College kids show up at school with a lot more than a big bag full of T-shirts and jeans. They also bring a slew of electronics—computers, printers, smart phones, iPads—that can be expensive to replace. Your homeowners insurance will generally cover students’ possessions if they live in a dorm, and it may provide coverage if they’re in an off-campus apartment, as long as their primary residence is still your home. The rules vary a lot by insurer; most require your child to be a full-time student and under age 24.
Some insurers cap the coverage at college at 10% of the possessions limit on your homeowners policy. So if you have a $200,000 policy on your home with 50% of that amount, or $100,000, for contents, your kid’s coverage at college may be limited to $10,000. The liability limits are usually the same as for you (see Check Up on Your Home Insurance).
If your insurer doesn’t cover your child’s off-campus apartment, or if you’d like higher coverage limits, consider a renters insurance policy. That generally costs just $150 to $200 per year, says Melanie Loiselle-Mongeon, an independent agent in Pawtucket, R.I. If your kid has roommates (who aren’t related), each person needs to get a separate renters policy.
Car insurance. Contact your insurer if your kid goes to a college more than 100 miles away and doesn’t take a car. Your premiums can drop significantly (20% on average at Safeco, for example), but he or she will still have coverage when home for the summer or vacations. If your child takes a car to school, your insurance costs will rise or fall depending on the location.
Health coverage. Student health plans, which often cost hundreds of dollars each semester, may have exclusions and low coverage caps, or they may require you to get most health care through the student medical center. Children can usually be covered under their parents’ health insurance policy until age 26, so most families can rely on that insurance when their kid goes to college. (You may have to decline the college’s student coverage to avoid being charged.)
However, if you have insurance through a regional HMO with a small network of doctors and hospitals, coverage may be limited to emergency services if your student goes to college in another state. And even if your plan allows for out-of-network care, you’ll probably have to make much larger co-payments if the network doesn’t extend to the area where the college is located. Insurers with national plans, such as Cigna, typically have plenty of doctors and hospitals in-network around the country. “The best course of action is to request a summary of benefits for the new location,” says Kelly Brooke, of Cigna.
If no in-network providers are nearby, consider an individual health insurance policy. In most states, a healthy person in his or her early twenties can get coverage for $150 or less per month. You can get price quotes at eHealthInsurance.com or find out about local policies at HealthCare.gov.
By buying a high-deductible policy, you can keep premiums low and still have coverage for major emergencies (most plans must also provide some preventive-care benefits without co-payments or deductibles). If your child has a policy with a deductible of at least $1,200 and isn’t claimed as a dependent on your tax return, then he or she can make tax-deductible contributions to a health savings account that can grow tax-free for future medical expenses.