What You Need to File For Unemployment

Filing for unemployment benefits can be a difficult process. Eligibility, filing procedures, and timelines can be difficult to understand. And state websites have earned their reputation for being confusing, vague, and difficult to navigate. While every state differs in the particulars of what you need and how to file for benefits, there are some general guidelines you should follow when filing for unemployment.

File early and often

Filing for unemployment benefits should be the first thing you do after your last day of work. The initial application for benefits doesn’t actually take that long—usually less than half an hour online or over the phone—but the state can take up to several weeks to process your application, which is a long time to wait when all you have to live on is your last paycheck. Once you are approved to receive benefits, you will be required to file a weekly claim in-order to receive you check. If you go more than a few weeks without filing your benefits could become inactive, requiring you to reapply, so it is important to file a claim early and often.

File the right way

States try to make filing for unemployment as convenient and accessible as possible by offering many ways to file, including by phone, fax, in person, by mail, and online. Filing online allows states to automate much of their approval process, which makes the process easier, clearer, and faster. States use secure forms to ensure that your personal information is transmitted and stored safely.

Have the right information

If you have ever been to the DMV, or gotten a marriage license, or applied for a small business permit, you know that dealing with state bureaucracies can be frustrating. You can smooth out the process of filing for unemployment by having the right information with you when you file. This information includes:

  • Mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license or State ID number
  • Military discharge date
  • Mother’s name (for security purposes)
  • Name, address, and phone number of employers for the last two years
  • Your last employers’ federal tax ID number (it will be on your pay stub or W2)
  • Dates of employment


Eligibility for unemployment benefits varies slightly from state to state, but for the most part your employer must have terminated you without cause. If you were fired for not doing your job or for creating a hostile work environment, you may not be eligible for benefits. There are some circumstances under which you can claim benefits after you quit your job, but they are limited. If you are still employed and considering quitting and living off of unemployment benefits, your best bet is to keep working and look for jobs in your spare time. At the very least, check with your state unemployment office before walking off the job.

Unemployment requirements

Most states require unemployment benefits recipients to search for work or seek employment assistance while they receive benefits. They may require you to contact a certain number of employers each week, or attend job fairs or job counseling once a month. Since you will probably be contacting employers anyway, all you need to do is keep track of it. You may also be required to register with the state employment agency job search website.

Getting paid

In order to keep in touch with modern finances and to reduce costs, states offer different options for you to receive your benefits payments. The state can send you a check in the mail, or deposit funds directly into your bank account, or issue you a debit card that they reload each week. The check is the traditional way to receive your benefits, but it is also the most risky. Checks take several days to be printed, mailed, and delivered, during which time they can be lost, destroyed, or stolen. Debit cards may incur a service charge to issue and reload. A card can also be lost or stolen both before and after you receive it. Like most employers, states prefer direct deposit into your bank account because it is faster, less expensive, and safer than the other two options.

What to do if your claim is denied

An initial benefits claim could be denied for a number of reasons, including incomplete or incorrect information, a hold filed by your employer, or even that you weren’t with your previous employer for eighteen months. The unemployment office will inform you in writing of the reason for being denied.

You have the right to appeal the decision if your claim is denied. Your opportunity to appeal will be anywhere from seven to 30 days, depending on your state. You can either respond with a letter explaining what mistake you think they made and why you believe that you are entitled to benefits, or make an appeal in person or by phone.

No matter which way you respond, it is important to send your response quickly and in writing. If you miss the deadline for appeal, it can be very difficult or impossible to claim your benefits. Whichever mode you choose, you will be asked to answer a series of detailed questions about your application and the circumstances of losing your job.

The unemployment office will contact your employer to verify your employment history and the reasons for your termination, so be as honest and thorough as you can in your explanation.

Think local

Unemployment benefits are administered by the states. While there are general principles that they all have in common, each state will have its own unique eligibility standards, application process, and filing requirements. Check with your state unemployment office website to find out what you need to know about filing for unemployment.


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