I recently discovered $81.13 of free money online. It took me 30 seconds to find and three minutes to claim.
OK, OK: Technically, it wasn’t free money. At some point in my life, I earned it. I handed it over to the City of St. Petersburg, Florida, to put the water bill in my name… and then I forgot all about it.
That is, until a recent Sunday afternoon when I was bored and contemplating ways to make extra money.
On a whim, I searched my name on the state of Florida’s unclaimed property website. Lo and behold, it was me: Robin C. Hartill, $81.13 of forgotten water money begging to be claimed. I filled out a form that asked for a few identifying details, then clicked the submit button.
Less than two weeks later, the check arrived via snail mail.
The official Robin C. Hartill net worth has now climbed $81.13 thanks to three minutes’ worth of work.
How to Find Unclaimed Money in 30 Seconds
There’s a 1 in 10 chance that you have money waiting to be claimed, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA).
In case you’re wondering, NAUPA is a group of state treasurer associations. It represents governments in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, a few Canadian provinces and even Kenya. Its mission is simply to return unclaimed property to its rightful owner.
Each state maintains a database of property that’s waiting to be claimed.
You can find your state’s database by visiting NAUPA’s website, unclaimed.org, and clicking on your state. If you want to look beyond your state, visit MissingMoney.com to do a nationwide search.
Both sites are 100% free. Simply search your name and claim any accounts that belong to you. If you find anything, you’ll have to verify your identity, but the instructions will vary by state and the type of account you’re claiming.
The data is public record, so you can even search the names of your family and friends and let them know if they have unclaimed money.
So what kind of unclaimed money could be waiting for you? It isn’t just deposits that wind up in state hands. Uncashed paychecks, old stock and mutual funds, balances from closed bank accounts and customer refunds, just to name a few.
The majority of unclaimed property is money, though sometimes the contents of old safe deposit boxes end up in state custody.
Another big source of unclaimed money: forgotten life insurance policies. One Rhode Island woman searched her state’s website on behalf of family members. She discovered her late brother’s policy. Two weeks later, she received a $50,000 check.
Of course, it’s going to require more effort to claim a deceased loved one’s life insurance policy than it will to get your $81 utility deposit back — but obviously the payoff is worth it.
Why Would I Have Missing Money?
Usually the money ends up in state hands because whoever owed you money couldn’t find you.
Once a certain amount of time passes, often one year, they’re legally required to turn the check over to the state’s treasury department.
Here’s where I’ll be honest: If you’re a Type A who keeps careful records and updates their contact info, you’re less likely to have missing money floating around. But then there are us Type Bs — the Chaos Muppets of the world. Occasionally we forget to leave forwarding addresses. We let our mail pile up and don’t read emails. Sometimes, we leave behind trails of unclaimed property in the process.
I’ll admit it: I’m in the latter camp, and this isn’t my first unclaimed property rodeo.
I’ve located a $110 paycheck from an old part-time job and later a $30 refund from my health insurance. I even found a $900 apartment security deposit owed to my then-boyfriend. We went on vacation to Costa Rica with our newly found loot.
Sounds like a win, right? Well, not exactly. All that money earns exactly 0% while it sits in state coiffers. If we were Type As, perhaps we could have put our money in a high-yield savings account or used it to start investing.
So yes, the ideal thing to do here is to not let your money wind up with the state in the first place. But we’re all human. Taking 30 seconds to search your name is time well spent. You get bonus points if you search on behalf of a Type B in your life.
Just don’t forget to thank me when you discover an $81.13 windfall of your own.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at Codetic. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].