Banks and Other Companies Owe People Billions of Dollars. Here's How to Get Your Unclaimed Funds. Billions of dollars in unclaimed property is being held by states until owners claim it. Who doesn't love free money?

By Hayden Field

entrepreneur daily
Larry Gilpin | Getty Images

Name a more beautiful English-language phrase than "free money." We'll wait.

Although those words might usually be followed by the word "scam," there's at least one case where the idea of free money isn't too good to be true. That's unclaimed property -- or accounts held by companies or financial institutions that haven't had contact with the owner for one year or more. By law, states are required to hold onto these funds until an owner claims them. We're talking long-forgotten bank accounts, store credit, cashiers' checks, security deposits, IRS refunds and more.

How much is at stake? The National Administration of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) says it has stopped recording the total amount of unclaimed funds "as it is many, many billions of dollars." But the most recent data available (from 2011) showed at least $43 billion. In 2015 alone, $7.763 billion in unclaimed property was collected.

And high-profile businesspeople are just like us -- at least when it comes to unclaimed money. Searching by state revealed that PG&E CEO Geisha Williams has $99 of unclaimed funds in California. Microsoft founder Bill Gates seems to have at least $600 unclaimed in Washington. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has close to $1,000 on the line in California.

Here's how to search for your own unclaimed property: Head to both MissingMoney.com and Unclaimed.org (both endorsed by NAUPA) to conduct a search for any state you've ever lived or worked in. The former allows you to search for your name in all participating states and provinces simultaneously, while for the latter, you'll need to conduct individual searches through each state's treasury website. (You can access them by clicking on any state on the map).

Search results should include the last known address for the money's rightful owner, the company reporting the funds (for example, a life insurance company) and sometimes an estimation of the amount. If the address and the reporting company look familiar to you, go ahead and request your funds. You'll need to input information like your full name and Social Security number, and once you submit a claim, it could take up to 12 weeks to process. Some states allow you to check your claim status after 24 to 48 hours, and if that's a possibility, the link will likely be included in your confirmation email.

Other things to keep in mind? If you go by a nickname, try searching using your first initial and last name so as not to miss out on any results. If you changed your name after marriage, try searching with your maiden name as well.

Related: 32 Proven Ways to Make Money Fast

Hayden Field

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor

Hayden Field is an associate editor at Entrepreneur. She covers technology, business and science. Her work has also appeared in Fortune Magazine, Mashable, Refinery29 and others. 

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