Teresa McUsic

How to recover unclaimed property from Texas comptroller

Most of the unclaimed property with the Texas Comptroller’s office is cold, hard cash.
Most of the unclaimed property with the Texas Comptroller’s office is cold, hard cash. AP

Texans, are you missing something?

There is around $4 billion sitting in the state comptroller’s office in unclaimed property right now that belongs to individual Texans and Texas businesses.

Residents in Tarrant County have more than 1.7 million accounts totaling more than $164 million in the state’s coffers, said Martha Wasp, an unclaimed property outreach specialist for the Texas comptroller.

While it’s called unclaimed property, the state is really holding mostly unclaimed money that banks, businesses, utilities or other entities must turn over to the state when they cannot find the person after the account has become inactive. Sometimes the contents are real — like jewelry or coins in an abandoned safe deposit box — but mostly it’s cash.

“The largest single type of property is miscellaneous property, which includes wages and other miscellaneous uncashed payments,” said Kevin Lyons, spokesman for the comptroller’s office.

Other examples of unclaimed property held by the state include dividend checks, stocks, mutual fund accounts, bonds, mineral interests or royalties, insurance proceeds, bank accounts, trust funds, escrow payments and utility deposits.

The Texas Property Code dictates that when property is abandoned, it must be turned over to the state, Lyons said. But the length of time before an account is considered abandoned and is reported to the state varies.

For example, bank accounts with no activity and no contact information are to be reported after three years, Lyons said. Traditional IRAs are generally not reportable until the owner reaches the age of 70 1/2 and does not take a mandatory distribution.

Roth IRAs and 401(k)s are generally not reportable as unclaimed property, while stocks and other securities are reportable only if dividend checks are not cashed, or mail is returned (if there are no dividends or dividends are set to be reinvested), Lyons said.

It’s important for account holders of any type to be sure to read mail referring to inactivity and take action, or they risk having their money put into the state’s unclaimed account.

That almost happened to Joe Klein of Fort Worth. His wife held an investment account with Metropolitan Life that had gone untouched since 2013. They recently were sent a letter stating that if the account remained “inactive,” it would have to be turned over to the state.

“We just spoke with a Met Life representative. The time limit now, by federal edict, is three years,” Klein said. “These laws keep changing.”

Metropolitan Life gave the Kleins three ways to show activity: call an 800 number, return a form or return the letter signed and dated.

If they hadn’t and the account had been turned over to the state, they would have had to pay a considerable fee to get it back.

Texas doesn’t charge to search for unclaimed property on its website, http://comptroller.texas.gov/up/, but it does charge 1.5 percent as a handling fee for processing any claims over $100. In the Kleins’ case, that would have been more than $600.

Texas has gotten better at processing claims. The turnaround process has decreased from 45 days to about 20 days because of access to a public records database to help verify claimants and speed up approvals.

In addition to filing claims online, the comptroller’s office also holds events across the state to help people process their claims in person. An event will be held July 20 in McKinney. More than 200 people typically show up at these events.

“Approximately 80 percent of claims will be approved at the event,” Wasp said. “Their checks will arrive within 7-10 business days.”

But if the claim is for more than $25,000, has more than one owner or is filed on behalf of a business or deceased person, it may take longer to approve, Wasp said.

It is helpful to bring proof of previous address or business dealings with the reporting institution, but it isn’t always necessary, Wasp said.

“If someone received mail at an address in the last 25 years, there’s a pretty good chance that we can connect them to that address,” she said.

Learning you have unclaimed money can be an emotional experience.

“At a Hays County event, we had a sweet older lady that found out her late husband left her a life insurance policy,” Wasp said. “She had no idea. It was for several thousand dollars and we were able to approve it for her at the event. She felt like her late husband was still taking care of her in his death. She was very touched by his gesture.”

A word of warning: If you receive a phone call or letter from an heir finder that has searched the comptroller’s online database and found your current address, they will likely charge you a fee of around 10 percent.

But you can do that for the 1.5 percent fee if you search and file a claim yourself.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Unclaimed property event

  • 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. July 20, Collin County Administrative Building, McKinney
  • Bring a photo ID and any supporting evidence of your claim; know your Social Security number.
  • Check ahead at www.ClaimItTexas.org. Search by name. If you have a claim, print the form and bring it to the event to process.
  • To search for future events, click on the Come to an Event tab at www.ClaimItTexas.org.