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Does your state owe you hundreds of dollars? How to check in less than 2 minutes

Billions of dollars' worth of personal property goes unclaimed every year. See if your state is holding money that really belongs to you.

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You can quickly see if you have unclaimed money or other valuables to get back. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not everyone knows that states can hold on to money or property, but they can. And it could be an uncashed check, stocks, bonds or the contents of a safe deposit box. I only realized this when I accidentally found a link to check for unclaimed property on my state government's website. It was free to use and also fast. I learned that my state had several hundred dollars' worth of items for me to claim. 

What's more, states aren't actually keeping unclaimed items a secret. South Carolina is running a "Matchelor" social media blitz to connect state residents with what they're owed. The total value of unclaimed property is highL New York is holding on to $16.5 billion in lost or forgotten property, while California's holdings are valued at some $10.2 billion. Florida returned claimed property worth $328 million just last year alone. The average claim paid was $1,780 in 2019, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

It takes only a few minutes to check and a few seconds longer to claim the item that your state is holding. We'll explain how. For more on money matters, learn about the expanded child tax credit for up to $3,600 per kid and how the child tax credit payments could affect your taxes next year. This story was recently updated.

What kind of unclaimed property could my state could be holding?

States could be holding a range of your items you can claim, including: a forgotten checking or savings bank account, a dividend, stocks, bonds, a credit balance, a refund or cash settlement, a utility deposit, an uncashed cashier's check, a money order, insurance benefits, wages or the contents of an abandoned safe deposit box (including jewelry or coins).

Why would my state hold on to money or property?

A business or government office is usually required by state law to attempt to contact the rightful owner of money or property it's holding. When they're unable to locate the rightful owner after a period of time, they're required to send the unclaimed item to a state-run unclaimed property office. Some states may say the property has been "escheated," meaning the item has been transferred to the state. The state office will hold these items until their owner claims them. 

In most US states, finding out if you have any unclaimed property is free and easy. Claiming is also free but can be a bit more work, depending on which documents you need to collect and then send to the state to prove that you're the rightful owner.

How can I check online for unclaimed assets?

To find out if a state is holding financial assets that you need to claim, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has links to official websites where you can search for unclaimed property by each state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

1. Head to Unclaimed.org and either choose Select your state or province, or tap or click on your state on the map. You'll be sent to the state's unclaimed property page.

2. Next, you may need to choose a link like "Search for Unclaimed Property" (California) or "Get Started" (Texas), or the search box may be on the first page you've landed on (Utah).

3. Now enter your information. The page may ask for your first and last name, middle initial and city. Your last name will most likely be required, but you can try using or skipping the suggested fields to narrow or broaden the results.

You can search across 39 states at once using the Missing Money website, which is endorsed by NAUPA. The search tool is missing 11 states, however: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wyoming. Its layout incorporates advertising in a way that may be confusing, so read carefully. 

Another site, FindMyFunds, lets you search across 25 states and the District of Columbia at once, with direct links to the official unclaimed property sites for states it doesn't include in its results.

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You might get a little extra dough if you take a few seconds to look. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

How can I claim property or financial assets from my state?

If your search results show that a state is holding money or property of yours, you can submit a claim to get it back. Each state handles claims a little differently. Some will allow you to submit your claim online, while others may require you to mail documentation to support your claim. Among the documents you may need to provide are:

  • A copy of your photo ID
  • A copy of your Social Security card or Individual Tax Identification Number
  • Verification of your current address
  • Documentation relating to the type of property, such as banking records, a cashier's check or a stock certificate

Note that a state may auction some financial assets. For example, Florida holds auctions on the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes. After the auction, owners may still be able to claim the item's value.

Are there deadlines to claim my money?

Most states -- including Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas -- do not have a deadline for you to claim your money or property. However, for some items, such as jewelry, coins and stamps or the contents of a safe deposit box, states may auction off the property and then hold the proceeds for the rightful owner to claim. Check with your state to find out if you have a deadline to claim your property and if the state will auction off items after a period of time.

What about processing times for claims?

Don't expect the claim to be processed quickly. The office of the New York State Comptroller said it can take 90 days to process a claim. Florida's Department of Financial Services also said to expect 90 days for its Division of Unclaimed Property to process a claim. The office of the California State Controller said it may take up to 180 days to return property.

What items am I not allowed to claim?

While many states will hold financial assets ranging from mineral rights to the contents of a safe deposit box, some will not take other types of property, including real estate, cars and unused gift certificates. Check with your state to see what types of property you can claim.

Could the state seize unclaimed money to pay a debt I owe?

Depending on the state, if you have an outstanding debt to your state or local government, your payment may be redirected to pay that debt. California, for example, allows its Franchise Tax Board to intercept unclaimed property funds -- as well as state lottery money and tax refunds -- to cover debts you owe to a state, county or city agency.

Can I claim money on behalf of a deceased relative?

States also allow you to claim property of a relative who has died, and the rules about submitting a claim differ state by state. Generally, in addition to supplying documents to verify your own identity, you may need to submit a death certificate, the deceased's will and documents showing your relationship to the deceased and your right to claim the property.

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