Unemployment Benefits FAQ's

When should I file for unemployment benefits?

Filing for benefits should be the first thing you do after your last day of work. Most states allow you to file your initial claim either by phone or online, so you can do it at your convenience.

Where do I file for unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are administrated by the states. Check with your state Unemployment Agency or Department of Labor to find out how to file for benefits. If you have moved since losing your job, or worked for a company in a different state, you should file in the state that you moved from or where your income was withheld to pay into the state benefit system.

Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Most people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, you may be disqualified from receiving benefits if you:

  • Quit your job without cause
  • Were fired for cause (as opposed to being laid off or furloughed)
  • Left your job due to illness
  • Left your job to get married, go to school, or care for a sick or injured relative
  • Are currently self-employed (freelancing, starting your own business, etc.)
  • Are a member of a Union involved in a labor dispute

If you quit your job with cause (hostile work environment, for example) you may be eligible for benefits. Eligibility rules vary from state to state, so check with your state Department of Labor or Unemployment Agency to see if you are eligible.

How much will I get?

Most states pay a percentage of your highest weekly base pay during the last quarter or year you were employed. Usually this will work out to about half of what you made during that period, though the rate varies from state to state. New York, for example, pays half of the states average income, while Arizona pays a maximum of $240 per week. Most states have a benefit calculator on their unemployment benefits website.

How long will my benefits last?

Most states pay regular unemployment insurance benefits for 26 weeks, or six months.

The Federal Emergency Compensation Act of 2008 provides extended benefits for qualifying applicants in certain states. There are four tiers of additional benefits:

  • Tier 1 provides up to 20 additional weeks of benefits in every state.
  • Tier 2 provides up to 14 additional weeks of benefits in every state.
  • Tier 3 provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits in states with an insured unemployment rate of at least 4%, or a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of at least 6%.
  • Tier 4 provides up to 6 additional weeks of benefits in states an insured unemployment rate of at least 6%, or a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of at least 8.5%.

These tiers are additive, meaning that you can potentially collect up to 99 weeks of benefits if you live in a qualifying state.

How long does it take to get paid? How often do I file?

States can take up to a few weeks to process your initial application and determine whether you are eligible for benefits. Holidays and heavy volume can make that even longer, which is why it is important to file for benefits as soon as possible. Once the state has determined your eligibility, they will inform you of the length and amount of benefits that you qualify for.

States typically require you to file a claim each week in order to receive a check. This claim can take a few days to process, depending again on holidays or volume. Your best bet is to file the same day each week in order to see a regular flow of income.

Having your checks sent by mail can add several days to your wait. Most states allow (and prefer) direct deposits into your bank account. This not only shortens your wait time, but also eliminates the risk of a lost or stolen check.

What information do I need to file for benefits?

Most states require:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a US citizen)
  • Mailing and/or home address
  • Phone Number
  • Names, dates, and contact information for employers for the last two years
  • An email address (if you file for benefits online)

Do I have to pay taxes on unemployment benefits?

The IRS considers unemployment benefits to be income, and requires beneficiaries to pay taxes on the unemployment benefits they receive! However, depending on your tax status, you may be eligible for a refund on most of the taxes you pay. You should also keep track of expenses incurred while searching for a job, as they are deductible from your tax burden. Most states do not tax income from unemployment benefits.

What happens if my application is denied?

You have the right to appeal an unemployment benefits claim denial in every state. Different states have different rules and procedures for appeals, which are listed on their Unemployment Agency or Department of Labor websites. Some general principles to keep in mind when appealing a denial include:

  • Act Fast: Most states have a limited window after a rejection notice during which you can appeal their decision. Gathering the materials and drafting the appeal should be your first priority.
  • Be Thorough: If you are going to make your case to the appeals board, you must include as much detailed and compelling information as possible. Make copies of your pay-stubs, obtain copies of your employee evaluations from your previous employer, and write a thorough letter explaining the circumstances surrounding your termination.
  • Read the Law: Most states provide user-friendly documents on their unemployment websites with the definitions and standards they use to judge unemployment claims. Familiarize yourself with these standards and craft your appeal to argue why you meet them.

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