© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2002
Time for a treasure hunt: Unclaimed cash, property may await you
No matter how financially on the ball you are, you just might be entitled to unclaimed money or property without realizing it. As much as $20-billion is sitting in states' unclaimed property accounts, and even more is held by the federal government. If any of that money or property is yours, it's easy to get it back. Consider these tips.
1. How it happens. Unclaimed property can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, credit balances, uncashed checks, utility refunds, inactive bank accounts, safe deposit box contents, court deposits, tax refunds, government-guaranteed mortgage insurance refunds and pensions. If you've moved, switched jobs, changed your name or had a relative die, you might have money waiting for you.
2. A big clue. Many businesses search public records for unclaimed property, then send out letters to people offering to help them retrieve their money for a finder's fee of 20 to 30 percent. If you receive such a letter, you likely have money waiting for you.
3. Do it yourself for free. There's no need to pay the hefty finder's fee because it's easy to conduct your own search free of charge on the Internet. If you know your property is held by the state of Florida, you also can call the Florida Comptroller's customer service hotline toll-free at 1-888-258-2253.
4. Know where to look. MissingMoney.com allows you to do searches for multiple states. If your name doesn't show up in the database, don't despair: Your records may not be recent enough to be listed, and you can write to states where you've lived to ask about missing property. You can find the mailing addresses by clicking on "State Links" on MissingMoney's home page.
5. Conduct a federal investigation. If your funds are held by the federal government rather than a state, you must correspond directly with the federal agency that owes you money. You can do so by clicking on "Related Sites" on MissingMoney's home page.
6. Search for lost savings bonds. Most U.S. savings bonds stop earning interest after 30 years. If you have a matured savings bond, cash it in. For information about lost or missing savings bonds, go to: www.savingsbonds.gov/sav/sbfaqcs2.htm#Lost.
7. Be persistent about pension funds. Millions of dollars in pension benefits go unclaimed because the beneficiaries can't be located. If you think you or someone you have survived might have pension money coming, visit www.pbgc.gov/search/default.htm or call toll-free 1-800-326-5678.
8. Hunt for missing tax refunds. The Internal Revenue Service is holding millions in tax refunds that were returned to the agency as "undeliverable." To investigate, visit www.irs.ustreas.gov or call toll-free 1-800-829-1040.
9. Think about mortgage refunds. If you had a Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage and paid an insurance premium, you should have gotten that money back when you sold your home. Visit www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/comp/refunds/index.cfmor call toll-free 1-800-697-6967.
10. Consider stock certificates. To find out whether old stocks are worth anything, visit the Web sites of Stock Search International (www.stocksearchintl.com) or R.M. Smythe (www.smytheonline.com). Both companies will do stock research for fees of $75 or more.
-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: MissingMoney.com (www.missingmoney.com); Florida Comptroller's Office (up.dbf.state.fl.us/); Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine (www.kiplinger.com)