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Does the Government Owe You Money?

Here's a sweet way to get some extra cash: See if the government owes you money. State treasuries hold billions of dollars in unclaimed property—from old savings accounts, uncashed dividend checks, returned utility deposits, uncollected insurance benefits and other money that may have been returned to the sender if, say, the owner moved and failed to update a mailing address. Most states have an unclaimed property database that makes it easy to see if any of that money is yours. You can find links to each state's agency through the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. You can also search one big database at MissingMoney.com, which includes unclaimed property information from most states.

The creation of these databases has greatly simplified the search for missing money. Simply enter your name and the states where you have lived and you'll immediately see a list showing if there is unclaimed property for someone with your name, the last address on file with the financial institution, and whether the unclaimed property is worth more or less than $100. You'll then need to fill out a form—usually available on the website—verifying your identity to claim the money.

Also, the IRS has more than $100 million in unclaimed refund checks. Use the "Where's My Refund?" tool at the IRS website to see if the government owes you money. It can be well worth the time to check—the average undeliverable check is for more than $1,000.

Another potential source of "found money": U.S. savings bonds. Maybe you misplaced them in a move or never knew they existed if, say, grandparents bought bonds in your name as a gift that were squirreled away by your parents in a secure, undisclosed location. Go to TreasuryHunt to look up savings bonds issued in 1974 or later.

But don't respond to emails or calls from treasure hunters who promise to find funds for you. That's a common ploy of scam artists who use the approach to try to get your personal information (for identity theft) or bank information (to steal your money). And it's rarely worthwhile to pay someone to track down funds you can look for yourself.

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