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Discount Diva: Why leave money on the table? Here's how to get it back

If I walked up behind you at the grocery store, told you there was a hole in your pocket and said you had dropped a trail of quarters a hundred yards long, you’d go back and grab them, right?

Well, you’re likely doing something similar right now.

Fortunately, recouping your lost cash is as easy as picking quarters up off the floor – easier if you’re as out of shape as I am.

Here’s where your money is, and how to get it back.

• Unclaimed funds. When money is forgotten or left behind with insurance companies, investment companies, banks and other institutions, the organizations holding it are required to turn it over to the state Office of the Comptroller.

Right now, the state is sitting on $15 billion, and some of it might be yours.

To find out, visit osc.state.ny.us/ouf and search for your name. If there is money waiting for you there, the site won’t tell you how much (and it could be just a couple of dollars) but it will tell you which organization surrendered it.

You can file a claim on the website, or print a paper form to file by mail. Online claims are processed within two weeks. Paper claims take longer.

• Class-action lawsuits. If you bought a laptop, cellphone, digital camera or certain power tools between the years 2000 and 2011, you’re probably owed some money.

Turns out, several battery manufacturers that made the rechargeable batteries for those consumer devices were accused of fixing prices, and settled a class-action lawsuit for nearly $45 million. If you bought one, you can fill out a quick form (no proof of purchase, no product details) and await an eventual payout.

Don’t get too excited. You’re not going to get enough money to put your kids through college – especially after the lawyers take their cut. But it’s yours, so why not claim it?

There are other class-action lawsuits you’re probably eligible for, too. You can visit TopClassActions.com to see active suits and sign up for a weekly newsletter with the latest class action updates.

• Right-sized tax refunds. I know it’s fun to get that giant check once a year, but if you get a big tax refund every year, it means you’re consistently overpaying the government.

Who cares? It’s like money in the bank, right? Sure, if by “money in the bank,” you mean “giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.”

The fact is, you could be spending, saving or investing that money more efficiently.

In order to remedy the situation, talk to your employer about adjusting your tax withholding. Usually, you can find a calculator on the IRS website to help you figure out how much to claim, but recent tax changes have made it unavailable. Until it returns, you can use the 2017 tax withholding tables on IRS.gov to make your best assessment.

• Employer-matched 401(k). Roughly 20 percent of eligible employees don’t contribute enough money toward their 401(k) plans to max out their employer’s matching program. This is a heck of a way to leave money on the table, and will end up costing you big time in the long run.

Yes, it’s hard to trim your annual paycheck by, say, 5 percent and put it somewhere that you won’t touch it for years to come, especially if you’re young. But it’s a small sacrifice to pay for what could turn into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars later.

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