We all have important documents that we need to have handy, but that we really need a thief not to find. This leads people to question the need for a safe deposit box through a bank, or to choose to purchase an in-home safe. But there are pros and cons to both fire safes for your home and safe deposit boxes offered through your bank.

  • Fire Safe: A fire safe is a one-time expense, often comparable to the cost of only one year of safe deposit box rental. It can be mounted to the floor to make it harder for a burglar to make off with, and can easily be locked by a key or combination, depending on the model you choose. These boxes can protect the contents from theft, fire, and water, but are not completely secured against those threats.


  • Safe Deposit Box: A bank’s safe deposit box is secured in a bank vault under double lock, and access usually requires a photo ID. The box itself is under certain legal protections, such as preventing others from accessing it upon your death. The vault itself offers a stronger measure of protection than a portable box in your home, but requires you to go to the bank to retrieve your contents.

There are some things to remember about both options. A fire safe is fire and water resistant, not proof, unless you purchase models made specifically to withstand those elements. Extreme heat from an extensive house fire can melt contents inside the safe, especially digital contents that you store on a USB drive or other media. Water from putting out the fire can also soak the contents inside, unless you opt for a more expensive, fully waterproof model. Remember, if you choose to use a home safe, be sure to store it on the first floor of your home since it can be very dangerous to the firefighters below if the floor that supports it is damaged.

Safe deposit boxes tend to be less convenient since they can only be accessed during bank hours. Upon the box holder’s death, the contents are inaccessible unless the will states who is to have access, and even then that access is only available once the will is probated. One other factor that people often overlook is natural disaster; if your town is affected by a hurricane, flood, tornado, or other widespread damaging event, the bank may be just as vulnerable as your home and your contents can be impacted.

Some sources recommend considering both options, instead of either-or. A small fire safe in your home can offer a layer of protection for the documents and valuables you need to access routinely, such as a will, jewelry that you plan to wear from time to time, Social Security cards, and insurance papers. A safe deposit box would be ideal for items you don’t need to access on a regular basis but that you need to protect, such as your car title, your diploma, your life insurance papers, your marriage certificate, and digital copies of special mementos like a wedding photo, some baby pictures, or more. If you have valuable jewelry that you don’t plan to wear, it might be better to store it for safe keeping in a place off-site.

For documentation, you might also consider scanning the documents and uploading them to a cloud-based storage option. That way, your originals can be stored in either a fire safe or a safe deposit box, while you can access copies of them from a computer.

However you plan to secure your valuables and documents, the most important thing is building the habit of protecting them. If you leave your Social Security card lying in a drawer where a burglar can find it because you didn’t have time to take it to your bank, or you leave the key to your home safe hanging on a bulletin board in your kitchen, that could lead to bigger problems than just the loss of some household items. Decide how you’re going to protect yourself by understanding how you’re most likely to practice these security measures.