Missing money? State launches new online tool to make it easier to get your unclaimed property

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 - 6:12 pm

Trying to make it easier to return $6.9 billion in “missing money” to millions of Californians, the state Controller’s Office on Tuesday announced a new online tool for its unclaimed property program.

That program is designed to reunite Californians with forgotten funds – old bank accounts, uncashed paychecks, utility refunds, etc. – that are sitting with the state.

“A lot of people didn’t want the hassle of filling out the paperwork for small amounts,” said state controller’s spokeswoman Hallye Jordan. “We’re hoping this will help us clear out the smaller amounts and get this money back in the hands of its rightful owners.”

The online tool – at www.claimit.ca.gov – is for claims where the property is worth less than $500 and there is only one owner listed.

It’s considered a detour around the “snail mail” paper system for filing a claim, in use since 1959. Controller John Chiang calls it a “painless option” that means consumers could get a check for their unclaimed property within 14 days.

According to the Controller’s Office, about 72 percent of the 24.9 million “lost items” held by the state are eligible for the online system, which requires submitting a Social Security number and proof of address. It does not apply, however, to unclaimed money orders, cashier’s checks, royalties and the contents of safe-deposit boxes. Those items must still be claimed using the paper process.

Under state law, any financial account that goes untouched for more than three years must be turned over to the Controller’s Office for safekeeping. In recent years, California’s unclaimed property totals have been growing. A year ago, there was roughly $6.4 billion belonging to an estimated 21.5 million people. As of January, it’s up 7 percent, to $6.9 billion belonging to 24.9 million individuals.

Jordan said the increase is due to better compliance by financial institutions and businesses, as well as legal settlements with 18 life insurance companies over unpaid death benefits.

Most of California’s $6.9 billion in unclaimed property is in cash – ranging from pennies to $2.5 million per person – but the state is also holding gold bullion, rare jewelry, baseball card collections, even tins of sardines and bottles of liquor.

The new tool could be welcome news to those who’ve found the paper system cumbersome.

Scott Hewett, a Roseville contractor, said his elderly father filed a claim with the state’s program several years ago to recover a $50 rebate. Although his father, now deceased, provided all the required paperwork, Hewett said it took five or six months to receive his check. “In this day and age of computers and technology, there is no reasonable explanation why it takes so long,” Hewett said.

To check if you have unclaimed property, go to: www.claimit.ca.gov for California or, for all 50 states, www.unclaimed.org, run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968.

Read more articles by Claudia Buck

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