Do You Need a Bank Safe Deposit Box for Storing Valuables?

Renaissance Security Chest

Italian inlaid chest about 1500. (V & A Museum, London).
Italian inlaid chest about 1500. (V & A Museum, London). | Source

Purpose of a Safe Deposit Box

A safe-deposit box is somewhere to place objects in a secure environment. Years ago there was no police or other security force to protect you and your possessions. You had to make your own arrangements to protect them from being stolen or destroyed in a fire. These items could be anything from valuable gold or jewelry, to important documents such as property deeds.

There are now state and federal emergency services to help residents maintain security and douse fires, so the need for a safe deposit box is not as great as before. However there is still a demand for a safe place to secure valuables from people who need to be away from their home on a regular basis.

Safe deposit boxes can be useful for people that need to travel far away from home often (for work or other reasons). Using a safe deposit box at a bank is almost always more physically secure than one at home, but it may be less convenient in an emergency.

Which Banks Offer Safe Deposit Boxes and Cost of Rental

It is expensive to maintain a secure vault with safe-deposit boxes and many banks have chosen to stop providing this service. The few that do may only offer the facility to their favored clients.

In US, both the Bank of America and Chase Bank offer safe-deposit boxes. The terms and availability of these boxes varies between States. The rental charges are individual to each customer but are usually around US $50 to $100 per annum. Some banks see the provision of safe deposit boxes as a loss leader and may choose to only offer the service to customers in good standing.

In UK, none of the major high street banks offer safe-deposit boxes to new customers. Existing wealthy clients (High Net Worth individuals) are able to retain an old safe-deposit box, but the large banks are not creating any new rentals. There is a London-only safe deposit service offered by a small number of security companies with a rental charge of around £500 per annum.

Safe-deposit boxes in bank vault

Safe deposit boxes inside the vaults of a Swiss bank.
Safe deposit boxes inside the vaults of a Swiss bank. | Source

Home or Away

A safe-deposit box doesn’t have to be in a bank or other financial institution. Some businesses (like jewelers or retailers located in isolated areas) have always had their own safe of the premises. Some individuals also prefer to have their own safe-deposit box, such as a Sentry Safe. However such a safe needs to be large enough and heavy enough so that it can't be easily removed by a burglar.

Secure Your Documents

Do you have a safe-deposit box?

  • Yes, at the bank or other vault
  • Yes, in my home
  • No, never needed one
  • No, but I'm going to find one now I've read this article
See results without voting

Items That Should Be Kept in a Safe-Deposit Box

A safe-deposit box protects against fire, flood and theft. It is a good place to keep original paper documents that are irreplaceable. This category can include property deeds and birth certificates. Technology means that if you bought your property within last 20 years you may find that paper records are now obsolete in some jurisdictions. For example, if you bought land or property in England and Wales (UK) after 1993, all changes of ownership have been recorded electronically on a central database at The Land Registry and so paper deeds are no longer required to prove ownership.

The other main category of items that should be kept in a safe-deposit box is valuable items with monetary or sentimental value that you would miss if they were stolen. This could include gold, jewels or other family heirlooms.

How Safe is a Safe-deposit Box?

Items That Should Be Left Outside a Safe-Deposit Box

The only people who have access to your safe-deposit box are those whose names are on the rental agreement. You should therefore keep your Will at home as on your death your executors would need a Court Order to gain access to your box. The secure vault where your safe-deposit box is housed is unlikely to be open 24/7. So you should keep at home any documents that may need to be produced in an emergency. This would include for example the original document for a Power of Attorney. Cash should not be kept in a safe-deposit box as their contents are specifically excluded from federal compensation schemes (e.g. US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).

Department of Home Security's (DHS) Message to Banks

What to Put Into a Safe-Deposit Box

Yes, put in a safe-deposit box
No, keep it handy at home
Protect from fire & flood
Property deeds
Insurance policies
Protect from fire & flood
Birth certificates
Power of Attorney
Protect from theft
Gold and jewelry
Your Will
Protect from theft
Small amount of cash
Protect from theft
Coin & stamp collections
Use a savings account
Hide from tax authorities
Are you crazy?

Alternative Places for Storing Valuables

As the major banks stop providing safe-deposit boxes for anyone other than their most favored customers, so private enterprise steps in to fill the gap. In most major cities there are now private companies whose only business is to rent out safe-deposit boxes. They are not bound by any banking regulations and there is no guarantee about what happens to the contents of your box if the company should fail.

Because of this uncertainty, more and more people are buying a home safe as they see this as being as secure as placing their valuables with a private company. A home safe needs to be not only secure and fireproof, but also large enough and heavy enough to deter a thief from lifting the whole object into a getaway vehicle. The video below shows how with skill and practice, almost any safe deposit lock combination can be decoded and opened.

World Champion Safecracker, Jeff Sitar Shares His Secrets

Be Cautious and Trust No-one with Your Safe Deposit Box

The US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation makes a number of recommendations to anyone thinking of renting a safe-deposit box in a bank vault. They say do not trust anyone with the key to your box, least of all a bank employee, even for a few seconds. Just a few seconds is all it takes for a petty thief to make a wax impression of your deposit box key. There have been numerous cases over the years of weak or corrupt bank officials who have done this and stolen from clients. As the contents of a safe deposit box are never recorded, then it is impossible for you to prove a theft has occurred.

Carol Mesheske, Chief of a fraud section in the FDIC's Division of Supervision is quoted as saying “Don't allow a bank employee to keep your key and handle transactions for you if you're not there - something elderly customers have done and regretted."

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1 comment

raymondphilippe profile image

raymondphilippe 2 years ago from The Netherlands

This hub brings back memories. I used to work at a bank. When we opened our new headquarters the safe draw the most visitors on the opening day. It makes sense to store your valuables in a safe place.

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