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1 in 10 Americans Has 'Missing Money' to Claim From Their State. Here's How to Get It

Each year, states return roughly $3 billion in unclaimed property. We'll tell you how to check if there's money waiting for you.

a couple two-dollar bills against a black background
Your state may be holding money of yours you can easily claim.
Sarah Tew/CNET

This story is part of Try This, CNET's collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

Last year, a friend told me he found out his state was holding $200 in unclaimed property for him. Hoping I might have money or property belonging to me, I immediately checked to see if my state was holding anything for me. I wasn't so lucky, but that doesn't mean you won't be. States are holding on to $49 billion worth of unclaimed property and only $3 billion of it gets claimed each year. 

Unclaimed property is missing money, with states possessing it for 1 in 10 Americans, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. My state alone -- California -- is sitting on $11.2 billion, waiting for someone to claim.

It's easy to find out whether a state has any of your unclaimed property. You can quickly search for free and then start the process of filing a claim for your money.

Keep reading to find out if you have any unclaimed property and how to get hold of it. For more, here's how to light a fire with Doritos and how to put a stop to receiving junk mail.

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How do I search for unclaimed property in my state?

You can learn whether a state is holding property for you using a search tool from NAUPA. Its map of the US provides links to every state's website for unclaimed property. It also includes links to property search tools for Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and some Canadian provinces. Be sure to check each state, territory or district you've lived in to see if you have something to claim.

In most cases, you'll be taken to a page where you can search directly for unclaimed property; in others, you may need to click through from a home page to the unclaimed property search page.

You will usually only have to provide your last name to search for property, although adding your first name, location or address will help narrow the search.

Two other free services -- MissingMoney.com and FindMyMoney -- offer built-in searches on their websites, but not for every state. MissingMoney.com lets you search 41 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Alberta, Canada, while FindMyMoney provides its own search tool for 28 states and Washington, DC. FindMyMoney links out to the state search engines for the other 23 states.

Some states, such as Ohio, work with MissingMoney.com to let people search for property and file claims. Once the claim is filed with MissingMoney.com, the state handles the communication, verification and eventual payment of the claim.

How do I claim property from a state after I find it?

There's no federal system for claiming your property -- the process will vary from state to state. And you do not need to be currently living in a state to claim your property, so check other places you've lived.

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Most states use a system similar to an online shopping service, where you add a property to claim, and then "check out" by providing information such as your current address and social security number to verify your identity and prove you're the rightful owner of the property. 

Once you file your claim, the state may contact you by email for any further information it needs to process the claim. Some states will allow you to provide supporting documentation online, while others require it to be filed by mail. Your state may keep a small amount -- in Kentucky, it's $1 for any property over $10 -- as a holding fee.

Most states do not have a deadline for claiming property, though some may auction it off after a set period of time. If so, you will still usually have the right to claim its value from the state.

How long will it take to get my property?

As with the process for claiming, the timing for receiving your property will vary from state to state. The California state controller says that simple claims involving cash can be resolved in 30 to60 days. More complicated claims involving multiple heirs or businesses may take up to 180 days.

The New York comptroller site says that online claims for individuals are usually paid within two weeks. Claims for deceased people will take four to six weeks, and mailed claims will take three to four months to process.

Why would a state be holding onto my property anyway?

After a specific "dormancy period" -- usually one to three years -- businesses will send money and property to state-run unclaimed property offices when they can't locate the owner. The state will then hold these items until their owner claims them.

The property can be money in a savings or checking account, stocks, annuities, life insurance policies or the contents of safe deposit boxes, among many possible items. California in 2021 had 57 million unclaimed properties, worth a whopping $10.1 billion.