Go get your money, people.
For much of yesterday afternoon, Slate staffers were sending giddy emails to one another about this website from New York State’s Office of Unclaimed Funds. Just type in your name, and you can check whether the state is holding onto money that you were owed but that never reached your bank account. Maybe you overpaid Comcast one month and the refund got lost in the mail. Maybe one of your employers sent a paycheck to the wrong address, and you forgot to follow up. If so, the money is probably listed on New York's site, which you can use to collect it. Even if you don’t find anything, just checking is fun—kind of like scratching off a lotto game that you found lying on the ground.
It turns out that every single state has a similar unclaimed property program. When corporations can’t track down their creditors, they’re required to hand over the money to the state comptroller rather than pocketing it to themselves. According to the New York Times, New York alone is holding onto $13.3 billion, “accounts surrendered by banks, insurers, utility companies and others that said they had tried but failed to find the rightful owners of deposits, dividend checks, back wages, rebates and other forgotten funds.” Nationwide, states are sitting on a combined $62 billion.
Wondering if any of that’s yours? You can check many of the state databases at once using Missingmoney.com, which (in case you’re worried about scams) is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, or NAUPA. If that doesn’t work, you can check individual state databases one by one.
Where does all this money come from? According to NAUPA:
Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler's checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.
After a few emails, the Slate hive mind started wondering: Why didn’t we know about these sites already? And more importantly, why don't more Americans? It’s not for lack of reporting—even Good Morning America was running stories about them back in 2011. And yet, the U.S. has a heap of lost change languishing under our sofa cushions that could nearly fund the federal food stamp program for a year. The Times found unclaimed funds for, among others, Jerry Seinfeld, Bruce Springsteen, Anna Wintour, Ann Coulter, Tom Wolfe, the Clintons, and President Obama. These are wealthy people with accountants who you might assume would check this sort of thing. And sure, most of the unclaimed sums are relatively small—but in New York, they've been as large as $4 million.