A dormant account is a financial account with no activity except for interest deposits for an extended period. If left unattended, it may reach a zero balance due to fees, after which it’s turned over to the state. Each state has its dormancy period rules. This article explores dormant account definitions, how they work, and the escheatment process. Discover how to claim funds from dormant accounts and why it’s crucial to do so.
Dormant account: a closer look
Imagine this: you open a savings account at your local bank with the intention of saving for a rainy day. You deposit a sum of money and then forget about it. Years pass by, and you’ve had no interaction with that account whatsoever—no withdrawals, deposits, or even checking your balance. This is when your account may be considered dormant.
A dormant account is essentially a financial account, typically held at a bank or another financial institution, that has seen no activity for an extended period, except for the accrual of interest. This lack of activity may occur for various reasons. The account holder may have forgotten about it, moved without updating their address, or even passed away.
Understanding dormancy rules
The rules and regulations surrounding dormant accounts can vary from one state to another. Financial institutions are obligated by state laws to transfer the funds held in these dormant accounts to the state’s treasury after a specified period of inactivity. The time frame for dormancy can differ significantly, depending on where the account was opened.
For instance, in California, a checking, savings, or brokerage account must remain inactive for at least three years to be classified as dormant. In contrast, the state of Delaware imposes a five-year dormancy period for similar types of accounts.
It’s essential to note that dormant accounts are not limited to just traditional savings or checking accounts. They can also include brokerage accounts, 401(k) accounts, pension fund accounts, and even the contents of safety deposit boxes.
How an account becomes dormant
An account typically becomes dormant if its owner does not initiate any activity within a specific period. Activities that are considered to maintain an account’s active status can include:
- Contacting the financial institution via phone or the internet.
- Logging into the account.
- Withdrawing or depositing funds.
- Receiving a payment from a third party.
It’s important to note that interest or dividend payments that are automatically posted to an account are not typically considered as activity to prevent dormancy.
The dormant account and bank failures
But what happens if your bank fails while your account is dormant? In such cases, the handling of your account may depend on whether it was considered inactive.
If your bank fails, and your account is still active, it will generally be held by the financial institution that takes over the failed bank’s assets or by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). However, if the account was dormant and the bank failed, it may be held by the state in which the account was opened.
The FDIC provides online resources for individuals who have deposits in institutions that have failed, helping account holders understand their options and retrieve their funds.
Contact attempts by banks
Financial institutions are not allowed to simply classify an account as dormant and transfer the funds without making reasonable attempts to contact the account owner. These contact attempts typically involve reaching out using the most recent contact information on file, often via mail.
If these attempts to locate the owner are unsuccessful, the assets in dormant accounts are then considered unclaimed property and must be transferred to the state’s treasury department.
It’s worth mentioning that a statute of limitations usually does not apply to dormant accounts, meaning that the funds can be claimed by the owner or their beneficiaries at any time in the future.
The escheatment process for dormant accounts
Escheatment is the legal process by which unclaimed property, including funds from dormant accounts, is transferred to the state. States have enacted escheatment statutes that govern the process of transferring unclaimed funds to the state treasury and protecting these funds from reverting to financial institutions.
When funds from dormant accounts are transferred to the state, the state takes on the responsibility of record-keeping and the returning of lost or forgotten property to the rightful owners or their heirs in case the account holder has passed away.
Claiming unclaimed property is typically a straightforward process. Account owners can usually reclaim their assets by filing an application with the state where the account was opened. In most cases, this process is free or involves only a nominal handling fee.
Since the state maintains custody of unclaimed property indefinitely, owners have the option to claim their funds at any time. In some instances, property like stocks may have been sold by the state, in which case the cash value of the shares is paid out to the claimant.
State-specific processes for reclaiming property
Every state has its own policies and processes for allowing individuals to reclaim assets from inactive accounts that have been turned over to the state. Some states offer online searchable databases where potential claimants can search for unclaimed property using various criteria, such as Social Security numbers.
For instance, California maintains a searchable database to help potential claimants locate their unclaimed property. Similarly, the State of Florida has a search function known as the “Florida Treasure Hunt.”
It’s important to highlight that states are eager to return unclaimed property to its rightful owners. They have the responsibility of record-keeping but no benefit from keeping the funds themselves.
How to claim your funds from a dormant account
If you suspect that you have funds in a dormant account, the first step is to contact the bank or financial institution where the account is held. You will typically need to provide proper identification, such as a valid ID, and proof that the funds belong to you, such as a bank statement.
If the bank has deemed the account inactive but has not yet transferred the money to the state, they can often reactivate the account with a simple request.
However, if the funds are already in the possession of the state, you’ll need to reach out to the state treasury department to initiate the process of reclaiming your funds. State treasury departments usually have dedicated websites and resources for claiming unclaimed property, making the process straightforward.
Additional resources for finding unclaimed property
If you suspect that you may have unclaimed property in multiple states or are unsure where to begin your search, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) offers a free search tool. This tool allows you to search for unclaimed property in all 50 states and some Canadian provinces.
NAUPA is a nonprofit association of state administrators who have custody of unclaimed property and are committed to
returning it to its rightful owners. Their search tool is a reliable resource for individuals looking to reunite with their forgotten assets.
Should you close a dormant account?
It’s highly advisable to close a dormant account rather than letting it remain inactive. Dormant accounts are susceptible to fees, including dormant account fees, which can gradually erode your account balance over time.
To close a dormant account, you can contact the financial institution and request that the remaining balance be transferred to another active account. This simple step can help you avoid fees and ensure that your funds are actively managed.
Examples of dormant accounts
Understanding the concept of dormant accounts becomes clearer with real-world examples. Here are a few scenarios where an account may become dormant:
- A person opens a savings account to save for their child’s education but forgets about it as the years go by.
- Someone relocates to a different city, leaving behind a checking account with a small balance and no forwarding address.
- An elderly individual with a pension fund account becomes unable to manage their finances due to health reasons, leading to inactivity.
- A stock trader opens a brokerage account but loses interest in trading and stops accessing the account.
These examples illustrate the various situations that can lead to an account becoming dormant, emphasizing the importance of staying informed about your financial holdings.
The impact of dormant accounts on your finances
Dormant accounts can have both subtle and significant effects on your financial well-being. Here’s a closer look at how these dormant accounts can impact your finances:
Accumulation of dormant account fees
One of the hidden dangers of dormant accounts is the accumulation of fees. Financial institutions often charge dormant account fees, which can erode your account balance over time. These fees may include monthly maintenance fees, inactivity fees, or other charges that vary by institution. By leaving your account dormant, you risk losing your hard-earned money to these fees.
Missed investment opportunities
If your dormant account is an investment account, you may be missing out on potential gains. Money left idle in a dormant brokerage or 401(k) account is not being invested, which means it’s not working for you. This missed opportunity for growth can impact your long-term financial goals, especially if the account holds retirement savings.
Loss of dividend and interest income
Accounts like savings or certificates of deposit (CDs) often accrue interest or dividends. When an account goes dormant, these earnings may stop. Over time, this can result in a significant loss of income. To maximize your financial resources, it’s essential to ensure that your interest and dividend payments continue to grow.
By considering the impact of dormant accounts on your finances, you can make informed decisions about whether to reactivate, close, or claim the funds in these accounts.
It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of a bank account, especially in the hustle and bustle of life. Whether you’ve moved homes, changed jobs, or simply lost touch with your financial institution, your money won’t disappear into thin air. Financial institutions have established processes for handling dormant accounts, and these processes include safeguarding the funds and eventually transferring them to the state treasury.
Remember, the funds in a dormant account are yours in perpetuity. You merely need to follow the appropriate steps to locate and claim them. Don’t let your hard-earned money languish in a dormant account; take action and put it to good use.
Frequently asked questions
What is a dormant account?
A dormant account is a financial account, typically held at a bank or another financial institution, that has seen no activity for an extended period, except for the accrual of interest.
Why do accounts become dormant?
Accounts can become dormant for various reasons. The account holder may have forgotten about it, moved without updating their address, or even passed away. Lack of activity, such as withdrawals or deposits, can also lead to dormancy.
What are dormancy rules?
Dormancy rules vary by state. Financial institutions are obligated by state laws to transfer the funds held in dormant accounts to the state’s treasury after a specified period of inactivity. The timeframe for dormancy can differ significantly depending on where the account was opened.
Can different types of accounts become dormant?
Yes, various types of accounts can become dormant, including savings accounts, checking accounts, brokerage accounts, 401(k) accounts, pension fund accounts, and even the contents of safety deposit boxes.
How can I claim funds from a dormant account?
If you suspect you have funds in a dormant account, contact the bank or financial institution where the account is held. You’ll typically need proper identification and proof of ownership, such as a bank statement. The process for claiming dormant account funds may involve reactivating the account or reaching out to the state treasury department if the funds have been transferred there.
What happens if my bank fails while my account is dormant?
If your bank fails and your account is still active, it will generally be held by the institution taking over the failed bank’s assets or by the FDIC. However, if the account was dormant when the bank failed, it may be held by the state in which the account was opened. The FDIC provides resources to help account holders understand their options in such cases.
Are there fees associated with dormant accounts?
Yes, dormant accounts are susceptible to fees, including dormant account fees, which can erode your account balance over time. These fees may include monthly maintenance fees, inactivity fees, or other charges that vary by institution. It’s advisable to close dormant accounts to avoid these fees.
What are the potential impacts of dormant accounts on my finances?
Dormant accounts can have various impacts on your finances, including the accumulation of fees, missed investment opportunities, and the loss of dividend and interest income. It’s essential to consider these factors when deciding whether to reactivate, close, or claim funds from dormant accounts.
- A dormant account is an account with no financial activity for an extended period, except for interest accrual.
- Each state has its own dormancy rules, specifying the period of inactivity required to classify an account as dormant.
- Dormant accounts can include various types of financial accounts, such as savings, checking, brokerage, and pension fund accounts.
- Financial institutions are required to make reasonable attempts to contact account owners before transferring funds to the state.
- Owners can reclaim funds from dormant accounts by filing an application with the state treasury department.
View article sources
- Opening, Closing & Inactive Bank Accounts – HelpWithMyBank.gov
- Review of the Dormant Bank and Building Society … – Gov.uk
- Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008 – Legislation.gov.uk