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States Hold Billions in 'Missing Money.' Learn How to Claim It

Americans receive $3 billion in unclaimed property payouts every year, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

a couple of 2-dollar bills against a black background
Several states are announcing record levels of unclaimed property payouts.
Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Americans collect about $3 billion every year in unclaimed property payouts, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. However, that massive amount is a pittance compared to how much money states actually hold -- estimated at $77 billion by tax software company Sovos.

Totals of unclaimed property payouts are reaching new heights -- Wyoming, West Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri all recently announced record levels. North Carolina topped the list with $70 million returned over the past year.

Unclaimed property can include checking or savings accounts, stocks, uncashed payroll checks, utility security deposits and insurance payments. Whether it belongs to you or a deceased family member, it's easy to find out whether your state owes you any money. Read on to learn how to discover if you have any unclaimed property and how to get hold of it. For more, see if your state is sending a new stimulus check in 2022 or is considering additional child tax credit relief.

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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 to 60 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. New York state currently has a whopping $17.5 billion in unclaimed property, and the state comptroller office says it pays out $1.5 million per day.