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WaMu's millions in unclaimed cash

Former customers may be entitled to one last withdrawal of assets.

By Karen Datko Jul 27, 2010 12:28PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


Customers of now-defunct Washington Mutual may have one last withdrawal coming their way. Millions of dollars in accounts dormant at the time of the bank's 2008 demise are making their way to states' unclaimed property offices.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which oversaw the seizure of WaMu -- the nation's largest bank failure -- and subsequent sale to JPMorgan Chase, handed over nearly $251.4 million to the states this summer. Oregon, for example, received some 27,000 accounts containing $3.85 million.


Washington Mutual's millions represent a substantial jump in the states' unclaimed assets, estimated earlier this year at a collective $32.8 billion. "We get money from the FDIC (takeovers) all the time, but it's usually very minimal," says John Gabriel, president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators and Tennessee's unclaimed property director. "This is an unusual spike."

"(The amount) has nothing to do with the fact that the bank failed," says David Barr, a spokesman for the FDIC. Washington Mutual was the sixth largest bank in the country at the time of its demise, and the figure reflects that. "Banks have unclaimed funds," he says. "Obviously a bank that size is going to have more."

Under normal circumstances, unclaimed funds trickle their way to the states after the account has been left untouched for at least three years. In the case of a bank failure, that process accelerates, Barr says. The acquiring bank has 18 months to reach account holders before turning unclaimed money over to the FDIC, which in turns hands it off to states.


Chase customers who successfully made the switch from WaMu after its failure aren't affected, says Chase spokesman Tom Kelly. The unclaimed accounts are those that were already dormant at the time of acquisition, likely from consumers who forgot about small amounts left in their accounts when they moved or switched banks. Some may be from deceased customers with no known heirs, or simply poor local bank records, Gabriel says.


Finding WaMu cash in your name is no different than tracking down other types of unclaimed assets. Here's how to claim what's yours:


Federal tax refunds. Even taxpayers who have consistently filed a return may be owed money if a previous refund check wasn't cashed or got lost in the mail. Use the IRS "Where's My Refund?" tool to check the status. You'll need to provide your Social Security number or taxpayer ID, as well as filing status and the exact dollar amount of the refund. The good news: There's no time limit to claim these funds.


Everything else. Any assets you have owned but haven't claimed in at least three years -- including but not limited to paychecks, insurance payouts, cashier's checks, utility deposits, bank account funds, investments and gift cards -- end up at the state treasurer's office. Conduct a free search using NAUPA's, which pulls from most states' databases. Then check the databases for each state where you have lived or conducted business, Gabriel says. (WaMu assets were sent to the state of the account holder's last known address.) Steer clear of online databases that, for a fee, allow you to search for unclaimed assets. It's the same information the state sites offer free of charge.


To successfully claim the assets, you need evidence linking you to the money. That could simply be a photo ID or, for something like a utility deposit, a bill from your old address, Gabriel says. If you're successful, the state may charge a processing fee of up to 2%.


Inheritance. It's rare, but you may have inherited unclaimed funds. Proving ownership, however, is tricky business, Gabriel says. You'll need to prove the deceased individual's right to the money and then your right of inheritance. If there are multiple possible heirs, the money will be divided among them.


Be cautious with so-called finder companies that may approach you claiming to have discovered an inherited asset you're entitled to -- which they'll help you claim in exchange for a fee, he says. You can decline and try to locate it yourself through the state databases. But if you do choose to work with the company, check state guidelines on finder's fees. Most impose a maximum of about 10% of the claimed asset.


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