Money Savin’ Mama: Seeking money? State may have some of yours

One of the first Money-Savin’ Mama columns I wrote was about finding “free” money: Matching grants for college savings, incentive cash for opening a bank account, half-price gift cards for businesses you patronize anyway.

But there’s another type of free money that might be waiting for you out there. And it’s already yours.

It’s unclaimed property. Uncashed checks, forgotten bank accounts or credit balances turned over to the state.

Each state and four Canadian provinces hold unclaimed property, as well as federal agencies like the IRS and other organizations, including some insurance companies. Combined, it’s estimated to total $58 billion, according to a recent CNN Money story.

I’ve known about North Dakota’s unclaimed property website for years. But it was only earlier this month, as I prepared to write about the topic, that I find my own name there.

And I was excited, because if your name’s on the website, the amount owed to you is at least $50.

I called Linda Fisher, administrator of unclaimed property under the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands, to talk about the state’s unclaimed kitty, which totals $32 million. That money belongs to about 72,000 North Dakotans, she says, a number accumulated since the program started in 1975.

So what’s my share? Fisher peeked at my record and found out it’s $100. Based on the name of the entity that turned the money in to the state, and the Grand Forks address attached to it, I’m pretty sure it was some forgotten money earned donating plasma back in college.

I immediately set about reclaiming my Benjamin.

I printed the claim form from the state’s website, and signed it in front of a notary at my bank. I mailed that to Bismarck this week, along with a copy of my driver’s license, documentation of my Social Security number, proof that I lived at that address and, because my name had changed, a copy of my marriage license. It will take six to eight weeks for the state to process the claim, Fisher says.

Other people may have an easier time filing a claim than I did. I haven’t lived at that address since 2001, so had to dig through my filing cabinet, eventually finding it printed on an academic record from the university. Plus, my legal name change required an additional document.

If the company that turned in your funds provides the state with your Social Security number, the process is even easier, Fisher says. And, she says her department works with people. They once accepted a decades-old Christmas card envelope as proof of address.

Even so, a lot of dough just sits there. (Actually, it’s held in the Common Schools Trust, which supports the funding of K-12 schools in North Dakota, Fisher says.)

Fisher has hand-delivered forms to people, never to have them returned. Her office has set up shop at the State Fair, helping fair-goers fill out the forms and notarizing them. All the people had to do was send in a copy of their ID, but still nothing.

“You can lead a horse to water,” Fisher says.

The whole idea of reclaiming this money reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep, which my church’s Sunday school tackled this month, too. To be a good steward of your money, you’ve got to keep track of each dollar, and go after those that get lost.

ONLINE

Looking for lost money? Search for your name on these websites:

• North Dakota’s Unclaimed Property site: www.land.nd.gov/UnclaimedProperty

• National databases of state-held money: www.missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org

• IRS’s Where’s My Refund tool: www.irs.gov/refunds

• Pension benefits: http://search.pbgc.gov

• U.S. savings bonds: www.treasuryhunt.gov

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