Why You May Have a Big Windfall Coming (and How to Find Out Fast)

The other day I was in the mood for a couple of chili cheese dogs, so I decided to stop by my local Wienerschnitzel and satisfy my craving.

As I got to the counter to pay for my food I realized that I still had an old $5 gift certificate tucked behind my business cards.

Of course, I was ecstatic. After all, rediscovering that worn-out certificate in my wallet was like finding a $5-bill on the ground — and who doesn’t love it when that happens?

You may unknowingly have a little money hiding right in front of you too, although the cash I’m talking about isn’t tucked in a hidden recess within your wallet.

It’s been estimated that approximately 1 in 8 people in the United States have missing money waiting to be claimed, usually from bygone bank accounts, income tax refunds, uncashed paychecks, utility deposits, insurance policies, escrow deposits, certificate of deposits, and saving bonds. Fortunately, there are unclaimed property laws in every state that instruct companies to turn over those forgotten funds to an appointed official whose job is to help reunite it with you or your heirs.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), in 2011 more than $2 billion was returned from 2.5 million claims; but that’s just a fraction of the $41 billion still waiting to be returned to its rightful owners today.

Some of that money might even belong to you!

How to Determine If You Have Unclaimed Money

OK, Len; so how do I find out if I’ve got a little cash out there waiting for me?

Well, the NAUPA has a free easy-to-use search engine to help you determine if there’s any money in your name waiting to be claimed. At their site is a map of the US and Canada; simply click on the state or province you think might have unclaimed money waiting for you.

Another free site for finding lost money is MissingMoney.com. To use it, simply enter your name and one or more of the states you’ve lived in, and then the search engine will begin working its magic.

Within a few seconds it returns a detailed list of potential matches that includes the name, last known address, original source of the unclaimed money, and the amount of unclaimed property in non-specific increments such as “over $100.”

In order to cast a wider net, I only entered my last name into the search engine. At first, I got really excited when 23 people with my surname popped up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listed in any of the results; the closest match was for somebody named Lazabo Penzo from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Oh well.

Checking for Unclaimed Retirement Money

If you’re a retiree, don’t forget to check websites that track unclaimed 401k plans, and unclaimed pension money from companies that went out of business or ended a defined plan.

How to Avoid Having Unclaimed Funds

Experts suggest that if you want to avoid having unclaimed funds, you should always:

  • Cash your checks promptly.
  • Keep accurate records of your bank and savings accounts.
  • Keep a record of all utility deposits.
  • Prepare a notification checklist of all your monetary accounts for when you change addresses or your name changes for any reason.

One Final Note …

Remember, there’s absolutely no reason to patronize websites that charge fees to search for your unclaimed property. Why pay a middle man when you can do the work for free? Especially when it’s so easy to do a quick search all by yourself.

By the way, of the 23 Penzo’s with unclaimed money who showed up in my database search, four have windfalls of more than $100 on the books — so if you happen to be one them, don’t forget to send a 10% finders fee to yours truly.

I’m talkin’ to you, Lazabo.

On second thought … Just buy me a chili cheese dog and we’ll call it even.

Photo Credit: Tax Credits


  1. 1

    Fran Rupley says

    Hi Len!

    Don’t be shocked when these organizations keep HALF of your money! I found $700 owed to me from insurance refunded when I sold my house, and the check didn’t get forwarded to my new address – State of California had my funds, but only gave me $350!

  2. 4


    Every time I see a post like this I go check. And every time I do, I come away disappointed. But perhaps I should be happy — that I’m not lackadaisical enough to let money go missing. :-)

  3. 6


    Phew, 41 billion is a lot of unclaimed assets! I will sure try out my luck…maybe I can claim part of that dough…lol
    It does make one wonder how we get to such a figure…all in all, keeping organized financially will ensure no funds of your are hanging aimlessly out there…eye-opening post!

  4. 7

    Allyn says

    Wow. My name is on the list. I checked on a whim; I didn’t really expect there to be any money laying around that I hadn’t accounted for, but apparently there is. The information is ‘undisclosed’ on the website, but I’m submitting a claim. I can’t imagine what it could possibly be. Thanks Len.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      Awesome, Allyn! Would you be kind to check back with us here and let the readers know what kind of windfall you got? I’m really interested to know how you made out.

      • 9

        Allyn says

        I sure will. It might take some time, though. I gave them my current contact information. Once they get it (I had to snail-mail it, the claim form on website wasn’t working), they’ll research my claim. Who knows how long that’ll take — it’s a state office and if they move as fast as the folks in the DMV, it could be weeks. Then they send me a claim package in which I’m guessing I’ll have to prove that I’m me and I’m the person owed the money. Blahblahblah, you know how this goes. But yes, I certainly will follow up. All thia to-do and it’s probably only $5.

  5. 10

    Jen from Virginia says

    Hmmm, I checked the boxes of the towns I’ve lived at and it showed one of my previous addresses. Wondering why the state of North Caroline would have a check for me for $50 or more. When I was a teen at that address I was working for Foodlion and Dominos so maybe one of their headquarters was in North Carolina. Thanks, Len!

  6. 12

    Lynn says

    I checked a year or so ago on Missingmoney.com and there was a listing. After filling out the paperwork I finally received over $400 from an old employer. I still don’t know exactly what it was for but money is money.

  7. 13


    Several years ago I received an email from one of those paid sites indicating that I had unclaimed property in Wisconsin. I went to the WI state treasurer’s site and it turns out that I did. I applied directly to the state and several weeks later received a nice sized check. This money had been issued to me some 20 years ago from an insurance company. A nice little windfall.

  8. 14


    I searched one of these sites a few years back didn’t find my name as well, but that figure just keeps growing. I will check again to see if I have any luck. Thanks for the post.

  9. 15

    Linda in Texas says

    It turned out that I had $9.44 owed to me from overpayment for physical therapy 5 years ago. However, I had to present copies of my driver’s license and Social Security card to claim the money. I’m not sure if it’s worth the risk of submitting that information through the mail for $9.44.

  10. 16


    Great suggestions. With us, it was: a) writing an article on the UK budget when we realised that we have been underpaid child benefit (everyone in the UK gets chidl benefit at the moment but this is changing); and b) sorting out the filing cabinet and realising that we have un-claimed PPI.

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