Are Safety Deposit Boxes Really Safe?

Not long after I had gotten back into coin collecting following my college career, my home was burglarized by a thief searching for my coin collection. As it turned out, I had hidden the bulk of my collection before going out of town and had not gotten around to retrieving it from its hiding place. Thank goodness!

Although the thief stole quite a few coins that weren’t particularly valuable, the theft shocked me into action. The next day, I transported my good stuff to our bank and rented a safety deposit box (SDB) and that’s where my good coins have been ever since.

So how safe are my coins? I was shocked recently to encounter a CoinTalk chat under the title, “Safety Deposit Boxes Are NOT Safe.” Among other things, the poster wrote, “I have seen several posters stress the importance of a safety deposit box. They are not insured and offer questionable safety. If you do use them, I recommend buying safety deposit insurance, as your box has no safety from loss.”

Following this opening, the poster provided nine links to online articles with titles such as, “Bank Safe Deposit Boxes Are Not Safe. . . Especially Now; Widower Denied Access to Bank Safe Deposit Box; Wells Fargo Lost My Safety Deposit Box; and No Compensation for Victims of FNB Safety Deposit Box Theft.”

The next poster offered a different perspective. He began by acknowledging that there are definitely possible events to be concerned about, “. . . but this seems more of another sky-is-falling, worry-wart issue that is . . . everywhere today.” If you heeded all the things that could possibly happen, you “. . . would be afraid to walk out [your] front door or even get out of bed. . .. Yes, things happen, but I’ll take the astronomical odds of this/that/the other not happening and get up, leave the house, and drive or walk to my safe safe-deposit box at my bank.” He concluded his comment by recommending insurance.

Another poster echoed the insurance comment. “Insure what you own no matter where it is stored. That’s not the bank’s job. They offer a storage site that is much better than having it in the home.”

Yet another poster noted, “There are safer places than bank vaults. I’ll let a bank hold my fiat currency but not my hard assets.”

I might have made the following comment: “My home has been broken into, but my safe deposit box has never. What other options are there for a small amount of gold and silver?”

“Depends,” another collector wrote. “If you live in a small apartment and have a large collection, then you might want a safe deposit box, but if you live on a 40-acre farm with lots of hiding places, then you might be better [off] to go that route.”

That comment reminded me of a man I bought coins from when I had a mail-order coin business. He didn’t live on a farm, but he had coins hidden in multiple places in his small house. One of the places I recall was a dirty clothes hamper in his bathroom.

Another poster pointed out, “Banks come and go. Try and get to your safety deposit box [if] the bank closes. Even with conditions like they are today, there are several banks which require an appointment just to get inside.”

Another writer noted, “Insurance for SDBs is relatively cheap. . . because the risk is very low, of course. The insurance premium is more about administrative costs and profits than loss payouts. I keep my more valuable coins in a SDB, and keep considering insurance. . . but keep putting it off.”

This same poster then offered a detailed list of “precautions on SDBs.” First, choose a bank that’s part of the Federal Reserve System. Although the FDIC doesn’t cover SDB contents, it does require “. . . member banks to follow certain security and bookkeeping requirements. A full-service bank has a strong incentive to have good vault security. . . that’s where their cash and records are kept after hours.”

Second, although bank vaults are fire resistant, they aren’t waterproof. In other words, don’t use a bank with its vault in the basement and get a box several feet off the floor.

Third, be sure that you have at least one other person who can access the box. Further, if “something happens to you, the contents should be immediately moved to another bank. If the bank hears of your demise or incompetent state, it may bar access to the box without a court order.”

Fourth, keep good, up-to-date records of the box’s contents, with photos, if possible. “If you have insurance, the company may cover only what is in the last list you submitted to them.”

Another poster indicated that he “. . . opted for a large home safe instead of a SDB.” His reasons? You can look at your collection whenever you want, and you can get insurance through your homeowners’ policy.

I looked into getting a rider for my coins on my homeowners’ policy, and that didn’t seem promising. I would first have to have my collection appraised, and guess who’s the only person in my small town to my knowledge who’s ever done coin appraisals? Also, I had the impression that it would be horribly expensive.

Speaking from lengthy experience, a poster wrote, “I have had two safety deposit boxes at a bank for over 40 years and never had a problem.”

Another poster pointed out one of the dangers of dying intestate, without a will. “Now, if someone dies intestate and there is no one that is joint on the box or the deceased’s accounts, then the state may take over. But that would be the exception rather than the rule because no one here is without a will and an assigned personal representative, right?” The same poster later emphasized: “Do not die without a will and a plan.”

Another poster wrote, amusingly: “We finally got around to the will part, but we’re still procrastinating on dying.”

As one of the final posters to this lengthy string of comments, I related my story of a coin burglary. After that, I wrote, “. . . from that day on I’ve always had a SDB or two for my coins. The banks have always been great. In fact, when I had a mail-order business for a decade, I must have accessed my box 20+ days a month to fill orders. I figured the biggest danger to my coins in the SDB was if the bank burned down. My current bank is directly across the street from the town’s #1 fire station! I’m taking a chance, of course, but it’s one I can live with. My wife and middle-aged children all have access to the box.”

If you find this subject interesting and want to read more of the comments to the string, you can access it by going to and typing Safety Deposit Boxs are NOT safe. I don’t know if the misspelling is necessary, but that is exactly the title.