Is Renters Insurance Worth It For College Students?

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley
Is renters insurance worth it?

The short answer? Yes. Even if you went to college in literally the safest city in the country as I did1, the risk of your belongings getting stolen or destroyed is still very real. No one wants to come home from a heavy study session at the library only to discover that a campus thief broke into your room and stole your all your belongings. While there’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of encountering this kind of unfortunate situation — taking out a renters insurance policy that covers the cost of your valuables is one of the best ways to protect yourself against it.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about renters’ insurance for students, including how to take out a policy, get the best deal, and make a claim.

How does renters’ insurance work?

Renters’ insurance is a policy that covers people who are renting. While home insurance covers the actual building you live in, renters’ insurance primarily concerns your personal property. Therefore, if an event such as an earthquake destroys the house you’re renting and you have no renters’ insurance policy, it’s unlikely you’d be responsible for any of the cost. 

It’s the landlord’s responsibility to take out home insurance, but it falls on the tenant to have renters’ insurance. 

However, relying solely on the landlord’s insurance isn’t wise. Many things can go wrong in a property that home insurance doesn’t cover, such as break-ins, damage you cause to items in the house, and even the injuries of any visitors.

The question of what exactly a renters’ insurance policy covers comes down to the type of policy you take out. There are three main aspects to consider: Personal property, liability, and additional living expenses coverage. Renters’ insurance may include all three, or only one or two.

Personal property coverage

Personal property coverage includes the cost of replacing your belongings up to a fixed threshold (which you choose). For an additional cost,  you may also be able to cover your items outside of the house.

Typically items included under personal property coverage include:

  • Electronics
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Jewelry
  • Musical instruments 
  • Bicycles 
  • Furniture (if not included by the landlord)
  • White goods (if not included by the landlord)

Liability protection

Liability protection covers any medical bills visitors incur due to suffering injuries at your house, plus the cost of compensating for any damage to their personal property. 

We all hope our friends and families won’t sue us for accidents that happen during get-togethers, but it’s always best to know that you’re covered for any possible eventuality. 

Liability protection usually also includes any damage you cause to your landlord’s property. For instance, if you stain the carpet after spilling wine on it or break a door by slamming it too hard, your insurance provider will foot the bill.

Additional living expenses coverage

Finally, additional living expenses coverage pays for alternative accommodation if you need to live elsewhere due to external circumstances (such as a flood evacuation).

You may also see additional living expenses coverage referred to as loss of use coverage.

Renters’ insurance for students

There are few differences between renters’ insurance specific to students and policies taken out by any other tenant.

Many students don’t think that taking out an insurance policy is necessary — but they might be at more risk than they realize. Student tenants often face a consistent flow of people in and out of their living space, plus limited security. This can increase the risk of theft and encourage criminals to target them — one found that there were 17,500 reported burglaries in 2019.

Another issue is that student houses often aren’t maintained as well as other types of types of accommodation, which can mean you’re more likely to encounter problems like wood rooting, burst pipes, or significant wear-and-tear damage to furniture.

Renters’ insurance for dorms vs off-campus

Whether you live off-campus in private accommodation or a dorm room, you can take out renters’ insurance. If you’re in dorms, your university is the “landlord.”

Those living in college-owned accommodation often deem it unnecessary to take out renters insurance since universities rarely require this. Yet while it’s not strictly necessary to take out a policy, you may well need the protection. Student dorms often feature many people living in the same accommodation block, meaning increased chances of a neighbor throwing a party or inviting questionable friends over. 

When you live off-campus, there’s arguably an even greater necessity to take out a renters’ insurance policy since you will no longer have the protection of your college and could end up with an exploitative landlord. 

If you have roommates, you may be able to add them to your policy for an extra charge. However, this can be tricky if the total value of your personal property varies significantly.

Parents’ policies

If you’re lucky, you may be covered by your parents’ home insurance while you’re a student. Some home or renters’ insurance policies include personal property coverage for a household member away at college (up to a fixed amount). You could even be covered for personal liability, too.

However, coverage is unlikely to be as extensive as it would be if you took out your own policy, and you shouldn’t assume your family’s insurance will include you. Verify by reading the fine print of the policy. If you’re living off-campus however, you may be out of luck.

How students can take out a policy

College students can take out a standard renters’ insurance policy from any major company. You may prefer to go for a name you know and trust over a company you’ve never heard of — do your research and beware of illegitimate firms trying to make you pay a premium by claiming to be student specialists.

However, there are also legitimate insurance companies that tailor their services to students. Just ensure their quotes are in the same ballpark as other insurance providers.

You can quickly obtain insurance quotes online with a few clicks, as well as phoning firms or heading to a local branch to speak to someone directly. This can allow you to clear up any questions you may have.

After you take out insurance, the company will send you your policy documents. Remember to save them somewhere you can find them easily in case you need to claim in the future, along with the company’s contact number. Later, we’ll outline how exactly you can go about making an insurance claim.

How to calculate the value of personal property 

When taking out a renters’ insurance policy, people often get stumped by questions about the total value of their personal property. However, this doesn’t have to be a scary task! 

The first step is to make a comprehensive list of everything you want to include in your policy. Then, go through your belongings and make a list. Don’t forget to include items you have in a storage unit, garage, attic, or basement (if you intend to take them to your student housing).

Then, calculate the current market value of each item. This isn’t the amount you bought something for initially, but rather its current market value (i.e., the cost of purchasing an equivalent product now). Remember to consider depreciation. If the screen on your phone is cracked, you can’t say it has the equivalent value to a phone of the same model in impeccable condition.

Then, simply add up the value of each item to find the total value of your personal property.

There are many calculators online to help you work out the value of your personal property, such as this one from Shelter Insurance.

Bringing down the cost of renters’ insurance 

A renters’ insurance policy is much cheaper than having to shell out thousands for damages because you didn’t take out a policy, but that doesn’t make it sting any less when it’s time to pay up — especially when you’re a student on a budget.

Here are a few tips to reduce the cost.

Tweaking factors

The cost of an insurance policy can vary depending on factors such as location, housing type, the value of your belongings, and the level of coverage needed. Another critical aspect — which can be more confusing to understand — is the options you select when taking out your policy. 

A deductible is the amount you must pay upfront before the insurer pays out. For instance, you might agree that you’re willing to pay $300 toward replacing your belongings if they get stolen or damaged, while the insurance company pays the rest (up to the agreed limit). In other words, this category has a deductible of $300. Higher deductibles lower the cost of insurance.

Also, the more coverage you want, the more expensive insurance becomes. If you want your policy to cover $50,000 worth of personal belongings, it will cost much more than a policy only covering personal property worth $10,000.

Sometimes, it takes a bit of tweaking to understand how exactly these factors affect the price of your policy. If you obtain a quote online, you can usually tweak some of your selections to see how the price changes depending on the options you choose.

Bundling policies together

One tip to keep the price low is to bundle renters’ insurance with other policies you have. If you already have auto insurance, you can probably add a renters’ insurance policy from the same provider for much cheaper than taking out a separate policy.

Obtaining multiple quotes

It’s best to get quotes from multiple companies to ensure you get the most coverage for the lowest price. 

In the digital age, this has never been easier. It only takes a few minutes to fill out quotes on different websites, and you can also use a price comparison site to streamline the process.

What to do after you take out a renters’ insurance policy

You’ve filled out your info, received your insurance quote, and entered your card details to pay. You’re fully covered now, so you can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that you’re covered for any eventuality. Right?

Not exactly.

Some policyholders have been burned due to an inability to prove what they owned or the original condition of their accommodation. An insurance company may refuse to cover damages if they believe the items or house were in that condition before you moved in, or if you never owned an item in the first place.

Fortunately, you can avoid this outcome by creating a detailed inventory of your belongings.

How to make an inventory  

As soon as you move into your accommodation (or as early as possible), take a picture of every corner of the house. Detail any noticeable damage, no matter how trivial.

To ensure you don’t miss anything, take a methodical approach. One way to do this is by going through the house room by room. Don’t forget to include all of the following:

  • Cabinets (including the insides)
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Appliances
  • Furniture 
  • Personal belongings (if applicable)

Even once you’re finished with your pictures, the work isn’t done. You also need to note down relevant information with each entry. This could include damage that’s hard to see clearly in a picture (such as stains on a wall), serial numbers of products, or sales receipts.

There are now various apps available to help you make a digital inventory, including NAIC and Nest Egg. Alternatively, you can create one manually through Microsoft Excel or a similar program. Simply save the document to the cloud or print it out for safekeeping..

How to make a claim through renters’ insurance

We all hope that taking out an insurance policy is just a precaution and that we won’t have to use it. But if the worst happens and you need to make a claim, here’s how to go about it in the right way.

Let relevant parties know

First of all, make sure your landlord knows what’s happening when you make a claim — even if they don’t need to be involved in the claims process themselves. 

This could be an obligation outlined in your rent contract, and it’s also a common courtesy since the property belongs to them. The landlord may need to alert other tenants or want to help coordinate repairs.

In some cases (such as a burglary), a police report may also be necessary, and it can be used as part of the evidence in an insurance claim.

Finally, tell the insurance company itself. Get ready to give them your policy number and details related to the claim. They will then ask you to complete your claim within a specific timeframe (usually 48 or 72 hours).

Document damages and losses

An important part of an insurance claim is documenting the incident and your losses. Relevant documents to have at hand may include the police report and any upfront expenses you had, such as repairing a broken window after a break-in.

As for the damages, you’ll need to list which items were damaged or lost. If you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you can pull everything you need from your inventory (i.e., information about when you purchased each item, how much you paid, and its current value). It’s also a good idea to include photos or videos of the damage.

If dozens of low-value items were damaged or lost, you don’t need to be as diligent about each one in your documentation. However, this step is vital for anything of value.

Communicate in the right way

Most of us don’t make an insurance claim every day, so you might be unsure about how exactly to communicate with your insurer.

The main aim is to show your insurer you’re proactive, informed, and organized. Here are some tips:

  • Reply punctually
  • Use proper grammar and a formal, professional tone
  • Always provide concrete proof when mentioning a claim (e.g., pictures of your inventory, screenshots to prove the market value of your belongings)  
  • Mention numbers where possible, and don’t wait for the provider to do the calculations
  • Don’t get emotional, even if you’re frustrated or angry
  • Get everything in writing — if you communicate by phone, follow up in writing for confirmation 

Ensure you’re insured

Getting insured isn’t glamorous or exciting, but neither is forking out thousands because you broke the fridge your landlord owns and are liable to pay for it yourself. Renters’ insurance protects you from potential accidents or liability while living as a student, which is well worth the sacrifice of taking a few hours to document your inventory. Just ensure you get multiple quotes to get the renters’ insurance policy for the best price possible.

If you’re a savvy enough student to have renters’ insurance on your radar, chances are you don’t want to miss out on other ways to prepare for the future and optimize your experience. We share that mission here at Frugal Student, and the blog is full of tips to help you manage finances. You can also subscribe to our mailing list to ensure you don’t miss out on our latest advice.

  1. As a (self-)certified Frugal Student, I admittedly skipped out on opening up my own policy, banking on the fact that going to school in Irvine meant that the chances of my stuff being stolen was astronomically low, until some jerks tried to steal my E-bike right outside my dorm apartment. While I was lucky that didn’t happen, if they were successful, it would’ve been a $1000+ loss and I would’ve lost my only mode of personal transportation at the time. I opened up my own policy shortly after. ↩︎

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