By Trulia
October 20, 2015

If you passed a $20 bill on the ground on an empty street, would you walk by or stop and pick up that cash? Easy decision: assuming there’s no one else around to return it to, it’s free money — and a lucky day for you.

But you don’t need to wait around for a lucky day to add a little extra padding to your bank account — or, if you’ve been browsing homes for sale in Houston, TX, perhaps your down payment savings account instead. These opportunities are all around and yours to claim.

Don’t ignore potential sources of free money — search out your cash instead. Here’s how and where to look.

Unclaimed funds

Even if you lead a busy life, it may sound crazy to think you left money behind. But it’s possible that there could be unclaimed funds out there with your name on them. Here are some common sources of unclaimed funds, and the resources you should check to make sure none of it actually belongs to you.

  • The IRS. Believe it or not, some people actually leave a little money with Uncle Sam. Check to see if you’re owed anything from a past year’s tax refund that you never received.
  • Banks and credit unions. Can’t remember if you have anything still hanging out where you opened your very first accounts? If you were a bank customer, you can search for unclaimed funds through the FDIC. Or credit union customers can search here.
  • Unclaimed money by state. You can search for any unclaimed property — including money — by state via Unclaimed.org.
  • Old savings bonds. Remember when your grandparents used to gift you savings bonds? It’s probably time to cash in. You can use Treasury Hunt to find matured savings bonds.
  • Refunds on FHA-insured loans. If you ever had an FHA mortgage loan, you may be entitled to a refund based on how you paid your insurance premium.

Forgotten deposits

Thinking about moving out of your apartment and finding a new place to call home? Make sure you take your security deposit with you. It’s easy to forget about your deposit, especially if you rented one place for many years. Follow up with your landlord when you move out — and get in touch with past property management companies if you believe you never received your deposit from a past lease.

Ensure you get your deposit back by knowing what you’re entitled to receive. The landlord may keep some of your deposit to cover damages and other costs such as unpaid utility bills. But the deposit should not be used to cover ordinary wear and tear.

The best way to prevent your deposit from being held back is to document everything, from repair bills to the condition of the apartment when you move in and move out. Make sure you have paperwork documenting the lease and deposit itself too, so you can prove what you’re owed in case of a dispute.

Company benefits

Are you ignoring the potential savings you’re sitting on via your company benefits package? Most people think of their compensation as just their paycheck, but all your benefits through your job can also add up to more cash back in your pocket. You can generate hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in the bank by taking advantage of what your employer offers.

The biggest and most obvious source of free money through benefits: your 401(k). Not only are your contributions tax-deferred — meaning you don’t pay taxes on them until you start withdrawing funds in retirement — but most employers offering 401(k) plans also offer a matching contribution.

Ask your HR department about your options for opening and contributing to a plan. If the company offers a match, aim to contribute at least enough to secure that. (If your company offers a 3% match, you want to contribute at least 3%. It’s like giving yourself a 3% raise, and all the extra money goes straight to your nest egg.)

You can also ask HR about other perks that will help generate more money for you, such as reimbursements or credits for various work-related products or services. Or you might have access to other tax-deferred accounts such as Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts.

Bonus: Old company benefits

Your current benefits package is a good place to source free money. But to find some forgotten funds, check back with previous employers. If you think you’re owed retirement benefits, contact the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is an agency of the federal government. And if you started a 401(k) or other retirement plan with a company you used to work for and didn’t roll over that account, it’s time to do so now.

This process can be tedious but worth it to reclaim money you might not realize you had. And you can always seek out a professional to help you uncover these free money sources for down payment assistance. Look for a fee-only financial planner who can help you and will act as your fiduciary while doing so. The best places to search include XY Planning Network, an organization of fee-only advisers who specialize in serving Gen X and Gen Y, and the National Association of Professional Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the largest membership organization for fee-only planners in the industry.

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