned utility deposits and bank account balances.)
  • You have retired, been reassigned, or laid off from a job.
  • You have not made a transaction on your checking or savings account for over three years.
  • You have stopped payments on an insurance policy.
  • You have an uncashed check made out to you more than 3 years ago
  • You regularly throw away your mail without reading it.
  • You have noticed that regular dividend, interest, or royalty checks have stopped coming.
  • You have settled a deceased family member's estate.

State Unclaimed Money Resources

States are the best place to look for unclaimed money. Each state handles the reporting and collection of unclaimed property and each state has its own laws and methods for recovering unclaimed property.

All 50 states have secure online unclaimed money and property search applications on their websites, along with information on how to claim and recover it.

Unclaimed money most often held by the states comes in the form of:

  • Utility deposits (very common), credit balances, store refunds
  • State income tax refunds
  • Uncashed checks
  • Stock certificates or accounts, bonds, mutual fund accounts
  • Life insurance policy proceeds
  • Undistributed wages
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Gift certificates
  • Traveler's Checks
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Royalty payments
  • Court awards or deposits

Federal Unclaimed Money Resources

Unlike the states, no single agency of the U.S. federal government can or will help people recover their unclaimed property.

“There is no government-wide, centralized information service or database from which information on unclaimed government assets may be obtained. Each individual Federal agency maintains its own records and would need to research and release that data on a case-by-case basis,” states the United States Treasury Department.

However, some individual federal agencies can help.

Back Wages

If you think you may be owed back wages from your employer, search the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division’s online database of workers for whom it has money waiting to be claimed.

Veteran’s Life Insurance Funds

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) maintains a searchable database of unclaimed insurance funds that are owed to certain current or former policyholders or their beneficiaries. However, the VA notes that the database does not include funds from Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) or Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policies from 1965 to the present. 

Pensions from Former Employers

While it no longer offers a searchable database, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation offers information on companies that have gone out of business or ended a defined retirement plan without paying outstanding benefits. They also offer a list of non-government resources for finding unclaimed pensions.

Federal Income Tax Refunds

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may have unclaimed property in the form of unclaimed or undeliverable tax refunds. For example, the IRS may have refund money for persons who did have enough income in a given year to file returns. In addition, the IRS has millions of dollars in checks that are returned each year as undeliverable due to out-of-date address information. The IRS’ “Where’s My Refund” web service can be used to look for unclaimed tax refunds.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may owe you money if your refund was unclaimed or undelivered.

Banking, Investments, and Currency


Persons had an FHA-insured mortgage may be eligible for a refund from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To search the HUD mortgage refund database, you will need your FHA case number (three digits, a dash, and the next six digits—for example, 051-456789).

US Savings Bonds

The Treasury Department’s “Treasury Hunt” service allows people to search for forgotten savings bonds issued since 1974 that have matured and are no longer earning interest. In addition, the “Treasury Direct” service can be used to replace lost, stolen, or destroyed paper savings bonds.

How to Avoid Unclaimed Money Scams

Where there is money, there will be scams. Beware of anybody – including people claiming to work for the government – who promise to send you unclaimed money for a fee. Scammers use a variety of tricks to get your attention, but their goal is the same: to get you to send them money. These scams are easily avoided. As suggested by the non-profit National Unclaimed Property Administrators Association (NUPAA), here are some ways to thwart the scammers.

Who Are These People?

If you get an unexpected email, letter, or call offering to “help” you collect unclaimed money, check on the company first. According to the NUPAA, some states do work with third-party companies to track down claimants. But these companies are required by law to register with the state. Contact your state’s unclaimed property office before you sign any kind of contract to ensure they are a legitimate business.

Guard Your Personal Information

As in so many other consumer scams, the goal of many unclaimed property scammers is to trick you into giving them details about your identity or banking information—a potential kiss of financial death. If they ask for such information, either hang up or ask them what official agency they are calling from and do your own research to determine if it’s for real or if they are just running an identity theft scam on you.

Is It Even Possible?

The state unclaimed property offices never contact consumers to let them know they have their unclaimed money. The states usually deposit that money in interest-earning escrow accounts until it is claimed. Similarly, the NUPAA says it never contacts consumers. It simply helps the state unclaimed property administrators do their job.

Never Pay to Get Your Money

As the NUPAA and the state treasures say, if it asks for money, it’s a scam. Never spend your money to get cash that will never come.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides tips on how you can avoid the government imposter scams that have become so common.

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "Unclaimed Money: Find and Claim It." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/unclaimed-money-find-and-claim-it-3321762. Longley, Robert. (2021, February 16). Unclaimed Money: Find and Claim It. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/unclaimed-money-find-and-claim-it-3321762 Longley, Robert. "Unclaimed Money: Find and Claim It." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/unclaimed-money-find-and-claim-it-3321762 (accessed July 30, 2021).