Safe-deposit boxes not always safe

Holders of safe-deposit boxes should consider how safe the valuables they've got stowed away really are.

The boxes' contents are not really deposits, meaning they're not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures each depositor up to $250,000 per bank. And the boxes are not always safe, as was shown by Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A number of bank vaults were flooded by Superstorm Sandy's tidal surge.

"All safe-deposit boxes are termed fire-resistant and water-resistant, but that does not mean they are completely immune to fire and flood," said Doug Johnson, vice president-risk management at the American Bankers Association.

Here is what the FDIC says about damage to safe-deposit box contents on its website:

"Unless your bank is found to be negligent in the way it handled or protected your safe-deposit box, do not expect the bank or its private insurance to reimburse you for any damage or loss. Check whether your homeowners' or tenant's insurance policy will cover it."

The FDIC advises that documents, jewelry and other contents be sealed in Ziploc bags or Tupperware. Also, put your name on each item, keep a list of the box's contents, and make copies of important documents. If a disaster occurs, these steps improve your chances of recovering an item.

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