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Got two minutes? See if your state owes you money. Here's how

Your state's unclaimed cash isn't a secret or hard to find. Here's what to do.

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You can check to see if your state owes you money for free online. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The first half of the child tax credit checks are ending in December and the possibility of a fourth stimulus check is not promised. But your state may want to send you money for other reasons, such as if it's holding on to something of yours. It's a nice surprise, especially if you're still waiting on long overdue tax refunds. But how can your state hold onto money that belongs to you? Here's what we know. 

States can hold onto uncashed checks, stocks, bonds or the contents of a safe deposit box. And you have the right to check and claim your money for free Some states publicize the news on its website, like New York's $17 billion in unclaimed property. The state is returning close to $1.5 million to residents every day, totaling over $283 million this year. 

The process to see if you have unearned money only takes about 2 minutes, and just a few minutes more to claim it. And once the state sends what it owes you, you can have extra money to spend or save. We'll show you what to do. And for the latest on money, start by learning about the expanded child tax credit or the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and what it means for you. This story was recently updated.

How can I see if my state owes me money?

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.

How can I claim money that my state owes me?

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.

How long does it take to process a claim with my state?

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.   

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Most states don't have a deadline to claim property or money. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why are states able to hold onto unclaimed money?

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.

What kind of unclaimed property can my state hold on to?

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).

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.  

When is the deadline 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.

If I have unpaid state debt, will it affect how much money I can claim?

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.  

How can I claim money on behalf of my deceased family member?

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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