Finding money you didn't know you had is like discovering lost treasure. For many people, there's treasure to be found in old, forgotten bank accounts.
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Las Vegas resident Michael Catania was surprised when he plugged his name into MissingMoney.com , a website for unclaimed-property searches, and learned that Massachusetts was holding money for him from a forgotten bank certificate of deposit.
The adjunct music professor had lived in four states over the past decade, including Massachusetts, where he had opened the $1,500 CD that had long since matured.
"I'm embarrassed that I forgot about an account with that much money," he says, "but I was moving around a lot and the bank didn't know how to reach me."
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, a group of state officers, nearly $42 billion is sitting in state coffers, having come from financial institutions and other businesses with dormant accounts. In addition to old bank accounts, the property often is from unclaimed insurance policies, uncashed paychecks and abandoned safe-deposit boxes.
Does some of that $42 billion belong to you? Here are some tips to find out:
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— Check with the unclaimed-property divisions of states where you've lived or worked. MissingMoney.com includes links to the unclaimed-property divisions of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and some Canadian provinces. MissingMoney.com has its own nationwide search function, but as its database is sometimes incomplete, you may get more thorough results by also searching the individual states' sites.
— When searching, type in your current name and any others you've used in the past, such as a maiden name. The information is public, so you can search on behalf of friends and relatives as well. You can also search the names of deceased property holders, if you think you're an heir to an owner of unclaimed property. Online searches are free and take just a few minutes.
— If you find a match, contact that state's unclaimed-property agency to file a claim. You may be asked to provide a copy of your driver's license and Social Security card to prove your identity.
— If the unclaimed property is associated with an old address, you may need to provide proof of residence. This could come from a previous tax return, credit report or old utility bill.
— If you're an heir, you may need to provide a copy of the account owner's death certificate and proof the property should go to you. Check with the state for specific requirements.
By law, organizations that hold money for account holders must make reasonable efforts to contact the owners, says Toni Nuernberg, executive director of the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization, a trade group that helps holders of unclaimed property comply with state regulations.
"If the organization isn't able to get in touch with the owner after a certain period — generally three to five years, depending on the state's requirements — the property has to be turned over to the state," she says. And that's where it usually remains "in perpetuity" until claimed.
Catania says once he proved he was the owner of the bank CD, Massachusetts sent the money to his new address. "The check took about six weeks to arrive," he recalls. "It was a great feeling to know I'd reclaimed all that money after spending just a few minutes searching on the web."
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Email staff writer Margarette Burnette: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @margarette.
NerdWallet: What is a CD?
MissingMoney.com: States and Provincial Contact Information & Websites