Does This $197 Million Belong to You? 5 Ways to Find Missing Money

Last Updated Mar 18, 2011 7:39 PM EDT

This post was updated March 16, 2011.
Do you know whether any of your former employers -- or your spouses' employer -- offered a pension? If not, it may be time to check. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is holding $197 million on behalf of 36,000 people. One of them could be you.

And they're only one of several agencies that could be holding your money wondering whether you're ever going to claim it. There are at least five places to find missing money.
  • The Internal Revenue Service has billions in unclaimed taxpayer refunds, for instance. Some are the result of returned mail -- possibly because the taxpayer moved or the IRS got the taxpayer's address wrong. Additionally, the agency suspects thousands of taxpayers who never filed returns are probably also due refunds they paid federal income tax withholding, but didn't earn enough to owe tax. (Many people -- often young adults with part-time jobs and seniors with pensions -- don't need to file tax returns because they earn too little to have a filing requirement. But if they don't file returns, they lose the hundreds of dollars paid in withholding by employers and pension administrators who issued their checks. After three years, the government gets to keep this money.) Think you could be due a refund? Here's where to check: Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or go to the agency's web site at www.irs.gov.
  • The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is the home of pension money gone astray, when a company closes or loses track of a former employee. The average missing pension is worth about $6,500, PBGC officials say. But at least one individual is owed a stunning $676,436. To find out if you're on the list, go to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp's online search directory and plug in your name (or the name of the beneficiary that you think may have lost track of their pension). If there's a company that you lost track of, you can search by the company's name too. If you can't find your pension in the directory, but think you're owed one, it could be that your former employer is still operating. The PBGC only takes over pensions that have been abandoned by the company or their owners. If the company is in business and you didn't disappear into the Witness Protection program, the company should be holding your pension money rather than the government. If you lost track of the company, try a Google search.
  • The U.S. Treasury keeps track of savings bonds -- even when you've forgotten all about them as millions of people apparently have. If you find a bond in a drawer or safe deposit box, you can get a current value for it -- or even replace a bond you've lost -- through the government's TreasuryDirect service. To claim a lost bond, you'll need their form 1048. You can search for it on the site.
  • MissingMoney.com is the place to start searching for looking for forgotten rebates; deposits; state refunds and investments that you -- or a long-deceased relative -- have lost. It's a national database of state "abandoned property" records. It's particularly helpful for people who have a relative who was financially secretive, who now can't fend for themselves. Surviving the Great Depression made my grandmother a little funny about money, for instance. She'd stash $20s inside the pages of books and put her savings account passbook in the back of the sock drawer. Years after she died, we searched "Missing Money" and we discovered that she had a safe deposit box and several bank and brokerage accounts that no one ever knew about. One of the things that made MissingMoney.com so invaluable is that my grandmother moved several times and the site allows you to check most state unclaimed property databases with one search.
  • State Abandoned Property databases aren't all registered with the Missing Money site, so if you think an account or check that you're owed has disappeared, don't stop searching until you've also checked the state abandoned property databases for every state in which you've lived. The massive California unclaimed property database and New York's missing property division (which is holding an astounding $10.5 billion), are not listed on MissingMoney. Can't find your state's unclaimed property division? MissingMoney offers links to every state database, plus a few in Canada, Guam and the Virgin Islands, even when it doesn't include their data in its directory.
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