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Originally published Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Renters insurance 101: A look at costs, coverage

With students heading back to college, here's a look at the ins and outs of renters insurance.

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College students are just settling in for the fall semester and renters insurance probably isn't a hot topic. But it's a safeguard worth considering given the smartphones, laptops and other pricey belongings students own these days.

Here's a look at the ins and outs of renters insurance:

The basics

Students living in a dorm, sorority or frat house are usually covered as part of their parents' homeowners or renters insurance. But the coverage amount may be limited, in many cases to 10 percent of the value, so it's a good idea to check with providers about the policy details.

Anyone opting for an off-campus apartment will need to get a separate policy.

Costs will vary depending on location, the type of policy and other factors. But on average consumers pay $176 a year for renters insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Policies typically provide about $30,000 in coverage, including items stolen from a car. Most policies also include personal-liability coverage in case anyone falls in the apartment.

The details

Renters can opt for a cash-value policy or a replacement-value policy.

A cash-value policy pays out the value of the property at the time it was damaged or stolen; a replacement-value policy, which costs about 10 percent more, pays out an amount needed to replace the belongings.

To avoid any complications, keep a record of the belongings that might need to be replaced. This could be a simple list of items with photographs or even a room-by-room video of the apartment with a voice-over describing the brand and model of significant belongings. The record should be kept in a safe location. Without such a record, agents may interview friends to confirm claims for pricey items.

Note that most renters-insurance policies don't cover losses incurred by a flood or an earthquake; coverage for those events can be purchased separately.

For more information:

• Insurance Information Institute: www.iii.org

• III's Know Your Stuff: www.knowyourstuff.org

• National Association of Insurance Commissioners: www.naic.org

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