6 Things You Must Know About Tech Warranties

Extended coverage could pay off if your phone, laptop or tablet meets with an accident.

1. The dog ate my smart phone.

In a recent survey of 1,000 parents, half said their kids had damaged a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Pets do their share of mischief, too. Plus, plenty of responsible adults drop a phone or laptop and crack the screen. So if you’re buying a mobile device this holiday season, purchasing an extended warranty or service contract that covers what the industry calls accidental damage from handling (ADH) could be a smart move. It will cover repair or replacement of your device due to mishaps that manufacturers’ warranties typically exclude.

2. Do your homework.

Even if you intend to buy your tech gift at the mall, comparison-shop warranties on the Web, including the sites of retailers where you think you might buy the item and companies that sell warranties directly to consumers. Among the latter are SquareTrade.com, ElectronicWarranty.com and Safeware.com, all of which are rated A or A+ by the Better Business Bureau. Find out the terms and conditions of extended coverage: deductibles, limitations (such as the number of damage incidents covered) and exemptions.

3. Take your time.

An extended warranty, even with beefed-up protection, typically costs 10% to 20% of the product’s retail price, according to the Service Contract Industry Council. You’re likely to get a hard sell at checkout because extended warranties generate a lot of profit for retailers—as much as 50% of what you pay for them. You can generally buy an extended warranty within 30 or 90 days of the purchase date. So if you’re not sure you want the coverage, just say no at the time of purchase.

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4. It pays to shop.

Best Buy will charge you $180 for two years of extended coverage with ADH on an iPad, more than one-third of the $499 purchase price. You’ll pay no deductibles, and there’s no limit on the number of incidents covered, but you’re entitled to only one free replacement. Apple’s own AppleCare+ for iPad costs $99; it covers two incidents of accidental damage, each with a $49 service fee (deductible). The best deal: SquareTrade’s two-year coverage with no deductible. It also costs $99 but covers unlimited incidents, up to the amount you paid for your device.

5. Convenience counts.

Most extended-service warranties require you to take your device to a local authorized service provider or ship it to a more distant service depot. SquareTrade allows you to choose your service provider. For example, you can get repairs at a local Apple “Genius Bar” or an independent repair shop. You can also send your device to SquareTrade’s own service depot (the repair and shipping will be free). If you take your device to an Apple store or repair shop, you’ll pay out of pocket and submit a receipt for reimbursement.

6. And to play it safe. . .

First of all, file your sales invoice and any paperwork regarding product claims. Register the extended warranty so there will be no hassle when you need repairs. And get a case for your phone or tablet. For example, for an iPad you can buy the OtterBox Defender Series case with screen protector and stand for $60 on Amazon.com.

Patricia Mertz Esswein
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Esswein joined Kiplinger in May 1984 as director of special publications and managing editor of Kiplinger Books. In 2004, she began covering real estate for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, writing about the housing market, buying and selling a home, getting a mortgage, and home improvement. Prior to joining Kiplinger, Esswein wrote and edited for Empire Sports, a monthly magazine covering sports and recreation in upstate New York. She holds a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., and an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University.