McLEAN, Va. (8/20/08)--Consumers aren’t the only ones struggling with tight budgets. Now some cash-strapped states are changing laws to speed up the process of seizing property you’ve abandoned--which makes it more important than ever to quickly claim what’s rightfully yours (USA Today
Aug. 13). In 2006, states collected more than $5 billion in unclaimed property, up 33% from 2003, after adjusting for inflation. Faced with bigger budget deficits, Washington, Alabama, and Oregon recently passed laws allowing them to seize most abandoned property in three years--not five. Delaware, South Carolina, and Louisiana targeted stocks and dividends, seizing them in three years instead of five. And Kentucky now seizes abandoned travelers’ checks in 15 years, rather than seven. Examples of unclaimed property include bank accounts, uncashed payroll checks, uncashed travelers checks, insurance proceeds, safe deposit box contents, utility deposits, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and dividends. In today’s mobile society, it’s not surprising that so much money is left behind. You may have left a job and forgotten to pick up your last paycheck. You may have moved and forgotten to leave a forwarding address. You may have neglected to collect a utility deposit refund after you ended service and started with another company. How can you keep property from going unclaimed in the first place?
* Get--and stay--organized. Keep good records of all bank and savings accounts, safe deposit contents, and life insurance policies. * Don’t keep it a total secret. Tell at least one family member or trusted adviser where your financial records are located. * Record all utility deposits. Even if your memory is good, it’s easy to forget how much you paid several years ago for rent, utility and telephone deposits. * Cash checks immediately. If you don’t, they may get buried under piles of paper and accidentally tossed out with the trash. * Make contact. Correspond with all financial institutions that hold your share draft, share savings, share certificate, and retirement accounts--at least once every three years. * Notify “the world” of a name change. If you change your name due to marriage, divorce, or other legal action, notify your credit union, broker, investment and insurance contacts, credit card issuers, accountant, attorney, employer, physician, 401(k) administrator, mortgage lender and others. * Leave your address behind. If you move, notify all concerned parties of your forwarding address.
To search for unclaimed property, visit MissingMoney.com
. Searches are free and data are refreshed monthly. On the website, go to Site Features and click “Related Links.” Once there, you have access to a wealth of resources. For example, you can:
* Go on a “Treasury hunt” to see if you have savings bonds that no longer are earning interest; * Search for unclaimed tax refunds; * Get information on Veterans Affairs education benefits; and * Look for long-lost retirement accounts.
One final note: Even if your state has seized your abandoned property, you still can file with the state to reclaim it. For more information, read “Click ‘n’ Learn: Get It Together” in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.