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Your child left for college? Take Insurance Tips 101

If you do need to buy medical coverage for a student, always shop carefully -- even when looking at a school plan. Points to consider include the deductible, access to care throughout the U.S. and year-round coverage. Also, you don't want a plan that can exclude treatment for pre-existing conditions. Finally, check to see if it has prescription drug coverage for any medications the student might be taking.

Renters insurance: Protect students' property 
So you've kicked off your kid's college career with a snazzy new laptop and some other expensive high-tech gadgets. Now it's time for to follow up to ensure his or her property is safe in the event of theft, fire or other mishap.

In general, protecting a student's personal property boils down to a simple rule: If your child is living on campus and going to school full time, your homeowners, renters or condo insurance policy (including liability protection) will cover his or her gear. But if he or she moves off campus, your policy most likely won't protect his or her assets. Ditto if your students starts taking fewer classes.

"If someone's going part-time, they probably need to buy renters insurance," says Jack Hungelmann, author of "Insurance for Dummies."

That said, there are other times when students need to strike out on their own, insurancewise.

Kids who change their permanent home addresses on such legal documents as driver's licenses or tax returns (say, to qualify for in-state tuition at a public university) are no longer considered official parts of your household. They'll need their own renters insurance.

Students who rent a shared apartment will need insurance, too, but be aware that they might have a tough time getting it. That's because insurers might not sell a policy to a student unless everyone in the household has his or her own policy, too.

Shopping around for renters insurance? Consider the following:
  • Cost. The good news? Renters insurance is cheap, generally $140 to $200 annually. Shop around for the best prices.

  • Extend of coverage. Even including their computers, televisions, stereos or other technology, most students don't have that many assets. So there's no need to waste money on more insurance than what is needed. Opt for rental policies with the minimum coverage -- say, up to $10,000 or $15,000 worth of personal property protection.

  • Liability. On the other hand, there's one place you never, ever want to skimp: liability. If someone is hurt in your son's rental apartment, for example, and he's sued, he'll need liability coverage. Hungelmann urges students to buy $300,000 worth of liability protection versus the usual $100,000. "The price difference is about $10 a year," he says.

  • Type of coverage.You've got two flavors from which to choose: replacement value or cash value coverage (though the terminology could vary slightly from one insurance company to the next). Replacement value policies generally reimburse you for the amount of money it would cost to replace the item brand new. A cash value policy will pay out the value of your depreciated goods when they are lost, stolen or destroyed. Replacement-value policies will cost about $60 more per year than the typical $140 annual cash value premium.

  • Special riders. The basic renters policy includes protection from theft, fire or windstorms. That means students will be out of luck if, oh, they accidentally spill soda, drop or otherwise accidentally break their computers. Since it's far more likely sodas spill will wipe out their laptops than windstorms, Hungelmann urges students to increase coverage on certain items by getting riders. For the cost of about $5 per $1,000 worth of coverage, or $10 for that $2,000 laptop, you'll get insurance against wayward drinks and accidental drops, he says.

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