Protecting Your Children When They Go Off To College

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

You might not always be there to protect your kids while they’re away at college, but your insurance coverage can.

College is where young adults learn how to  live independently for the first time, making them susceptible to theft, illness, accidents and other problems that they either didn’t typically encounter at home or, if they did, had their parents available to help them. So how are your children vulnerable when they go away to college and what can you do to protect them?

Renter’s insurance. More than 35,000 property crimes take place on college and university campuses each year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Even if your children are physically safe, their belongings may not be. The average college student brings personal property worth between $5,000 and $10,000, according to The Hanover.

Electronic equipment, such as cellphones, laptop computers, stereo systems and televisions, is especially vulnerable to theft. Most students suffer at least one property loss at college, with the most common cause being theft, and the most severe being fire and weather events.

As most students are typically subjected to a loss of property at some point during their college career, according to The Hanover, it’s worth looking into whether your child is adequately covered.

Your homeowner’s insurance will generally provide personal property coverage for your children if they live on campus, such as in a dormitory or other university-owned housing. The child’s coverage is typically 10 percent of what the parents have. If the parents’ possessions are insured for $100,000, for example, the student’s property is covered for $10,000.

It’s worth adding a separate endorsement to the policy if the student has any items that are especially valuable.

College students living off campus should consider purchasing renter’s insurance to protect their property. The cost will likely be about $100 to $150 a year for up to $15,000 worth of coverage.

To ensure that you’re providing adequate protection, you may want to add technology coverage, which can provide broader coverage with a lower deductible.

Also, be sure to determine whether your homeowner’s policy covers replacement costs or actual cash value. Coverage for replacement costs is more expensive, but is typically worth the extra expense. The current depreciated cash value of your child’s property may be far lower than its replacement costs.

Health insurance. Health insurance is especially important for your children, of course, but it is also required by law.

College students aren’t exempt from the coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They can secure coverage through a healthcare plan offered by their college, through their parents’ family plan or through a healthcare exchange created by the health reform. It may be worth checking to see which option is most affordable for you, but also keep in mind that to avoid a fine, whatever coverage your children have must be compliant with the law.

The Affordable Care Act requires that any insurance plan or insurer that offers dependent coverage today must make it available until the dependent reaches age 26, so parents may be able to keep their children on their insurance plans throughout college. However, if the college is outside the service area of the parents’ healthcare plan, it may be necessary to purchase a separate policy.

Parents may also want to consider purchasing tuition insurance, which will cover the cost of tuition in case a child has to drop out due to illness.

Auto insurance. Teen drivers are the highest risk age group; they are involved in more serious and fatal accidents than any other age group, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Given the risk, premiums are higher for teens than for others. If your child is a good student and has taken driver education classes, premium discounts may be available. Premiums are also lower if your child drives a car that’s considered to be safe.

If your child is driving a car on campus, it should be adequately insured. But if your child leaves his or her vehicle at home while at school and attends a college at least 100 miles from home, rates may be significantly lower during the period the student is away from home.

You or your child should discuss all options with your insurance agent.

Life insurance. If you’re paying for a child’s college education, a life insurance policy naming your spouse or child as a beneficiary can help to ensure that the money will be there to pay for college even if something happens to you.

The odds of becoming disabled are higher than the odds of losing your life, so you may also want to consider purchasing disability insurance for the same reason.

Teach Your Children

When purchasing insurance for your college-age children, consider involving them in the process – not only so they can gain an appreciation for what you’re doing for them, but so they can gain an understanding of insurance.

It’s also an ideal time to teach your children how to manage their finances, especially if they have student loans and credit cards. Teaching them to pay their bills and maintain a high credit score can also help them keep their insurance premiums at a lower rate, since many insurers use information from credit reports as part of their underwriting criteria.

Helping your children understand insurance and financial planning can provide them with a valuable learning experience outside of the classroom environment.


Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at rmcgrath@mcgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.

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