5 Things to Know About Safe Deposit Boxes, Home Safes and Your Valuables
1. Think about what should or should not be kept in a bank's safe deposit box. Good candidates include originals of key documents, such as birth certificates, property deeds, car titles, and U.S. Savings Bonds that haven't been converted into electronic securities. Other possibilities include family keepsakes, valuable collections, pictures or videos of your home's contents for insurance purposes, and negatives for irreplaceable photos. (Another option may be to store digital images of important documents and photos on a secure Web site that you can access from anywhere over the Internet.)
You probably wouldn't want to use your bank safe deposit box to store anything you might need to access quickly, perhaps on a night, weekend or holiday. That could include passports and originals of your "powers of attorney" that authorize others to transact business or make decisions about medical care on your behalf. For guidance on where to store your original will, check with an attorney about what is required or recommended based on state law.
2. You're better off stashing your cash in a bank deposit account, like a savings account or certificate of deposit, than in a home safe or a safe deposit box. "Unlike money in a savings account, money in a home safe or safe deposit box cannot earn interest, so the purchasing power of your cash will decrease," said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Community Outreach Section. "Plus, cash that's not in a deposit account isn't protected by FDIC insurance." (See #5 for more about the potential risks.)
3. A home safe isn't a true replacement for a bank's safe deposit box. A home safe may be good for replaceable items you may need immediate access to – such as a passport – but home safes are not as secure as safe deposit boxes. "A burglar could more easily break into your home, force you to open the safe or haul off the entire safe and access the contents than get inside your safe deposit box," said Reynolds.
4. If the bank fails, you'll still have quick access to your safe deposit box. In general, the full contents of your box should be available the first business day after the bank closes.
5. No safe deposit box or home safe is completely protected from theft, fire, flood or other loss or damage. Consider taking precautions, such as protecting against water damage by placing items in plastic containers or zip-lock bags. And, don't keep identifying information on or near your safe deposit box key, such as the box number and the bank's name, in case of loss or theft. Remember that, by law, FDIC insurance covers only deposit accounts. Also, don't expect the bank to reimburse you for theft of or damage to the contents of your safe deposit box. If you want protection for the valuables in your safe deposit box or home safe, talk to your insurance agent.