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Back to School Insurance Guide for Graduates and Parents

kids graduation high school

The end of summer means change for most families, whether they have a child starting school for the first time, or a recent high school graduate leaving for college. Amid all of your to-do lists, don't forget to 

prioritize and focus on essentials -- safety and security, insurance, planning ahead and conserving resources. 

Here are a few reminders for parents with children of all ages.

Families with a new college student

Parents of new college students face a big transition, and the realization that one's child is no longer a child comes with emotions and questions. Did we prepare him enough to handle his own finances? Will she be able to think ahead and be a responsible adult? Understanding the role and importance of insurance is another stepping stone to adulthood, and it often begins when students head off to college. 

As part of the state's financial literacy initiative, Pennsylvania offers Insurance 101 for high school students, teaching them how insurance works, types of coverage and ways — including being a safe driver — to keep costs down. 

“The sooner we can begin teaching consumers about the importance of insurance, how it works, how to get the coverage they need while also getting the most for their insurance dollar, and how to control insurance costs, the better," says Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller. 

Having a discussion with your student and your broker about your family's changing needs can not only help with being prepared, it may even same money on your current policies. 

Some college preparation tips from insuranceQuotes:

Adjust your auto: Your auto policy and rates may change depending on whether your child is taking a vehicle to college and where the school is located. If it’s out of state, minimum insurance requirements might very well change, so contact your agent. Insurance rates also vary by region, so you could be paying more — or you might be pleasantly surprised. 

Also tell your agent if your child buys and registers his or her own car, because he or she may need a separate policy. 

Depending on parking and walkability of campuses, many first-year students opt to forgo a car while away at college. In such cases, parents of students attending school at least 100 miles from home often qualify for a policy discount. Some companies give discounts just for being a student — and others discount rates for maintaining a good GPA.  

Protect valuables: Burglaries make up approximately half of all on campus crimes, but your standard homeowners policy will cover at least a portion of your student’s electronics, clothing and other possessions if he or she is living on campus. 

“Many policies will provide up to a specified percentage of the family's personal property limit for registered students,” says Acquenette Sims, an insurance specialist in New Jersey. 

If your student is living off campus, however, he or she may need a separate renter’s policy. These are key questions to ask before the semester starts. 

Unpacking on or just after move-in day is a prime time for your student to make a quick video inventory of his or her belongings. Particularly during their first few years on their own, it's best to leave extremely valuable or heirloom items at home. If this advice isn't taken (and sometimes parental advice is not), parents can purchase additional coverage known as a rider for items such as jewelry or electronics. National Student Services, Inc. recommends focusing on insuring these four popular items students will have at school: 

  • TVs: All it takes is a less-than-ideal roommate situation or less-than-cordial visitor in a dorm or apartment, and one of your more expensive possessions is gone. Make sure you have proof of ownership and coverage in case electronics are stolen or destroyed. 
  • Bicycles: The easiest way to get around campus is also a huge target for thieves. Bike locks are a good deterrent, but inexpensive versions can be cut by thieves especially when bikes unattended overnight. Some city and university police departments offer to record information and serial numbers from bikes to help identify them if they are stolen. Still, it's a good idea to have coverage on the more expensive bicycles. 
  • Laptops: A must for today's college students, laptops should be protected by a strong password (Hint: Not "password") and kept behind locks when unattended. 
  • Jewelry: Again, it's a good idea to leave expensive or heirloom jewelry at mom and dad's. If it's not an option, keep it locked up, record and store photos and videos of expensive pieces and note any identifying marks.  

Review health insurance: Full-time students typically have three options for health insurance: Staying on mom and dad's policy, buying a school-offered policy or buying an individual policy.

Federal law mandates that insurers allow dependents to stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26. But will there be in-network providers available where your child will be attending school? If you have coverage through an HMO, check for a service area near the school. 

Many colleges and universities offer a student health plan, usually sold by an insurer with whom they contract. If go this route, find out if coverage applies during summer if your student is not enrolled in summer classes. 

If none of these options pans out, an insurance broker can help you find an affordable insurance plan. 

Life insurance: Because life insurance is designed to provide financial security for surviving beneficiaries, most single college students without dependents can go without it. 

That said, a young adult with co-signed debut such as loans such as student debt, is advised to take out a life insurance policy. It's recommended not just to protect a surviving debt owner, but because rates for young policyholders are lower than those purchased by older buyers with more health issues. 

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Families with teens

Sooner or later, your teenager will may be enrolling in driver's ed, and eventually they'll be driving on their own. 

But parental involvement doesn't end when a child gets his or her license. According to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen drivers who continue to practice with their parents increase their chances of avoiding a crash. For helpful tips on lowering risks and staying involved, visit www.nsc.org/driveithome

Because teen drivers are inexperienced and thus typically result in more claims, adding your teenager to your auto insurance policy can increase your premiums. How much depends on where you live and a number of other factors. 

There are options, however, that may keep auto insurance policies from going through the roof when you add a teen driver. These include usage based, ”pay-as-you-drive" programs, electronic monitoring as well as a young driver safety programs designed to lower rates. Programs such as Drive Smart, offered through Farm Bureau Insurance, also reinforce safety issues such as texting and driving. 

"Teen drivers are at a bit more of a disadvantage because of their experience," says Wynne Reese, outreach manager of Drive Smart Virginia. "Teen drivers are notorious for speeding, for following too closely -- they just don't have that experience to know they need to back off a little bit and slow down a little bit. When you combine that with texting or talking on the cellphone or talking to other teen passengers, it really increases their risk of getting into a crash." 

Do you respond to texts while driving? If so, expect your child to do as you do, not as you say. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue and setting a good example with pre-teens and teens about distracted driving as well as  alcohol use is the key, experts say. The website, Responsibility.org, has useful tools in opening up conversations about underage drinking without lecturing.

Parents of younger children

Each new grade level comes with a bit more independence. While it's hard letting go, a little preparation goes a long way in easing your mind. For children who will walk or bike to school alone or in groups, start going over safety rules early and often. In addition, walk or bike the route to school and back with your child so he or she feels comfortable. 

A few tips from the National Safety Council: 

For walkers, always stay on the sidewalk when possible. If you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic. 

Before crossing the street, look left, then right, and left again. 

Try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing at crosswalks and intersections. 

Never walk while talking on the phone, texting or looking at a device. 

Do not walk while wearing earphones or headphones. 

For bike riders, always wear a helmet, learn the rules of the road such as riding on the right side, using hand signals when turning and coming to a complete stop at streets and walking the bike across. Bright colored clothing is a good idea. 

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