5 sites to help you find lost money

For years, if I needed a little extra cash (the emphasis on little), I'd start digging under the sofa cushions, and if that didn't work out, I'd head to the laundry room (often, my wife takes the coins or dollar bills she finds in my pants and places them in a little pile on the dryer). And if I'm still in need, I'd take the aluminum soda cans we collect to a local recycling plant in exchange for money. The last time I did that, I took home $20 (we had a lot of cans). But what I should have considered was the Internet.

Since you can find almost anything else you want on the web, I shouldn't have been surprised to find out that there are a number of sites out there that exist solely to help people find missing money. So I decided to try some of these sites to see if I could find any of my own lost moola. Here are some of the sites I tried and the results they yielded.

MissingMoney.com. This is a database of unclaimed government property records, like bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, insurance policies and utility deposits. I haven't done a lot of investing, and I can't imagine I've ever not cashed a paycheck owed to me, so I admit I wasn't too optimistic about finding anything. Still, I lived in a few apartments before buying a house and put down utility deposits at each one, so I was hopeful something would come up.

How much loot I made:
Nothing. To start your search, they ask you to type in your name and the state you live (or lived) in. (Don't forget to search under your maiden name, too, if you're a woman and you're married.) Quite a few Geoffrey and Geoff Williams popped up in Ohio, but unfortunately, none of them are at addresses where I've ever lived, so clearly, these are guys who just happen to share my name. A few of these people are owed amounts under $100 from Equitable Life Insurance, but since I've never taken out a policy with that company, it's not very likely that it's me.

Still, don't let my experience discourage you. My editor went to this site and found a link to the California State Controller's Office that indicates she has $398 waiting for her from an insurance security. She has to fill out a claim form and have it notarized (since it involves a security). And on top of that, it might take six months for her to get this money, but as she correctly reasons, "It's almost $400 I didn't have before."

PBGC.gov. This website is run by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an independent agency of the U.S. government that helps oversee voluntary private defined benefit pension plans. Since I'm not of retirement age and have never worked for a company with a pension program, I didn't really expect to find anything here, but just for the heck of it, I looked to see if I'd find any missing money. I also checked my dad's name, just in case.

How much loot I made:
Absolutely nothing. Still, it's worth a shot for many people, I'm sure. When you click on the link above, go to their "Pension Search Directory" in the upper right hand corner to begin your search.

IRS.gov. I suspect a lot of people aren't crazy about the idea of heading to the IRS website, but would the thought of possibly finding an unclaimed refund here make you change your mind? It did for me. They have a Where's My Refund? page where you can type in your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact amount of the refund you haven't yet received to check on its status. While you can search for lost refund checks, you can also use this search tool to check on your refund any time after you file your tax refund forms.

How much loot I made:
Nothing, but that was no surprise. In my case, I have a feeling I'm lucky an IRS agent didn't call me afterward just to laugh at me for looking.

TreasuryDirect.gov. This site is run by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. After clicking on the link, take a look at the bottom left hand corner of the screen where you'll see mention of the site's "Treasury Hunt." Or just click here. It'll take you just a few seconds to see if there are any savings bonds in your name that you haven't claimed. According to the site, every year, there are 25,000 payments that are returned to the U.S. Treasury as undeliverable. The site's search engine doesn't cover all savings bonds, however, just Series E savings bonds from 1974 going forward.

How much loot I made:
A big goose egg.

Unclaimed.org. Run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), at this site, a search will look for money in abandoned savings and checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler's checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders and gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds, life insurance polices, annuities, CDs, customer overpayments and more. To search, you simply click on the interactive map that includes all fifty states, as well as Canadian provinces and U.S. territories.

How much loot I made:
Well, this is disappointing. Unclaimed.org has a partnership with MissingMoney.com, so after I clicked on Ohio, the state I live in now and have for most of my life, it just took me to MissingMoney.com, and we know how that worked out for me.

But this site isn't just a copy of MissingMoney. For instance, I tried looking for myself and any rogue earnings of mine in Indiana, where I went to college for four years, and while they had a search engine that wasn't connected to MissingMoney.com, still nothing came up. I also spent five years living in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, so I clicked on California and found a search engine that wasn't part of MissingMoney.com. But I came up empty here, too.

Just out of curiosity, though, I put in my parents' names; they, too, don't seem to have any missing cash. But then I tried my brother's name. The results showed a few addresses where he used to live, and I found that AT&T apparently owes him less than $100 and that an insurance company just might owe him more than $100. If it's anything significantly over $100, I wonder if I can get a finder's fee from my brother?

While my searches left me empty-handed, my editor (and my brother, thanks to me!) had better luck. Hopefully some of you folks will, too. Now, if you'll all excuse me, I have a couch to go root through.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.

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