Do You Need a Safe Deposit Box?

These secure spots for valuables help you keep your financial documents in order.

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Safe deposit boxes, sometimes called safety deposit boxes, are safes located in a special part of your local bank. They are usually stacked and located in the vault at your bank, which is protected against more common threats like fire, flood, and even explosions. You can usually rent the safe deposit box, by the month, and the rate will vary from bank to bank.

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If you want to rent a safe deposit box, it's best that you contact your local bank and ask them for their rates. The main purpose of a safe deposit box is to protect your valuables. Safe deposit boxes at banks vary in terms of how "protected" they are but they generally are fire resistant and protected against floods.

Regardless of their level of protection, the safes themselves are more secure, more heavily guarded, and the contents are better protected than if they were left in your home. The easiest way to determine whether or not you need a safe deposit box is by collecting the things you'd put inside. You may find that you have a lot of important documents or valuable possessions that you'd like to put inside a box at the bank. Or you may discover you only have a few things you'd like protected. Either way, it does give you the opportunity to organize your financial documents!

What Goes Inside

What should you put inside? Anything important that you don't use often. Start by making a list of every document you have that you consider important. Narrow down that list by removing the documents you think you'll need at any time during the month. The ones you don't need, such as the title or deed to your car or home, should go into the safe deposit box (make a copy to keep at home). For the ones that you think you will need during a month, make a copy and put the copy in the safe deposit box.

When you have this package together, put the documents inside a zip-lock bag (a little extra protection against water) before putting it in the box. Next, make a list of anything valuable in your home that can fit in a safe deposit box. Take out the items you use on a monthly basis (or perhaps may be on display) and put the rest in the safe deposit box.

A good rule is that if you don't see it or touch it at least once a week and you consider it "valuable," put it in the box. Again, put these inside zip lock bags. That should give you a good start on what documents and items you should put into your safe deposit box. This will also help you decide whether or not you need a safe deposit box in the first place. If you don't have a lot of things you'll want to put inside, perhaps you'll want to buy a safe for your home instead.

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Risks

A safe deposit box is very secure but it's not 100 percent secure. In the event of a fire or a flood, you may not be able to reach your safe deposit box in a time of crisis (which is why I recommended making copies of important documents as a backup). They can also be robbed, though that's very rare.

They are also not FDIC insured, so in the event that a fire does damage the contents of your box, you won't be able to claim protection under FDIC insurance (other types of insurance may apply though). Whether or not you need a safe deposit box depends on your specific needs and in many cases a box isn't necessary. If, however, you want to pay for a little extra peace of mind, a safe deposit box is one of the more secure ways you can protect your important documents and valuables at a very affordable price.

Jim Wang writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.com. When he's not tackling money issues, he's usually looking forward to his next vacation and writing about it at Wanderlust Journey.