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August 2009

By Gerard MacCrossan

Getting Back Your Green

Comptroller employees are promoting unclaimed property searches throughout Texas.

Reconnecting Texans with their unclaimed property

You – yes, you – may own part of a $2 billion treasure trove held by the Texas Comptroller’s office. That’s the estimated value of unclaimed property –including overpayments, co-op dividends, abandoned bank accounts, royalties and the contents of safe-deposit boxes – that state law requires the Comptroller to hold for its rightful owners.

“Many folks could use some extra cash right now, and we want to give Texans back their property, whether it is personal property or money that could save taxpayer dollars by going back to city and county treasuries,” says Comptroller Susan Combs.

Look for your unclaimed property online or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463) to request a search. You can search online for as many names as you wish; phone searches are limited to three names.

In fiscal 2008, the Comptroller’s office returned $123 million, about $3.3 million more than in 2007. Combs wants that figure to rise, and has ramped up her office’s efforts to reunite Texans with their unclaimed property.

The average claim paid out to individuals is about $1,000, according to the Comptroller’s Unclaimed Property division. Many claims are much higher, although no one has come close to Dallas resident Winston D. Johnson, who claimed and received nearly $4.3 million in 1996.

You can search for unclaimed property by looking for your name in an annual insert published in newspapers around the state. Nearly a decade ago, however, the Comptroller’s unclaimed property hoard went online, in a database allowing anyone to search for their names and file a claim to have their funds returned. ClaimItTexas is updated regularly with new property received by the Comptroller’s office.

Local Government Dollars…

Some unclaimed property is owed not to individuals but to units of local government. The Comptroller’s Local Government Assistance (LGA) and Unclaimed Property divisions have teamed up to tell 254 Texas counties and 900 cities about money they could be owed. For some counties and cities, the property comes to only a few dollars, but for others the amount can be substantial, such as Harris County’s $284,146.

LGA Deputy Director Linda Shirck says these government entities could have dozens or hundreds of individual claims. Her department’s staff has contacted auditors and treasurers in communities across Texas. Ten counties and four cities are owed unclaimed properties valued at more than $50,000 each; another 11 communities could be owed more than $25,000.

Unclaimed Property

Fast Facts

Texas’ unclaimed property law requires financial institutions, businesses and governmental entities to report to the state on any personal property they are holding that is considered abandoned or unclaimed (after a one- to five-year time period).

  • Texas has nearly 12 million properties in its database, worth some $2 billion.
  • In 2008, Texas returned $123 million to its owners.
  • The average value of property returned is $1,000.
  • The Comptroller’s office estimates that one out of every four Texans has unclaimed property.
  • Texas has no statute of limitations on unclaimed property. The property always belongs to the owner(s) or their legal heir(s).
  • It takes about one minute to find out if you have unclaimed property listed in the state’s database, and only a few minutes to file your claim.
  • The Comptroller’s office processes claims within 60 to 90 days, if no additional information is needed.

“Different tools have been used – letters and publications – but they weren’t working,” she says. “A telephone call is more personal, and our staff is getting better results.”

…And Money for You

But the Comptroller’s recent efforts aren’t aimed simply at governments. Outreach specialists Korry Ingleman and Amy Redmond visit events around the state to help Texans search for unclaimed property.

From March to July 2009, they attended 15 events – from motorcycle rallies to a meeting of the State Bar – that yielded 749 claims for a total of $256,294.73.

“We attend high-traffic events that draw crowds from neighboring counties to maximize the number of people who can find out about Texas unclaimed property,” Ingleman says.

Outreach also includes contacting rural Texans and enlisting the help of local officials such as county treasurers who can help track down people in their communities. FN

You can find out more about Texas Unclaimed Property or search for yourself, your family and your friends online.

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