How to find lost or unclaimed money

Finance Writer · 30 March 2021
Most of us have probably lost money at some point in our lives. A pesky hole in your pocket, a few coins dropped behind your train seat, unchecked change from the corner shop. Invariably, these mistakes leave us short of a dollar or two and are a minor annoyance we aim to avoid next time.

However, imagine losing one billion dollars. According to MoneySmart, that is exactly what Australians have done. Collectively we have around $1.1 billion in lost shares, bank accounts and life insurance waiting to be claimed at the time of writing. It could take less than a minute to check if any of this lost and unclaimed money is in your name, and it is free to do so.

We take a look at what exactly unclaimed money is and how you can go about finding any you may be entitled to.

What is unclaimed money?

Unclaimed money is any amount left in inactive bank accounts, share portfolios, investments and insurance policies, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the regulator which administers some of this unclaimed money. Moneysmart suggests one common way we may lose track of this money is when we move house and forget to update our contact details with banks and insurance providers. This is also a common cause of lost superannuation. Additionally, if a bank account doesn’t receive at least one deposit or withdrawal in a seven-year period it automatically becomes inactive.

Where does unclaimed money go?

After seven years, if a bank account, investment portfolio or insurance policy becomes inactive, any remaining balance is transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Revenue Fund held by ASIC. Once there, the good news is it doesn’t just sit idle. Since 1 July 2013, this money is eligible to earn interest based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), according to ASIC. In the 2020-2021 financial year, this interest rate is 2.19%.

State and territory governments also hold some unclaimed money from deceased estates, share dividends, salaries and wages, cheques, trust money, over-payments and proceeds of sale, while you can search for unclaimed super money via the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)’s online services in myGov.

How do you find and claim any lost money in your name?

In order to check for any unclaimed money, the first thing to do is go to the Moneysmart website and use its unclaimed money search tool. The service is free and takes less than a minute to search by your name and see whether you have any lost money waiting to be claimed.

If you are looking for money from a deceased estate, you will need to contact the public trustee in the relevant state or territory.

If you are searching for dividends or other money such as salaries and wages, rent and rental bonds, cheques, trust money, royalties, commissions, and proceeds of sale you should contact the following state and territory government agencies.

In addition, you can look for lost superannuation via the ATO and lost wages via the Fair Work Ombudsman.

How can you avoid losing money?

In the same way you can take steps to avoid losing coins down the train seat, there are a few things you can do to avoid losing larger amounts from your bank accounts and insurance policies becoming inactive.

  1. Keep your details up-to-date: it’s a good idea to always update your contact details with your banks, insurance and other financial service providers when you move to a new house so they can keep in touch with you regarding the status of your accounts.
  2. Keep accounts active: you can make sure your accounts stay active by making at least one deposit or withdrawal every seven-years. If this isn’t possible, consider closing the account down and transferring any remaining money in it to another account.
  3. Consider consolidating super: when you change jobs, try to keep track of your superannuation accounts and consider the pros and cons of consolidating multiple accounts into one.

Are there any risks involved in finding unclaimed money?

Some companies may try to charge you for searching for your unclaimed or lost money. If you go direct to ASIC, a state or territory public trustee or the ATO, the service is completely free. Scammers have also been known to target people with false news of unclaimed money. It’s best to check with the institutions we have mentioned above before responding to any unsolicited mail you may receive promising thousands of dollars of lost money in your name.

The comparison table below shows some of the savings accounts on Canstar’s database for a regular saver in NSW. The results shown are based on an investment of $100,000 in a personal savings account and are sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), then provider name (alphabetically). For more information and to confirm whether a particular product will be suitable for you, check upfront with your provider and read the Product Disclosure Statement or other terms and conditions before making a decision.

Cover image source: Andrey Popov (Shutterstock)

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This content was reviewed by Sub Editor Tom Letts as part of our fact-checking process.

Katie covers all things personal finance for Canstar. Katie has worked with companies including American Express, Virgin Money and Hollard Insurance. She has contributed to publications including The Australian, The Australian Financial Review and The Financial Times.

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