Looking for a quick 50 bucks — or even more — in your pocket?
Time to dig up some missing money via Michigan's Unclaimed Property website. The site offers a way to uncover old forgotten paychecks, abandoned bank accounts, some lost life insurance policies, forgotten stocks, even refunds on a DirectTV bill.
I've actually found money here over the years, including a lost paycheck for my brother-in-law, some missing money for co-workers, and an insurance-related payout for my mother.
Now, the process is expected to be even easier after a recent makeover. You no longer need to file paper forms or send in copies of documents by mail.
Instead, you can check for unclaimed property online, file a new claim and send the appropriate documents to verify your claim, all electronically.
The online treasure hunt starts at Michigan Unclaimed Property's website at www.michigan.gov/unclaimedproperty.
You can enter your name and zip code to see if Treasury has anything that might be yours. The site does not list how much money you might be owed.
"If your name is on the site, that property is worth at least $50," said Terry Stanton, manager for the Michigan Unclaimed Property, Michigan Department of Treasury.
It's also possible that the state has unclaimed property for a smaller amount, say $20 or $30. So if you file a claim for something listed on the site, you might end up receiving a bit more money for smaller claims, too.
I was able to use the state program to claim roughly $18 once leftover on an old Bluebird by American Express and Walmart prepaid card. The money had been turned over to the state after years of not using the card.
You can call Michigan Unclaimed Property at 517-636-5320, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. Banks, businesses and others who hold the uncashed paychecks and other unclaimed property now are able to file reports and make payments to the state Treasury Department electronically, too.
It should go without saying, but you do not have to pay anyone to find your unclaimed property.
Out of the blue, you might receive a letter from an out-of-state firm, often based in the state of Utah, that claims to specialize in locating "owners of old financial receivables and assisting such owners in recovery."
If so, go to the state website yourself, see if you have a claim and file for the claim on your own. Otherwise, you could have to share a percentage of the payout. Why would you want to do that?
The Better Business Bureau has warned over the years about outfits that suddenly have found unclaimed cash for you. "Well — keep your wallet in your pocket. You can find unclaimed money yourself — without spending a dime!" the BBB said.
Never, ever pay upfront to one of these outfits.
And don't enroll in any services for $30 or so a month to keep you up to date on missing money, either. That's just another good way to hand over hard earned cash to someone else for something you can do for free.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators also has warned of a scam where con artists impersonate the group. Consumers should watch out for fraudulent letters arriving via the U.S. Mail and in consumers' email inboxes alleging that they have unclaimed property. In some cases, the crooks use a letterhead that looks like it is from the national group.
One fake letter asked for more than $2,000 upfront to help the consumer claim property. It's a scam.
Under Michigan's unclaimed property laws, banks, insurance companies, corporations and other entities are required to submit customers' property to the state when no activity is reported over a certain period of time, usually three years.
It might be something like money left over in a checking account, an uncashed pension check, money in an abandoned IRA, money from an expense check.
The property is held by the state until a rightful claim is filed.
Stanton noted that if the unclaimed property involves something in a safe deposit box, the state will work to locate the owner so the contents can be returned.
But the contents may be auctioned if the owner cannot be located.
"Under statute, we cannot hold properties for more than three years," he said.
Yet the owner still may have a claim even after that.
"While contents may be auctioned, prior to auction valuables are appraised and the monetary value received at auction is forever claimable by the rightful owner (heirs)," Stanton said.
Michigan said it has returned about $400 million to rightful owners or their heirs over the past four years, including more than $96 million in the past 12 months.
The largest payouts to individuals can be $1 million or more. In some cases, beneficiaries can receive more than a few hundred thousand dollars from the proceeds for unclaimed life insurance policies.
The average claim amounts to around $2,200.
How much work it will take to get this money will depend greatly on the type of unclaimed property. No surprise, you're going to go through a few more hurdles to claim that you are the rightful heir to an unclaimed life insurance policy.
If you've lived in another state, you can search for unclaimed property elsewhere by going to www.unclaimed.org.
The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services has a search service to help you locate a deceased family member’s life insurance policy or annuity contract that was purchased in Michigan. See www.michigan.gov/difs.
I found it amazingly simple, though, to collect my $18 from that prepaid card. I discovered there was no money on the card when I tried to use it once, even though I knew there should have been money left on it.
I called the prepaid card company and was told the money had been turned over to the state. I feared an endless hassle to claim less than $20. But all it took was a simple phone call.
Worth a few minutes of my time? You bet.
"It's always claimable — always," Stanton said.
So even if you've dragged your feet in the past, you can go back and start the process to claim the cash.
Frankly, I've been shocked sometimes when I've alerted friends or some relatives that they have a chunk of unclaimed property sitting with the Michigan treasury and they simply let that money sit there. (My brother-in-law, who is retired, acted quickly and was thrilled to find a few hundred dollars from an old, uncashed paycheck from a job at a golf course.)
Why wouldn't you want to claim an old paycheck? Or any refund money? Yes, there is some time involved here. But it's really not all that much extra time to get some of this money.
"It seems to me in today's world everybody is usually looking for a few extra bucks. Why not?" Stanton said.
Contact Susan Tompor: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-8876. Follow Susan on Twitter @Tompor.
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