Now that the holidays are over and the credit card bills are due, it might be a good time to check to see if the state of Ohio is hanging onto any money you forgot about.
The unclaimed funds account holds $2.6 billion waiting to be returned to rightful owners, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce. Uncashed paychecks, abandoned rent or utility deposits, items left in safety deposit boxes, undelivered stock certificates and other money ends up in the hands of the state for safe keeping.
Last fiscal year, the state returned $96.4 million, up 18 percent over the $81.4 million returned in fiscal year 2016 and about 27 percent above the $76 million returned in fiscal year 2015. The state paid money out to more than 60,000 claimants and the average was $1,598.
Related: Ohioans owed $2.3 billion in unclaimed funds
But while $96.4 million went back to owners last year, $259.2 million more money flowed into the fund.
The Unclaimed Funds Division also stores the contents of safety deposit boxes that have gone dormant. Last year, the state held three auctions — the first since 1998 — to pare down the amount of physical items that the state holds.
The auctioned items included gold coins, silver bars, pocket watches and foreign currency. The $1.15 million in proceeds from the auctions were deposited into an account for owners to claim. Some of the items had been stored by the state nearly 20 years.
Although many of the amounts returned are small, sometimes a big payday is in order. In January 2013, the state delivered a $3.4 million check to the city of Elyria for a policy it had with Anthem Insurance Company for city employee life insurance coverage. In 2001, Anthem reformed as a stock company and the address on the city’s account was outdated. Lack of activity on the account caused it to go dormant.
By law, the state advertises in each county’s largest newspaper all accounts reported to the Unclaimed Funds Division in the past year that hold more than $50. The state also uses social media, news outlets and walk-in events to get the word out. But the easiest way to check for missing money is the online search tool.
Checking for unclaimed money is free. Ohioans should beware of websites and companies that tell consumers they’ll receive their missing money after paying fees, ranging from $12 to $30, the state said.
Related: Find and claim missing money for free
If you do find your name in the unclaimed funds list, you can file a claim to get it back. Proof of ownership, such as copies of identification and address, is required. There is no time limit for claiming funds — they’re held in perpetuity until the rightful owner or his or her heir claims them.