5 On Your Side

Missing money just might be yours

Posted November 3, 2010 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated November 3, 2010 6:27 p.m. EDT

— Most people are excited when they find a few extra dollars in their coat pocket, but imagine finding hundreds or thousands of dollars that you weren’t aware of.

This so-called missing money can be from old 401(k) accounts from former employers, payments from medical insurance or final paychecks. There's nearly $33 billion in unclaimed assets held by states and other agencies, but thanks to the Internet, finding what's yours is easier than ever.

Serena Merrill managed her mother's finances and cared for her before she died. Then, years after the estate was settled, Merrill found $4,000 in lost assets.

"My sister was really thrilled because she was in extreme financial hardship at that time. It was a total surprise to get this money at all,” Merrill said.

Recently, a finder firm contacted Merrill about more unclaimed assets. Although the firms might be able find your money a bit faster, they charge fees. You can find missing money yourself for free. Start with the Unclaimed Property division of the North Carolina's Treasurer's Office.

The agency is holding about $600 million in unclaimed property, which belongs to about a million people. The 5 on Your Side team found Henry Schwab more than $28,000.

“It’s probably the biggest chunk I’ve gotten,” he said.

It's easy and free to find out if you have unclaimed cash in North Carolina. Just go to NCCash.com. If you've lived or worked in another state, check out MissingMoney.com. The site has links to records from 35 states and the District of Columbia.

An increasing number of databases can help you find other lost assets including: pensions and 401(k) plans, accounts at failed financial institutions and U.S. savings bonds.

"Be aware that only you can claim your money, and for that you'll need proof of your identity. Also be prepared to spend some time filling out paperwork,” said Consumer Reports Greg Daugherty.

One thing you don't need to worry about is your money disappearing. States and the federal government have to keep it until it's claimed.