With equity prices up, interest rates down, and an economic picture that can be described as blurry at best, it seems harder than ever to find sure-fire ways to enhance a client’s financial picture.
In fact, you may want to look beyond stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, instead locating assets, benefits, and beneficial programs that your clients have long forgotten about, or never knew existed. If a client does have money and property coming to him or his family, there are ways to find out about it by doing little more than clicking around the web.
It’s the responsibility of certain public servants to gather up unclaimed real and paper property, and then doggedly try to return the assets to the rightful owners. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators is comprised primarily by the Treasurers of each state. The group’s website (www.unclaimed.org) allows you to search under each participating state. Your clients should be sure to review any states in which they or family members have lived.
NAUPA also runs a site that allows searches of all participating organizations by an individual’s name (www.missingmoney.com). The site claims to have information on over $16 billion in lost bank accounts, orphaned retirement funds, stock shares from splits or spin-offs, tax refunds, or items left in storage lockers and safe deposit boxes.
Large though it may be, there may be an even greater amount awaiting your clients outside of the NAUPA database. The biggest potential payoff may come from locating missing Treasury securities and savings bonds, or at least those that have stopped earning interest, but remain unredeemed.
Direct your clients’ attention to the “Treasury Hunt” at www.treasurydirect.gov, where they can enter the Social Security numbers of themselves or any family members who may have once owned a missing bond.
Family members who had defined contribution plans can see if they have any assets left from a current or former employer by going to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (www.search.pbgc.gov/mp/).
Finally, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a “Life Insurance Company Location System” that will allow you to look for a lost policy with as little evidence as a premium payment receipt from long ago. Start at www.naic.org, and search for “orphaned policies.” Or, save some time by spending some money with MIB Group (www.mibsolutions.com). The cost is $75 per search, whether they find something or not.
Money For College
Parents scrambling to pay higher education costs should head to the Scholarship Search portion of the College Board site (www.collegeboard.org). The largest (and legitimate) database contains information on over 2,300 annual awards worth over $3 billion.
If funds found there still aren’t enough to cover the bill, it makes sense to apply annually for as much financial aid as possible by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov).
Of course, the labor required to complete the form almost equals the likely assistance received. So to see what they might be getting, families should first try the simpler financial aid simulator at www.finaid.org.
Help For Elders
Navigating the myriad insurance, healthcare, and assistance programs offered by various non-profit and government agencies is hard enough when you have all your faculties. It can be even more difficult for those of a certain age, and the people who care for them.
Thankfully, there is a comprehensive starting point for seniors in any situation. The National Council on Aging oversees the Benefits Checkup site at www.benefitscheckup.org. As of the end of last year, they said they have helped almost 2.4 million individuals find almost $8 billion in benefits.
There is an interactive questionnaire that can help find assistance in paying for prescription drugs, healthcare, taxes, food, housing, utility bills, and more.
Around The House
Clients who dislike high taxes and high utility bills may be interested in reducing both by completing qualified home remodeling, appliance purchases, and energy conservation projects. Through December of 2010, they could qualify for a tax credit of 30 percent of the total cost (up to $1,500), as well as get assistance from various programs in their home state.
Information on the federal tax credit incentives is available at www.energystar.gov, and they can sort through various state programs at www.dsireusa.org.
Getting a Return on Your Tax Dollars
As your clients complete their income tax returns during the coming months and send their checks off to their respective state capitols and Washington D.C., they’ll become acutely aware of the cost of being an American. So it seems like an appropriate time for them to discover the more tangible benefits of their citizenship.
At www.govbenefits.gov, it takes about 5-10 minutes to complete an 80-question quiz on one’s situation, interests, and background. Immediately afterwards you’ll receive a page describing benefits and programs for which you might be eligible.
A Word To The Wise
Although you no doubt have the most altruistic motives, you shouldn’t enter your clients’ data into the online questionnaires without their prior permission. So it may be best to send the links to their attention, and let them decide if and how they should be used.
Better yet, offer to sit down with them and work through the sites together. They’ll appreciate your time, and you may learn something about them, their families, and their money that you otherwise never would have known.
Best of all, running your own information through the programs before suggesting it to your clients will give you a heads up on what they’ll face when they try it on their own. And in the process of testing it out, you might even find some hidden surprises for yourself as well.