This is a tough question to answer, and in some cases, a questionable question since not “everything” needs a protection plan. Just about every electronic store both on and offline seems to offer some form of an insurance plan for the products they sell. At times they can be a bit pushy because either the store, the employee (or both) generally make a pretty good profit from them. However, do you really need one, and how worthy are they?
Clearly, there are some products that just don’t require the benefits of a protection plan. Things like DVDs, Blu-Rays, cables, inexpensive/durable adapters, cases, and so on–typically do not benefit from such a thing. Either because the chance of something going wrong is so minimal, or because the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefits. The retailer, of course, won’t always be upfront about that since they want to make a profit. So it is wise to always ask yourself what the chances are of something going wrong before deciding the buy into one.
However, at times you might find that a protection plan could save your hiney. Things like DSLR cameras, laptops, first-gen TVs, desktops, portable gaming systems, and internal upgrades to a PC (ie, video card) that you really plan to put to work and can get incredibly hot in the process. In these situations, you might actually benefit from a plan. Especially mobile electronics that have a lot of complicated moving parts like a DSLR or have a history for issues like the older Xbox 360 had (ie, RROD = red ring of death). In times like these, spending $5-$20 might save you hundreds of dollars.
Of course, there are also a handful of companies promising great protection guarantees, and the one being offered in-store might not be your best bet (retailers aren’t always willing to tell you that you can opt to go with a third-party plan). We spent a great deal of time over the years reading ourselves to sleep, using the small print offered by a lot of these companies. We have also had our own experiences with having to make use of plans due to product failures or damage. So we decided to take what we have learned and witnessed over the years and use this information to come to a conclusion on who we think is one of the safest companies to go through.
Companies like Asurion, Assurant, Consumer Priority Service (CPS), SquareTrade, ProtectionPlace and more, all promise various ways that they ensure your products from things like failure, damage or even acts of God in some cases. Sometimes they cover accidental damage caused by you (to a degree usually), and sometimes it is strictly limited to manufacturer defects and failures. Sometimes trying to get a hold of someone (let alone a conclusion to your issue) can be quite the task, and sometimes it is nearly automated you are handled so quickly.
In our own experiences, we have found SquareTrade to be an excellent balance of a lot of these variables. The plans are usually affordable when compared to the price of the item being purchased. They typically cover a lot of scenarios where you might have to use them for something. They are typically easy to work with when it comes to setting up your coverage and even get your case handled relatively quickly when you have to make a claim.
Getting a plan set up for a brand new smartphone for example, usually involves downloading an app, and using it and the built-in camera to take a photo of it in a mirror (to show that initially there are no blemishes, cracks or any other sign of damage). Fill out a little information and your new phone is protected. You may not even have to buy it the same time you buy the phone as they may give you up to 30 days to pull the trigger from the time you bought the phone. Their smartphone plans generally also cover normal wear and tear, and could even cover certain types of damage from things like drops (that’s a big win for you if you have butter-fingers).
If you do have to make a claim, there are no deductibles and any shipping is usually free. They offer 24/7 customer service and the price might not even cause you to flinch a single bit.
They are user-friendly, cover a lot of various things, and are typically affordable (vs the alternative of having to buy a new product). Various plans offer various small print on what they protect against, but generally, we have found SquareTrade to be the easiest to work with.
Again, not everything is worth getting a protection plan for. Laptop plans for example generally come at a much higher price (ratio-wise). This is usually due to a higher risk of damage based on the average amount of consumers who come into issues with laptops vs other electronics, and the inflated cost of repairs. So laptops don’t always come with an affordable protection plan. Another situation could be when you buy a new desktop. The main tower is usually where problems might pop up. Not so much the monitor. So if these two parts of the setup are purchased separately (and they usually are), you could opt-out of buying one for the monitor and only buy protection for the tower.
SquareTrade offers protection plans for various retailers directly (as their in-house plans) like Costco, eBay, and more, and can also be purchased as a third-party option directly from their website for products bought from retailers that do not offer their plans directly. They can also be found here on Amazon where you can buy them to protect your Amazon purchases. Want to get an idea for some of their small print? You can find a sample of their terms and conditions here.
In the end, though, it is all about you the consumer, and how badly you think you might need something like this. Some people are overly cautious and others are known for being clumsy. Maybe protecting you from your own paranoia allows you to focus on not worrying as much. In a lot of cases, when someone tells you that these plans are pure profit for these companies, it is true since most consumers never have to make use of them. These companies wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for it being more profitable than any risks. That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t ever have to make use of it. Sometimes, life is just an annoying gamble like that.