Insights & Stories

Treasures Under Lock: Why You Need a Safe Deposit Box

Reading time: 6 minutes

April 26th, 2024

person handling a safe deposit box person handling a safe deposit box

Despite the ease of online banking in this digital age, where many people’s money needs can be accomplished virtually (for example, opening a new savings account, managing bill payments, or applying for a loan), there is still a need to secure our most important physical belongings. Although some may choose to keep their valuable items at home, these items can be lost in the event of a fire, flood, hurricane, or other disaster. Even a sturdy home safe can be broken into, or burglars could steal the entire safe itself.

One solution to ensure that your valuables stay safe is by keeping them in a safe deposit box. Curious to learn more? Read on to discover what a safe deposit box is, how they can best protect your irreplaceable belongings, and ways to securely access your box in an emergency.

What is a safe deposit box?

A safe deposit box (or a safety deposit box, as they're sometimes called) is a secure container used to store valuables and kept in a secure location in bank or credit union—usually you'll find them within the vault. Safe deposit boxes range in size from 3 by 5 inches to 10 by 15 inches or larger, are typically made of metal, and can be rented from the financial institution for a fee. The cost of a safe deposit box depends on the bank and size of the box.

Think of a safe deposit box as your own private bank vault. Just as a savings account is a safe way to protect your money, a safe deposit box is a safe way to protect precious items. Your bank or credit union’s secured building and vault safeguards the contents of your box, and the box is both an added protection and serves to keep your items separated.

What to store (and not to store) in safe deposit boxes

Safe deposit boxes are perfect for storing personal valuables, important documents, and other hard-to-replace items. This may include:

  • Personal documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, and citizenship paperwork
  • Family heirlooms, including jewelry, original photos, letters, and other collectibles and keepsakes
  • Copies (but not the only copies) of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney
  • S. savings bonds, paper stock, and other financial certificates
  • Deed to your house or apartment, and any car titles
  • Military records and discharge papers
  • Diplomas and school transcripts
  • Important contracts, business filings, records, and ledgers
  • Hard drives with backups of important digital data
  • Other small items or documents that are important and would be difficult or impossible to replace
  • Rare treasure maps that lead to hidden buried gold (we’re kidding, but you get the idea)

While safe deposit boxes can be a great place to store many different items, there are a few things that should not be stored. This includes firearms; illegal substances; perishable, hazardous, or dangerous materials; the sole copies of life estate planning documents (in the event that something happens to you, no one will have access to these documents); and cash, which is best stored in a savings or checking account, where your funds are insured for up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each ownership category by the FDIC and can earn interest.

Remember that safe deposit boxes are only accessible during bank hours, so it’s best not to keep anything in these boxes that you might need to access quickly or frequently.

How to access your safe deposit box

Once you’ve rented a safe deposit box at the bank or credit union of your choice, you can access your box by speaking with a teller or manager at the bank. You will need to provide proof of identity and your safe deposit key. It typically takes two keys to open a box: your key, as well as a key that your bank or credit union will keep on file.

The bank or credit union will not hold a copy of your personal key, so keep it safe! Once you and the bank associate unlock the safe deposit box from the vault, you are free to add or withdraw anything from your box. Only you will know what’s inside your safe deposit box. Call the bank associate when you are finished, and they’ll put away your safe deposit box.

You can also share a safe deposit box with more than one person. When the box is leased, you and someone else (for example, a family member, close friend, or business partner, among other trusted individuals) can be considered co-renters, with equal access to the safe deposit box. Safe deposit box renters can also be added later by having the person visit the bank, provide identification, and sign the proper paperwork.

Sharing a box can be convenient if both parties have an interest in what’s inside, such as married couples who want to protect the deed to their home or siblings storing family heirlooms. However, it’s important to note that each co-renter has their own key and can take items out of the safe deposit box at any time. Your bank or credit union will not settle disputes that may arise.

Safe deposit lease agreements can also include provisions for what happens in the event of an emergency or death. The bank or credit union may allow other individuals to access the box if it becomes necessary under court order or estate settlement to obtain critical documents, such as a will or property deeds. These options will depend on the policies of your bank or credit union, as well as local probate laws.

Benefits of using a safe deposit box

  • Safe deposit boxes are extremely secure. They are stored in reinforced vaults that are only accessible by providing identification and a unique key. Additionally, they are located in closed off areas of banks and monitored by advanced surveillance, alarm systems, and security guards. These safety features help protect the contents of your safe deposit box from theft or natural disasters.
  • Privacy and confidentiality. If you rent a safe deposit box, you are the only person who has access to its contents. The bank or credit union that contains the safe deposit box is not allowed to open the box without your permission, which means your items are able to remain secure, private, and confidential.
  • Peace of mind. Because of the security, protection, and privacy that safe deposit boxes offer, you are able to relax knowing that your valuables are safe from emergencies or disasters.

To learn more about safe deposit boxes and see what size boxes might be available, visit a convenient Bank of Hawaii branch near you.

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