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How to find your hidden money

  • Story Highlights
  • You or your relatives may be able to find lost money for free
  • There's almost $33 billion in unclaimed checks, utility refunds, stocks, bank accounts
  • and FDIC are good places to start
  • PBGC locates pensions, Treasury tracks bonds
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By Jen Haley
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(CNN) -- You know how good it feels when you fish a $10 bill out of your jeans pocket right before it hits the wash. Imagine coming into hundreds of dollars from a savings bond or a bank account you forgot about.

Could there be a pile of money waiting for you to find it?

You may get a letter from a company saying you have unclaimed money or property, and for a fee, you'll be able to reclaim it. But before you pay for this service, remember there are plenty of free Web sites that will help reunite you with your treasures.

There's almost $33 billion in unclaimed money from old payroll checks, utility refunds, trust distributions, stocks, banking or checking accounts, certificates of deposit and the contents of safe deposit boxes, according to estimates by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Property is considered abandoned if there has been no activity on it for more than three years, according to Steve Larson of NAUPA. Such money is turned over to the state of your last known address, and the state holds the money in its coffers until you or your heirs claim it. There is no time limit to claim most abandoned property. In fact, years from now, your great-great grandchildren could claim it.

To find your hidden money, go to, an official database for the NAUPA that has records from most state unclaimed property programs. You can also link to your individual state unclaimed property program.

If you come across records that indicate there may be money left in an old bank account, find out if the bank is still in business. For that, go to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's Web site at Look under "Bank Find," and you'll be able to see the history of the bank, including any mergers.

But if your bank failed, and you don't claim those funds within a year and a half, the money in your account is turned over to the FDIC. To search for the failed bank, go to If you don't claim the money after a few years, you'll lose what's in your account, says David Barr of the FDIC.

"There's quite a bit of unclaimed property out there," he says.

Savings bonds

Anything you're supposed to keep for 30 years is bound to slip your mind. In fact, there are more than $15 billion worth of savings bonds that have stopped earning interest but haven't been claimed, according to the Treasury Department.

If you have savings bonds that are still earning interest, but you have no idea where the documents are or how much they're worth, get in touch with the record-keeping office of the U.S. Treasury Department. As long as you have enough information -- like when the bonds were issued or the Social Security number on the bond -- the Treasury Department will replace or reissue your bond.

If you stumble across savings bonds that have stopped earning interest, or you think you may have had a bond or two as a kid, go to and look under "Treasury Hunt." This search mechanism will tell you if there are any bonds in your name. If there are unclaimed bonds, a member of the Treasury Department can contact you.

There is no statute of limitations on claiming savings bonds. No matter how old they are, the money stays there for you or your heirs to claim, and the Treasury Department must respond to a claim.

"We want to get those off our books," says Steve Meyerhardt of the Treasury Department. "It doesn't do us any good to be hanging on to the funds."


Pensions may be going the way of the dinosaur, but there's still plenty of cash left from people who forgot to claim them. There's about $133 million in unclaimed pension funds, says Gary Pastorius of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal pension insurance program. About 32,000 people may have pension money just sitting around.

The PBGC takes over pension plans if a company goes out of business. If the employer can't locate people that have left the company, the PBGC tries to track them down. If you think you may have left a pension plan somewhere, you can check with the PBGC at There, you can type in your name and company in a search tool.

Finding unexpected cash isn't hard as long as you know where to look. If an asset locator contacts you about unclaimed property, take the time to use the search tools.

Asset locators generally charge a 10 to 20 percent fee to find your unclaimed funds. While this can be a legitimate service, you're being asked to pay for something you can do for free.

"These asset finders are providing something of value," says Joe Ridout of Consumer Action, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group. "But you can do it yourself with a few mouse clicks." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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