How to insure your college student's stuff

Consumer Reports

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College students take a lot valuable stuff with them to school: computers, printers, TVs, bicycles, cell phones, digital music players, and more. So it's important to protect your kid's possessions against loss.

Several insurance options exist, and the one you choose depends on where your son or daughter goes to school and the type of coverage you want.

Homeowners insurance. If your kid lives in a dorm or other college-owned property, possessions typically are covered automatically against loss, theft, and damage under your homeowners, condominium, or renter's policies. But coverage often is limited to only 10 percent of the policy's coverage for contents. So if your policy covers contents for $100,000, the limit for your student's stuff would be $10,000.

Policy deductibles also apply. Deductibles for most homeowners policies typically are at least $500. So you might consider lowering your deductible if you want to protect your child's possessions at school, advises Lisa Lobo, consumer insurance expert at The Hartford. Homeowners policies might not cover items like fine jewelry and artwork without buying additional protection (your child might want to think twice about taking those kinds of valuables to school). If your child is studying abroad, check your policy to see if his or her stuff will be covered.

Renters insurance. If your child doesn't live in college-owned housing, your homeowners policy won't provide coverage. But your student can take out a renters insurance policy for about $15 to $30 a month. Like homeowners insurance, renters policies come in two basic forms: Actual cash-value policies cover the value of the item at the time of loss, taking depreciation into account; replacement-value policies cover the cost of replacing the lost item with a new one. Replacement-value policies cost more, though both types are subject to the coverage limits. As with homeowners policies, some items may require extra protection.

Student policies. Some companies offer specialized property insurance for students, including CSI Insurance Agency (rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau) and National Student Services (also rated A+ by the BBB).

Both policies cover students whether they live in a dorm or an apartment in the U.S. or abroad. The companies offer deductibles of as low as $25, generally less than you'd get on a standard homeowners policy, and limits of more than $25,000. They both have full replacement coverage, so you don't have to worry about depreciation. Policies are priced from less than $100 to several hundred dollars annually, depending on the deductible and type of coverage. National Student Services offers a lower-cost version of its policy that doesn't cover accidental breakage.

Like standard homeowners policies, neither of the student plans covers lost items, as opposed to those that are stolen or damaged in a fire, for example. But they both cover loss from a flood, earthquake, and other calamities. And because these are separate policies, there's no risk that filing a claim might cause your homeowners insurance rates to increase.

What to do
Decide which type of coverage is best for you and your child, depending on your eligibility and preferences. Read the policy carefully to find out exactly what is covered and the limits and deductibles that apply. If you need more coverage, ask whether it can be added at additional cost.

As with any property insurance, your student should take inventory of possessions ahead of time in case she needs to file a claim. She can do that with What You Own Inventory, free-trial software that lets her attach receipts and photos for each item in the inventory. Store copies of the inventory at home and at school, in case one gets lost or destroyed. When preparing an inventory for your home, create a section for items away at college, advises Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

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