Three New York roommates found $40,000 (£23,800) in a sofa they bought for $55 (£32) from the Salvation Army before returning the money to the 91-year-old widow who had stashed it.

The students, at the State University of New York at New Paltz, found envelopes inside the sofa stuffed with wads of money.

"We just pulled out envelopes and envelopes," said Cally Guasti, one of the three who share an apartment in New Paltz, 75 miles north of New York City.

"My mouth was literally hanging open, everybody's was, it was an unfathomable amount."

The students said that they noticed the arms of the sofa were oddly lumpy before Guasti's roommate Reese Werkhoven opened a zipper on one of the sofa arms, finding an envelope containing $4,000 wrapped dollar bills.

"We put it all on a bed. We laid it all out and started counting. And we were screaming. In the morning, our neighbors were like, 'We thought you won the lottery'," Guasti continued.

The three students counted the money to the sum of $40,800 after searching the entire piece of furniture.

Guasti said that the three then found a deposit slip with a woman's name on it and the three wrestled with the idea of keeping the money before calling the sofa's previous owner.

They drove to the elderly woman's house to give her the cash and, they say, she cried with happiness after receiving the money she thought she had lost forever.

"She [the elderly woman] said, 'I have a lot of money in that couch and I really need it'," Guasti said.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't ours. I think if any of us had used it, it would have felt really wrong," she concluded.