Some things in life deserve special attention and safekeeping, such as family heirlooms or collectibles, and important documents like social security cards and birth certificates. While some people choose to store these types of valuables at home, a potentially safer option is to rent a safe deposit box at a bank.
A safe deposit box – sometimes referred as a “safety deposit box” – is a secured container that is usually held within a larger safe or vault at a bank. People can rent these boxes and use them to store valuable possessions. When the customer wishes to access the contents of their box, they visit the bank, present the required identification, and are then allowed access to the vault or safe where their box is located.
How safe are safe deposit boxes?
The bank can typically only access your box under a court order or search warrant, or if you do not pay your rental fees, in which case the contents of the box could be seized as abandoned or unclaimed property. If the owner of the box dies, the box is typically sealed and cannot be opened until representatives of the owner’s estate provide court papers to the bank.
Safe deposit boxes can offer more protection than a home safe or filing cabinet. For one, they’re typically located in secure areas of the bank that are fireproof, and have video cameras and alarms. Typically, a burglar will have an easier time breaking into your home and prying open your safe than they will breaking into the bank and gaining access to its vault. Keep in mind though, that not every bank keeps their safe deposit boxes in a secure, fireproof vault. It’s a good idea to check with your bank to find out exactly where their boxes are located. It’s also important to note that banks are not immune to natural disasters, and safe deposit boxes could be impacted by floods, explosions, or other types of catastrophes.
And while some people assume that the belongings they place in a safe deposit box are insured by the bank or the FDIC, it’s important to note that this is not the case. While the bank is certainly responsible for protecting their vault and its contents, in the event of a theft or natural disaster, you will likely have no claim to reimbursement, unless you can prove negligence on the bank’s part. However, your homeowners insurance policy may have a provision covering valuables stored in safe deposit boxes, so it’s a good idea to check. And, if you’re not covered by your homeowners insurance, there are additional insurance plans you can purchase that cover safe deposit boxes.
How big are safe deposit boxes?
Safe deposit box sizes will vary by bank, but you can usually get one as small as the size of a post office box, or as large as a carry-on suitcase. And while some people assume that renting a safe deposit box is expensive, they’re actually quite affordable. At BankFive for example, our smallest boxes are available for only $35 per year, while our largest boxes cost $125 annually.
It’s worth noting that there could be additional costs associated with a safe deposit box, so be sure to check with your financial institution for specific details. For example, if you lose your keys and need to have the bank drill the box open, you could be charged a drilling fee and have to pay for new keys. You could also be charged late fees if you fail to pay your box rental fee on time.
Where can you get a safe deposit box?
Not every bank, or bank location will offer safe deposit boxes. It’s a good idea to check with the bank, either by calling them or visiting their website, before you physically visit a branch in search of a safe deposit box. At BankFive, we offer safe deposit boxes at our New Bedford, Somerset, and Dartmouth branches, as well as at select branches in Fall River. Box sizes and availability vary by location.
What can you keep in a safe deposit box?
Items that might make sense to keep in a safe deposit box include:
- Marriage certificates
- Birth certificates
- Car titles
- Property deeds
- Investment portfolios
- Copies of power of attorney
- Irreplaceable photos or videos
- Copies of wills
- Credit card information
- Jewelry and precious metals
- Citizenship papers
- Social Security cards
- Bonds and stock certificates
- Immunization records
- Business contracts and other important documents
- Rare collectibles like baseball card collections or stamp collections
- Flash drives containing important digital documents, photos or videos
What should you not keep in a safe deposit box?
When determining what to place in your safe deposit box, it’s important to remember that not everything belongs in there. First, keep in mind that you’ll only be able to retrieve your items when the bank is open. Don’t use a safe deposit box for items you’ll need easy access to in an emergency. There are also some things that legally cannot be stored in a safe deposit box. Such items include legal and illegal drugs, as well as firearms, explosives, and other weapons. And while it’s not illegal to store cash in a safe deposit box, many banks have policies forbidding it. Even if your bank doesn’t expressly forbid placing cash in a safe deposit box, it’s probably not the best place for it. You’ll lose out on earning interest on your cash if it’s sitting in a box, instead of in an interest-bearing bank account. And, while the funds in your bank account are protected by FDIC insurance, any cash stored in a safe deposit box is not covered by the FDIC.
For additional tips and things to consider regarding safe deposit boxes, check out the FDIC’s list of “5 Things to Know about Safe Deposit Boxes”: https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnfall09/five_things.html