Your State May Owe You Money. Mine Did. Here's How to Check for Unclaimed Property

The average claimed amount in 2022 was more than $2,000. It's easy and free to check if multiple states are holding money or unclaimed property that belongs to you.

Clifford Colby Managing Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Clifford Colby
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A  big ol' stack of cash on a color gradient background.

Your state may be have onto money or unclaimed property that's yours.

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California is holding onto $11.9 billion worth of unclaimed property. New York has even more: $13 billion in what it calls "lost money." States have stocks, insurance money, cash sitting in checking or savings accounts, uncashed checks, items in safety deposit boxes -- property that belongs to you or relatives you can claim for free.

I claimed $200 my state was holding for me. A coworker came across even more, when he discovered two forgotten retirement accounts he had started when he was younger. One in seven people in the US have unclaimed property or money their states are holding for them, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, waiting to be claimed. 

The average claim amount is $2,080. Whether it belongs to you or a deceased family member, it's easy and free to find out if your state -- or multiple states -- 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, here's how much Social Security benefits could increase next year and how your Social Security benefits work.

How do I search for unclaimed money or property in my state?

You can learn whether a state is holding property for you using a a property search tool from from National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Its map of the US provides links to every state's website for unclaimed property. It also includes links to property search tools for Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Washington, DC, 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.

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 money or property back?

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 $18.4 billion in unclaimed property, and the state comptroller office says it pays out $1.5 million per day.

For more, here's how to see if you can take part in the Delta Airlines settlement and if you're owned money as part of a student loan scam.