Money·5 min read

4 Ways to Find 'Lost Money' You Might Not Even Realize You’re Missing

A woman on a laptop in a kitchen
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Jul 1, 2022

Sure, finding that lipstick you thought you lost was exciting. But what if you could get that same feeling by stumbling upon a few hundred bucks? Plot twist: you can. And who couldn’t use some extra cash right now? (Thanks, inflation.) Here are a few ways to find lost money you might not even realize you’re missing.

1. Track down a forgotten 401(k).

If you switched jobs recently, you may have left something important behind with your former employer. Nope, not that framed photo of you and bae in Capri. Your 401(k). And if so, you’re not alone: A 2021 study showed that about 24 million 401(k)s are considered forgotten. And that number grows by 2.8 million accounts every year. Luckily, you can go back for it. 

How to find it: Start by looking for 401(k) documents related to your account with your former employer. The goal is to find your account number and plan administrator(read: the company that’s holding it, like Vanguard or Fidelity).This may involve asking your former employer whether they have any accounts open in your name. Last resort? Go to the Department of Labor’s website, type in your former employer’s name, and find out which plan administrator you might have money with by looking at the company’s Form 5500. From there, you can contact the plan administrator to get help finding your account. 

What to do next: Once you’ve tracked down the account you opened with your former employer, you’ll likely want to do a 401(k) rollover. That will put your money into either a 401(k) with your new employer or an IRA. Psst…we Skimm’d the best investment account for every money goal so you can figure out which one is right for you. 

2. Get a security deposit back.

Attention, renters: If you moved recently, check in with your previous landlord about your security deposit.Security deposits can range from a few hundred dollars to a month’s rent or more, so it’s worth making sure it didn’t fall by the wayside.

How to find it: Review your old bank statements to make sure you got back what you were owed. If you weren’t, contact your former landlord to see if that money is on its way to you.Also, if you put down security deposits for other things (think: utilities), those could be owed to you, too. Check in with your former providers to make sure you receive those security deposits back, too.

What to do next:Start a sinking fund for a big purchase or trip, like that wedding you’re planning to go to. Or start (or bulk up) an emergency fund. Because you never know when you might need it. 

3. Check for unclaimed tax refunds.

It sounds like something that would be difficult to miss, but it does happen. If the IRS didn’t have your up-to-date address, your paper check could have been returned to the IRS. Or if your bank account information was incorrect, your direct deposit may not have gone through.Or if you forgot to file your taxes, you could be missing out on money you’re owed. Hint: the average refund for the 2021 tax year was  $2,893.That’s quite a chunk of (unclaimed) change. And in 2016, the IRS estimated that more than $1.5 billion was missed by about 1.4 million taxpayers who didn’t file returns. 

How to track it down: The good news? There’s a three-year window to claim returns you’ve missed in the past. So, check your records (or your online account through the IRS), and make sure you receive what you’re owed. You can also check on the status of your last three years of tax refunds through the IRS’s Where’s My Refund tool.

What to do next:Invest in your future. If you want to save more for retirement (hi, IRA) or invest for another far-off goal, you might consider putting your tax return into an investment account

4. Find something else with the Unclaimed Property Administrators' website.

You might be thinking that none of the above applies to you. And that may be true. But just in case, there’s an easy way to search online to ensure nothing’s slipped through the cracks. 

How to track it down: The Unclaimed Property Administrators' website. Here, you can basically search yourself and get money that may have your name on it. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators estimates that 1 in 10 people has unclaimed property in their name. These could be accounts with financial institutions or companies that haven’t been touched, uncashed paychecks, or even safe deposit box contents. A quick search could turn up some unclaimed dollars that you can put in your pocket by providing proof of ownership. 

What to do next:Throw some extra money at your loans. Paying down your student loans, mortgage, or car loan could reduce the total amount you owe, and help you save on interest in the long run. 

theSkimm

“Pay me what you owe me” never rang so true. So, claim that money — whether it’s from tax returns or an old 401(k). And, don’t overlook the database of lost and unclaimed property. 


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