Some people who read this Watchdog column are going to find lost money they don’t know they have. Yes, you’re welcome.
Some of America’s largest and most prominent businesses might enjoy the same.
For this, we thank retiree Ed Renfrow of Hillsboro, Tenn., a 69-year-old self-described “old porch hound” whose current hobby is to study unclaimed property funds in states across the nation.
He doesn’t have a computer so he does all this work on his phone with his 85-pound dog Henry sitting on his lap.
His particular focus is Texas. Not because of any personal connection (he hasn’t been to Texas in 50 years) but because that’s where this rabbit hole he climbed into took him.
He sometimes watches video clips on YouTube from First Baptist Church of Dallas. He got curious about the church and decided to dig into the Texas unclaimed property fund to see if the church was owed any money.
He knows how unclaimed property funds work because he watched his son Christopher once collect $343 in lost wages. It turns out to be as easy as looking up your name on a website, filling out forms and providing proof of identity.
I’ll show you the various websites where you can check your name or your business name here and in other states to find lost money.
On his search for any money owed to Pastor Robert Jeffress’ church, Ed visited the Texas unclaimed property website – claimittexas.gov – and discovered the church was owed some money but not much. That’s how he ended up researching various businesses in Texas and other states, finding millions of dollars that owners probably don’t know about.
“The more I looked, the worse it got,” he told me.
Unclaimed money can be lost insurance pay-outs, forgotten utility deposits, lost bank accounts, oil and gas royalties and a lot more. If you’ve changed your address, the odds are greater that you have unclaimed money. But that’s not necessarily true. Coincidentally, this week, I received notice from a credit union that if I don’t claim the $5 in an old account it will go into the state fund.
In Texas, as in most states, unclaimed money gets posted on a state-run website for you to search.
There’s $7 billion in the Texas unclaimed account. Last year, the state distributed $309 million — a new record — to its rightful owners, said Bryant Clayton, the state’s assistant director of unclaimed property. Read the comptroller’s announcement.
Among Ed’s most sensational findings, which he shared with The Watchdog, are these:
He joked that he hit the jackpot when he discovered Charles Schwab Corp. has about $1 million owed to it, according to various state websites.
Ed asks, if Schwab is good at managing other people’s money, why does it let that amount sit there?
Schwab did not return my message for questions about the fund.
Schwab also owns TD Ameritrade. Ed found $160,000 listed under it.
It’s not only private companies who are eligible, but also individuals (three of my family members, including me, are listed for small amounts).
Governments show unpaid claims, too. Ed discovered that the Texas Health and Human Services could claim approximately half a million dollars that is listed on the state website. (An HHS spokesperson was unavailable.)
He says he found clues that Silicon Valley Bank was in trouble when the bank and its affiliates showed about $160,000 in unclaimed money. “That should have sounded alarms for their management skills,” he says.
The entities that bother him the most are food banks that help the needy and other charities owed money. He suggests charities search for their names.
Searching “Parkland” in Dallas and nearby he found about $300,000 owed to various entities that are part of the Parkland health care network. Ed said he wrote to leadership at Parkland but never got through to top officials. (No one from Parkland returned my message).
Ed wrote a lot of government officials seeking reforms in unclaimed systems. Most didn’t respond.
In a rare reply, he heard from the American Heart Association, where a staffer wrote him about $19,000 in unclaimed money listed at the Dallas AHA address: “Our finance department is aware and actively pursues unclaimed property owed to it in all states. The claims process is often lengthy with significant documentation required, but rest assured AHA is pursuing all claims it can.”
Ed says the two best state websites for this are in Texas and California. They are the easiest to navigate and provide the most information.
Ed tip: The best approach, he says, is to leave the city blank when searching for names, but plan on entering your Social Security number as part of your name check process.
“I’m just trying to get dead money for live people,” Ed says of his quest.
How to check for money
Companies offer to search for you for a fee. No need to pay. These websites help you check for free.
The Texas site: ClaimItTexas.gov.
Plus, the Texas comptroller’s department will assist in searches by phone or by letter. 800-321-2274 and email: [email protected].
To find websites for other states where you lived, visit https://www.fdic.gov/resources/resolutions/bank-failures/failed-bank-list/unclaimed-property-states.html.
CORRECTION, 10:05 a.m., April 10: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the record amount the state returned to unclaimed property owners. Last year, the state returned $309 million.
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