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1 in 10 Americans has missing money, here's how to claim yours

Every year more than $3 billion in missing money is returned to Americans who lost track of bank accounts, investments, or inheritance.

SAINT PAUL, Minn — People lose things all the time, a winter glove, a wallet, a phone, and even money, yes money.

One in 10 Americans has unclaimed money, from missing bank accounts and paychecks, or money they never knew they had.

Literally billions of dollars a year goes missing in the United States, and finding it is as easy as searching your name online.

Just head to MissingMoney.com or the Minnesota Department of Commerce website and type in your name.

And if you have missing money, it will show up and the website will tell you how to claim it.

Peter Brickwedde runs the program here in Minnesota.

He's an assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

"Every state in the country has an unclaimed property program,” Brickwedde says.

“Here in Minnesota we average about $35 to $40 million a year returned to Minnesotans.”

Nationwide, more than $3 billion a year is returned to U.S. residents.

That money can come from a variety of sources, from bank accounts, security deposits, or even unclaimed paychecks that people have lost track of.

Brickwedde says companies are legally required to hold onto that money.

First, the company must make a concerted effort to reunite the missing money with its owner. If the company is unable to track down the owner, the company is then legally required to hold onto the money for a few years.

Brickwedde says the length of time depends on the type of company that is holding the money, and the type of account the money is coming from.

“Usually it’s a time period of three to seven years,” Brickwedde explains.

Once that time period ends, companies are then required to send that money over to the state in which they do business. Here in Minnesota, the Department of Commerce is the governmental entity that keeps track of this money, and the department must hold onto that money indefinitely, or until the owner comes and claims.

Brickwedde says this entire process plays out more than you’d think, in fact, it happened to him.

"I had a $24.25 check from a previous employer that I didn't know,” Brickwedde says. “And I didn’t know I had it until I started working here.”

That might not sound like a lot of money, but sometimes people find millions.

"We have had claims over a million dollars,” Brickwedde says.

Those million dollar discoveries are quite rare, but most the time that money comes from old life insurance policies, investments, companies that have been bought and sold, or even gold coins that someone had stashed away in an old safety deposit box at a bank.

If this all sounds crazy, well, don't worry, even Brickwedde's boss Commerce Department Commissioner Grace Arnold didn't know this was a thing until about two years ago.

"I will say I didn't know what unclaimed property was until I joined the commerce department,” Arnold laughs.

When she learned about unclaimed property, Arnold says she immediately searched her name in the online database.

"Nope, I didn't have any,” Arnold says. “I did have one account that I think is my cousin’s though.”

Brickwedde says a lot of this unclaimed money happens when people move to a new city or state.

“When you change your address or phone number, it can be difficult for companies to find people and track them down,” Brickwedde says. “And when people move to a new home, it’s easy to forget about a bank account or some other account that you might have money in.”

And sometimes this unclaimed money spans multiple generations.

This often happens when grandparents or great grandparents start a company, make an investment, or write down a relative’s name in a life insurance policy.

If the company they started the account with can’t locate the original owner’s next of kin, that money can sit in a database with the Minnesota Department of Commerce for several decades until someone comes along and claims it.

"It's exciting. It's something that you weren't necessarily expecting, and we want to help people get that money that belongs to them back,” Brickwedde says.

Brickwedde says some of the time they can get people their money in less than 72 hours, but if it's a lot of money, or something complicated like an inheritance, it can take several months.

"It's worth it to check more than once, even if you claim something, it's worth it to come back six months or a year later and just check again because there could be something else,” Brickwedde says.

Here in Minnesota you can also search your name using the Commerce Department's website.