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Most young adults struggle for financial footing: working through school or repaying loans; dining on mac-n-cheese; and putting off "luxuries" like roomy apartments and reliable cars. The whole point of scrimping and saving is to build a solid financial future, right? Well, many young adults risk financial devastation by neglecting one expense that's a necessity, not a luxury: insurance.

Insurance can be an intimidating investment to make--especially for young people with precarious budgets, uncertain job prospects, and little experience. "No one should assume that purchasing insurance, especially for the first time, is an easy thing," says Dan Zielinski of the American Insurance Association in Washington, D.C. "Insurance is like any other product. There are many choices."
      The first choice is deciding what types of coverage to buy. As a young adult, you must protect your health, your belongings, and your car. Life insurance is another type of policy to consider, but most experts agree it's not essential unless you have financial dependents or own a business.
      Insurance needs change as you grow older. Owning a business, getting married, finding a new job, and becoming a parent are all events that call for a fresh look at your insurance coverage.

Going without
health insurance
is a risk
you can't
afford to take.
Who, me? Sick?
Young adults were more likely than any other age group to lack health coverage in 1996, according to a Census Bureau report. Generally, 15.6% of the population lacked coverage; nearly 29% of 18- to 24-year-olds--almost double the average--went without.
      This age group "tends to have less disposable income. They're worried about paying rent, getting that job, lunch, dinner, gas," explains Richard Coorsh of the Health Insurance Association of America in Washington, D.C. "All too often young adults may think of themselves as being healthy or not needing medical care."
      Given skyrocketing health-care costs, going without insurance is a risk you can't afford to take. Think about it: No one plans to become sick or get into an accident, but if it happens and you don't have health insurance, you could be paying off medical bills for years.
      If you're older than age 18, your parents' health insurance policy might cover you, provided you're a financial dependent and a full-time student. Check with your family's insurance agent. If you're older than 18 and financially independent, or if you're not attending school full time, you're on your own.
      There are three ways to get health insurance: through your employer, with a group, or as an individual. "If you can get coverage through the workplace, do so," Coorsh advises. "It's often your most affordable option." If your employer doesn't offer insurance benefits, save money by going with a group plan. Professional trade groups, alumni associations, and community organizations may provide low-rate coverage for members. If you opt for individual coverage, find a flexible plan and buy only what you need.
      Waiting to land a great new job and start receiving benefits? Take out a temporary, three- to six-month policy. Even if you're hired tomorrow, your health insurance might not kick in for months. Need full-time coverage? Consider raising your copayments or deductible to make it more affordable. "A standard deductible might be $300," says Coorsh. "If you anticipate being healthy, and not starting a family anytime soon, consider raising it to $1,000." Build your deductible with regular payroll deduction at your credit union.
      But whatever deductible you choose, make sure you can afford it. With higher copayments, each visit to the doctor will cost more, but you'll pay less per month. Most important, you'll be protected against emergencies or unexpected illnesses that otherwise might take years to pay off.

Should I worry about my stuff?
"A lot of young people just don't realize how much they own," says Jayna Neagle of the Insurance Information Institute in New York. "Take a minute to look at how much electronic equipment you own: the computer, the stereo. Then add the clothes, the CDs. It adds up to quite a bit. What would you do if all of a sudden you lost everything?"
      Theft is the No. 1 campus crime and most colleges don't take responsibility for items stolen from residence halls. If you live in the dorms, your parents' homeowners policy likely will protect your possessions, too. The limit on this type of coverage generally is around $2,500, so check whether expensive items--like computers--are fully covered. You may be able to purchase additional coverage, called a "floater," specifically for these items.
      Living in an apartment? If you're a financial dependent, your parents' homeowners policy might cover your belongings to some extent. But if you own costly items, or you're no longer a dependent, take out a policy in your own name. Don't count on your landlord's insurance in case of fire or theft. "The landlord has insurance for his building," says Neagle. "He's not going to replace your computer or your bike."
      Renters insurance is relatively inexpensive because you're not insuring the whole building--just your possessions. "The cost depends on where you live," explains Neagle. "They [insurers] look into the crime rate, how close you are to a fire department. This is their way of evaluating your risk."
      Don't count on
      your landlord's
      insurance in case
      of fire or theft.


"If you can't
afford the insurance,
you can't afford
the car."
Why should I insure my car?
"Auto insurance is required by law," Neagle says. "If you can't afford the insurance, you can't afford the car." Ignoring the law now will cost you money later. "If you drive without insurance for just one year," says Chuck Miller, an American Family Insurance agent in Portage, Wis., "you put yourself into a significantly higher risk category."
      If your parents co-own your car and you live at home, you'll still be covered by their insurance policy. If your name is on the car's title or you live away from home, you'll need to purchase your own insurance.
      What type of coverage should you buy? "States vary in terms of minimum coverages," says Dave Snyder, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association in Washington, D.C. "Virtually every state requires the purchase of bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability coverage. If you have a vehicle that's leased or financed, generally you'll have to buy collision or comprehensive." An insurance agent can advise you about your state's minimum requirements and recommend additional policies.
      Choose your vehicle with insurance in mind: A flashy make and model can inflate your insurance rates. Miller has a warning about that sporty, two-door coupe: "It may be the car of your dreams now, but be careful." If you live in Wisconsin, a 1998 Chevy Camaro RS two-door will cost you about $400 more per year to insure than a 1998 four-door Dodge Neon--$500 more per year if it's a convertible. "Make sure to check with your insurance agent about the premium before you buy," Miller advises.

How can I save money?
Here are some simple tips to help you lower your insurance costs:
  • Shop around. Always call at least three insurance agents:You'll find quotes hundreds of dollars apart for the same coverage.
  • Buy only what you need. For example: If your car is worth $1,000 or less, drop collision and comprehensive policies.
  • Raise your deductibles--but only as high as you can afford: If a $500 deductible could wipe out your savings reserve, go lower until you build savings. And consistently build that savings reserve--to cover deductibles and quarterly or semiannual insurance premiums--using direct deposit and payroll deduction at your credit union.
  • Join a group--such as a professional trade organization or alumni group--for less expensive rates.
  • Ask about discounts. For example, one carrier offers a good-student discount to anyone with a 3.0 grade point average or higher.
Note: You may be moving around a lot in the next few years. Your insurance policies usually can follow you, but some adjustments may be necessary. Keep your insurance agent posted on your address changes to make sure there are no problems with your coverage.

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