Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Many people want to store their valuables somewhere secure. Sometimes people will purchase a fire-proof safe to use at home. Other times, people will rent a safe deposit box at the bank. Safe deposit boxes (also called safety deposit boxes) can be a secure place for your documents or valuables that would be irreplaceable or difficult to replace.
A safe deposit box is a secure container that is stored in your bank's vault. Typically, the bank gives you a key to access your safe deposit box. To access your safe deposit box, you will need to go to the bank, sign in, and provide identification. It's important you don't lose the key as most banks will charge you to re-key the box. A safe deposit box can be in your sole name or can have joint renters named with you. Anyone you name as a joint renter will have equal access and rights as you ,so be careful if you decide to name a joint renter.
Safe deposit boxes can be a good option for some people. They are far more secure than your home since banks have a high level of security. They are also stored in vaults, which are protected from fire, flood, and natural disasters. A safe deposit box might cost anywhere from $35 to $225 per year, depending on the bank and size of your box. There are certain items you may want to keep in a safe deposit box and, more importantly, certain items you should NOT keep in a safe deposit box.
What to Store
A safe deposit box is good for storing important items that you won't need to access frequently or immediately. You might include important documents like contracts and business papers, stock and bond certificates, or military discharge papers. You might also include small family heirloom items or small collectibles. Investopedia provides the following list of items you may choose to store in your safe deposit box:
Personal papers, such as original birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses, and citizenship papers
Copies—but not the only copies—of wills and powers of attorney
Military records and discharge papers (e.g., DD 214s)
School transcripts and diplomas
Sensitive documents you wouldn’t want roommates, children, relatives, and visitors to find
The deed to your house, along with any car titles
Paper stock and bond certificates (though most are issued electronically these days), including U.S. savings bonds
An inventory of your home’s contents, in case you need to file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance policy
Important business papers, records, and contracts
Hard drives and flash drives with backups and important data
Financially or sentimentally valuable jewelry, collectibles, and family keepsakes
Other documents or small items that would be difficult or impossible to replace
Before storing your important photos and documents in a safe deposit box, it would be good practice to keep a physical or electronic copy for yourself. Although safe deposit boxes are designed to withstand flooding, you might consider placing anything that could be damaged by water in a zippered plastic bag.
What NOT to Store
Safe deposit boxes are only accessible during bank hours, which means you may not be able to get in after-hours, on holidays, or even weekends. Therefore, you should not put anything in your safe deposit box that you might need immediately. Following is a list of things you should NOT store in a safe deposit box:
Estate planning documents: Emergencies can happen at any time, not just during bank hours. You should keep your original Will, Power of Attorney, and Advance Directives at home instead of your safe deposit box. For security and protection, you may consider keeping them in a fire-proof safe at home. Let your loved ones know where they can find and access your documents in case of an emergency. Even if an emergency happens during bank hours, only the person listed can access the safe deposit box. This can make it very difficult for your loved ones to retrieve the documents you need if you pass away or become incapacitated.
Passport: You may need to travel internationally with little notice. It could be a business trip, a trip for pleasure, or a trip to help your friend or relative.
Uninsured valuables: Although the items in your safe deposit box are secure, you should make sure they are insured just in case. You may need a special rider to your home insurance policy or some companies specifically insure safe deposit box contents. Your items in a safe deposit box are not federally insured by the bank.
Cash: Since your safe deposit box is not federally insured, you are better off keeping your cash in a savings, money market, or other type of bank account that will be insured. As a bonus, you may be able to earn some interest on your account.
Safe deposit boxes might be a good option for some people, but it is important to store the right items in them. While this list is not all inclusive, it gives you some suggestions and guidelines for what to store in your safe deposit box.
Source: Safe Deposit Boxes: Store This, Not That by Jean Folger on Investopedia