Companies have mostly stopped issuing stock certificates, which represent that someone owns an interest in a company's stock, but there are still older ones lying around. To cash these in, you can work with your broker or talk to the company that issued them. If the company no longer exists, you can do some research to figure out what the certificate is worth or ask an expert or stockbroker for help. Even if a stock certificate no longer has much or any monetary value, it might still be valuable as a collector's item.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If the company still exists, you may be able to send the stock certificate to your broker or contact the company's transfer agent for help cashing in the stock. Otherwise, you may have to do extensive research for out-of-business companies, and some old stock certificates may only have collector's value.
Sending Them to Your Broker
If you have a stock certificate for a company that's still in business, you can generally send them to a stock brokerage to have the stock credited to your account. Then you can either hold on to it without having to worry about dealing with the physical certificate or simply sell the stock and receive the money.
Researching a Stock Certificate
If you come across an old stock certificate and are not sure how much it's worth or if it's still valid, you may have to do some research. If the company is still in business, you can look up its transfer agent, often a bank, that handles stock-related matters on its behalf. You can often find out who a company's transfer agent is by visiting its investor relations website.
If the company no longer exists, you may have more of a challenge on your hands. You can use online or print corporate directories to find out what became of the company, or if you know where the company was incorporated, contact that state to determine who the correct transfer agent is. If you do business with a stock brokerage, they may also be able to help you conduct this research, so it can be worth it to call and ask. There are also services that will help you research the value of old stock certificates, often for a fee.
If the stock certificate isn't in your name, perhaps because you inherited it from a deceased relative, you may also have to prove that you are its rightful holder before you can exchange it for money.
Selling Stock Certificates to Collectors
Not all stock certificates still have monetary value. If you determine an old stock certificate belongs to a long-bankrupt company, for instance, you may not be able to sell the shares it represents.
Old stock certificates can still be valuable to collectors, however. You can look for similar certificates that sold on online auctions to get a sense of what your certificate is worth, contact a potential buyer to see how much they will pay or have it professionally appraised.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.