By Mary Pitman
Businesses know about escheating unclaimed property to the states. Yet, most never think of looking for listings for their own company. Those that do often find unexpected windfalls.
In 2012, Tenneco, a global auto parts manufacturing company in Lake Forest, IL, filed 45 unclaimed property claims for Pullman Co., which it bought in 1996. Shortly after, they received a check from that filing for $8.1 million – the largest single payout from the Illinois unclaimed property program since it began.
From mom and pop businesses to major corporations, there are millions of dollars in lost money just waiting to be claimed. The bigger the business, the more likely it is they have hundreds, if not thousands, of listings.
This story may not be reported on TV because people aren’t interested if businesses find missing money. However, business owners, employees and shareholders care, especially now – when every cent matters if they’re trying to make payroll or pay expenses.
Starting Your Search
The following information also applies to nonprofits and churches. Here are eight things you should know before beginning your search
01. The first Uniform Unclaimed Property Act was published in 1954. However, most state unclaimed property sites don’t go back that far. For example, New York’s listings go back to 1985. Illinois goes back to 1992. Searching for claims prior to those dates requires asking the state unclaimed property office to check for you.
02. Not all states make it clear that business listings are available. For example, Maryland only lists Last Name, First Name. But even that can be enough. When I took my car to the local Toyota dealership for repair, I had a hunch the business had listings. I entered the name of the company in the Last Name space and 28 listings popped up, which I passed on to the dealership. Upon receiving the information, the comptroller said, “We turn money over to the state, of course, but we never thought of looking up our business.”
03. If you had a company go out of business, or if you bought another business (as discussed in the Tenneco example), look under the former company’s name. With consolidation and acquisitions, this is a huge issue, especially for the banking industry.
Every bank that has been taken over by another bank has listings (a list of bank mergers can be found on Wikipedia). These bank listings go as far back as the state listings go, but you may need to have the state check the time frame before the earliest online listings. Here’s why.
Merrill Lynch incorporated in 1915. A recent check found more than 5,000 listings for them on the New York site, which goes back to 1985. That leaves 31 years between when the uniform act was published and when New York’s unclaimed property online listings began. Who knows how many more listings Merrill Lynch may have? And this would benefit Bank of America, which acquired Merrill Lynch in 2009.
04. To maximize your “hit” rate, use different variations of the business name. For example:
- Under Business Name, reverse the name: Lynch Merrill
- Allow for typos: Merril, Merill,
- Enter the name under Individual: Last Name: Lynch; First Name: Merrill
- Check every state where you have or had a location by going to unclaimed.org. This is the official site of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. It’s the only place I refer businesses to when searching for unclaimed corporate funds.
- Spaces and punctuation can make a difference: M L P F S; M,L,P,F,S; M, L, P, F, S
05. If you have a bankruptcy claim as a creditor against a company, check with Federal Bankruptcy Courts – even if you filed decades ago.
06. If your company owned real estate that was foreclosed or lost to a tax sale, check with the Clerk of Court where the foreclosure took place. If the property sold for more than the amount owed, your company is entitled to the excess. These funds do not get turned over to the state.
07. If your company was due criminal restitution, Google the name of the state where the judgment took place and add “criminal restitution”. California brings in $400,000 a month for victims. Make sure they have your correct contact information.
08. The person who files the claim has to be in a position to file. Check your state’s requirements to ensure you submit claims correctly the first time. Keep track of the claim number to follow up. While you have them on the phone, ask:
- Can the corporate headquarters file for all the listings in this state or do the individual locations have to do it?
- What if a location has closed or the address has changed?
More Money-Finding Tips
These tips are a partial list from The Little Book of Missing Money: A Quick and Easy Guide to Finding Money that is Rightfully Yours. I recently released the fourth edition. It’s available on Amazon in eBook or paperback if you would like additional information. Be sure to get the 4th edition as older editions have outdated links and information. The eBook has the advantage of being able to click on the links instead of entering the URLs. But the information in this article should be enough to get you started.
Mary Pitman is the author of The Little Book of Missing Money: A Quick and Easy Guide to Finding Money That is Rightfully Yours, 4th Edition. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of PenChecks Trust®, its subsidiaries or affiliates.