When to insure your tech gear

Depending on how you use (or abuse) your tech gadgets, it might be time to move beyond simple warranty math

I've never been a knee-jerk purchaser of warranties or insurance for tech gear. This may have something to do with the fact that I've never broken a laptop or a phone, and I'm pretty good at fixing stuff myself. Mostly, however, it is because the cost of a warranty is often a significant percentage of the purchase price, and when I buy an item, I do a little mental math to determine whether a warranty is worth it.

More often than not, I decide I'm better off putting the cost of the warranty toward the cost of a possible replacement item instead. Recently, however, I've found my mental math has been missing one key variable: the Klutz Factor of the human using the gear.

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Because I have a low K Factor, my basic calculation works well for me. But this hasn't translated to calculations that involve my son, who has a frighteningly high K Factor -- one that has resulted in notable losses.

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My son is a tech-happy teen. He loves his gear. But in the last month alone, he has destroyed two cell phones and an almost-new laptop. One of the cell phones didn't last through the first month of its month-to-month plan. And when I say destroyed, I mean it. These units were completely irreparable: smashed screens, parts all over the place, exposed electronic guts, water immersion (sometimes all on the same unit). Is he particularly hard on gear because he is young, I wondered? Or is the human with a high K Factor more common than I thought?

I asked Aaron Cooper, director of marketing for the Worth Ave Group, which insures laptops and cell phones.

"Maybe some people don't break stuff," he offered, "but I do. And the people who file claims with us certainly do. I have recently gone through three iPhones. One got stolen. I dropped the others. Yesterday I came very close to running over yet another with my car."

Judging from the stories he told about claims, I'd guess there are many accident-prone people who should probably be (and obviously are) using the K Factor when deciding on warranties and insurance.

"We had a claim yesterday where someone ran over a brand-new iPad," said Cooper. "He was leaving on a trip and got a few blocks from his house and realized he'd forgotten the iPad. So he went home to get it. It was in the driveway, and he ran right over it. We have had children -- and adults -- throw up on phones. We get lots of toilet phones. (Usually this is women. Though I don't know why.) And one woman backed into her TV and broke the screen with her ... um ... behind."

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