IF YOU need a little extra cash for Christmas, it's worth checking to see if there is any unclaimed money that belongs to you in a forgotten bank accounts or long lost investment. You could be owed anything from a minor windfall to a small fortune - and it costs nothing to check the government's records to find out.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is on its annual drive to reunite Australians with their 'lost' cash.
There's a vast treasure trove of unused bank accounts, unclaimed insurance payouts, share dividends and even unclaimed inheritances sitting in government coffers. In fact, there's a total of $600 million in unclaimed cash, and some of it could be yours.
There is a variety of ways that our money can end up as 'lost'. You may have held a bank account that you've overlooked as the years have gone by. Or you may have owned shares at one stage and if you've changed address, chances are you could be owed some dividend payments. Or, you could be the beneficiary of a deceased estate and the executor hasn't been able to track you down.
The average amount of lost money owed per person is about $652. But a few lucky Australians are sitting on a vastly larger pool of unclaimed cash. They just don't know it.
One NSW resident has a forgotten bank account worth $642,000. In Victoria, a shareholder in AWB Limited is owed close to $718,000. On the other side of the country, a WA resident is owed $785,000 - a bequest from a deceased estate.
It's extraordinary to think that people can overlook sums like these. But you only need to relocate once or twice for financial institutions to lose track of your current address.
The campaign to reunite Australians with their lost money is nothing new. Last year ASIC ran a similar awareness campaign, and around $62 million was reunited with its rightful owners.
Discovering if any lost or forgotten cash belongs to you is easy. Visit the government's Money Smart website at www.moneysmart.gov.au and follow the links to 'unclaimed money'. You will need proof of identity if you come across funds that look like they could be yours, though it costs nothing to reclaim the cash.
You may be approached by private operators offering to track down your lost money in return for a fee. But it's not necessary to pay anyone to locate lost cash. The database on the Money Smart website (run by ASIC) is up to date and easy to use yourself.
If you draw a blank with ASIC's register of lost cash, it's worth checking the office of state revenue website for the area you live in. These also have a database of unclaimed money, and you could strike it lucky here.
The whole exercise is a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping financial institutions up to date with your address. And if it turns out you have no unclaimed cash owing to you, the pleasing thing is it means you've had control of your cash all along, and that's what good money management is all about.
Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine. Visit www.paulsmoney.com.au for more information.
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