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May 3, 2009

Home Safe or Bank Safe Deposit Box?

Growing up, I recall the feeling of importance of going to the bank to access the family safe deposit box. It always was an event to get to run errands with mom or dad. My mother would let me turn the key to open the box, in exchange for waiting patiently while she conducted our business.

As part of my paper-overhaul this spring, I've been thinking a lot lately about security. I'm a renter in an urban area, and to be honest, I haven't even had renters insurance since I sold my condo several years ago and moved out to L.A. I have plenty of files and organization, but nothing's stopping someone from waltzing right into my home and making use of my tidyness. I probably shouldn't be advertising that fact on the internet, but I've resolved to reform. So, what to use and what to put in it?

Jean Chatzky had some sound suggestions on MSNBC:
Your valuables are safer in both safes and safe deposit boxes than they are, say, in your jewelry box or filing cabinet. That leaves two questions: Which one is most appropriate for each particular item? And how do you get a good one at a decent price

The purpose of a home safe is not high security. They’re made to defeat the work of the average home burglar, to keep people with sticky fingers off. That makes them good for valuable papers you might need to access on a Sunday when your bank is closed. For example, passports, wills, birth certificates, insurance policies, or jewelry you wear so frequently it would be a hassle to go to the bank and get it for a special occasion. You may net a small discount on your insurance policy for putting jewelry in an at-home safe. In New Jersey, for example, Chubb Insurance would charge $175 a year to insure $10,000 worth of jewelry if it’s in a safe (and your home is alarmed). Without a safe, it’s $185. And without the safe and the alarm, $205.

If, like many people, you’re stashing a thousand or so away in case of emergency, better it sit in a home safe than, say a mattress.

How best to buy one? Start by checking out sizes. The biggest mistake people make is buying a safe that’s too little. A safe of two to three cubic feet (which starts at about $500 or $600) should be enough for an average family’s papers. But if you start adding heirlooms, family pictures and other items, you may need one that’s substantially larger. To protect your valuables from both burglary and fire, look for three different ratings from the testing center Underwriters Laboratory. For safety, you want to see that the safe is UL rated. That means it can withstand a five-minute attack from one technician with limited tools — including a three-pound hammer, 18-inch screwdriver and 1/4-inch drill bit. That’s sufficient for most homeowners. The next step up is a commercial safe with a rating of TL15. To pass that test a safe has to withstand a 15-minute attack from two technicians with eight-pound hammers and thicker drill bits. But unless you’re storing $100,000 in Rolexes, it’s complete overkill.

Next, look at fire-resistance. There’s no such thing as fireproof safe. In reality, it’s not melting that damages your papers and valuables. It’s heat. Safes marked FR 1/2 hour, will protect valuables for up to 30 minutes with outside temperatures of 1550 degrees. FR one hour gets you an hour at 1700 degrees. That’s generally sufficient, because the average house burns less than 1,700 degrees. But because the price difference between a safe with one hour of fire protection and two is only about $50 to $100, many people decide to spend the money anyway.

Safe-deposit boxes in bank vaults, on the other hand are designed for your finest jewelry, your most important papers — things that you can live without. For example? Jewelry you only wear a few times a year. It can be five times less expensive to insure jewelry if you keep it in a safe deposit box. Chubb, for example, charges $30 for $10,000 worth of coverage. The trade-off: You have to tell your insurer each time you take a piece out of the vault, and tell them when you’ll return it.

Valuable papers you aren’t likely to need to access in an emergency — like stock certificates or marriage licenses, should go in a safe-deposit box. Collectibles you don’t need or want to display like stamps and baseball cards can also go here. If you want to protect them in case a vault or safe deposit box floods, put them in Ziploc bags or Tupperwear.

A video inventory of the contents of your home should be kept off premises. A safe-deposit box is as good a place as any.

Here's another article from the Cincinatti Enquirer that offers excellent advice before you shop for home security.

I bought a $50 home safe marked with media, water, fire, and security. I specifically want a safe small enough to fit under my bed, so I don't know how "secure" that is, as anyone could probably lift it away, but that's the space I have for it, and it will be out of sight. I am more concerned about natural disasters, so the fire aspect does comfort me. It's also got a key lock rather than the combination I would have preferred, but it's infinitely better than anything I've got going now. It will hold hanging letter file folders to organize documents, and has an elastic strap to hold CDs and discs in the lid of the safe, so I can store a backup of important electronic data. I plan to go through my file cabinets in the next week, and I'll get back to you with a list of the documents that I place into the safe.

What are your security solutions? What items and documents would you keep in a safe or lockbox? Send me a list in a comment below.

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