The Unclaimed Advisor

MISSINGMONEY.COM. Consumer Reports termed this resource “the only legitimate national search website.” In a world of pretender websites, MissingMoney.com delivers by providing users the ability to simultaneously search the unclaimed property holdings of 40+ states and Canadian provinces absolutely free, and without gimmicks. Endorsed by the states and NAUPA (which oversee its operation), MissingMoney.com also includes links to the search engines of the handful of states that have not yet joined the national initiative.
FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION (FDIC). A searchable website containing an inexplicably limited population of lost accounts held by failed institutions. Contents consist of accounts in institutions that were closed between January 1, 1989 and June 28, 1993, where the FDIC was named receiver and the receivership has not yet been closed. This represents only a fraction of lost accounts in failed institutions; the majority are reported to the states after 18 months, and the states are given 10 years to locate missing account holders (after which the funds are returned to the FDIC and, generally, all owner rights are extinguished). The FDIC website also includes data for more recently issued “dividend checks” (receivership payments to creditors of failed institutions, as well as uninsured portions of deposits).
NATIONAL CREDIT UNION ADMINISTRATION (NCUA). Access to a PDF file containing, by failed institution, the name and city of residence of lost account owners. Unfortunately, lost depositors in credit unions enjoy even fewer protections than depositors in failed institutions insured by the FDIC; if accounts remain unclaimed 18 months after an institution’s failure, the deposit insurance lapses, and the depositor’s best hope is to receive treatment as a general creditor (which can only occur while the receivership remains open). There is no reporting of lost accounts to state unclaimed property programs by NCUA or the National Credit Union Insurance Fund (NCUIF), as they have not been required to do so by Congress.
UNITED STATES TREASURY, BUREAU OF PUBLIC DEBT (United States savings bonds and other registered bonds and notes). The “Treasury Hunt® database” facilitates searches for unclaimed savings bonds and similar debt instruments issued by the United States government. However, as the website acknowledges, the database is limited in that it only provides information on Series E bonds “that have reached final maturity and were issued in 1974 or later.” The owners of the vast majority of matured, unredeemed bonds—an estimated 40 million items with a value exceeding $16 billion—cannot be readily identified due to the manner in which the issuance records have been stored (5 billion microfilm images) and indexed (in various sorts). The resolution of this problem—the creation of a comprehensive database of the owners of all unclaimed United States savings bonds—has been the subject of an ongoing National Association of State Treasurers/National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators initiative in Congress. (It should be noted that the Treasury Hunt® website also contains information on which bond series have been matured, as well as records (1996 to current) of savings bonds that were mailed to purchasers but returned as undeliverable to the United States Treasury. Additionally, the website provides assistance to individuals who wish to inquire as to the status of bonds issued prior to 1974, where the serial number is known.)
BANK OF CANADA  Unclaimed deposits and negotiable instruments, held or issued by federally regulated banks and trust companies within Canada, are reported and delivered to the Bank of Canada, which operates as the country’s central bank, similar to the Federal Reserve.  The Bank of Canada maintains a searchable database which, according to the Bank of Canada, consists of 1,023,000 accounts, with a value of $351 million.  Unclaimed deposits and negotiable instruments are transferred to the Bank of Canada after 10 years of inactivity; the funds are held by the Bank of Canada for 30 years, after which they are “prescribed” (escheated to the government).  Accounts with a value of $1,000 or greater are not prescribed.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (IRS)  The “Where’s My Refund” web page maintained by the IRS allows taxpayers to search for tax refund checks that were returned by the post office as undeliverable.  In 2007, the IRS reported that it had received back checks owed to more than 115,000 taxpayers, representing $110 million in refunds.  The database maintained by the IRS is limited, however, to refund checks issued within the preceding 12 months; older, undeliverable refund checks can be researcher contacting the IRS Refund Hotline (800-829-1954).  Under federal law, there is differential treatment given to undeliverable tax refund checks (the taxpayer receives a permanent tax credit) and uncashed tax refund checks (the check becomes invalid after 12 months, but the taxpayer may claim payment against a special fund for outstanding governmental obligations).  Note, a New York court has concluded that with respect to unclaimed IRS refund checks, “Congress’s evident intention broadly to override the states’ right of escheat without reservation ought to be given full effect.”  The court reached this conclusion in its review of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, which provided in pertinent part that “[t]he overpayment of any tax…shall not be refunded…if the amount of such refund…would escheat to a state or would otherwise become the property of a state under any law relating to the disposition of unclaimed property.”  (With respect to taxes that were overpaid but no tax return was filed—and thus no tax refund check was ever issued—different rules apply; generally, a tax return must be filed within three years of the year in which the tax was overpaid in order for the taxpayer to receive a refund.  Otherwise, the overpayment of tax is forfeited.)
PENSION BENEFIT GUARANTY CORPORATION (PBGC)  In 1996, the PBGC established “Pension Search.” This on-line utility currently contains unclaimed property records for more than 32,000 individuals, owed $133 million in undistributed benefits from terminated defined benefit (pension) plans.  The database reflects beneficiary accounts from more than 6,600 companies, which either terminated their pension plan and were unsuccessful in distributing all benefits, or the PBGC took over a defined benefit plan as insolvent.  The PBGC is a federal corporation, created by Congress under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).  As the guarantor of pension benefits, PBGC, and not the states, administers undistributed benefits of terminated defined benefit plans.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD)  HUD maintains a database of individuals entitled to refunds on Federal Housing Association (FHA)-insured mortgages.  Lenders participating in the FHA program are insured against borrower default; borrowers pay the premium(s) for this insurance coverage.  When an FHA loan is terminated, a borrower may be entitled to an insurance premium refund or (with respect to loans originating prior to 1983 and covered by insurance issued through a mutual program), a “distributive share” of the mutual program’s surplus. A federal court has ruled that HUD is permitted to exclusively search for missing borrowers due refunds for a period of two years after a refund becomes payable; thereafter, however, the records of unclaimed refunds are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1986.  HUD does not pay unclaimed distributive share (as contrasted with premium refunds) more than six years after a notice of refund was mailed to the borrower’s last known address.  A number of other restrictions/limitations exist with respect to the calculation of premium refunds.
OFFICE OF THE SPECIAL TRUSTEE FOR AMERICAN INDIANS (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR) The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) was created by Congress in 1994 to better manage funds held in trust by the federal government on behalf of both tribes and individuals.  As of the close of 2007, the OST was holding more than $70 million, owed to over 70,000 individuals who could not be successfully located.  The OST maintains a searchable database of unclaimed distributions, as well as a toll-free telephone number (888-678-6836).