Safety deposit boxes may seem like something only wealthy people use in heist movies, but in fact, they’re useful for anyone who has precious items and important documents they need to store in a safe location. Homes can be vulnerable to catastrophes and emergencies such as floods, fires or hurricanes, to name a few, and may not always be the safest place to keep certain valuables.
Here, experts recommend what sorts of things you should keep in your safety deposit box.
What Is a Safety Deposit Box?
Also known as a safe deposit box, a safety deposit box is a small safe or metal box where you store items of value within a federally insured building. These boxes keep your items in a safe or bank vault located in an FDIC-insured bank, credit union or financial institution.
Rather than a home safe, it can be a good idea to rent a safe deposit box to protect your valuables from robbery or even natural disasters such as fires or floods.
How Much Do Safety Deposit Boxes Cost?
While the cost of a safety deposit box varies by financial institution and the size of the box, they typically cost between $15 and $150 per year. Some cost as much as $300 per year.
You may be able to get a safety deposit box for free at your bank, though, if you have a qualifying account.
What Should You Put in a Safe Deposit Box?
What you store in a safety deposit box should typically be items of monetary or sentimental value that you don’t need immediate access to regularly. Here are prime examples of what you should store in order to keep secure:
- Treasured memories
- Car titles
- Important records
- Valuable jewelry and art
- An inventory of your belongings
- Tax documents
1. Treasured Memories
Some of your most treasured possessions aren’t particularly valuable in monetary terms, said Adam Wood, co-founder of RevenueGeeks. However, they are valuable to you on a sentimental level. “Personal papers such as letters from friends and family or old diaries — yours or a long-deceased relative’s — can be safely stored in your safe deposit box. You can scan these objects before storing them to ensure you always have a backup, but there’s no alternative to holding a treasured piece in your own hands.”
If you have old photos, taken before digital cameras, as well, you can store the negatives and original albums in safety deposit boxes, he recommended. “To ensure that you never lose the digital copies, store them on the cloud, on a thumb drive or both.”
2. Car Titles
Your car title, like the deed to your house, is a document that is crucial but rarely used and is difficult to replace if lost, said Tyler Martin, founder and Certified Business Coach at ThinkTyler. “As a result, a safe deposit box is a perfect location for it. When the time comes to sell the car, you’ll know exactly where to look for the title: in your bank’s safe.”
3. Important Records
Records that are infrequently used but would be difficult to replace should be stored in a safe deposit box, said Chris Muller, director of Audience Growth at DoughRoller. “We’re discussing birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and divorce certificates. A birth certificate from a foreign adoption, in particular, is complicated to replace if lost or destroyed.”
Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group LLC, added that you might also want to include Social Security cards, military discharge papers and paperwork that veterans require granting eligibility for certain services. “Having additional copies of these papers may save you and your family valuable time and stress,” he said.
4. Valuable Jewelry and Art
If you’re lucky to have the kind of jewelry or art that’s worth a lot in either monetary value or sentimental value, a safety deposit box may be a good place for the special or antique stuff. However, remember that jewelry is not insured by your bank.
Muller added, “When it comes to jewels placed in a safe deposit box, your homeowner’s insurance will only provide a limited amount of coverage. The insurance industry recommends that you get a personal articles floater. This add-on policy extends protection for certain assets. Each item of jewelry will likely need a formal valuation for insurance purposes.”
5. An Inventory of Your Belongings
In the worst-case scenario of an act of nature such as a fire, an earthquake or a flood that damages your home or belongings, you’ll need proof for your insurance company of what was lost. Mains recommended that you keep in your safety deposit box “An inventory of your house, as well as documented photographs of closets and open drawers, as well as furnishings [to] assist you in establishing your legal claim to the land in question.”
6. Tax Documents
“Some tax and mortgage information can also be stored in your deposit box as a way to keep all of these documents safe,” said Donny Gamble, founder of Retirement Investments. “Although you do not need them all the time, it is good to be able to know where they are in case you need to refer back.”
What Should You Not Put in a Safe Deposit Box?
Items you should not put in a safe deposit box include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Items you need regular access to, such as passports
- Power of attorney documents
- Perishable items
- Hazardous materials
“Too often documents like wills are stored in physical safety deposit boxes that can’t be accessed without petitioning the court after the individual passes away. This slows everything down and makes a typically sad situation even harder and more expensive,” said Renee Fry, CEO of Gentreo. Instead, she recommended a digital safety deposit box for these items.
And of course, some things are illegal to store, including weapons, drugs, explosives and toxic or radioactive substances.
Don’t Lock Up What You Need
Be careful that you don’t put anything in your safety deposit box, “that you may need access to immediately or that you might need to access at a time when the bank is not operating,” said Mains. “This might [include] originals of your passports and powers of attorney paperwork, which empower individuals to do business on your behalf or make medical care decisions in certain situations. To get advice on where to keep your original will, consult with a professional about what is necessary or suggested by your state’s laws.”
Is a Safety Deposit Box Safe?
Be sure to keep your safety deposit box with a well-known and trusted financial institution, as smaller banks can close, said Erick Arbé, co-founder of Willio, an online estate planning tool. “More banks are consolidating which makes it tough to trust that your bank will be in existence over the next five to 10 years.”
Remember that while the contents of your safe deposit box may be safe, they are not covered by either your bank or the FDIC’s insurance policies.
Final Take To GO
Safety deposit boxes are a great way to keep your valuable items safe and protected from the outside world. Keep in mind that, though you’ll benefit from all the security of the financial institution where you store your belongings, the items themselves are not FDIC-insured. As they are not a deposit account, anything damaged or stolen would not be covered.
FAQHere are the answers to some common questions about safety deposit boxes.
- Is a safety deposit box worth it?
- Yes, safe deposit boxes are an excellent way to protect your irreplaceable or important items or documents safely and securely. Keeping your valuables in a safe deposit box protects them from potential theft or damage.
- Is it okay to keep cash in a safe deposit box?
- Though you are technically allowed to keep cash in a safe deposit box, banks highly advise against it, as the cash inside would not be insured. It is safer to put your cash in a deposit account.
- Another consideration is that cash in an insurance-earning deposit account will grow, while cash in a safety deposit box will only lose value over time due to inflation.
- Do banks know what you put in a safety deposit box?
- No – banks offer you privacy when organizing or sorting the contents of your safety deposit box. Though banks do not know the contents of your safety deposit box, there are regulations as to what you can store.
Caitlyn Moorhead contributed to the reporting for this article.