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(Sergey Kishan/iStockphoto)
(Sergey Kishan/iStockphoto)

Personal finance

Lost money? Find it here Add to ...

Canadians find a lot of strange things. Last week on Craigslist, there were messages posted about a harpsichord found in Toronto, a fibreglass boat found in Victoria and a hearing aid found in Vancouver.

If someone can misplace their harpsichord, is it so hard to believe that Canadians also leave millions of dollars lying around?

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In David Bach's new book, Debt Free for Life, the author outlines seven simple ways Canadians can find missing money. And he's not talking about looking under couch cushions or in jacket pockets - that's chump change. According to Mr. Bach, Canadians have, among other oversights, forgotten $395-million in unclaimed bank accounts, $112-million in unredeemed Canada Savings Bonds and $25-million in unclaimed tax refunds.

In the United States, the figure is even bigger: $32-billion (U.S.) sits in 100 million unclaimed accounts.

"Some people don't stay on top of their finances, unfortunately. They forget about things," Mr. Bach says. "I think in this day and age, it's really understandable."

So how do we misplace so much cash? People move around, Mr. Bach says, they don't notify the government of their new addresses and statements get lost. Sometimes a family member dies without a will and heirs are unaware that money is sitting in an account somewhere.

It's also pretty easy to overlook dividends from closed investment accounts, he says. "You may own an investment where the dividend gets paid out two or three days after that account gets closed and that dividend ends up sitting in that account."

Sometimes, however, our own carelessness is to blame. "People are incredibly negligent about their benefits in their retirement plans when they leave businesses," Mr. Bach says. "Typically, when people leave a company, they should take their money with them."

One of the most common ways people lose money is forgetting to spend gift cards, Mr. Bach says. According to several reports, up to 25 per cent of the money spent on gift cards goes unredeemed because the card is lost, damaged or simply forgotten.

Lottery tickets are another often-overlooked source of "found" money, says Tony Bitonti, a spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. In Ontario, the biggest unclaimed prize to date is $1-million (Canadian).

"The tickets go to the land of lost socks sometimes," Mr. Bitonti says. "People take a while to check their numbers. Tickets are lost in cupboards, drawers. One of the biggest ones we hear a lot of is, 'I left it in the pocket of my jeans and it went through the washer.' "

The good news is that it's pretty easy to check whether you or a family member have a windfall waiting for you in a dusty bank vault somewhere. Go online, Mr. Bach says. The Bank of Canada and Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy have online databases you can search for unclaimed fortunes, as do some provincial unclaimed property offices. You can call your local Canada Revenue Agency office to ask about unclaimed tax refunds, or the Bank of Canada to ask about your old savings bonds. The Ombudsman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association has tips on how to find unclaimed insurance payouts.

So what should you do if you find money? Maybe buy a GPS tracking device for your hearing aid?

One reader told Mr. Bach she has used his advice to find money for several family members - and is taking a 50-per-cent cut of the proceeds.

Mr. Bach, however, has a suggestion that is less fraught with family conflict: "It's found money. What better way to pay down your debt than to take some money that you didn't even know you had and apply it toward your debt reduction?"

Is this your money?

$395-million

The amount the Bank of Canada holds from unclaimed bank accounts. Search the database by clicking here.

$112-million

The amount of unredeemed Canada Savings Bonds. Call 1-800-665-8650 for series 1 to 31, or 1-800-575-5151 for series 32 and later.

$25-million

The amount the Canada Revenue Agency holds in unclaimed tax refunds. Call your local CRA office to inquire. Call 1-800-959-1953 for unclaimed goods and services tax and harmonized sales tax cheques.

$14.6-million

The amount of unclaimed bankruptcy dividends held by the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy. Search the online database here.

$1-million

The largest lottery prize that remains unclaimed from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.

25 per cent

The estimated value of gift cards that goes unredeemed each year.

Follow on Twitter: @diannenice

 

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