9 ways to find free money

If you’re finally ready to get your finances back on track, why not kickstart the process with free money?

Many people are unaware of all the different ways you can find free money and unlock savings that are rightfully yours.

So to help you get started with this year’s financial goals, here are some ways to find free money that you may not know about.

Ways to find free money & savings that belong to you

1. Unclaimed funds

Unclaimed money from bank accounts, insurance policies, rental and utility deposits, safe deposit boxes and other places could be hanging out there somewhere in your name. All you need to know is how to check and collect it without paying any fees.

It’s particularly easy if you have a unique last name. Simply go to MissingMoney.com and punch in your name to do a database search of available unclaimed funds across all states. With one click of your mouse, you can cover the entire spectrum of what’s available.

Please note that not every single state participates. If you live in a state that doesn’t participate with this free site, there’s one more option for you: Unclaimed.org. This website is a clearinghouse for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Also, if you ever had an FHA home loan, HUD may be sitting on refund money for you. Go to HUD.gov and see if you’re in their refund database.

2. Adjust your withholding

A lot of people use their tax refund as forced savings — rather than forcing themselves to save throughout the year. But if you can avoid that and get yourself to save throughout the course of the year, it’s better for your wallet and your long-term wealth.

Here’s why: The IRS doesn’t pay you interest on the money it withholds — so you’re essentially giving the government a free loan. But if you adjust your withholding so that you don’t get a tax refund, you’ll get more money in each paycheck instead. And if you want to make sure that money goes to savings, have the extra money deposited directly into a savings or retirement account each pay period. That money can then grow over time.

Consumer Reports suggests using the IRS’s Withholding Calculator to determine the number of exemptions you should be claiming. Then just fill out a new IRS Form W-9 with the updated withholding and give it to your employer.

3. Increase your 401(k) contributions

To have a secure retirement, you want to save a dime out of every dollar you make during your working lifetime. That works out to be an effective savings rate of 10%.

Maybe you’re saving zero right now and 10% seems like a bridge too far. Clark has talked about his ‘baby steps’ approach to saving that starts with saving just one penny (1%) out of every dollar you make and gradually stepping it up from there. That’s a great way to ease yourself into a savings habit.

If you have an employer match on your 401(k) at work, try to put in at least enough to pick up the match. If you’re not, you’re leaving money on the table that could be yours — it’s basically free money toward your retirement! Employer matches can vary by a lot, but for many companies, the way it works is the employer will match up to 50% of the worker’s contribution up to 6% — so if you contribute 6% of your annual salary to your 401(k), your employer will contribute 3%.

4. Check the IRS

In 2015, the IRS reported that nearly $1 billion in refunds were still waiting to be claimed by people who had not filed 2011 returns. If you’re one of these people, The average unclaimed check is for $698. You have three years to file past returns and claim your refund—so you have until April 15, 2015, to file your 2011 return. And you will not be penalized at all for filing late if you get a refund.

If you did file your return and have yet to receive your expected refund, go to the IRS’s Where’s My Refund? page. You need to enter your Social Security number, your filing status and the amount you were due as shown on your tax return.

5. Re-shop your car insurance

If you haven’t re-shopped your car insurance in a while, now is the time to do it! You could be missing out on savings you didn’t even know about.

Also, according to Consumer Reports, even if you shop around and find that your coverage is still the least expensive, there may be ways to save within your policy. ‘Depending on where you live, raising a deductible to $1,000 from zero could reduce your collision deductible by as much as 47%,’ according to CR. And here’s one other important note from CR: ‘Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive when the annual premium for that portion of that coverage exceeds 10% of your car’s book value.’

6. Former pension plan

Millions of dollars in pension benefits go unclaimed, usually after companies go out of business or close their plans. When this happens, if the company can’t find you, your pension money goes to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government agency that protects retirement income. If you think you may have an unclaimed former pension plan, check the PBGC’s unclaimed pensions database to see if you’re on the list of people owed benefits and what to do next.

7. Old bank account

If you left money in an old account at a bank or other financial institution that closed, you could still get your money back.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) has a list of unclaimed insured deposits at firms that closed between 1989 and 1993. Assets from institutions that have closed after 1993 go directly to state treasuries.

You can also use the FDIC’s BankFind tool to figure out what happened to your old bank and if there’s a new financial institution you can contact about the money. 

8. Savings bonds

Did you hate it when a relative gave you a savings bond when you were a kid? Maybe for a birthday or other special occasion?

Well, if they did and you forgot, then you won’t hate it now.

Billions of dollars in matured savings bonds have never been cashed — and in fact, a lot of people don’t even know they have them. The good news is there’s an easy way to track them down if any do exist in your name.

The Treasury Department can help you find and claim any misplaced series E savings bonds from 1974 or later, as well as other registered Treasury notes and bonds. Just fill out this form and mail it to the appropriate place listed under “WHERE TO SEND” on page seven.

9. Correct mistakes on your credit report

Your credit score is based on a variety of factors and information from your credit reports, and if there are mistakes in there, it can have a big impact on several areas of your financial life.

Your credit score determines how much interest you pay on credit card debt, car loans, mortgages and other debts. It can even affect your car insurance premium and whether an employer decides to hire you. So correcting any errors is crucial to your long-term financial status — and it can directly impact your expenses, reducing various payments and interest rates.