How to Track Down Lost or Forgotten Assets

How to Track Down Lost or Forgotten Assets
A social security card and a USB device in New York, on Feb. 14, 2021. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)
Anne Johnson

Finding extra cash in your coat or pants pocket is always a delight, but there are other hiding places where the rewards are higher. Many Americans are unaware of lost or forgotten assets. These assets could be anything from an old insurance policy to a refund or a lost paycheck. Finding and cashing in on these assets isn't difficult, but may take some detective work to find.

Types of Forgotten Assets

There are a variety of types of assets one may be unaware of. Forgotten bank accounts and old insurance policies are the obvious ones. But a forgotten utility deposit or paycheck could also be lingering out there. Others include refunds for goods or services, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, contents of a safe deposit box, and others.
But there are also varied unclaimed assets in your wallet. For instance, billions of dollars of gift cards go unused in the United States every year. Unused travelers’ checks are another forgotten asset.

Finding Lost Money with State Programs

Finding lost assets isn’t impossible. Every state has an unclaimed property program, and they look for owners of lost assets. State treasuries hold millions of dollars of unclaimed property. One free multi-state website that allows you to enter your information by state is the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). This is a network of the National Association of State Treasurers.

Choose the state where you think you have lost or forgotten assets. Then enter your name. It will show any like name in the state that has an asset. You can filter by address if the names are the same. Once you have found your name, you can make a claim.

Although the states have unclaimed property programs, the federal government does not have a website for individuals to check for unclaimed funds. The federal government doesn't have a centralized database for this. If you want to check for unclaimed funds (except for federal income tax refunds), you'll need to search at the state level.

Lost an asset? There are always ways to find it. (diy13/Shutterstock)
Lost an asset? There are always ways to find it. (diy13/Shutterstock)

Lost Federal Tax Refunds

If you think you are missing a tax refund and it's been over 21 days, don't refile your return. Instead, contact the IRS. You can call the IRS’s automated line or speak with an employee at 800-829-1954. You can also go to “Where’s My Refund” at the IRS website and enter such information as your social security number and tax year.

Unclaimed Wages from Past Employers

You can search the Department of Labor's (DOL) database if you think you have unpaid wages. Just enter your former employer’s name and tap the WOW search button. If the company name comes up, select it. Then in the window, enter your first initial and last name and submit. You'll be directed to the DOL office, where you can submit a claim.
The DOL will hold unclaimed wages for up to three years.

Missing 401(k) Plans

With today's job-hopping employees, it's easy to lose a 401(k) plan. If there is over $5,000 in a plan, many will leave it with the old employer. Three jobs later, it's forgotten. And if contact information hasn't been updated with the old plan, that plan administrator will lose track of the participant. The abandoned plan is often turned over to the state's unclaimed property division.
Plan administrators, custodians, and sponsors have a database where they register missing 401(k) participants. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits (NRURB) is a secure website that houses information on missing participants. You only need to enter your social security number. This site has over $80 million in benefits available.
You can also contact your former employer or employers to inquire about old 401(k) plans.

Finder Firms

A finder firm may contact you if you have an unclaimed asset. But that doesn’t mean you should hire one yourself. Often finder firms will send out notices to people and ask for a flat fee to look for forgotten assets. After that, they will probably send you the NAUPA website address or use it themselves.

Remember that if you are asked to pay for the information, it’s probably a scam. But there are some legitimate finder firms that will make you aware of forgotten property. These firms often have early access to information regarding the assets being transferred from the financial institution to the state treasurer’s department. These firms will probably request a percentage of the assets’ worth to steer you in the right direction. You may want to negotiate a rate. But if you agree to it, they will let you know what state has your assets. Of course, you'll still need to contact the state and complete the paperwork.

A finder firm will usually contact you if you have unclaimed assets. (Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)
A finder firm will usually contact you if you have unclaimed assets. (Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)

Beware of Phone Scammers

Government agencies are prohibited from contacting an individual by phone about unclaimed assets. Beware if someone calls about unclaimed assets and states that they are from a government agency. They will probably try to scam you out of money or your personal information.
Lost assets don’t have to remain lost. Use the NAUPA website and check with each state where you’ve resided. Track down any old 401(k) plans. Beware of anyone or company who wants to charge you for finding your assets.

The Epoch Times Copyright © 2022 The views and opinions expressed are only those of the authors. They are meant for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation. The Epoch Times does not provide investment, tax, legal, financial planning, estate planning, or any other personal finance advice. The Epoch Times holds no liability for the accuracy or timeliness of the information provided.

Anne Johnson was a commercial property & casualty insurance agent for nine years. She was also licensed in health and life insurance. Anne went on to own an advertising agency where she worked with businesses. She has been writing about personal finance for ten years.