What you should (and shouldn't) store in a safe deposit box

Posted on 08/31/2022 at 03:05 PM by First State Bank

With the growth of digital banking, renting a safe deposit box isn’t as common as it used to be. Still, safe deposit boxes can be a good place to keep important personal documents, collectibles and family heirlooms.

It’s important to make informed decisions about which things to store in a safe deposit box. Items that you might need to access quickly, for example, shouldn’t be stored in a safe deposit box.

If you want to be savvy with your safe deposit box, here’s what you need to know.

What is a safe deposit box?

A safe deposit box is a secure container, usually made of metal, that’s used to store valuables at a bank or credit union. These boxes are often kept in vaults and can be rented by bank customers for a fee.

What should go in a safe deposit box

Antiques, documents and anything that’s difficult or impossible to replace that isn’t needed right away could be worth putting in a safe deposit box.

Good things to put in a safe deposit box include:

  • Personal papers
  • Stamp or coin collections
  • Jewelry or rare collectibles
  • Important contracts and business papers

Keep in mind that a bank may limit the number of items you can keep in a safe deposit box, based on their value. The rental agreement will specify restrictions as well, like rules against keeping explosives and illegal drugs in the box you’re renting.

What should not go in a safe deposit box

Avoid storing items you might need on short notice or in an emergency in your safe deposit box. You should also avoid storing items that aren’t typically needed on short notice but your inability to retrieve them would cause significant problems.

Some examples are:

  • Passports
  • Medical directives
  • Revocable living wills

If your bank branch is closed or access to your safe deposit box is open by appointment only, you may not be able to get your belongings when you need them.

Even if the item in a safe deposit box doesn’t typically need to be retrieved quickly, consider how not having ready access to it might be problematic.

Some items, like a medical directive, should never be stored in a safe deposit box because you could become suddenly incapacitated and need important documents right away. Even if there are other parties with access to the box, you are still limited by bank hours to gain access.

Why use a safe deposit box?

Safe deposit boxes can provide added safety beyond what you may have available at home.  

Are my belongings insured like my bank account?

A safe deposit box lives within the vault of a federally insured bank or credit union. But whatever you put inside that box isn’t insured by the institution or the government. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., for example, protects only the money in FDIC-insured checking, money market and savings accounts (including high-yield accounts) and certificates of deposit. Furthermore, there are no federal laws stating that customers must receive any form of payment when an item is damaged or stolen.

If you want insurance on the items in the box, you must purchase it yourself — and it’s worth considering: You could lose valuables stored in a bank vault after a natural disaster.

Consider adding a special policy to your home insurance policy or contents insurance policy to cover valuable items. Whether it’s your diamond tiara or a collection of rare magazines, your home insurance agent can write a separate policy, called a rider.

Insurers will often give you a premium discount for storing valuable possessions in a safe deposit box. A personal articles floater can be added to your homeowners or renters insurance policy.

What happens to items in a safe deposit box if the owner dies?

The rules for what happens to the contents of a safe deposit box depend on state law or the rental contract with the bank. Be sure to check with your bank in regards to their specific rules.

Can third parties gain access to my safety deposit box?

Only people whose names are on the safety deposit box lease have access to the box. That’s why it’s important to be careful about what is stored in the box and to consider whether you want to jointly rent the box and with whom.

What happens if a safe deposit box is abandoned?

If a safety deposit box is abandoned and the renter quits paying for it, it is considered a delinquent box. The bank has to give the renter legal notice that the box will be forced open.