Should You Be Using a Safe Deposit Box?
A safe deposit box is meant to protect your belongings, but it costs money and time to use. Some valuables are more important to store securely than others, while others don't need that level of security at all.
Let's look at the factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to get one for yourself or your family.
The Access Factor
Safe deposit boxes are more secure than any kind of storage in your home, but they can be difficult to access in real time. Valuables you'll want to use or consult on a regular basis aren't appropriate for a safe deposit box, but those you only need to access occasionally may be.
Personal documents are a good illustration of this factor in action. You should keep your documents secure, but you wouldn't store your driver's license or credit cards in a bank because you need immediate access to them. Your social security card, birth certificate, and passport, on the other hand, might be good candidates.
Because safe deposit boxes should be fire-resistant, they can serve to archive important documents in case of fire (and similarly prevent you from losing information if a burglar grabs everything in a file drawer). Here's a list of the documents recommended for storage:
- Family records
- Marriage licenses
- Birth and death certificates
- Divorce and adoption papers
- Citizenship records
- Military service documents
- Any document that was court ordered
- Deeds, titles, and mortgage papers
- Insurance records
- Leases and similar contracts
- Certificates of stocks, bonds, or CDs
- Patent and copyright documents
- Tax-related documents
- A list of valuables kept in your home
If you use a safe deposit box for these items, it's a good idea to keep copies in your home. Do the same with your marriage and birth certificates. Never keep the only copy of your will in a box. Your executor will need it to open the box.
The Problem with Cash
If you watch movies, you might've seen images of a safe deposit box stuffed with cash. However, that isn't how these boxes should be used; contents of these boxes are not insured by the FDIC. This means that if the bank is robbed, your lost cash is just that — lost. If you're putting your money in the bank anyway, you might as well place it in a secure, insured account bearing interest.
Other Common Items
The other types of items that are smart to keep in your box are valuable items you don't often access. Things like jewelry you wear just once or twice a year, (small) art pieces that you've purchased as an investment, precious metals, and some antiques can all be stored in a safe deposit box.
You can also use the boxes to store items of sentimental value that you don't want to keep on display. Original photos and letters, especially from your family history, are a good example. So are medals and awards you don't want to display, but don't want to get rid of either.
Most people think of safe deposit boxes as a place to keep valuables, but this is only partially true. Most valuables are just as safe in your home under an insurance policy. The exception, like we mentioned above, are smaller investment items like gold or rare stamps.
What safe deposit boxes are most useful for is storing items that are valuable to you. It's a place to keep items your insurance can't replace, so you won't lose them in a fire, burglary, or similar catastrophe.