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We all have valuables that we’d like to keep safe. For some, it might be a pair of earrings passed down from generation to generation, or for others, a one-of-a-kind set of baseball cards. Whether they have monetary value or sentimental value, it’s important to have a secure place to store the physical belongings we care about.
Storing these items at home may not always be the best idea. Home storage can leave our valuables vulnerable to being lost, stolen, or damaged. That’s why some people look to their bank or credit union to protect the things they deem valuable in the form of a safety deposit box.
While some financial institutions are moving away from these metal boxes, there are still about 25 million safe deposit boxes in the U.S., showing that there’s still a need for them.
Before leasing a safety deposit box at your bank, learn how they work and how to best use one.
What Is a Safe Deposit Box?
A safe deposit box is a secure box usually made of metal that’s used to store valuables, such as banknotes, financial documents, jewelry, etc. Safety deposit boxes are often kept in a vault at a bank or credit union. These boxes can be rented out to customers for an annual fee.
Instead of storing your valuables at home, where they can be stolen, misplaced, or damaged, a safety deposit box keeps them under lock and key at a trusted financial institution. In addition to things like theft, a safety deposit box can also protect your valuables from natural disasters like floods or fires.
How to Get a Safety Deposit Box
If you are interested in storing your valuables in a safe deposit box, ask your bank or credit union if they offer this service. Some financial institutions may not offer this anymore, as it’s considered by some to be outdated, although the demand still remains.
When you rent a safety deposit box, your bank will typically give you a key to use (you may be asked to put down a refundable deposit for the key). Some banks might use a keyless system, and in that case, you would need to scan your hand or your finger to gain access to your safety deposit box. Only you will have access to your box unless you authorize others to your lease agreement. If you do add others to your account, they will have equal access and rights to the contents of the box, so think carefully about who you add to the agreement.
How Much Is a Safety Deposit Box?
The price you pay to rent out a safety deposit box will depend on the size of the box, your bank, and the location of the safety deposit box. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from about $40 to $300 annually when you rent a safe deposit box. Most big banks charge around $60 per year to rent out one of their smallest safety deposit boxes.
A few banks offer discounts for customers who already have an active checking or savings account with that bank. You may also receive a discount if you set up automatic payments every 12 months to pay for the safe deposit box. Consult with your bank or financial institution to see what discounts they may offer.
What Should Be Stored in a Safe Deposit Box
When considering what to store in a safety deposit box, think about the items that are valuable to you and difficult, or even impossible, to replace. Things like family heirlooms, vital records, antiques, and family photos may all be suitable items to keep in a safe deposit box. However, you’ll want to make sure that what you store in a safe deposit box isn’t something you’ll need access to at a moment’s notice.
Keep in mind that the bank or credit union may have limits to what and how much of something you can store in one safe deposit box. Read your rental agreement carefully to determine what is and isn’t permitted with your financial institution.
To get a better idea of what to put in a safe deposit box, consider some of the following items:
- Vital records or personal papers, such as birth/death certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses, divorce papers, and citizenship papers
- Paper stock and bond certificates, such as U.S. savings bonds
- Jewelry, family heirlooms, or rare collectibles
- Important contracts and business papers/records
- Titles and deeds
- Military records
- Social Security card
- A home inventory document for filing homeowners insurance claims
What Shouldn't Be Stored in a Safe Deposit Box
Not all your valuables should be stored in a safety deposit box. It’s in your best interest to avoid storing items you might need on short notice or in an emergency in your safe deposit box. Because access to a safe deposit box depends on banking hours and your ability to get to the box’s location, important items that you need regularly or on short notice should be stored somewhere else.
If you aren’t able to get your belongings when you need them, would that cause a problem? If the answer is yes, then don’t store them in a safety deposit box. Things like your passport, which you would need if you had to take an unexpected trip, or your medical directives, which would be necessary immediately if you couldn’t make medical decisions due to a serious injury or illness, are good examples of this.
Here are some additional examples of what you may regret keeping in a safe deposit box:
- The original copy, or only copy, of anything important
- Living wills and powers of attorney
- Uninsured items (items in a safe deposit box are not insured by the government or bank)
- Liquids and illegal items
Safe Deposit Box Alternatives
As more and more brick-and-mortar banks begin to close down, safety deposit boxes are becoming harder to find. They are also not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which can be a huge deterrent for some consumers looking for a safe place to store their valuables.
When it comes to storing money, instead of using a safety deposit box, your best bet is a savings account or checking account from an FDIC-insured financial institution. And to get the best value for your money and watch it grow, keep cash in an interest-bearing account like a high-yield savings account.
For non-cash items, you may want to opt for digital storage methods or a fireproof home safe. Just make sure a trusted friend or family member also has access to these in the case of an emergency or if you are unable to access them.
Are safety deposit boxes insured?
The items stored in a safe deposit box aren’t insured by the bank, by the FDIC, or by any other government agency. There are also no federal laws stating that customers must receive any form of payment when an item is damaged or stolen. However, items can be insured by your own private insurer, which you’ll need to purchase yourself.
Who can access a safe deposit box?
Only people whose names are on the safety deposit box contract will have access to the safety deposit box. If you’ve appointed someone as your financial power of attorney, that person may also be allowed access to your deposit box but only while you’re still alive.
Can you put cash in a safety deposit box?
Some banks forbid storing cash in a safe deposit box. But even if you are allowed to store cash in a safe deposit box, it’s generally thought of as a bad idea for many reasons. Consider some of the following reasons why you should avoid keeping your cash in a safety deposit box:
- You’re out of luck if the bank is closed and you need the money right away.
- Cash in a safe deposit box isn’t protected by the FDIC.
- Due to the effects of inflation, your money in a safety deposit box can lose value over time because it won’t be earning interest.
It’s important to safeguard your valuables, and a safe deposit box can offer a great long-term storage solution. Just make sure you choose a bank or credit union with the proper laws and procedures in place to protect your items. And remember, not everything valuable needs to be stored in a safe deposit box — some things are better stored at home, on the computer, or in a bank account. Think about what you’ll want easy access to versus what can be stored away for a long time.