Important documents are more likely to be stolen or damaged by fire or water at home than at a bank, making a bank’s safe deposit box the best place to keep them.
Or at least most of them.
Some items that you may need to get ahold of immediately are better off left at home, such as in a home safe. But even home safes aren’t as protective as bank safe deposit boxes when it comes to theft, fire and water damage.
Digital records and cloud storage make some paper documents unnecessary. Digital records can be hacked, however, so a safe deposit box at your bank might be safer.
Safe deposit boxes do have limits, however.
Banks aren’t open every hour of every day. When an emergency pops up, you may not have time to collect your passport from your bank.
But some documents should definitely be put in a safe deposit box. And some shouldn’t. Here’s a list of five in each category.
What to Keep in a Safe Deposit Box
Social Security Card
Your Social Security number can be stolen online, and a thief could break into your home and take it too. You also don’t want to keep the card in your wallet or purse.
The number can be used to open credit cards in your name and is one of the most sought-after documents by fraudsters.
Put your card in a safe deposit box and if you need to show it to the DMV as proof of identification, then you can plan to get the card a day early. For daily uses, you probably have already memorized the number anyway.
Birth, marriage, divorce and death certificates are rarely needed and difficult to replace. Certified copies of vital records can be obtained at government agencies for usually low fees by providing proof you’re entitled to copies. Delivery can take a week or more.
Homeowners insurance can be added to so that your jewelry is covered, but the extra coverage can be expensive or not offer much protection. Written appraisals of each piece of jewelry will probably be needed for this extra insurance, and keeping the appraisals in a safe deposit box can make filing a claim easier.
Any jewelry you don’t wear regularly should be kept in a safe deposit box. Buy a safe for your home to keep expensive jewelry in. For heirloom jewelry that has a personal connection, keep it in the safe deposit box until you plan to wear it.
Home Inventory List
Keeping a list of all of your belongings for your insurance company at home won’t do you much good if your home is destroyed by a fire or other disaster. Yes, your insurer should also have a copy of your home inventory list, but your copy should be kept in a safe deposit box at a bank where it’s less likely to be destroyed.
Property and Car Records
You may never need to open your real estate paperwork again, but it’s a good idea to keep settlement documents in a safe place such as a safe deposit box. Other home purchase documents that should be kept safe include the deed, closing statement and the property survey showing the property lines.
Your vehicle title should also be kept in a safe deposit box. You may only need it again when you sign the title over to the buyer, or are taking out a title loan, but it’s a document you don’t want to lose.
What NOT to Keep in a Safe Deposit Box
If you need access to anything fast, then a safe deposit box isn’t needed. While it’s unlikely you’ll need your passport at a moment’s notice, an unplanned trip could pop up. Maybe your child is overseas and is in the hospital and you need to leave immediately. Or maybe you found a fantastic, last-minute deal on a trip overseas.
If you need your passport during non-banking hours and it’s in a safe deposit box at the bank, that trip will have to wait.
Your money should be deposited in a bank account, not stashed in a safe deposit box.
Even if you need the money in an emergency, a safe deposit box can be hard to get to at any hour of the day. You’re better off using an ATM.
Some banks may prohibit cash being stored in safe deposit boxes. It isn’t insured by the FDIC.
Some Legal Documents
Wills, durable power of attorney, living will, health care proxy and other legal documents that describe how you want to be treated while dying or what type of emergency medical care you want should be kept at home.
Many of these are called advance directives, and they can’t be followed if they’re locked in a safe deposit box that your loved ones can’t get to.
Illegal Or Dangerous Items
Banks will probably give you a list of things that aren’t allowed in a safe. These typically include:
- Illicit drugs
- Hazardous materials
Don’t be the person who’s arrested for keeping firearms in a safe deposit bank. You could get into serious trouble for it.
If you can’t get into your house because you forgot your keys, there are better places to put them than in a safe deposit box.
We’re not suggesting putting them under a porch mat. But we’re sure you can come up with some creative places to put them. Or with a trusted neighbor.
Just don’t put a spare house key in your wallet. If your wallet is lost or stolen someone could use the address on your driver’s license and use the key to get into your house.
So while a safe deposit box sounds like a good place for spare keys, remember again that it won’t be available after regular business hours. That’s when it’s time to call a locksmith.