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Money Lost and Found: How to Find Your Unclaimed Funds

Jean Chatzky  |  August 24, 2021

An ocean of 401(k) accounts with $5,000 or less have been left behind.

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This Week In Your Wallet: Missing Money

Before we dive into the financial news of the week, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the headlines that have been on all of our minds, and take a look at how we can help, even when we’re far away. Last week, the world was rocked with tragedies in Haiti and Afghanistan —  a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti coupled with the assassination of a leader, followed shortly by the news of the collapse of the Afghan government and the resurgence in power of the Taliban. In the wake of these global disasters, many of us are asking: Is there anything I can do? Absolutely, yes. This week, we take a look at some of the reputable, on-the-ground organizations working to aid citizens in need, and break down how you can get involved. 

Back-to-Work + Setting Boundaries 

Maybe you’ve noticed – I know I have – the flurry of stories describing what to wear when you head back to the office. Maybe you’ve surfed your way to a favorite site or two, or even popped into an actual store or two – I know I have – to try to work out what new pieces will make you feel ready to be “in person.” Maybe it’s time to put a pin in that.  

(Note: I know what I’m talking about here. I had just done a wardrobe refresh for a full line up of Spring 2020 events when COVID hit and cancelled my calendar and yours. Eighteen months later, I still have items with tags. Why? Because I’ve worn the same three Zoom-friendly shirts for basically everything.)

Anyway, it just doesn’t look like we’re going so far so fast. As Chip Cutter reports for The Wall Street Journal, the longer the pandemic goes on – and the longer many of us are working remotely – the more we seem to embrace it. A new study from PWC shows that 41% of workers want to continue the remote life indefinitely, an increase from 29% when the same question was asked in January. Many are getting their wishes…at least for now. Last week, Apple pushed off the return of employees until January 2022, joining a host of big-name companies including Facebook, Chevron, Wells Fargo, Prudential and others in delaying the time frame to come back to the office.    

What’s the problem here? Employers are worried that the longer workers are away from the office, the more disconnected they are. That may make them more susceptible to being poached in this hot-and-heavy hiring environment, particularly in industries that are scrambling for talent like healthcare and tech.

The takeaway: If you’re happy with your work-from-home situation, you may be able to enjoy it for a little longer. If you’re not, now’s the time to get those resumes out and about. In either case, it’s high time to make sure that your work life isn’t infringing on your home life – my conversation with Terri Cole about how to set boundaries that stick was an eye-opener. And maybe, just maybe, wait a little while longer before buying those back-to-work clothes.

Do You Have Missing Money?

A seductive question, I know. How do I know? Because whenever I’d do a Today Show (or other TV segment) with that premise, it would inevitably rate well. Also, because – well – I’m human.  And so, after I wrote that headline, I surfed to, the site endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators and had a go. (Hint: If you are going to do this, it’s best to go broad first. Start with your last name and the various states in which you’ve lived. If you have a common last name, go with that and a first initial. Then narrow.) I didn’t have any money this time but one of my kids did. Quick work. Highly satisfying.

But that’s not the only kind of money that many of us are missing. Thanks to the fact that we now change jobs an average 12 times over the course of a career – and many of us handily top that number – there is an ocean of 401(k) accounts with $5,000 or less that have been left behind.  As of 2013, they totaled $8.5 billion, CNBC reports. It’s undoubtedly higher today.  

Two congressional proposals, both of which have bi-partisan support, would change that. They include the formation of a database for lost-and-found for workplace retirement accounts as well as other pension assets. Like, individuals would be able to search for money they feel they’ve lost. But the Pension Benefit Guaranty Administration would also proactively reach out to owners who’ve lost more than $1,000.  

The money is sorely needed. Although balances in 401(k) plans and IRAs soared over the last year (thank you, stock market) and the number of new 401(k) millionaires jumped by 84% over a year ago, according to new research by Fidelity, others will be suffering the financial impact of the pandemic for many years to come. In The Washington Post, Michelle Singletary cites research from Pew that 51% of working adults say the pandemic “would make it harder for them to reach their long-term financial goals.” The latest measure of the National Retirement Risk Index – compiled by the Center for Retirement Security at Boston College – says nearly half of all American households are at risk of not being able to maintain their current standard of living in retirement. (An interesting aside: This story on millennials who have hit their peak earning years, but are still feeling high levels of financial stress.

Credit Or Debit?

For years, it seemed like only gas stations posted higher prices for those paying with credit cards.  Not so anymore. As The Wall Street Journal reports, more small businesses are passing the credit card fees that they are charged for accepting the plastic onto consumers. Five years ago, 2% of small businesses charged fees for credit card payments. Today 5% do. (Big companies tend not to surcharge, but bury the fees in price increases instead, the story notes.) What’s the response from consumers? Anecdotally, many switch to debit. Some probably even pay – gasp! – cash. 

A Wrinkle In Your Travel Plans?

Finally, travel cancellations are once again on the rise due to Delta variant fears. If you’re weighing a go-or-no-go decision, Dr. Leana Wen lays out a strategy here for making the call, whether you’re going to a wedding, flying with young children, looking to take an international trip or renting a house with family and friends.  

Have a great week!


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