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Why Banks Limit What's Stored in their Safe Deposit Boxes



The big question - do banks allow you to store cash in your safe deposit box? For starters, there is no law that states one may not store cash in their safe deposit box, and safe deposit box lessees are not required to disclose the contents of their box to their bank or to their private safe deposit box provider. With that said, no institution should know what one is storing in their box, so, why is this a conversation? Let us discuss.

While your safe deposit box provider will not know what you are storing in your safe deposit box (unless you tell them), you will be required to sign a safe deposit box lease agreement that will tell you what you may and may not store in the safe deposit box. Depending on the bank you may be subject to limitations. Take, for example, a safe deposit box at Chase Bank, the largest consumer bank in America boasting upwards of 5100 locations. The Chase Bank Lease Agreement states under the very first bullet point at the top of the lease under the “protect yourself” section, “do not store money, coin and currency in the box unless it is of a collectible nature.” In the Key Bank Lease Agreement under the section labeled “Contents,” the lease reads, “You also agree not to store gold bullion or non-collectible domestic or foreign currency in your box.”  Not all banks have strict rules against storing cash, however, some banks will take specific action if they suspect you are storing cash.

In the case of Wells Fargo where I worked for upwards of seven years, if a bank employee suspected that a safe box lessee was depositing cash into their safe deposit box it was strongly suggested that the employee file an Unusual Activity Report (UAR) which is the same report filed if one deposits more than $10,000 cash into a deposit account. The only way a bank employee would deduce that a safe box lessee was depositing cash is if the lessee says so, or, if a client withdraws cash at the teller line and then immediately requests safe box access. Bear in mind the bank does not have to inform clients when filing a UAR, and, a bank employee may file a UAR for a vast array of transactions outside of the scope of a $10,000 cash deposit or a suspected cash deposit into a safe deposit box. UAR’s are used to take note of what may or may not be suspicious behavior. UAR’s will stay attached to your profile in perpetuity to protect the bank from future wrongdoing by the lessee. If it is later discovered or assumed that the cash was obtained illegally, having a UAR on file helps protect the bank from any liability. While I cannot speak for other large banks, I would assume other banks like Wells Fargo would have similar procedures in place.

The reason banks prefer you not store cash in a safe box is because a safe deposit box is not a deposit account thus is not insured by FDIC. Guardian Vault, however, offers insurance so your cash, or whatever you chose to store, is covered and you are protected. Some speculate that banks frown upon cash in your safe deposit box because banks prefer not to aid in removing cash from circulation, but this again is merely speculation and not confirmed.

For maximum protection of cash and valuables in a safe box make sure your safe deposit box provider offers safe deposit box insurance. This is the only way to 100% protect yourself from any possibility of loss. 

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