Suppose you come home from the movies late one night to find your house burgled and your $2,000 personal computer gone.
Are you covered under your insurance?
Well, like most things in life, it all depends: Did you use it mostly for business purposes or for pleasure?
In the eyes of your insurer, it makes a big difference. If it was used for pleasure or other nonbusiness purposes, it's covered under your standard homeowner's policy. One rule of thumb insurers employ is this: If you use your personal computer less than 40 percent of the time for business purposes, it's covered. On the other hand, if you use it for business most of the time, you're going to need additional coverage.
"For a $2,000 outfit, it's roughly $50 a year extra," says David Savopoulos, a Northern Virginia State Farm agent. "Basically, we ask them the homeowner , 'Is the computer used mainly for the home or for business?' The 40 percent figure is basically an aid to us to figure out which it is."
Ralston Eng, an agent with MPA Insurance Services Inc., in San Mateo, Calif.--in the midst of Silicon Valley--handles a great deal of personal computer insurance business.
"We get teachers, one-man accounting firms. We're even covering ourselves, too," he says with a laugh. "You have a lot of engineers and R&D research and development people who . . . have their own PCs personal computers . They do a lot of work at home and need the coverage."
The value of most of those computers covered by Eng's firm falls in the $5,000 to $25,000 range, he says. His firm sells a three-year policy that costs $250 for a computer and peripherals worth from $5,000 to $10,000.
According to Eng, there are a number of independent insurance companies that have recently entered the personal computer insurance business in the past couple of years. They include companies such as Kemper, United Pacific Reliance, Hanover Insurance, St. Paul Fire and Marine, Hartford and Fireman's Fund.
"Any independent agent that handles any of the companies is eligible to sell" the policies, he says. "But we use the Kemper policy more. It's called 'BEEP,' for Business Electronic Equipment Policy."
When insuring your computer, consider the fact that you have more to lose than simply the hardware. Your software--programs you purchased at a store, programs you modified, and programs that you wrote or had written especially for you--should be taken into account, too.
For personal computers that are not used for business purposes, says Savopoulos, "we'll cover the cost of software replacement. But we'll need proof of purchase: sales receipts, checks and so on. Those things can get pretty expensive."
Eng says the independent policies cover those items when written for personal computers used primarily for business, too.
"For a $10,000 computer, it will cover up to $10,000 for the hardware, plus 10 percent for active media unmodified programs and 10 percent for the extra expense of duplicating" specially written programs, he says.
Of course, you can wing it and not buy any insurance at all.
According to Warren Carmichael, spokesman for the Fairfax County police department, which patrols one of the most affluent counties in the nation, nine personal computers have been stolen from businesses and homes in the past two months. Such thefts are a relatively new development, Carmichael says.
"I think it may have something to do with the fact that there aren't well-established fencing operations set up to handle stolen computers," he says. But that will come "someday--whenever fencers figure out that a computer that's about the size of a TV can be worth a lot more."