Knowing who you owe and who owes you may not seem too tough – until you forget about an account or a co-signed loan. Time to check. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a lost treasure.
You may have some financial obligations, accounts or agreements that don’t require much, if any, annual attention. Someone might owe you money, or maybe you co-signed a loan for someone. In fact, a financial commitment – like co-signing a loan – might be entirely forgotten on your part, only to resurface and cause disruption if the borrower defaults. On a brighter note, perhaps you have a refund or a dividend in a forgotten account, in danger of being declared abandoned by state officials.
5 Steps to Avoid Forgotten Accounts & Debts
If you don’t want any ugly financial surprises, start keeping tabs on your account trails and obligations you don’t regularly access. You don’t have to check often, but you should know what you owe and what you own for your peace of mind. Plus, the more years go by, the better the chances that an organization or financial institution has merged or made a name change and something got lost in the shuffle.
Whether it’s lost money or a forgotten debt, here are five steps to make sure you are aware of accounts and obligations that could fall through the cracks.
- Maintain your net worth statement (lists what you own and what you owe). Update annually.
- Close unneeded financial accounts. Get written verifications.
- Update contact info and marital status for accounts. Verify changes as you receive account correspondence.
- Document financial commitments, noting date fulfilled or amount outstanding.
- Organize your financial details so your spouse, adult child or advocate can find what’s needed.
Follow Your Money Trail
When it comes to what you own, you might be pleasantly surprised to snare some money you forgot about or maybe didn’t know you had. Here’s a starter list to check for neglected accounts:
- Did you switch banks, credit unions or investment brokers, or did a merger happen? If so, you might have left an account dormant and the state will eventually claim the money as an abandoned account. You can check for dormant Iowa accounts here.
- Did you fund a 529 plan or Coverdell Educational Savings Account (ESA) to help cover college costs for your now-adult children? Is there an unused balance?
- Did you receive a savings bond as a gift from grandma and grandpa long ago?
- Do you recall a parent/grandparent opening a savings or investment account when you were a minor but you’ve forgotten it?
- Do you have any credit card accounts you no longer use or gift cards for store credit that remain active and may even have a small positive balance?
- Are you the beneficiary or unknowingly inherited life insurance, retirement plan, pension, stock options, restricted stock, or deferred compensation from someone?
- Do you have credit card rewards or points? What about airline/hotel incentive programs or theme park tickets? When is the last time you checked?
- Do you have money in a Health Savings Account (HSA) from a prior employment or before being Medicare eligible?
- Do you have warrantied products? Those for large purchases such as a furnace, roof, water heater, water softener or deck are usually worth filing away and tracking, especially if the manufacturer offered a lifetime warranty.
- Were you a member of a class-action lawsuit (not uncommon these days) and you were notified of a payout but don’t remember getting a check?
Forgotten Debts That May Cause Trouble
There are other financial obligations you may not remember agreeing to, but you could still be on the hook to pay. Or, perhaps a call from a debt collection agency was your first indication of a dormant financial issue. Here’s a list for a few to keep in mind:
- Did you co-sign loans for your adult child’s home, vehicle or college loan? (Never assume they’re paid off.)
- Are there any liens on your property? Home contractors and tradesmen can file liens if there are payment disputes over work done. A Home Owners Association (HOA) may file liens for unpaid dues or assessments. Disputes surface only when you attempt to sell the property.
- Has there been a payment dispute regarding medical stays or procedures your healthcare insurer said were covered but the medical provider didn’t credit?
- Has there been a divorce that divided jointly owned property, and your name is still on the deed even though you aren’t the one paying or defaulting on the loan?
- Have you filed or been part of a bankruptcy and aren’t aware of which debts are forgiven and which remain?
- Do you hold any long-term leases on large equipment, vehicles, boats or real estate with unusual circumstances of co-ownership?
- Does a relative have ownership in a timeshare property or undeveloped real estate that might automatically transfer to you?
- Do your parents own a cemetery plot? Is there a family spot somewhere, with maintenance fees?
- Did your parents (or you) prepay for a funeral somewhere but they can’t remember?
- Are you a member of a country club or similar? You may have obligations to pay, such as a special assessment. But you may also have some equity or refundable fees you should know about before leaving.
- Have you made any pledges to a church, charity or college that aren’t yet fulfilled?
If you checked a few of these items, do the legwork to follow up. Then, make your life simpler by following the five steps to resolve the issues. It’s much easier to do it now, rather than leave for your executor to track down. And, you might find or save some extra money in the process.