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On a Saturday morning earlier this year, I got a text message from my sister, Barbara: “You have unclaimed money. Check this link.” I scratched my head, unsure that anyone owed me money. After some hesitation, I clicked the link, which brought me to the search page for Massachusetts Unclaimed Property. A quick check of my name showed that I was owed $165 by what appeared to be an old freelance client, so I filed a claim online. The entire process took me less than three minutes. About 10 days later, I received a check in the mail for $182.86, which included interest on the original amount.
The most challenging part of the process was overcoming my initial skepticism about having any unclaimed money out there. This is a common thought among Massachusetts residents who may, in fact, have unclaimed property like me, says Mark William Bracken, assistant treasurer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and director of the Unclaimed Property Division. Bracken went on to dispel this and several other misconceptions that keep Massachusetts residents from finding money that rightly belongs to them.
1. I probably won’t have any unclaimed property.You might think it’s unlikely that you’ve left your hard-earned money laying around. But “unclaimed property can be a multitude of things,” Bracken says. “It’s a forgotten bank account, an overpayment of your Comcast bill, $10 left on an AmEx gift card that you never used. Maybe you had a savings account that grandma set up for you when you were a kid that’s been forgotten.”
The state of Massachusetts has over $3.4 billion available to claim and has returned over $787 million in the last 5 years alone. With 18 million properties still waiting to be claimed, there’s actually quite a good chance there’s some forgotten cash waiting for you, Bracken says. “If everybody knew where their money was, we wouldn’t have $3.4 billion, would we?”
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2. The amount I might claim is probably “peanuts.”
“There really is very little trouble in making a claim. It takes about three minutes to fill in the fields online,” Bracken says.
The $182 that I received certainly didn’t feel like “peanuts” to me, but a pleasant financial surprise. “In today’s economic climate, any money is money people can use. So even if it’s $50, that’ll fill the gas tank. If it’s $20, that’s lunch,” Bracken notes.
3. When I search, the state is going to say I owe them money or charge me a fee.
This idea is “not true at all,” Bracken says. Massachusetts Unclaimed Property is, in fact, a division of the Massachusetts State Treasurer’s Office, a government agency made up of state government employees who serve the people of the Commonwealth. Unclaimed property has been turned over to the division for safekeeping. “We’re looking to find people to return it to,” Bracken explains. “This is truly one of those programs that’s about returning money to people. There’s no gotcha here.”
Bracken notes that there are, unfortunately, “websites out there that charge people $19 to search for unclaimed property, and they’re pulling databases from goodness knows where.” But FindMassMoney.gov never charges a fee for anyone to search and never asks to be paid as part of any claim.
4. If I make a claim, I’ll have to provide tons of paperwork.
This was not true with my online claim, which got approved quickly. As Bracken says, “If you do it online, there’s a great chance you can be auto-approved if you enter all the information requested.” About a third of claims go through this quick auto-approval online. If you don’t go through auto-approval, you’ll get emailed a claim form, asking you to fill out about five lines of additional information.
You’ll be asked to provide a copy of your photo ID and proof of your social security number. If you’re uncomfortable submitting your social security number online, FindMassMoney.gov allows filers to confirm their SSN over the phone instead.
5. It just takes too much time to file a claim and receive payment.
“You can get a claim filed within a minute on our website or over the phone,” Bracken says. “If you call into our customer service line at 617-367-0400, we can instantly search your name and issue a claim, and you’ll be off the phone in 60 seconds.”
As for getting payment, once your claim has been approved, it’ll typically take weeks rather than months. For auto-approval claims, you will receive a check within 15 business days Bracken says. For claims that require paperwork to be uploaded or mailed in, it generally takes the department anywhere between 6-8 weeks to approve. Once approved, the claimant will receive a check within 15 business days.
The state also updates you on the status of your claim by email, or filers can check the status of their claim online by entering their claim ID.
My $182 arrived about 10 days after my claim had been auto-approved.
6. I’m “done for life” after making a claim or not seeing my name on the list.
You can actually claim multiple times, and the list is continually growing and adding new unclaimed property at a clip of about $250 million per year. “So go online to check or call our customer service line,” Bracken advises. “Just because you didn’t have anything last year doesn’t mean you won’t have anything this year.”
After getting $182 that I didn’t know was owed to me, and having some lingering misconceptions dispelled by the director of the Unclaimed Property Division, you can bet that I, for one, will be checking the list again in the near future.
Sponsored by FindMassMoney.gov
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According to the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Division, one in ten state residents have unclaimed money.
Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Survey