What Is a Safety Deposit Box and How Much Does It Cost?

The safety deposit box cost is a small price for big protection.

A safety deposit box is a box of varying size in which you can store certain valuable items in the safety of your bank or credit union’s vault. The annual safety deposit box cost ranges from $43 to over $225 depending on the size of the box, the financial institution with which you do business and what other accounts you have there.

There’s a lot to know about safety deposit boxes in terms of how much you pay, what you get for the money, how to snag a discount on rental fees and how to use a safety deposit box once you get it. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about safety deposit boxes:

Safety Deposit Boxes vs. Home Safes

The annual cost of a safety deposit box can run up to over $225, so before we look at the process to get one, let’s see if you really need one. Storing valuables in a safe at home is cheaper and more convenient since you always have access to your safe. The problem is, that convenience is as true for burglars as it is for you, which makes safes an attractive target for thieves. Use them for replaceable important documents like birth certificates, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. recommends, but not for irreplaceable items like jewelry or heirlooms. Those are the items that need the extra protection provided by a safety deposit box.

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Are Safety Deposit Boxes Insured?

Thankfully, safety deposit boxes usually live up to their name, but they’re not entirely immune from damage in extreme circumstances, like fire, flood or natural disasters. There’s even a small possibility that a thief could get in, although a safe at home is much more vulnerable to theft. The most likely scenario for damage is a natural disaster, so the FDIC recommends keeping items that could be susceptible to water damage in sealable plastic bags or containers in your box in case of a problem.

If your safety deposit box contains valuable family heirlooms or other items worth a substantial amount of money, you’re out of luck if an unauthorized person gets to them. Banks exclude themselves from any liability in their safety deposit box contracts and the automatic FDIC insurance that covers bank accounts does not offer any protection for safety deposit box contents. Check your renter’s or homeowners insurance and add coverage for your box in case of loss or damage to its contents.

Discover: NCUA vs. FDIC: Who Insures Credit Unions and Banks?

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What Is the Average Cost of a Safety Deposit Box?

Expect your safety deposit box cost to run from $43 to over $225 for the year, based on the size of the box, your bank and location. Not all banks have safety deposit boxes among their products and services, so check with yours to see if it offers this service and how much it charges. If it doesn’t have safety deposit boxes, check around for a bank that does. When you find a bank with boxes and an acceptable rental fee for the size of the box you need, fill out the appropriate paperwork and set up the monthly payment. Expect the contract to include things like limitations on the bank’s liability, what happens if you die or become incapacitated, and how the bank will handle your safety deposit box and its contents if you go delinquent on the rental fee. Then you’ll get the key and you’re ready to start storing your valuables.

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Safety Deposit Box Sizes and Rates

The following table shows the sizes of the boxes offered at a few different financial institutions and the annual rental fees.

Annual Rates For Safety Deposit Boxes
Box Size (inches):3 x 55 x 53 x 105 x 1010 x 10
Bank of America$75$101$101$157$227
Suntrust$45$70$95$145
Regions$57$90$106$225
Wells Fargo$65$95$125
TD Bank$43$60$70$96$165

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Can You Get a Discount on a Safety Deposit Box?

Saving money is always good, especially on something like a safety deposit box where the rental fee often goes up every year. The U.S. Department of Treasury recommends shopping around to ensure that your safety deposit box cost is reasonable.

Just as financial institutions often waive service fees on accounts for customers who maintain specific deposit account balances, many give rental fee discounts for safety deposit boxes to the people who bank with them. You might even get one for free if you’re one of their best customers. Depending on the financial institution, things that could make you eligible for a reduced safety deposit box cost include having a savings account, checking account, loans or investments there.

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Even if your bank won’t give you a discount, you can save money by making sure the size of the box aligns with your needs. Choose the smallest safety deposit box necessary. Otherwise, you’re paying higher rental fees for unused space.

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What Should You Store in a Safety Deposit Box?

Safety deposit boxes are popular places to store items like family heirlooms, old photographs, jewelry, U.S. savings bonds and other valuable or irreplaceable items. They also offer secure storage for important documents like birth certificates, property deeds and car titles. Safety deposit boxes are a good place for footage of your home contents for insurance purposes in case the property is stolen or destroyed by fire, flood or some other disaster.

Safety deposit boxes work best for items that you won’t need to access quickly or that other family members won’t need to access in your absence. You must go to your bank to get into your safety deposit box, and access is limited to the bank’s operating hours. For example, you might put your credit cards in a safety deposit box if you’re trying to cut down on spending. That works until you need those credit cards for an emergency expense at midnight on a holiday.

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What Shouldn’t You Store in a Safety Deposit Box?

Stuffing your safety deposit box full of cash is a bad idea, and your bank might not even allow it. Bank rules aside, lack of FDIC insurance is a major reason for not storing cash in a safety deposit box. And when that money isn’t in a bank account, it’s not earning any interest. If you still insist on storing cash in a safety deposit box, read your bank’s rules and rental agreement carefully. An FDIC-insured bank account is the safest spot for your funds.

Other items for which safety deposit boxes don’t work well are powers of attorney for things like medical or financial decisions if you become incapacitated and someone else needs to intervene on your behalf. Your attorney can advise you on whether a safety deposit box is a good place for your will as this varies, depending on your state’s laws.

See: 14 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ditch Your Brick-and-Mortar Bank Yet

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Can Someone Else Open Your Safety Deposit Box?

Under certain circumstances, your safety deposit box might be opened without your authorization. This could happen due to a search warrant, a court order, a failure on your part to pay the rental fee or a closure of the bank branch. If this happens, at least two people must be present to create an inventory of the safety deposit box contents. Those items are then removed to a bank vault for safekeeping.

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What if You Forget About Your Safety Deposit Box?

You might think that you’d never forget your safety deposit box, but it happens often enough for banks and states to have rules on how to handle it. Banks consider a box dormant if there’s no activity and you haven’t paid the rent for two to five years. The exact timespan varies, depending on where you live. Once dormancy happens, your bank transfers the box’s contents to the state treasurer or unclaimed property office. You’ll get a notice to your last known address before that happens. If you don’t respond, your items go to the appropriate office. When you remember to do something about your safety deposit box, you may be able to retrieve the contents through the correct office in your state. Look it up through the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

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About the Author

Barb Nefer has been writing professionally for nearly 30 years, cutting her teeth as a news writer for the Daily Southtown in Chicago. She’s a doctor of psychology, and her eclectic expertise includes personal finance, psychology, travel and the pet industry. Her work reflects that diversity, with pieces appearing in places like About.com, CBS Local, Yahoo.com, WebPsychology, and Animal Wellness magazine.