What kind of property insurance does my college student need?

Kathryn Hawkins

If your child is heading off to college this fall, there are a lot of new expenses on top of the tuition bills. These expenses might include items such as textbooks, computers and other electronics. If your child is leaving home, these expenses may include furniture and other home furnishings. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average family with a college-aged child will spend more than $830 on back-to-school shopping purchases this year. student property insurance

Whether your child is paying for these items out of his own savings or you're footing the bill, it always makes sense to protect these investments with insurance.

Here are four living situations your college kid might experience, and how to get the right property insurance for each one.

1. Living on campus in a dorm.

If your student is attending a nationally ranked university, there's a good chance he will live in an on-campus dormitory for at least the first year or two. According to U.S. News & World Report's analysis of 247 national universities, an average of 38 percent of undergraduate students lived in dorms.

And items stored in dorms aren't always secure: According to the most recent reports available from the U.S. Department of Education, in 2011, there were more than 10,000 burglaries in student housing facilities at college campuses throughout the United States.

However, in many cases, personal possessions brought from home will still be covered against theft or damage by the parents' homeowner's insurance policy, according to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute III). Your policy may have dollar limitations on coverage for items that are located away from home, so check your policy or contact your agent for details.

Certain categories of items may also be excluded. "Computers usually need a separate policy," III spokeswoman Loretta Worters says. "Televisions and other electronics most likely will be covered under the parents' homeowner's policy."

Even in cases where homeowner's insurance can offer coverage, it may be worth purchasing a supplementary renter's insurance policy, given that most homeowner's insurance deductibles are $500 or higher.

"With deductibles as low as $100 and most annual premiums less than $150, renter's insurance is usually both valuable and affordable for students even though coverage may exist through their parents' homeowner's policy," says Bill Suneson, president of the college-focused insurance site GradGuard.

2. Living off-campus in a house with roommates.

Although your homeowner's policy is likely to cover your child for most possessions while living in the dorms, as soon as he decides to rent off-campus, he'll be on his own.

"College students renting an off-campus apartment or house while away at school should consider purchasing renter's insurance to protect their personal property, such as a computer, television, stereo, bicycle or furniture, in the event that it is damaged, destroyed or stolen," Worters says.

Even if living with friends, it's important for students to purchase their own insurance policies, assuming they're each maintaining ownership of their own furniture and devices rather than purchasing such possessions collectively. If the roommates have opted to jointly purchase furniture and electronics, a single renter's insurance policy may make sense, since it will save costs and avoid insuring the same items multiple times.

3. Living off-campus with another relative.

If your child is living anywhere besides home except in approved college housing, his possessions are not insured against theft or damage. In this case, it may once again make sense to purchase a renters insurance policy. "As soon as you move off-campus, you're not covered under your parents' home insurance policy, whether you're living with a relative or not," says David Anderson, product director at ProtectYourBubble.com, a site that helps people determine which insurance products they need.

4. Living at home and commuting to school.

If your child opts to stay at home while commuting to college, he or she will retain coverage under your existing homeowner's insurance policy -- whether or not you ask your child to pay rent, Worters says. In this case, there is no need for a renter's insurance policy.

Other considerations

Your new college student may want to consider separately insuring technology devices, such as expensive laptops, tablets and smartphones.

"This type of gadget insurance covers the device in case you lose it or it is stolen," Anderson says. "Students can also purchase coverage specific to a smartphone with a lower deductible."

For instance, ProtectYourBubble's smartphone protection plans cost $7.99 per month, with a $120 deductible for iPhone claims and a $100 deductible for other smartphone claims. If your child has a relatively new smartphone, and you think the chances of losing or damaging it are high, it could make sense to purchase a supplemental policy, as your child could otherwise be subject to a high homeowner's or renter's deductible - deductibles typically range between $100 and $500.

Whatever your child's living circumstances and insurance needs while at college, it's important to take inventory of his or her possessions, documenting them with photos and receipts. If it's ever necessary to make a claim, it will be easy to process.

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