CNN — With pricey tuition to pay and books to buy, renters insurance isn't exactly something that tops most college kid's list. But in some cases, that could be a big mistake.
Students who live on campus typically don't have to worry about renters insurance: Their parents homeowner's policy should cover the loss or damage of most items as long as the policy includes so-called 'off-premise coverage.' (Just be sure you understand the limits to this coverage and the deductibles that apply.)
However, once you move off-campus and start paying rent, you are no longer covered by mom and dad's policy if there is a fire or someone breaks into the place, said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes.com, a Bankrate company.
And you shouldn't expect the landlord to cover anything either. "Landlords typically cover the building and not the tenant's belongings," said Adams. "They will not replace any damaged or stolen items."
Also, if one roommate has a renters insurance policy, don't expect it to cover all of your stuff, too. Most rental insurance policies only cover the belongings of the policyholder. Although roommates can purchase a policy together if they'd like, said Adams.
So what does renter's insurance cover? There are three basic types of protection: personal possessions, liability and additional living expenses.
Personal possession protection covers your belongings if they are lost or damaged due to a fire, vandalism or theft among other things.
Liability protection kicks in if, say, your dog bites the neighbor, or someone slips and gets hurt while at a party at your place. It not only helps cover any medical expenses but, in some cases, can pay for your legal fees if you get sued.
In addition, if you are displaced by a storm or a fire, the policy will typically cover the cost of a hotel, or a temporary rental until you can move back home.
The cost of renters insurance is typically pretty affordable -- on average, it costs $184 a year -- but the amount will vary depending on the location and size of the rental unit and how much coverage you need, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Students should shop around and make sure they get enough coverage. To determine how much you need, take inventory. Create a spreadsheet, take pictures or create a video inventory of all your belongings -- including clothing, electronics, jewelry and furniture, among other things -- and keep it in a safe place. Even if students only have a few possessions, ensuring they can be replaced if stolen or damaged is one less thing to worry about.
"If you can't afford to replace everything," said Adams. "You are really rolling the dice if you don't have renters insurance."