Hidden Jackpot—How to cash-in on your unclaimed property and money

October 2013 View more


Admittedly, the prospects of finding riches unknown to me simply by querying the State of Illinois Unclaimed Property Division was somewhat exhilarating. The odds were better than the Lottery. In fact, one in eight Illinoisans is owed “forgotten” money.

Once learning from the site info@icash.illinois.gov that I was due money (it didn’t say how much), the state sent a letter with the amount and instructed me on the next steps. I did what was required and several weeks later collected enough for two vente Starbucks! Disappointing as the paltry $7.75 due me from a former employer was, it could have been $775.

You could be a lot luckier. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which lets you search for money state by state at www.unclaimed.org, $2.25 billion in unclaimed funds were returned by states to 2.5 million U.S. citizens in 2011, a measly 6 percent of total unclaimed funds.

In April, the state of Illinois released a press release suggesting that checking I-Cash once a year wasn’t enough because the state is constantly adding new properties to the list. Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford suggests logging in at least once a month, which stands to reason, since 200,000 properties were added in the first-quarter of 2013 alone. The database updates every Sunday, so by Monday your new search can begin.

A recent article from MSNMoney indicates that all combined, states, federal agencies and other organizations held a whopping $58 billion in unclaimed cash and benefits separated from rightful owners for at least five years. This includes money from inactive savings accounts, forgotten pension benefits, unpaid wages, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, bill overpayments, paid-up life insurance policies and safety deposit box contents.

Though the vast majority of unclaimed money is held by the states—and claims can be made in perpetuity—there are also other places to search for your jackpot:

Life insurance: For benefits not held by the state, check the insurer’s site directly. Incidentally, I recently received a benefit letter from an insurance company regarding a life insurance policy held by my mother, now deceased for 25 years. My point? We simply don’t know where unclaimed money can turn up.

Tax refunds: Many people are so mobile that their tax refunds end up undeliverable, and taxpayers forget to check on the refunds’ whereabouts. In 2011, the IRS held $153.3 million in undeliverable refund checks. If this is you, check out the IRS’s “Where’s my refund?” tool.
Pension money: The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. database helps ferret out any pension benefits you’re owed, say, if your specific pension plan no longer exists. If you are a survivor of someone who should be drawing a pension but isn’t, you can find it there as well.

U.S. savings bonds: More than 45 million matured savings bonds, worth nearly $16 billion, remain unredeemed, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. If you have several bonds squirreled away somewhere, check the database—www.treasuryhunt.gov.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: If you had a HUD/FHA insured mortgage, you may have a refund on part of your insurance premium or a share of the earnings.

Stock certificates: Unlike other means of claiming money at no cost, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges for resources that research old stock certificates. Outside of the SEC, don’t fall for solicitations that promise to find your money for a fee.