Michigan reaping millions by ‘hiding’ unclaimed money worth less than $50
- Michigan keeps lost or abandoned properties worth less than $50 off its public website for ownership claims
- The 17.6 million properties are worth a combined $189.6 million
- Other states make more of an effort, but Michigan officials say doing so isn’t ‘practical’
LANSING — The state of Michigan lists lost or abandoned money online for their rightful owners to claim, but is effectively concealing millions of dollars by omitting claims worth less than $50 each.
More than 17.6 million unclaimed properties under that amount — un-cashed checks or money from forgotten bank accounts — are worth a collective $189.6 million, according to data from the Michigan Treasury, which contends that putting those properties on its public search website would not be “practical.”
But in a state that is pocketing an average of $122 million a year in unclaimed property profits, “hiding” properties worth up to $49 is “nonsense,” said Ron Lizzi, a national watchdog who has helped spur reforms in other states.
- How Michigan makes $122M per year keeping unclaimed money from residents
- No criminal charge? No problem! Michigan police can still take your car
Michigan currently lists more than 8.6 million "unclaimed properties" on its public website, which allows potential owners to both file claims and submit identifying documentation, such as a driver’s license and social security card.
Those properties are worth $50 or more.
Excluding lower-value properties from the public website is a matter of logistics and finances, according to Terry Stanton, the administrative manager of Michigan’s unclaimed property program.
“We set $50 as a per property minimum because with millions of properties in our custody (many less than $1.00), listing everything is not practical, from system storage and cost perspectives,” he told Bridge Michigan.
“It would also stress our public-facing site, where individuals, businesses, and others file claims and upload documentation, electronically.”
Stanton noted that residents can still find out if you own any unclaimed properties worth less than $50 by phoning the state call center (517-636-5320) between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays.
And if residents make claims for a higher-value property that is listed online, the state should alert you to any smaller claims at that time.
But adding lower-value properties to Michigan’s website would help owners find them and should not be a heavy lift, according to Lizzi, whose advocacy in his home state of Connecticut spurred a similar reform.
There, the state treasurer last year quickly expanded Connecticut's online database after reporters revealed the state had collected — but publicly concealed — more than $40 million in unclaimed property valued at $50 or less.
Connecticut's lawmakers praised the move.
“I’m very happy to hear that they’re actually going to expand the reporting of the amounts under $50,” Rob Sampson, a senator in the state, told The Connecticut Mirror at the time. “I mean, to me, that was ridiculous. Why wouldn’t you do that?”
With approval from the state Legislature, Connecticut also recently implemented another major reform: Automatic returns for unclaimed properties worth less than $2,500 in cases where there was clear ownership.
“The number of claims skyrocketed," Lizzi said, citing record-setting returns returns in Connecticut. "It's clear from the data that they were denying people their money before."
Massachusetts made a similar change last year, and several other states had already listed properties worth less than $50 on their unclaimed property websites, including California, Indiana, Missouri, Idaho, Hawaii and Wyoming — which list exact values.
Doing the same should not be hard in Michigan because the state uses the same vendor as Connecticut, Lizzi said, pointing to Kelmar Associates LLC of Massachusetts, which is currently managing Michigan’s unclaimed property database under a $4.4 million contract that runs through September 2027.
“To me, there's only one logical explanation for not showing those properties, and that is the state doesn’t want to return them,” Lizzi said.
“Well, I'm sorry, but that's their job.”
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!