Money Talks, So Should You

Ask Jane: Can I recover money I might be owed that was never paid?

Jane Bryant Quinn
by Jane Bryant Quinn, Dimespring Contributor  (@janebryantquinn)

You can, and I just did. In just five minutes online, I discovered two checks that were mailed to me years ago and weren’t delivered. I put in my claim and the money is on its way.

The source is the unclaimed property office of your state. By law, banks and other private companies aren’t allowed to hold unclaimed funds for more than three to five years. If the owners can’t be found, the assets are turned into cash and sent to the state.

READ: What your kid's college education will really cost

An estimated $10 billion is on hold, including dormant bank and mutual fund accounts, uncashed checks and money orders, uncollected refunds from utilities, abandoned safe deposit boxes, and other forgotten sums.

Most of the states maintain a list online of every person they’re holding money for. That’s how I found about my mini-windfall.

My accountant called and said, “Hey, Jane, your name showed up on New York’s unclaimed property site.” (He checks the list from time to time, to see if any of his clients have money owed.)

I discovered that I had a check from a magazine I once worked for, sent to an old address and never forwarded.

There was also a refund check from a utility, sent to my current, correct address (hmmm, either it was mis-delivered or I mislaid it). I don’t know the size of the checks, but I confirmed my identity online and put in my claim.

READ: What's the best $20 you've ever spent?

To see whether you’re on the list, go to the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, click on your state and enter your name. You might also check states where you previously lived. While you’re at it, check the names of your parents and adult children.

You might be owed money by the U.S. government, too. It’s holding an estimated $20 billion in unclaimed income tax refunds, Social Security checks, Savings Bonds that are no longer earning interest, and insured pension benefits. Start your search of these sites at

As I discovered, you never know what will turn up.


Jane Bryant Quinn is a nationally known commentator on personal finance, with books and columns read and trusted by millions. In her long career, she has established herself as America’s most reliable voice for people trying to manage their money well. Read more of Jane's articles here