How to Find and Recover Unclaimed Money That You're Owed

The thrill of finding lost money is unrivaled, especially if you don't even remember losing it. Sometimes it's small: a forgotten $5 you discover in a jacket pocket. But sometimes it's major: hundreds of dollars owed to you by the state that you didn't know about.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Finding out if there's lost money with your name on it isn't the easiest process, because there's no centralized database where that information is stored. You have to do a little bit of detective work: Guess which states or organizations might owe you money, then track down their websites and enter your personal details.

Be careful: Some sites look credible but aren't, and some look scammy as hell but are actually legit. If you're concerned about the website's authenticity, call the phone number listed on the website. No phone number listed? That's a reason to be suspicious.

Where to Track Down Your Missing Money

So, how can you figure out where your lost money may be hiding?

Well, first, you have to figure out what entities might owe you cash, beginning with the states you've lived in. The federal government's information services website recommends starting at the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) website Unclaimed.org, which contains links to each state's unclaimed money search engine.

NAUPA runs its own search engine, MissingMoney.org, where you can check your name across several states' databases, but it doesn't include every state. If your state isn't on the list, use Unclaimed.org to find the link for your state.

Be sure to check every state you've lived in over the years, because changing addresses is one of the key reasons why money goes missing to begin with. States lose track of your address and have no way to contact you.

You can search for any name, not just your own. I was disappointed to discover that I had no unclaimed money in any state I've lived in, but I did find some money owed to my parents. You're welcome, Mom and Dad!

State treasuries aren't the only places where money could be hiding. Here are a few other places where your cash could be parked:

Don't fall for phone calls promising missing money in exchange for personally identifying details, such as your social security number. The Federal Trade Commission has outlined several ways to figure out if a call is legitimate. The No. 1 rule: Anyone who asks you to send money in exchange for money is a scammer.