by Mark Tarses

Most college students don't think about or want to think about insurance - that is - until their stuff is stolen.

Here are a few things that college students should know about insurance:

College students need insurance. The insurance needs of college students have changed a lot over the past 25 years. When your parents went to college, most students brought nothing of value with them to campus except their clothes. If they brought any electronic item with them, it was probably a $10 pocket calculator or alarm clock. Today, college students bring laptops, stereos, televisions, PDAs, and iPods; personal property worth thousands of dollars. 25 years ago, college students didn't worry about burglars, because there was nothing of value to steal in a their rooms. Now there is stuff worth stealing, and burglars know it.

Your landlord's insurance does not cover YOUR personal property. Tenants sometimes ask me: "Do you have insurance on this building?" My answer is: "Yes, but my insurance only covers MY property: the building and personal property in the building that belong to ME, like the stove, refrigerator, drapes, etc. If this house burns down, my insurance company will pay me for the building and MY stuff, but they will not pay you for your melted computer, stereo, etc."

Your parent's homeowners insurance may provide you some limited coverage. Have your parents talk to their insurance agent to see if their insurance policy covers you. Some policies do, and some don't. Many policies limit coverage of items located away from home to 10% of total coverage. For example, if your parent's homeowner's insurance has $20,000 worth of burglary insurance and your dorm room is robbed, your insurance company would only pay out $2,000 maximum, probably not enough to replace all your stuff. Most homeowner policies don't cover accidental damage, like dropping your laptop and cracking the screen. Also, most homeowner policies only provide coverage if you are living in the dorms, but no coverage if you are living in an apartment off campus.

College students need renter's insurance. Renters insurance will protect you from many kinds of loss: fire, smoke, vandalism, theft, water damage from plumbing failures, etc. Renters insurance also protects you if someone slips and falls and then sues you, like if the mailman slips on a banana peel on your porch. (Did you know that in California, if a burglar slips and falls on a banana peel in your apartment while stealing your stuff, he too can sue you for his injuries?) Renters insurance covers a lot of stuff not covered by your parent's homeowner's policy; and it is relatively inexpensive.

If you are taking a car to campus, talk to your insurance agent first. If you take a car to campus, but fail to report the new location to your insurance company, your insurer may not pay claims for theft or damage. A change in location may also affect your rate. College towns tend to have higher auto insurance rates than affluent bedroom suburbs. Bicycles are usually covered by renter's insurance.

Should you bring your car to campus? Of course, every college student wants to bring his car to campus with him, but you should think about what it really costs first. In addition to high insurance rates, parking is also relatively expensive at U.C. Berkeley. A student campus parking permit cost $72.00 a month. And keep this in mind - although its called a "parking permit", in fact, it is really just a "parking hunting permit." A U.C. Berkeley campus parking permit does not get you a guaranteed parking space at a campus parking lot; it only gives you the right to try to find one! In other words, if the campus parking lots are full, too bad. It isn't like paying for a reserved parking space in a garage under an apartment house.

Talk to your insurance agent about unusally expensive items. Standard renter insurance policies cover bicycles, for example, but usually limit the coverage to $200 or $300 per bike. That won't do much good if the $4,000 BMW folding bicycle that Uncle Alfred gave you as a high school graduation present is stolen. A lot of college students bring unusually expensive items with them to campus: jewelry, professional video equipment, musical instruments, etc. Sometimes, your parents can get a "floater" on their homeowner's policy to cover specific items like this.

Don't wait (as most college students do) until your stuff is stolen before asking questions about insurance!

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