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How To File For Unemployment Benefits

Published 6/29/08 (Modified 6/17/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

For those of you who are fortunate to have a stable job and blessed with being gainfully employed, congratulations and more power to you. For those of you who are currently unemployed or out of a job, I feel your frustration. I've been there before and know how scary and uncertain the experience can be.

In this fluctuating and unpredictable economy, you never quite know what is lurking around the corner. Life comes at us fast and sometimes job stability, occupational predictability, and all positive aspects of full time employment can disappear in a flash. Sometimes it can be due to our own fallibility and less than perfect work performance, and sometimes it can be due to slowdowns in the economy at large. Life is unpredictable and it's hard to be certain whether there is such a field that's a sure thing anymore. During the past few years, jobs and careers related to the real estate and housing market were hot and in great demand. However, years later, with the collapse of the housing bubble, many of the jobs previously fueled by the burgeoning real estate market have mostly disappeared. Even upper echelon MBA-type financial positions at top firms like Merrill Lynch have been down sized and trimmed back, resulting in many educated employees suddenly out of work.

If you find yourself one of many who have been laid off, I feel for you. I've been through a sudden job lay off before and it's not an easy feeling or experience to go through. Not only does it put you in a sudden cash flow crunch, but it forces you to scramble around in desperation to find employment quickly. For those who have a wife, husband, or children depending on that income, the extra financial and familial pressures make the process even more urgent. However, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. There are systems and governmental assistance programs in place to help guide and cushion you during those periodic times of unemployment - namely in the form of unemployment insurance benefits. Don't let those invaluable financial benefits and entitlements pass you by during times of need - seize them immediately.

Do Not Let Petty Shame Or Guilt Prevent You From Filing For Unemployment Insurance Benefits - It's Your Money and You Are Entitled To It

I've filed for unemployment benefits several times throughout my working career thus far. I will admit, the first time I filed, I felt a tinge of shame and guilt. I felt like it was a hit on my aura of financial independence and a stain on my own sense of masculine pride. As someone who was raised to believe that an important aspect of a man's duty and responsibility was to provide for himself and his family, it was difficult for me to depend on governmental handouts for the first time. To me, receiving unemployment benefits meant I was now on welfare, and no better than some unmotivated or lazy 40 year old bum who lived in his parent's basement like some financial leach on society.

However, now that I've had experience with being the recipient of unemployment benefits, I now understand what it truly is. To receive unemployment insurance benefits is by no means the same as receiving public welfare. It's a genuine financial safety net that is subsidized by employers in a socialized manner to help decent working people get back on their feet quickly with as little financial destruction or burden as possible. While unemployment benefits provide free money for times when you're not working, a fundamental and required tenant is that the recipient actively pursue employment leads while drawing on the temporary financial perks. Being a recipient has no effect on your existing credit score and the mere act of filing has no effect on your future employment prospects. The small amount of compensation provided isn't sufficient to save or grow rich on, but is just enough to give one a semblance of financial continuity and feeling of self reliance until the person can get back on his or her feet. It helps those who want to help themselves.

Who Pays For The Funds Dispersed For Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefits are provided by a special jointly run fund provided by federal and state payroll taxes called the Unemployment Insurance program. No part of an employee's actual paycheck goes directly into this unemployment fund (unlike social security) but is instead indirectly funded by employers through a special unemployment insurance tax that they pay. Almost all employers are required to pay unemployment insurance tax to help fund this public service. Unlike worker's compensation, the employer does not pay unemployment benefits to laid off employees directly, but payments are instead issued by the responsible state agency as needed. Even if an employer goes out of business, unemployment benefits can still be distributed out to the company's now unemployed workers because funds are socially subsidized by other active employers who pay into this pool of shared funds. When you are out of work for whatever reason, it's in your own interest to apply for unemployment benefits as soon as possible. Even if you refuse to file for it, you should know that you are still indirectly paying for this socialized governmental service.

Remember, there is no shame in taking on this temporary financial safety net as a short term stop gap measure - it was designed for you when you need it the most. The money is rightfully yours because your employer pays into the fund on a mandatory basis. Without its existence, you theoretically would have been given higher pay. If because of pride, you refuse to take this temporary governmental handout, ask yourself this question - will pride put food on the table for your family in the meantime until you can find your next job? Will pride pay for necessary groceries or pay for a roof over your held until you can secure that next job interview? Think about it. Desperate times require desperate measures. I personally view unemployment benefits as part of my emergency fund measures.

As Soon As You Become Unemployed, Apply For Unemployment Benefits Immediately

The most important thing to know about seeking unemployment benefit compensation is to file as soon as you become either partially or fully unemployed. Even if you suspect you will be able to file a new job relatively soon, it's still in your best interest to still file for it sooner than later. There is almost always a 1-2 week lag time between filing and when you receive benefits. Frequently, there is also a mandatory one week waiting period during which the first week will not be compensated for. The benefit clock starts when you file so if you wait around to see if a new job is forthcoming, you may miss out on much deserved unemployment entitlements. If you wait several months after becoming unemployed to file, you won't be able to claim for the non-working months that have already passed. You can only claim for the time that comes after the moment you file, so don't delay - get credit for every single moment you remain unemployed.

Even if you are confident that you have sufficient pre-existing emergency funds to live off of, it's better to file and not risk the chance that your emergency funds ultimately run out. You don't want to look back later down the road only after draining your bank account completely and racking up unpaid credit card bills, and realized that you ought to have applied for unemployment benefits earlier.

Where Do You File For Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefit applications should be filed in the state where the work was performed. Check out this official U.S. Department of Labor List Of State Unemployment Agencies to determine the correct filing location. Most states today allow unemployment benefit applications to be filed via telephone, in person, or through the Internet. If you want to avoid the stigma or emotional embarrassment of filing for this entitlement in person, filing via phone or through the Internet is a great way to circumvent this problem. Not only that, those methods are also quicker ways get your money more expeditiously.

As mentioned, unemployment filings are made with the state unemployment agency in the state jurisdiction where the work was performed. If you lived in New York and worked in New York, you need to file your claim with the state of New York. What about those who lived in one state, but worked in another? In my case when I filed way back when, I lived in the state of Maryland, but worked in Washington D.C. Since I performed my employment in D.C., my place of unemployment benefit filing would be in D.C. since that's where my employers actively paid their unemployment taxes to. I could still file with the state of Maryland, but would ultimately be referred by the unemployment hotline and managing system to seek benefits from Washington D.C.

Who Is Entitled To File For Unemployment Benefits and How Much Money Can You Expect?

Generally (individual state laws vary), to qualify for unemployment benefits, an applicant must (1) meet state eligibility requirements regarding how long the employee has previously been working and how much money the employee has earned, (2) make continuing and regular application updates to the managing state agency, (3) be continuously available for work and actively seeking work, and (4) not be subject to any disqualifying employment factor.

To be entitled for unemployment benefits, employees must have become unemployed through no fault of their own (although definitions on fault vary by state). Generally those who voluntarily quit their jobs or were discharged from their positions due to willful misconduct can't qualify. However, if you were laid off due to downsizing or were discharged due to simple lack of work, you will probably be entitled to benefits. Once approved, to continue to draw on your weekly unemployment checks or direct deposits, you will required to submit weekly updates of your employment and income status either by phone or over the Internet. During that time, you are expected to actively look for work. Obviously the benefits will stop as soon as you become gainfully employed again. While it's somewhat unlikely the state agency will know if you go on vacation during that period of time instead of looking for work, you should also know that by doing so, you are committing fraud and may be required to pay the benefits back along with penalty fees if discovered. I know some people who did decide to take a brief vacation while still drawing on unemployment benefits, managing to stay under the radar, but not everyone will be that fortunate. Big brother government has sneaky ways to track you down.

To file for unemployment benefits with your state agency, you will need to provide your name, mailing address, phone number, social security number, working phone number, and may sometimes be asked to provide recent pay stubs. However, with computerized filings, oftentimes you will only need to provide your former employer's name and address, without having to provide wage or salary paperwork. Your most recent employer will be automatically contacted by the state unemployment agency to verify the circumstances and reasons of your work discharge or layoff. Their response will help determine whether you exhibit any of the disqualifying factors to receiving unemployment benefits such as you quitting on your own, or getting fired because you were stealing from them.

The amount of your weekly unemployment benefit checks will vary depending on your past income and the maximum limits of your filing jurisdiction. For those who are higher income earners, your weekly checks will be worth more. The maximum payout amount also differs from state to state. Just to give you a very rough ballpark figure of how much you can expect, the maximum payout for the District of Columbia is currently $359 a week, before tax. At about $1,436 a month, this definitely goes a long way to help pay for basic living expenses like rent until you can get back on your employment feet.

Usually there is a total amount of benefits that each specific applicant can draw upon before the entire fund for that benefit year is tapped out. But until that happens, applicants can usually receive benefits for 6 months straight (26 weeks) before depleting their entire emergency unemployment benefit reserves. Keep in mind as well, all unemployment payouts are considered taxable income. There is usually no tax withholding associated with unemployment benefits so you may be required to pay estimated taxes to meet your tax obligations.

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115 Responses to “Unemployment Benefits | Unemployment Insurance | Money Blue Book” 

  1. Cora Mayes says:

    my question is can you get your lump sum retirement and not be penalized with your unemployment benefits in Texas

  2. Stephanie says:

    My boyfriend was recently fired from his job. The company lied to the Unemployment division saying he quit because he was unhappy with a company policy. We've already sent in all the info, including paperwork saying he was terminated, that was signed by his manger. I dont understand why this has to be so complicated, and what we can do now. He worked extremely hard at his job, and is entitled to benefits. What can we do? How do we get our voices out there?

  3. Sharie says:

    how many weeks must you work before qualifing for unemployment benefits?

  4. Sharie says:

    how many weeks are required in VA to qualify for unemployment benefits?

  5. Heather says:

    I worked for 8 months in NY and 5 months in Chicago. I went to the Chicago unemployment office and they suggested I file in NY. I filed in NY and since then have lived in 2 states. Should I file with the residing state or is it ok to continue collecting from NY State since that was where my employer was paying taxes to and worked was performed?

    Please advise thanks!

  6. MK says:

    I live in MD, and was laid off the day I came back from my maternity leave. I've been receiving unemployment for the last month. I cannot afford daycare so my neighbor volunteered to watch my child. She has recently returned to work so I no longer have child care, if I refuse a job because of this can I be denied my unemployment benefits?

  7. MK says:

    I live in MD, and was recently laid off the day I came back from my maternity leave, at the time I had child care (a favor from my neighbor) but I no longer have it being that she has returned back to work. I've been receiving unemployment for the last month. If I refuse to accept a job offer because I have no child care can I be denied unemployment benefits?

  8. Stan says:

    I was terminated at no fault to myself. My former employer is contesting my unemployment claim because I've started a new business (a C-corporation), even though I have no income from this brand new business.

    About two weeks before my termination date, they eagerly negotiated a contract with the new corporation for services that I will not be directly paid for as an individual (something that requires the unique skillset of a separate contractor which this new corporation has a relationship with).

    Since a corporation is its own legal entity, does my former employer have grounds to deny unemployment benefits to me?

  9. Brian King says:

    Hello,
    My name is Brian King. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question. I have been receiving unemployment benifits from 06/01/2008 till 06/16/2010. I just recently was hired part time makeing $7.25 p/h two days a week after my benifits were exhausted early in June. I make 1/2 of the $225 I was drawing while on unemployment and can't even afford to pay my bills. I was just asking what is the maximum hours I can work a week and still get help through unemployment benifits. iF YOU COULD PLEASE DIRECT ME TO A WEB PAGE WITH THE INFO i NEED, OR RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE AND LET ME KNOW.

    Thanks for any help you can provide,
    Brian Billy King

    P.S. I live in North Carolina and email is smokey_b_4207247@yahoo.com

  10. Hank says:

    My son has been on unemployment through an inter-state claim in Utah, he moved to Florida with me when I got work in Florida. He has been constantly seeking work but has not as of now. Utah doesn't have a fourth tier because of the unemployment rate in the state, but Florida does. Can he get the fourth tier if needed from the state of Florida?

    He has been out of work almost a year and doesn't have wages for any of the last four quarters. All he has had is unemployment income. He filed for unemployment after several months of looking and in on his third and last tier from Utah.

  11. Hank says:

    Unfortunately I also have a question that involves me and not my son. I was part of a reduction in force when my company let 1000 executive position go all around the country. I was on an interstate claim in Utah as well because of work I had done there in 2008. I had twenty weeks and then since my income was coming from a Georgia company I had to file in Georgia. I got 19 weeks in Georgia and still have 6 weeks to go on the initial state claim. If needed will I get a first tier extension from Georgia? Or do I have to go back and file an inter-state claim in Utah?

    Thanks for any input and direction you can give,

    Confused in Florida.

  12. Laura-Jo Smith says:

    I have been working for a fire & rescue for the past 3 years. The first 1 1/2 years went good. Then a very unscruplious man got elected president. He harrassed and made up things about people. 2 of my fellow workers left the Co. I have a contract with them, children to feed and bills to pay. Tonight when I went in and he was there with papers that said I had been terminated yesterday. And there is a bunch of his made up lies about me. With an "Agreement and Mutual Releases" he wanted me to read these papers and sign them. In the papers they (HE) more or less wants me to give up my unemployment for 2 weeks pay, and if I do git unemployment he wants me to pay the Co. what I get, and In these papers he says that I have been insabordant among other things. I know that it does not work that way. My question is how do I explain to unemployment that my seperation from work is not of my doing, when this guy is saying it is. I am going to talk to a lawyer, but will I be able to collect? Please HELP!

  13. fran says:

    I was in the mortgage business and recently got laid off. I went to my local unemployment office to file for benefits and found it to be a complete nightmare. The people working there were extremely rude and were not helpful at all. I had to figure out most of the paperwork myself in the hopes I did it correctly. Not a great experience by any means.

  14. danawill says:

    After I have been approved for unemployment benefits, does my former employer receive information about the payments when I receive them, how much and for how long?

  15. Amy says:

    Hi, I live in MD,My? Is I worked for this company for 4years as a full-time employee.and now we are being cut hours to 27hrs a week but we get payed every two weeks.can I fill for benefits??

  16. Kim says:

    Myhusband is drawing unemployment from Nevada at the max rate. He is thinking of taking a temp job in Georgia a couple of months. How long can he work in Georgia before it becomes the state that his unemployment benefits draw off of when the temp job is done? The max rate in Georgia is 200.00/wk less than Nevada

  17. addy says:

    my question to you is i lived in oregon recieved all i can from unemployment ive lived in ca for 3 yrs can not find a job and now im looking into filing unemployment in ca due to oregon unemplyment has ran out.the only thing is the last time i worked in ca was about 25 yrs ago never filed in ca for unemployment ,can i apply after that long of time.please help

  18. Chris says:

    I worked for a company in California. I live in New York. I started on 6/1/2010. They let me go on 12/26/2010. They have yet to send me cobra information. My question is. Where do I file for Unemployment Insurance? California, or New York?
    Thanks,
    Chris

  19. Shellie Defont says:

    I hope everyone in New Jersey keeps warm and stays safe!

  20. Meghan says:

    I have a question regarding which state to file - I understand I should file where the "work is performed". Long story short, my company was in PA, filed for bankruptcy and started a new company in DE only 3 months ago. I've worked for the same person for 3.5 years....however with 2 companies, in 2 states. Do I only get to file in DE since the current company is DE? I'm thinking yes, but that makes me angry. PA unemployment is much better than DE and I live in PA.

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