As more emphasis is placed on protecting digital records and online identities, a need remains to secure our most precious physical belongings.
"If you have anything that is hard to replace or has sentimental value or you want to pass on to your kids, that's probably the best reason for getting a safe deposit box,” says Dave McGuinn, founder and president of Safe Deposit Specialist, a financial consulting firm. “You've got one central location, and your family knows where your stuff is."
While some big banks are moving away from safe deposit boxes, especially in newly constructed branches, McGuinn estimates there are still over 25 million leased safe deposit boxes in the U.S. That in itself, he says, is evidence of continuing demand.
"My clients are still expanding vaults, adding boxes, and doing everything they can to accommodate their customers,” says McGuinn.
However, brick-and-mortar bank branches are vanishing across the country, meaning you may have to travel farther to access or lease a new deposit box. By the end of 2021, there were an unprecedented 2,927 fewer bank branches nationwide, eclipsing the annual closure record set in 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.
In 2022, the largest bank in the U.S., JP Morgan Chase, announced that it is no longer leasing new safe deposit boxes.
Think before you store
Best Things to Store in a Safe Deposit Box
- Adoption records
- Armed service records
- Birth certificates
- Business/legal contracts
- Citizenship/naturalization papers
- Death certificates
- Family photos
- Marriage/divorce records
- Property records
- Vehicle titles
Worst Things to Store in a Safe Deposit Box
- COVID-19 vaccination card
- Emergency cash
- Letter of instruction (including funeral instructions)
- Living will
- Original last will and testament
- Power of attorney (financial and health)
- Uninsured valuables
But just because you have a safe deposit box doesn't mean you should automatically stash all of your valuables in it. Since access to a safe deposit box is limited to banking hours, important items that may be needed at a moment's notice are better off stored elsewhere. Think your passport in case you need to take an emergency trip, or your living will in case you're gravely injured, according to the American Bankers Association (ABA).
Instead, consider keeping these items at home in a fireproof safe. Make sure a trusted friend or family member is aware of what's kept in the safe and the lock combination. You might also consider including this information in a letter of instruction that accompanies your will, and give copies of both to your will's executor. (Ideally, the original copy of your will should be kept at the law firm where it was drafted — or in your home safe if you drafted it yourself — and not in a safe deposit box where it's difficult to retrieve after you die.)