1. Look It Up. It sounds like a scam, but missingmoney.com or unclaimed.org are both websites that link directly to government unclaimed property programs. Enter your name in the search bar and a list of any “unclaimed property” (including checks) comes up, followed by instructions for how to reclaim the cash. This is especially valuable for freelancers or people who move frequently — one friend who entered her name found almost $2,000 in miscellaneous checks from the past few years!
2. Read The Fine Print. I had recently moved apartments and was owed a $2,000 deposit by my former landlady. Initially, she said that she needed to use the money for repainting the apartment — but I took the advice of Resa Shore, a financial coach in Napa, CA, and called the brokers I’d worked with to ask for a copy of my lease. Sure enough, nothing in the lease said that my security deposit was to be used for repainting. Armed with this knowledge, I called my landlady back. She reluctantly agreed to give me $1,000. Although I could have pushed harder and threatened small claims court, Shore says that it takes a long time for cases to get reviewed, and it may be better to settle directly, especially if you need (or want) the cash right away.
3. Ask For It. Dropped assignments and outstanding contracts can plague any freelancer, but even 9-to-5ers need to be diligent about money owed to them — especially if they work on commission or file a lot of expense reports. If you know you’ve got cash somewhere between your boss and your bank account, you owe it to yourself to get it, says Shore. “Don’t ever apologize or feel sheepish about asking for what you’re owed.” Her MO for money talks when someone owes you? Stick to the facts and keep your request simple. No "sorry to bother you," no "just wanted to see if maybe this could be paid," and certainly no guilt trips, à la "I’m really cash-strapped because of a recent move, so if you could send me a check, that’d be great!" I tried this no-apologies tactic to follow up on a 2008 assignment for a magazine article that had never run — or been paid. Finally, after a few different e-mails, I got 25% of the initial fee we agreed on...plus another assignment.
4. Tweet About It. Overcharged for a service or have an airline refuse to refund you for a flight it cancelled? While you’re endlessly waiting on hold for customer service, make sure to Tweet how you feel — especially if you have an active Twitter presence. There’s no need to be angry or USE ALL CAPS, but simply stating your dissatisfaction can help you get an actual person to help you faster than navigating your way through a maze of customer-service options. This strategy helped me finally get $400 back from a flight that had gotten cancelled due to bad weather from Hurricane Sandy last October.
5. Play Hardball. When it comes to service charges for your cable, phone, or bank, it’s always okay to remind the service provider that you have lots of other options, says Manisha Thakor, financial expert and CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management. “They want you as a customer, so it’s in your best interest to question a surcharge or ask that they take a $10 monthly usage fee (in the case of banks) off your bill.” Even though it may feel like just $10, it adds up over time!