The federal government is sitting on $18 billion in unclaimed money — money that's owed to ordinary people and businesses who never swung by to pick it up. This is a tiny fraction of the federal budget. But it's still, you know, a lot of money.
A few notes on some of the key agencies:
Lots of people loaned money to the government and never asked for it back: The Treasury holds some $16 billion in unclaimed savings bonds. (If you think you might have a claim on some of this, check out treasuryhunt.gov.) Also waiting at the Treasury: $900 million in unclaimed tax refunds. A reason this number isn't higher? Unclaimed tax refunds expire in the three years.
Some federal court somewhere may have, oh, say, $2 for you. A big chunk of the unclaimed money sitting in the courts is from class-action lawsuits — which often involve small payments to a huge number of plaintiffs, many of whom don't even know they're plaintiffs. Some of the unclaimed class-action money at has been sitting there since the 1920s (and not accruing interest), according to courts spokesman Charles Hall. And in the case you do want to make a claim on these dollars, you'll have to contact the court where the case is decided.
When people leave stuff behind at ports of entry — international airports, border crossings, etc. — Homeland Security auctions the stuff off and puts the proceeds in the unclaimed money account.
And that's just the federal government...
As of of 2011, states were holding a total of $41.7 billion in unclaimed assets, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Find links for each state at NAUPA's website, unclaimed.org.