Counting more than pennies

The Baltimore Sun

If you have been checking coat pockets or under sofa cushions for spare change, you know that every cent counts these days.

Yet a big chunk of change is sitting at government agencies just waiting to be claimed. This includes $16.5 billion in matured savings bonds as well as millions in forgotten bank accounts, insurance proceeds and safe-deposit boxes.

So if you've finished rifling through closets and old purses, here are other sources to look for cash:

Savings bonds: About 41 million U.S. saving bonds have matured and are no longer earning interest. Most of these are Series E and H bonds going back as far as 1941.

Bonds mature in 30 or 40 years, depending on the series. So that bond your grandparent bought you at birth might have matured by now.

And it could be worth a pretty penny. A $25 bond sold in the 1940s could be worth 10 times its face value today, says Stephen Meyerhardt, a public affairs officer with the Bureau of Public Debt.

Some people don't redeem old bonds because they lose them or forget they ever owned one. Others hold onto bonds as a keepsake, Meyerhardt says. And beautifully engraved bonds of the 1940s, which the military gave out to reward performance, often wind up framed rather than redeemed, he says.

But often, people don't cash in bonds because they don't want to pay federal income tax on the interest earned. This is tax aversion that hurts you. By not redeeming a bond, you don't get the income or the return of principal.

If you have a matured bond in your name, you can take it to your bank and cash it in.

To find out if you have a matured bond issued in 1974 or later, use the Treasury Hunt database at This also reveals if your missing bond is one of the 15,000 bonds that are returned annually to the Treasury as undeliverable.

For older bonds that you don't have in hand, but have detailed information about, you can start the redemption process by filling out a Claim for Lost, Stolen or Destroyed U.S. Saving Bonds (Form 1048). It's available online at or at local financial institutions.

Or, if your recall about a bond is vague, the Bureau of Public Debt will try to trace it for you. Write to the Bureau at P.O. Box 7012, Parkersburg, W. Va., 26106-7012. Include as much information you know about the bond, such as the denomination, when it was issued and the name and address of the owner.

Unclaimed property: States maintain unclaimed property funds. This can be money from inactive bank accounts, the contents of forgotten safe-deposit boxes or the proceeds from insurance policies where the beneficiaries can't be found.

Maryland, for example, has 683,000 unclaimed accounts worth $760 million.

Financial institutions and other businesses must turn over unclaimed property to the state after three years, says Christine Duray Feldmann, a spokeswoman with the Maryland comptroller's office. From there, the state tries to locate the owners.

Last year, it reunited former WNBA player Kelley Gibson with her 2000 championship ring. Gibson had given the ring to her mother for safekeeping, Feldmann says. Mom put it in a safe-deposit box and forgot about it when she moved.

And a few months ago, when the comptroller's office set up a booth at the Maryland State Fair, one fairgoer left $23,350 richer.

Search online for unclaimed property in Maryland at or Or, call 800-782-7383 or 410-767-1700.

The largest sums of unclaimed money involve the proceeds from insurance or stock sales, Feldmann said. The more interesting items - including the cremated remains of a woman - are contained in safe-deposit boxes.

Certain safe-deposit items, such as jewelry or other collectibles, are put up for auction after a year. The state will keep the proceeds, along with other unclaimed cash, until the owner steps up.

Federal funds: The Treasury Department also keeps a list of unclaimed money held by federal agencies. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has $1 million in small change left in bins at airport security checks.

The largest pot of money as of the end of September belongs to the judiciary branch, with $168 million in unclaimed cash. Much of that is restitution paid by offenders to victims who now can't be located, said Dick Carelli, a federal courts spokesman. It also includes dividend income belonging to bankruptcy creditors that can't be located.

Usually, the court holds the money for five years and then turns it over to the judiciary's unclaimed fund, Carelli says. If you're owed money, you can still make a claim. To do so, you would have to go back to the original court and get a court order.

Unclaimed tax refunds: You have three years to claim your tax refund before the money goes back into the Treasury's coffers. So, if you never got your 2005 refund because you didn't file a tax return for that year, you have until April 15 next year to do so.

The IRS doesn't have figures yet on the amount of unclaimed refunds for 2005. But if past years are any indication, about 1 million taxpayers have left $1 billion to $2 billion on the table.

Get back tax forms and publications at www.irs .gov, or by calling the IRS at 800-829-3676.

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