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FDIC Consumer News - Spring 2002

Important Update: Changes in FDIC Deposit Insurance Coverage

The FDIC deposit insurance rules have undergone a series of changes starting in the fall of 2008. As a result, certain previously published information related to FDIC insurance coverage may not reflect the current rules. For details about the changes, visit Changes in FDIC Deposit Insurance Coverage. For more information about FDIC insurance, go to www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/index.html or call toll-free 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342). For the hearing-impaired, the number is 1-800-925-4618.

You Find "Proof" of an Old Account or Safe Deposit Box: Is It Treasure or Trash?

Have you ever searched through old family documents and turned up an old bank statement, certificate of deposit (CD) or receipt for a safe deposit box you didn't know anything about?

The FDIC receives hundreds of calls and letters each year from people trying to solve mysteries about old bank accounts. Sometimes people get the answer they've been hoping for—that a bank, a state government or the FDIC has these forgotten assets, and they're available to claim. But FDIC officials say that, in most cases, there is no treasure waiting because the original owners withdrew the money or cleaned out the safe deposit box long ago.

Often adding to the confusion is that bank customers don't have to turn in an original passbook or certificate in order to close an account or receive an FDIC insurance check when a bank fails. "Those old passbooks and CDs at home, if not updated by the customer, can become a source of confusion in the future," says Martin Becker, a senior specialist with the FDIC division that handles insurance claims.

FDIC Consumer News offers the following suggestions for keeping assets out of the lost-and-not-found department at a bank or government agency.

If you discover evidence of an old account or safe deposit box, find out if the institution is open or closed. The bank or savings institution may still exist under the same name or under a different name (common after bank mergers), or it may be closed. One way is to search the FDIC's online Institution Directory of insured institutions. (Click on "Find an Institution" and, in the box marked "Institution Status," select "All" to search for open and closed institutions. If you find a possible match, click on the certificate number.) The FDIC database enables you to trace the history of an institution, even after several mergers.

If the financial institution is still open, ask for a status report on your old accounts. Among the possible outcomes: The original owner closed the account or removed the valuables. The account or safe deposit box may still be at the institution and available for withdrawal. Or, as the result of years of inactivity, the account became "dormant" under state law and the assets were "escheated" (transferred) to the unclaimed property office in the state where the owner lived or did business.

A good place to begin your search for assets sent to the state is the Web site of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). If a state has your funds, and you provide satisfactory proof of ownership, the funds will be released. Even if a state has already sold an asset (because it's impossible to store and maintain all the unclaimed items received), the original owner or heirs generally have the right to claim the proceeds from the sale, according to the NAUPA.

If the bank was closed by the government, find out if the deposits and safe deposit boxes were transferred to another institution or to the FDIC. Start by searching the FDIC database described previously or by calling the FDIC. In most cases, there is an acquiring institution for the failed bank's deposits and safe deposit boxes. If not, the FDIC will mail insurance checks to depositors and send letters to renters of boxes about how and when to remove the contents.

Some people never claim their insured deposit from the FDIC and, under federal law, forfeit the money. Under current rules in effect for failures as of June 1993, people have 18 months from the date of the failure to claim their insured funds from the FDIC. At the end of that period, the FDIC sends any unclaimed deposits to the state unclaimed property office. "The depositor may be able to recover these funds from the state for 10 years," explains FDIC attorney Catherine Ribnick, "but after that time, any money remaining unclaimed is returned to the FDIC's deposit insurance funds and is no longer available to be claimed."

The contents of any safe deposit box left unclaimed with the FDIC will be sent to state unclaimed property offices "under the timetable in the appropriate state law," according to Linda Shaw, an FDIC insurance claims specialist. For more information, search our new database of unclaimed funds from failed financial institutions.

Prevent assets from getting lost or forgotten in the first place. If you move or change names, notify your bank and other financial institutions. And, for the benefit of your heirs, "dispose of old passbooks, savings account records or safe deposit box information, or at the very least, mark them as closed," suggests Howard Herman, an FDIC consumer affairs specialist. (Note: If these documents contain account numbers or Social Security numbers, shred them before tossing them.)

Finally, Becker suggests that if you ever find "proof" of an old bank account and you're not sure what to make of it, "remember that you can always turn to the FDIC for help or direction." To contact the FDIC, see "For More Information".

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Last Updated 05/20/2002 communications@fdic.gov