Do you get giddy when you find a $5 bill in an old coat pocket? Then imagine your excitement when you find money – potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars – you didn't know you have.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), there is $33 billion in unclaimed funds stemming from sources such as stock and cash dividends, dormant banking or checking accounts, utility company deposits and safe deposit box contents. Losing sight of assets can happen to anyone – even to those people who fastidiously track their finances in color-coded spreadsheets.

People move and forget to provide their banks, insurance companies and employers with their forwarding address, or people forget about stocks and bonds that they may have acquired when they were young. You're more likely to have unclaimed funds than you probably think – in some states, the odds are one in four. Hey, it happened to me!

Over fifteen years ago, an uncle gifted me some stock shares in a freight company for my thirteenth birthday. Unbeknownst to me, this company merged with another company and all shareholders in the original company were paid cash for their stock shares. I never received any money because the company could not locate me as I had moved several times since I was 13. Since I was a minor during many of these moves, it never crossed my mind or my parents' minds to formally change my address. Recently, I searched my state's unclaimed property registry and learned that I had unclaimed money resulting from the stock merger – and not just pocket change – I had almost $750 waiting for me to claim!

If you want to embark on your own treasure hunt for your unclaimed funds, then read on. It's free, relatively simply and much more lucrative than looking for loose change in your sofa. Happy hunting!

Instructions:

1. Locate the website for your state's controller or treasury office. You can retrieve this information by visiting NAUPA's website and clicking on your state. Next, follow the provided link to search unclaimed property in your chosen state.
2. Enter your name or your business' name on your state's unclaimed property website.
3. If your website lists an unclaimed account that you believe is yours, file an unclaimed property claim. State law governs the claims procedure and the website should provide detailed instructions. Typically, filing a claim requires you to complete a claims form available on the website, provide identification documents such as your driver's license and social security card, and provide proof of your former residence with documents such as a property deed, lease agreement or an old utility bill.
4. Be patient. It can take several months for your state to verify your claim and remit payment to you.

Tips:

1. Don't limit your search to your current state's database. Check every state's database as you could have unclaimed property in states where you have never lived or even visited. For example, if you have unclaimed money from a life insurance company in Alaska, then you will only be able to locate the money through Alaska's database for unclaimed funds.
2. Your legal name is only a starting point in your search. Try out different variations of your name (i.e. Thomas Jay Smith, Tommy Smith and T.J. Smith), and if you're a married woman, remember to also search under your maiden name.
3. There is no time limit for filing claims as the states maintain unclaimed assets in trust for their true owners forever.

Warnings:

1. You may be contacted by a private company notifying you that you have unclaimed funds and offering to help you claim it for a fee. While most of these private companies are legal, they are providing a service you can do on your own for free.
2. Most private companies work within the law; however, there are some scam artists who run unclaimed property schemes. A new scam, first reported in October 2011, comes in the form of an email telling people they have millions of dollars in unclaimed funds. The scam email appears to come from NAUPA and instructs consumers to call an overseas phone number where the scammers will then fish for personal information such as bank account and credit card information and social security numbers. To avoid scams, verify the validity of any private company you are considering using with your state's unclaimed property department, or simply file the claim on your own.

This has been a guest post by Lisa from Miami, FL
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