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So, you thought your savings were safe?

Lara Metz went off to college as planned this month, but her college savings account didn't go with her. Regions Bank turned it over to the state shortly before her graduation from Hudson High School in June.

Lara and her mom found out when they went to the bank to withdraw the money, about $900, as Lara prepared to leave for her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"I was outraged," said Joan Metz, who said she opened the account for her daughter about 1990. "The last time I put money in it was 2002, but I knew the money would be there for her when she went away."

Regions Bank says it was just obeying the law, which requires banks to turn accounts over to the state after five years of inactivity. Untouched funds become abandoned property in the state's eyes.

The money ends up with the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, which has amassed more than $1-billion. It is used to finance public schools until its rightful owners jump through the hoops to reclaim it.

When Metz found out her daughter's account was missing, she called the bureau, which is part of the Department of Financial Services. "They said it would be several months before it showed up in their records and several months more before I get the money," she said.

The state says most unclaimed funds come flooding in just in time for the annual April 30 deadline. "We are still processing," said department spokeswoman Jerri Franz. The department sends notices to the owners of unclaimed property when the accounts are registered in the system.

In the meantime, Metz said the bank agreed to re-establish her daughter's account, but she can't withdraw the money until the bank gets it back from the state.

When banks turn over accounts as "dormant," they are required to notify customers.

"You have to reach out to customers to let them know this process is about to take place," said Regions spokesman Mel Cambell. "That all happened."

But Metz isn't so sure that it did. She said she has had the same Land O'Lakes address since 2003 and she has the statement for December. She said she never read a notice her property was being turned over to the state, although she admits she wasn't always diligent about opening her mail from the bank.

"If they're going to do something like that, you should at least send a certified letter," she said. "I had no idea that you had to do something. I just thought you put your money in the bank and it was safe and warm."

Want to hang on to your money?

Make sure your banks and brokers have your correct address. Notify them if you move.

Keep accounts active by making a deposit or withdrawal on your birthday — or any other day that's easy to remember.

Open your statements and review them for unusual activity and any notices from the company.

Periodically check the unclaimed property records for any state where you have lived to see if your name is listed. In Florida, check or call toll-free 1-888-258-2253.

So, you thought your savings were safe? 08/23/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 9:54am]
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