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locked up tight

Chances are that most of you don’t own a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box, but everyone has things that they want to protect. Whether it’s important legal documents, valuables, family heirlooms, or spare cash, you’ll want to keep your trinkets safe from both fires and sticky fingers. So if you’re wondering what the real differences are between bank boxes and safes, read on. You’re about to be enlightened:

The Safety Deposit Box

If you’re looking for the safest place to keep your stuff, a safety deposit box is probably it. Keep in mind that not even a box at the bank is completely guaranteed against theft or fire, but the likelihood is pretty low and it’s much safer than your lock box at home. Renting one at your local bank is a pretty simple process and only costs $20–$150 a year, depending on the size. One downside of a deposit box: limited access. This means that your box is not a place for documents or valuables that you might need at a moment’s notice. Never keep your passport, original copies of your will, power of attorney, etc. in your box. Safety deposit boxes are usually sealed when the owner dies, so it might take a court order to open the box and get to your will.

Here are some things that you could keep in a safety deposit box:

  • Copies of birth/death/marriage certificates
  • Separation/divorce papers
  • Military records such as original copy of DD Form 214
  • Copy of will, estate plan, burial preference, and/or power of attorney
  • Copy of life insurance
  • Copies of legal documents / business documents
  • Copy of passport
  • Copy of college degree
  • Copy of professional license
  • Copy of Social Security card
  • Copy of health records (immunizations, surgeries, hospitalizations, etc.)
  • Original stock certificates
  • U.S. savings bonds, other bonds, and treasury securities
  • Contracts
  • Deeds, titles, title insurance for home, automobiles, and other property
  • Home inventory (can be photos, DVD, VHS, etc.)
  • Copy of homeowner’s insurance
  • Copy of receipts for home improvements
  • Valuables (jewelry, coins, etc.)

Note that although safety deposit boxes are generally secure and fireproof, they are not airtight or waterproof. Consider stowing your valuables in waterproof containers before placing them in the box to protect them from flooding. Also note that items in your box are not insured—that includes cash. Banks only insure deposits, but it is possible to insure your box independently.

The fireproof safe

It’s true that safes aren’t as secure as the bank, but keeping things in a safe is a good idea for two reasons: (1) you can access the contents at any time, and (2) the contents of your safe are insured under your homeowner’s insurance. Pretty good reason to keep some stuff close by. Upfront costs of fireproof safes are certainly higher than renting a deposit box because good safes can get up into the thousands of dollars very quickly. Then again, having your important documents close by can be worth it. Be sure to choose a safe with a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) number that matches the contents you plan to keep in it (UL125 or lower for electronic data; UL 350 for most documents).

Here are some things that probably belong in your fireproof safe:

  • Property insurance policies and agent contact information
  • Passports and original birth/death/marriage certificates
  • Original Social Security cards
  • CDs or an external hard drive containing digital copies of all family photos
  • Safety deposit box keys
  • Important papers related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts, and associated contact information
  • Information on your outstanding debts, due dates, and contact information
  • Copies of your important legal documents (powers of attorney, living wills, health care proxies)
  • Copy of wills and all wills in which you are designated the executor
  • Valuables that you use daily (jewelry, cash, etc.)
  • Spare keys and titles to all vehicles
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