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$7B from dormant bank accounts and uncashed checks is waiting to be claimed by Texans like you

Gabby Rodriguez
/
KUT

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Texas has about $7 billion in “unclaimed property.” That’s not real estate or abandoned houses. It’s money the state is holding from things like abandoned bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, uncashed paychecks, and unclaimed refunds and deposits.

Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars go unclaimed in Texas. The state doesn't notify people about these funds, so many don't know they have money — oftentimes hundreds of dollars — just waiting to be claimed.

If an employee’s paycheck hasn’t been cashed in a year, for example, the employer is obligated to send those wages to the Texas comptroller, the state’s chief accountant. Similarly, banks with accounts that have been inactive for about three years must try to reach the owners one more time before handing the money over to the state.

The only abandoned physical property the state receives is from safe deposit boxes, medical examiners offices and hospitals. If not claimed in about a year, the state keeps some kinds of paperwork, auctions any valuable items and disposes of the rest. The money from the auction is kept for the owner to claim.

The Texas comptroller operates the website ClaimItTexas.gov, where you can enter your name or the name of your business and see if any of the 66 million unique unclaimed properties belong to you. They range in value from 1 cent to $5.1 million. The average is about $115. The properties belong to individuals, school districts and organizations, like the Boys & Girls Club. There is no time limit to make a claim.

Enrique Urena, who lives in Austin, had mixed feelings when he found out he had $138 due back to him from 2013. He didn’t know exactly why he was owed the money but thought perhaps his mortgage company overcharged him for something.

“First, I was happy and then I'm thinking … why did I have to wait this long? And why did nobody contact me or try to contact me?” Urena said. “There is somebody benefiting from keeping that money versus actually letting us know that, ‘Hey, there may be something out here for you,’ you know?”

The roughly $7 billion in unclaimed money sits in the state’s general revenue fund. It accrues interest for the state and is used in the state’s budget. A portion of the money is set aside to return to people who file claims for the unclaimed property.

Bryant Clayton, the assistant director of the unclaimed property division in the Texas comptroller’s office, said the unclaimed property division doesn’t proactively reach out to people because of limited staff. He said the division effectively has 90 full-timers who primarily work on resolving the claims people are filing.

The amount of money being collected by the state is rising quickly. In fiscal year 2016, Clayton said, the state collected about $500 million in unclaimed properties. In fiscal year 2022, the state collected double that, more than a billion dollars. He says that rise may be due to both the growing economy and more businesses becoming aware of the law requiring them to report the money to the state. At the same time, money paid out in claims is not rising as fast. In FY2016 about $200 million was returned and in FY2022, that only rose to $310 million.

Clayton said the division is working on a pilot program to proactively send money to people without them having to claim it.

How do you find and claim your money?

Search ClaimItTexas.gov. If you find property you think is yours, hit the “claim” button next to it. Depending on the kind of property, you will need to submit documents proving it’s your money.

For an abandoned bank account in your name, for example, that might include a copy of your driver's license, proof of Social Security number and a statement or canceled check associated with the account. There are no fines or fees to get your money back.

You can also claim money from accounts of your deceased family members. Clayton said that process may take more time and be a little more complicated because staff have to verify that the person died and check if the person left their money to anyone else in a will. And they’ll need to check for other surviving family members.

Julie Degar of Granbury, Texas, is in that situation. She said her mom died more than a decade ago. At that time, Degar’s lawyer told her how to directly claim the $1,200 her mom had in a Wells Fargo account. But there wasn’t a branch where Degar lived.

There were also emotional hurdles.

“I had built a wall when my mom died, and I didn't want to deal with it,” Degar said. “I just don't like dealing with thinking about the trauma [of] … her tragic Alzheimer's.”

Degar said she didn’t really need the money, but the topic came up whenever she and her husband had a new household expense.

One day when visiting Austin, Degar said, she went to a Wells Fargo to finally make the claim. But it was too late; the bank had already transferred the money to the state.

“I just thought … another hurdle,” she said. “I wish it had been easier. And I, again, just put it on the backburner and thought someday, maybe.”

Recently, when her daughter got an unexpected health insurance bill, Degar filed a claim with the state. She said she tried her best to submit all of the correct documents.

“The only part I really had trouble with was identifying when my siblings had died,” Degar said. “I didn't have any records of that, so I was kind of trying so hard to figure out dates and maybe I [was] off by a year or so. I don't even know.”

Degar said she and her daughter filed the claim a few months ago, but haven't received any updates.

Tips to avoid assets ending up as unclaimed properties

To avoid these paperwork hurdles, people can take steps to ensure their assets don't become unclaimed property to begin with.

Clayton said it's important to know where your accounts are and periodically do some transactions to keep them active. You should also open your mail so you don’t miss a check that needs to be cashed. And if you have a safe deposit box, let someone know so they can claim it if you die.

While the ClaimItTexas.gov site is specific to unclaimed property in Texas, other states have similar sites.

“Your property doesn't necessarily follow you,” Clayton said. “So if you have unclaimed property in, for example, California and you later moved to Texas, that unclaimed property is still in California. So, be sure to check multiple states.”

He suggested using missingmoney.com, which performs an unclaimed property search in 45 states, including Texas.

“There's nothing shameful about having money in the Unclaimed Property Fund,” Clayton said. “And we're happy to facilitate a claim.”

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