Track down your share of unclaimed billions

By GREGORY KARP / McClatchy Newspapers

Everybody loves free money, and you might be able to get some if you’re willing to treasure hunt on one of the many lists of unclaimed property.
Typically, unclaimed money originates at financial institutions and other companies. You might have money coming to you because of old bank accounts, uncashed paychecks, unreturned utility company deposits, even inheritances you didn’t know about. Most unclaimed money is turned over to state treasuries to keep until you claim it. The good news is it is quick and easy to discover whether you are owed money. Even if you don’t find your name on a list, searching your surname might turn up missing property for a soon-to-be-grateful relative.
State treasuries alone are safeguarding 117 million instances of unclaimed money, worth about $33 billion, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, or NAUPA.
Here’s what you need to know and where you should go to search for your unclaimed cash:
• Missingmoney.com is a combined database of many unclaimed property lists in the United States.
• NAUPA provides links to state unclaimed-property Web sites at unclaimed.org. Some state sites include lost property not listed on Missingmoney.com. More important, some big states, such as California, New York and Illinois, are not on Missingmoney.com. Check any state in which you might be owed money, said John Gabriel, president of NAUPA.
• Tax returns: Last year, more than 100,000 taxpayers were collectively owed $123.5 million, or an average of $1,148, said Sue Hales, an Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman. The IRS may owe you money for two main reasons: Your refund couldn’t be delivered to you (maybe you moved), or you didn’t file in the first place. Some 1.4 million people failed to file tax returns in recent years to claim refunds totaling an estimated $1.3 billion, Hales said. After three years, the government keeps your refund.
Go to irs.gov, click on the link to “Where’s My Refund?” provide your Social Security number or taxpayer ID, your filing status and the exact dollar amount of your refund.
• Savings bonds: Search treasuryhunt.gov for U.S. savings bonds and marketable securities, such as Treasury bills, notes and bonds. For example, you can search for matured E and EE savings bonds issued after 1974 that are no longer earning interest. And you can search for interest payments you might be entitled to from H or HH savings bonds, said Treasury spokeswoman Joyce Harris. You will have to provide a Social Security number or employer identification number to search. The site also has downloadable forms for claiming lost, stolen or destroyed bonds.
• Mortgage-related funds: If you paid off a mortgage early that was backed by the Federal Housing Administration, you could be eligible to get back part of an insurance premium you paid in advance. Paying a loan early means you might have sold the house or refinanced to a non-FHA loan, for example. The refund is automatic and seamless for 75 percent of homeowners. But if the bank doesn’t correctly report your contact information to the government, you might not get that refund, according to an FHA spokesman. To check for a refund, check www.tinyurl.com/dhjyl or write to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, P.O. Box 23699, Washington, DC 20026-3699. You will need your FHA case number.
• Pensions: The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has a “missing participants” service at http://search.pbgc.gov. There, you can determine whether you are owed benefits from a corporate pension plan that was closed or taken over by the PBGC. You also can track down benefits if you are a survivor of a person who should be drawing the pension. This refers to the older type of defined-benefit pensions, not 401(k)-type plans.
• Failed banks: If you have reason to believe that you or a relative has unclaimed money from a bank failure during the end of the savings-and-loan crisis 20 years ago, check the online database at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. at www2.fdic.gov/funds/. It covers deposits from Jan. 1, 1989, to June 28, 1993.

Gregory Karp, the author of “Living Rich by Spending Smart,” writes for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him e-mail at gkarp@tribune.com.