On its face, taking financial advice from a sopping wet, half-naked man doesn’t seem like the best idea.
But in this instance, when the man in question was state Treasurer Dale Folwell, heeding what he had to say turned up a pile of cash — $987.65 to be precise — from some $919 million in unclaimed funds managed by the state.
How, pray tell, does that work?
The story begins with a Sunday afternoon exchange of pleasantries on a pool deck with Folwell — he’d just finished a late -season swim, so lift your mind out of the gutter — and his enthusiasm for his job in Raleigh.
The promise of free money, especially when delivered by a politician sounds too good to be true — or even legal. But this one time it paid to pay attention.
“Nccash.com,” he said. “Type in your name and see what’s in there. It’s one of the coolest things about being the treasurer, getting money back to the people it belongs to.”
Easy to understand
If you’ve ever talked to Folwell about anything related to finances, it’s fairly obvious that he knows his stuff.
As treasurer, Folwell looks over the state’s investments and manages the State Employees Health Plan for some 727,000 teachers, troopers and other state workers. Making sure the state’s retirees get paid on time matters.
Not long after first being elected in 2016, he succeeded in reducing the enormous fees the state was paying financial funds to manage retirement funds.
Along those same lines, if you’ve ever discussed the state’s finances — in a bathing suit or on the phone — you also know he can be hard to follow. Terms such as “oversight of recovery audit function” come naturally to him.
If you’re a nickel-biter or a simply glutton for punishment, ask him about his ongoing — some might say Quixotic — fight with large health-care providers over transparency in pricing of medical procedures and prescriptions in an attempt to save taxpayer money.
“I know what (providers) charged,” he has said. “I just want to know what things cost. Same as you do when you’re in Harris Teeter.”
But when it comes to the roughly $919 million in the state’s unclaimed funds account, Folwell is much easier to understand.
Unclaimed property consists of bank accounts, back wages, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds, estate and legal settlements and contents of safe-deposit boxes that have been abandoned.
The money is determined to be unclaimed because businesses, banks and government agencies have lost track of customers, former employees or consumers due to incorrect addresses or other wrong information.
Companies, as much as they might want to, can’t just keep all that dough, so by law it becomes “escheated,” a financial/legal term from English common law which loosely translated means “Not so fast, Diamond Jim.”
The money is turned over to the state treasurer for safekeeping. Interest on those millions, by the way, is spent on public education.
According to the treasurer’s office — remember, they’re numbers people —there are more than 619,000 properties (unclaimed accounts, refunds etc.) totaling $50.2 million owed to Forsyth County residents.
In Guilford County, there are more than 866,000 properties worth $69 million held by the state.
That’s not chump change.
Thousands of claims
Despite solid advice doled out by a high-ranking state official wearing swimwear, it took a minute to get around to checking.
(Having a Type A spouse who listens to NerdWallet Smart Money podcasts for fun helped, too. She’d already checked for everyone we know.)
So as directed, I dialed up nccash.com on Oct. 11. Three accounts — two initially appeared only “greater than $50” — came up. A claim that took less than 2 minutes was filed, and a week later a check for $987.65 – the lion’s share from an overlooked health-savings account — showed up in the mail.
That’s pretty quick. According to the treasurer’s office, claims typically take 30-45 days to be approved (or denied) and paid.
While that makes me a dope for forgetting about an HSA, it also made for a nice surprise. And as it turns out, I’m far from alone.
The City of Winston-Salem, for example, has at least four claims — two for greater than $50, one from Santander Bank and one for “fire department violations.” The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system likewise has at least three claims for $50 or more from the Pepsi Cola Bottling Co., Surry County and Dell, of all things.
In fiscal 2020-21, the state treasury returned some $70.4 million to thousands of residents from unclaimed funds. So far this fiscal year, 44,416 claims for $31.2 million have been paid.
Some went to individuals and companies who filed their own claims; other money was returned through a pilot program called N.C. Cash Match (since made permanent) that automatically sent letters to North Carolinians owed $250 or less. Cash Match has paid 27,964 claims for $11.6 million since its inception in summer 2020.
After eight weeks, if those letters were not returned as undeliverable, checks were mailed out “without further bureaucracy or red tape or paperwork,” Folwell said on a conference call in the early spring.
That’s pretty cool. The moral of the story here is that if a wet man ever wants to talk money, hear him out.