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updated 3/23/2011 7:40:53 AM ET 2011-03-23T11:40:53

State treasurers and other government agencies are holding more than $32 billion in unclaimed assets from 117 million accounts that their owners have either forgotten about or never knew they had.

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As the sentence above says, billions of dollars in unclaimed assets are sitting in government coffers —and some of it may be yours! In my New York Times Bestseller, "Debt Free For Life," I cover in detail seven different ways for you to find unclaimed money that rightfully belongs to you. In this article I am going to cover five of these steps to help you begin your search to find your money.

1. Check the federal government's savings bond database
According to the U.S. Treasury, more than $17 billion worth of Series E Savings Bonds have never been redeemed. These bonds were sold between 1941 and 1980, marketed by the government as a safe and patriotic way to invest. Maybe you got one as a gift. (I know I did — the dreaded "Grandma got you a savings bond" gift.) Apparently, a lot of recipients simply forgot about them.

Just visit the Treasury Department's savings bonds website and navigate to a special page called TREASURY HUNT. To get to the Treasury Hunt page, click on the tab for "Individuals," then on the tab for "Tools" — or just go to Google and search for the term "Treasury Hunt." Once you've reached the Treasury Hunt page, you'll find a big blue button two-thirds of the way down marked "Start Search." Click on it, type in your Social Security number, and you'll instantly be informed whether or not they are holding bonds in your name. The whole search should only take you a few minutes.

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2. Check the Banks
It's equally fun to find money the banks may be holding for you. Remember that savings account you opened up with your parents as a kid? Did you ever cash it out? What about the bank account you first opened up when you got married, or that college savings account your grandmother opened for your kids?

My first stop would be the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) website, which provides links to the individual databases of all 50 states listing unclaimed assets.

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I'd also visit missingmoney.com, a one-stop-shop for finding unclaimed property that is operated by a private company for NAUPA. What distinguishes both these websites is the huge amount of data they can access -- and the fact that both of them are FREE.

There are also unclaimed-asset sites that will charge you to do a search. A typical example is unclaimed.com. But please go to the correct site, unclaimed.org. Take the FREE approach first. The other sites charge up to $18 per search.

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3. Check With the FDIC
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, moves in to protect our savings when a bank is in danger of failing. In the process, it becomes responsible for all insured deposits and for liquidating any of the bank's remaining assets. Many of these assets are unclaimed. If you can prove that an account belonging to you is among them, the FDIC will be more than happy to give you your money. So, if you think you might have once had an account at a bank that was taken over by the FDIC, go online and visit the FDIC website.

At the top of the home page, click the tab labeled "Consumer Protection," and then the tab labeled "Banking & Your Money." This will take you to a page where you will see a list of links under the heading "Learn More." Click on the one that says, "Search for Unclaimed Funds." (The direct link is here.) Toward the bottom of the "Unclaimed Funds" page, you will find a search function you can use to see if there is an unclaimed account belonging to you in the FDIC's database.

The only information you need to input is your name and the name of either the failed bank OR the city/state it was in. Once you've done that, it will instantly tell you whether the database contains anything under your name.

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4. Check With the IRS
Of all my recommendations, this is the one most likely to actually put money in your pocket. When we think of the IRS, most of us worry that we owe them money. But not everyone does. In fact, many of us are owed money, maybe you!

The place to go to find out is the IRS website. I absolutely LOVE this website. It is truly a treasure trove of FREE information that can help you get refunds you never collected, get tax credits you never realized you were eligible for -- in short, get what you are owed.

You go online to the IRS website and you click on the link labeled "Where's My Refund?" You then input some basic information about yourself (Social Security number, filing status, and the amount of refund you're due) and the site will tell you the status of your refund. If you don't have access to the Internet, you can phone the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040 and ask them if they're holding a tax refund for you. Since 2004, taxpayers have used the "Where's My Refund?" tool more than 24 million times. If you think there's even a remote chance that you never got a refund you were supposed to get, you should join this crowd.

Now here's the big catch. The IRS has a rule that you have to claim your refund within three years from the time your return was due or they get to keep the money. By the time this book goes on sale, it will likely be too late for anyone to claim a refund for 2006. But if you have a refund coming to you for 2007 or later, you still have a chance to get your money.

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5. Check for Unused Gift Cards and Gift Certificates
How many times have you received a gift card and never bothered to use it or used only part of it -- or just flat out lost it? I know I do that all the time. And so do a lot of people. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal and research by Tower-Group, each year Americans spend about $65 billion in gift cards but don't redeem $6.8 billion.

Here's the good news. Depending on where you live, state law may require that unused gift cards and gift certificates with expiration dates or services fees must be turned over as unclaimed property. In most cases, if you are given a gift card or certificate with a specific date, the unused balance is presumed abandoned five years from date of purchase. If the gift card is rechargeable, depending on the state, it may be considered abandoned five years from the date of the last owner-initiated transaction.

Google your state treasurer's office -- once you've arrived at their website, navigate to their unclaimed assets department and see if they have an area where you can search for abandoned gift cards.

So, now that you know how you can find the money that's rightfully yours -- it's time to put this information to work. If you think this all sounds too good to be true, it's not. I have received so many success stories since the release of "Debt Free For Lif"e about people finding their money. Just this past week my business manager found unclaimed bonds that were worth $2,000!

I want you to know, my favorite part of my day is reading the success stories that my readers send to me. If you wind up finding some money you never knew you had, please let me know. Head over to my Facebook page and post what happened or send us a video clip. You can also visit finishrich.com and tell me how you found the money. Remember, if you have unclaimed money out there, chances are, it's not going to come and find you, so get started.

© 2012 AOL Inc. All rights reserved.

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