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Not that long ago, most of our individual banking needs were met within four walls by people in suits. Now, however, just pull out any smartphone or tablet and chances are that you can transact, make payments, and even get the latest advice about meeting your financial needs. There are so many new-fangled ways to manage and protect your assets (most of which I advocate using!), but some services will never translate in a mobile environment.
I began my career at a local community bank and boy, was it different than today. The accounts came with passbooks and the teller lines were roped with velvet. As I toured my first branch, my tour took me past what looked like miles and miles of Safe Deposit Boxes: heavy steel boxes, in many sizes with multiple keyholes. Outside the box storage area were private booths that people could use to place or remove the contents of their rented boxes. My first thought was, How strange… And if you’ve never had a Safe Deposit Box, or seen one, perhaps you might think so, too.
Safe Deposit Boxes are still offered by many financial institutions and the cost of having one is nominal. According to a national survey by Value Penguin, rental fees for Safe Deposit Boxes range from $60–173 annually, depending on box size, however, when it comes to securing valuable items, paperwork, and coins - they can be priceless. In the case of a fire, flood, or burglary, a Safe Deposit Box can ensure your valuables are spared.
FEMA mentions a Safe Deposit Box as a viable option for storing valuable and critical documents as part of a proper emergency preparedness plan. You can see their entire list of recommendations at fema.gov.
What can be stored in a Safe Deposit Box?
Tangible valuable items. Jewelry. Personal documents (such as original birth certificates, Social Security information, titles/deeds). Rare coins. Passports. Sentimental items. In mine, I store a copy of the hospital photos of my sons and locks of hair from each of their first haircuts (sentimental items, indeed!). Some people even store a portable USB drive containing a backup of their digital records in case of a calamity. I love that idea, and I’ve added it to my to-do list. Remember, not EVERYTHING is or should be in the cloud.
Why is a Safe Deposit Box cool?
In one word: Security. Safe Deposit Boxes are “proofed”: they only unlock with two keys - one the financial institution holds and the other that only the box owner holds. The box cannot be opened without your key! In addition, they are tamper- and fireproof so your valuables remain safe, even if something happens to the environment they are stored in. It’s important to note that they are not always flood-proof, so you may want to put the contents in a waterproof bag before storing them.
What doesn’t a Safe Deposit Box do?
The contents of a Safe Deposit Box are not insured like other bank products. The FDIC doesn’t recommend using a Safe Deposit Box for cash storage. And because financial institutions don’t maintain records of what is stored in your Safe Deposit Box, I would strongly urge users to photograph contents and keep a list of what their box contains. Additionally, while a Safe Deposit Box keeps your important documents safer, it is not the best place to store one’s will because, in the event of one's death, heirs may not be able to easily access the Safe Deposit Box. Finally, a Safe Deposit Box is not a replacement for a home safe where you might store items you’d want to access quickly in case of an emergency.