College Students and Renters Insurance

Whether you live on campus or off, you're going to want to protect your stuff from fire, thieves, vandalism, and more. Renters insurance is the solution.

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When you're preparing to leave for college—whether it's for the first time as a freshman or it's for a return trip as a sophomore, junior, or senior—one of the last things that's likely to be on your mind is renters insurance.

You certainly aren't alone if this form of insurance barely registers on your radar. After all, only 37 percent of American renters currently pay for a renters insurance policy, according to a 2014 poll conducted for the Insurance Information Institute by ORC International. (This compares to the 95 percent of homeowners who were found by the same study to have a homeowners insurance policy.)

The 63 percent of renters who ignore renters insurance do so at a pretty great risk, though, as it could protect them—and their bank accounts--from a whole host of perils. Among them: damage and destruction caused by fire, lightning, hurricanes, or even things like vandalism and burst water pipes. Theft also is covered by most renters policies, as are liability and additional living expenses (in the event that you're forced to move out because of a storm or fire, for example).

If that doesn't make it crystal clear as to why renters insurance should be top of mind for every single college student who lives anywhere other than in one of their school's dorms, the following cautionary tales hopefully will do the trick:

  • You and your roommates throw a party. During all of the excitement, one of your pals stumbles into your TV—and in the process cracks its 65-inch screen from corner to corner.
  • As a result of that mishap, your friend (the one who smashed your TV) is taken to the emergency room so someone can stitch up the five-inch gash on his forearm.
  • Fast-forward a few months, and while studying at the library you leave your desk to go scrounge up a soda. When you return, your laptop is nowhere to be found.

Three Types of Protection

If you experienced any of the unfortunate events detailed above, renters insurance would have protected you from most, if not all, of the costs usually associated with them.

That's because, as mentioned earlier, renters insurance generally offers the people who buy it—whether they're college students or not--three basic types of protection:

Personal possessions—Basically, all of your belongings are covered to various degrees (this depends on whether you buy an actual-cash-value policy or a replacement-cost policy) if they're stolen as well as if they're damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, or any number of other disasters named in your policy.

Liability—This aspect of renters insurance protects you if someone is injured while in your dorm, apartment, or house. Specifically, it covers both medical expenses related to those injuries as well as legal fees that could follow in their wake (such as if the friend who put his hand through your TV decides to sue you).

Additional living expenses—If fire, a storm or some other dramatic event prompts you to have to move out of your apartment, dorm, or house temporarily, this is the component that you will rely on for assistance, as it typically covers the cost of a hotel or similar accommodations while you wait for the okay to return home.

More of What You Need to Know About Renters Insurance

That's hardly all there is to know about renters insurance, of course—or what it has to offer college students, or why they should spend money on it.

Here are a handful of noteworthy cases in point:

Cost

Despite what you may think, renters insurance isn't expensive—especially when compared to other kinds of insurance like health and life. In fact, it's pretty cheap, with most policies costing somewhere between $150 and $300 per year. What you pay will depend on the location of your apartment or house, as well as its size and the coverage amount.

Inventory

Before you can accurately and comfortably calculate how much coverage you need, you'll probably want to create an inventory of all of the belongings you'll be taking with you to college (or you've already taken with you, if you're currently on campus).

An inventory also will come in handy if you need to repair or replace any possessions that are damaged or stolen.

Thankfully, creating an inventory isn't all that tough. In fact, some students may not need to do much more than come up with a pen-and-paper record of their possessions. A few additional options, according to John Marques, senior vice president of property pricing and product manager for Chubb Personal Insurance, are to "take pictures of [your] electronic gear, record the serial numbers, and store receipts in a safe location. That way you have the proper documentation should a loss occur." For a few more tips and tricks related to creating an inventory, read our article Create an Inventory of Your Possessions for Homeowners Insurance Claims.

Security

Considering the belongings you take with you to campus probably are just as likely to be stolen as they are to be damaged or destroyed, Marques recommends making sure they're "locked down" whenever possible.

"Laptops, digital cameras, other electronic equipment, and private documents should be secured in a safe when not being used," he says. "Although these high-ticket gadgets and sensitive papers can still 'walk' unless the safe is bolted to the ground, this will most likely deter a common thief or a dormitory neighbor with sticky fingers."

Sharing

Although we've already established that renters insurance is inexpensive, there are sure to be a lot of students who will avoid it because they want to (or need to) hold on to as much of their hard-earned cash as possible.

If that describes you, and if it's prompting you to consider sharing or splitting a renters insurance policy with one or more roommates, you're going to want to put the kibosh on that line of thinking right now.

For starters, renters insurance is designed to be used by individuals and families. It's not made to be used by two (or more) unrelated people. In fact, although some companies will allow two people who are married to each other to be named on a single renters policy, that's as far as they'll go. So, if you live in a house with three or four friends, you're basically going to be forced to buy your own policy if you want to protect all of your stuff with this kind of insurance.

Even when you find yourself in a situation where sharing a policy (with a single roommate) is possible and maybe seems appealing, though, you're probably going to want to avoid it. For more on why this is, read our article, "Why You Shouldn't Share Renters Insurance with Roommates."

Landlord Insurance

A lot of people ignore renters insurance because they mistakenly assume their landlord's insurance will cover their belongings in the event of a disaster or mishap. Unfortunately, that's not the case. "The landlord’s insurance obligation extends only to the apartment building or house occupied by the renters," Marques explains. "Each renter is responsible for insuring his or her personal property."

Additional Coverage

This piece of advice is intended mostly for parents, although it's sure to be relevant for some students, too, as riders and endorsements often can be added to renters insurance policies as well as homeowners policies.

At any rate, Marques suggests you or your parents may want to pick the brain of your agent about additional amounts and forms of coverage that may be worth buying while you're away from home. This could involve bolstering the liability portion of a homeowners or renters policy, or it could mean purchasing an endorsement or rider that better protects certain high-value belongings that exceed the limits of a standard policy.

Staying on Your Parents' Homeowners Policy vs. Buying Renters Insurance

If you're living in a dorm or some other form of on-campus student housing, or that's where you're planning to live once you go to college, you may be able to take a pass on purchasing a renters policy if one or more parents have homeowners insurance.

This homeowners policy will have to offer "off-premise coverage" for you to benefit from its protections while at school, though, so have your parent or parents check with their insurance agent before start relying on it.

A few additional words of warning here: your parents' homeowners policy will only provide you and your possessions with a portion of the coverage it offers them and their possessions. For example, if the policy in question covers $100,000 of your parents' personal property, it'll probably only cover 10 percent—or $10,000--of off-premises property.

In addition, your parents' policy may place caps on certain kinds of belongings, like jewelry or electronics, and it's not uncommon for those caps to cover both items that are in and around your parents' home as well as those that are elsewhere.

Given the above, you'll probably want to leave some of your more expensive items at home—or pay for an endorsement or floater to be added to the policy so it'll expand its coverage.

Many young adults "head to school armed with their laptops, tablets, flat-screen TVs, video-game systems, bikes, musical instruments, and other expensive items that can be stolen or damaged," Marques says. Consequently, if you're the parent in this situation, "it’s important to … discuss with your agent or broker the equipment your child is [taking to college] to make sure you have enough coverage, or whether you need to add endorsements for any high-value items."

The Limits of Your Parents' Homeowners Policy

As soon as you move out of student housing, though, and start paying rent, you're going to have to go it alone in terms of insurance, too.

In other words, your parents' homeowners policy no longer will cover you and your stuff, so you'll need to start paying for renters insurance.

Speaking of which, if you're currently in the market for this type of insurance (or you will be soon) and you'd like to compare renters insurance quotes from a handful companies, go here.

Also, if you are or are going to be a college student, or if you know a college student (or a student-to-be), consider reading two related articles: "College Students and Car Insurance" and "College Students and Health Insurance."

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why can't I just use my parents' homeowners insurance while I'm at college?

A: Actually, you can—if their policy includes "off-premise" coverage and if you live in a dorm or other student housing. If you move off campus, though, or otherwise start renting an apartment or house, you'll need to purchase renters insurance.

Q: Wouldn't my landlord's insurance cover all of my stuff in the event of a fire or flood or some other disaster?

A: No, it wouldn't. Your landlord's insurance is there to protect the structure of the building in which you're currently living. So, basically, the walls, floors, ceilings, and other related components. If you don't have renters insurance and you aren't covered by your parents' homeowners policy, you won't be covered if, say, a fire destroys your apartment and all of your stuff.

Q: I barely make any money because I'm a full-time student and I don't have much in savings either. Will I really be able to afford renters insurance?

A: As long as you have or can make between $150 and about $300 per year, you should be able to afford this type of insurance pretty easily.

Q: I could save some money by sharing a renters insurance policy with my roommate, right?

A: Wrong. Well, actually, in some cases you may be allowed to split a renters policy in this way, but you're likely going to want to pass on the opportunity. This kind of situation can cause all sorts of headaches that can be avoided by buying your own renters policy.

Are you looking for cheap renters insurance for a college-bound student? Request renters insurance quotes from top companies to compare rates.

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