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5 renters insurance tips for college students

By Barbara Marquand on August 18th, 2013

If you've given up on dorm life and are headed to an apartment off campus at college, you need more than a fun roommate and some cool furnishings.

You should also have renters insurance.

Your parents' home insurance likely extended to most of your stuff when you lived in a dorm. Typically a home insurance policy provides at least some protection for a college student's belongings away from home, if the student lives on campus. But once you live in an apartment off campus, your parents' home or renters insurance no longer applies to your stuff.

Renters insurance covers your belongings in case they're stolen or damaged by a peril outlined in the policy, such as vandalism, fire or a natural disaster like a hurricane. It also reimburses you for additional living expenses in case your apartment becomes uninhabitable after a covered disaster and you have to live elsewhere during the repairs. And it provides liability insurance to cover your responsibility if someone gets injured at your apartment or you unintentionally injure someone else elsewhere. Liability insurance pays your legal defense costs if you're taken to court for injuries you cause someone else.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you shop for renters insurance:

1. Don't be surprised if it's required.

Although most mom-and-pop landlords don't require tenants to have renters insurance, many large ones do. Among large apartment complex owners, 84 percent required tenants in at least some of their properties to have coverage, according to a 2012 survey by the National Multi Housing Council in Washington, D.C.

2. Understand replacement versus actual cash value.

There's a big difference. Replacement cost coverage reimburses you for the cost to buy new items when your belongings are stolen or damaged. Actual cash value coverage reimburses you for the cost of a new item, minus depreciation. So if your 5-year-old television gets stolen, you get reimbursed for the value of a 5-year-old TV. Replacement cost coverage is more expensive than actual cash value, but you'll be glad you have it when it comes time to make a claim.

3. Don't expect every disaster to be covered.

Renters insurance doesn't cover damage from flooding, earthquakes and typical mishaps of college life, such as spilling a beer on your new laptop.

4. Got valuables? Get extra coverage.

Renters insurance caps the amount of coverage for certain valuables, such as electronics, jewelry and musical instruments. Do an inventory of your stuff, and ask an agent if you need extra coverage for anything valuable.

5. Get quotes.

Check with your family's car insurance company, which may offer a discount for renters insurance. Average renters insurance premiums are between $15 and $30 a month, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Cost will largely depend on the limits you select for personal belongings and liability coverage.

Finally, use an online tool, such as KnowYourStuff.org to create an inventory of your stuff. Knowing what you have will help the process go smoothly if you ever have to make a claim.

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