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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. Lisa says:

    I havent worked in 4 years due to the company i worked for sold out and I was no longer needed there..I didnt file for unemployment at that time..will i be eligible now..i worked for 25 years and never have drawn unemployment benefits..can i now?

  2. Ginger Adams says:

    I reside in Maryland and have recently exhausted my 26 weeks of Unemployment Insurance Payments. My last payment was for the week ending 10/31/09. My understanding is that I should be receiving a letter of eligibility for the Tier I EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation.) It is now December 4th and I have yet to receive a letter or payment. It has been a month and I am completely broke. I, like you all, can not find a job and am unsure what to do. I have no money to even buy one Christmas present for the children and I also am in dire need to have several of my prescription medications filled. I am diabetic with high blood pressure, etc. I am sorry to go on and on. I have sent emails and made several calls (although it says on the website not to call until you receive a letter.) My question is just when should I expect to receive the letter and following Tier I payments. I never would have imagined that it would take this long since I am already in the Unemployment system. Any information would be greatly appreciated. My best to all of you during this tough time.

  3. Karen says:

    Hi all...I reside/work in Maryland. On Friday I was summonized to our administrative office. I worked part time-for the last 3 years and before that I worked full time-for 4 years, for the same physician. I worked a total of 22.5 hours per week. I was told that my position for this particular office was being eliminated BUT they have a position for me for approximately 8-10 hours per week and its over 20 minutes from my house. I was told if I don't take it, they would be expecting my resignation.
    My first question is- Can an employer force you to take a position that is less hours that you worked? If so, can the employer FORCE you to resign???
    Second question is-If I decide not to take this position will I qualify for unemployment????? Help!~!!!!

  4. Richard says:

    I am currently receiving unemployment compensation benefits from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). I've been out of work for nearly 6 months. I can probably get an extension but my question is this: If I were to accept a temporary job that has a finite end date of probably less than 3 months, would I then be disqualified from my original claim? If I do still qualify, would the original amount still apply? What if the temp job is in another state?

  5. Denise says:

    I was advised last Friday, that December 31st is my last day of employment due to budget cuts. I have been working as a contractor for a consulting firm based in San Francisco, but performing work for a company in Massachusetts. I have been working here in Massachusetts for the past 16 months. My residence, up until two weeks ago was in Florida. I just purchased a home and moved to Tennessee on November 24th. Would I file for unemployment in Massachusetts? I've paid state taxes in Mass since starting work here in Aug 2008. I don't know how this works as my employer is actually located in California. I will be looking for work near to my home, not in Massachusetts. Please advise where I should file as I need to file during the first week in January. Having just signed for a new mortgage, I am worried sick that if I don't have unemployment insurance benefits right away I could lose my new home if I do not secure a new job within a month or two when my savings will surely run out.

  6. Brandon says:

    My wife was just hit by a car while walking across a parking lot and is currently in a boot due to fractures in her leg and ankle, and can't walk right now. She's only been out of work for one week. I took her to see the doctor yesterday, whom is the doctor she works for (she's a CMA), and she says, "I'm really sorry but we can't wait for you to heal, we need to go ahead and hire someone to take your place". So question is, can she receive unemployment, even though the is physically unable to work for at least a couple more weeks? Or should she just try to get temporary disability for now? and how long would that take? If she can't receive unemployment right now, can she receive it after she's well enough to begin looking for another job? This all really sucks, especially since we literally just bought our first house together just a couple of days before the accident....AND it's right here at Christmas. We live in NC btw.

  7. Bernice Roberts says:

    If I work In Pennsylvania for a few weeks but live in Mississippi, Can I file unemployment in Pa.?

  8. Mike Romzek says:

    I live in Michigan but worked in New York for about five weeks. I was staying in a hotel in NY while working and I finished up the last job the guy had for me. I called his office to ask if he had any more work for me and he wasn't there and his secretary said she didn't think there was anymore work but didn't know. So I told her I was going back to Michigan as this was a financial burden to pay for a hotel in NY when I have a home in Michigan and to call me when there was more work and I would come back to NY. He never called me so I filed for unemployment. I was denied unemployment because he claimed I quit. Then I got a job for about 3 months in Michigan and was ultimately laid off from Michigan. I filed for unemployment in Michigan but they are trying to deny me benefits because it was determined I quit my job in NY and denied benefits. Can't I just collect on my jobs in Michigan? I also worked in Michigan before the NY job. Can't they use those in my Michigan unemployment claim and forget about my NY job?

  9. williams says:


    I have an issue, benefits were allowed but against the job before the one I got fried from thus giving me lower weekly benefit. Based on the quarters they were working off of, the newer jobs income did not come into play. This would have been a big increase in weekly benefit. I waited to apply for benefits , 1) becuase I misread the detrmination that was allowing me benefits, I thought I had been denied and 2) because I figured if I waited until the next quarter, then they would re-evaluate the money paid and my benefit would be higher each week. They tell me that is not the case and that this rate would remain in effect for one year of the initial filing even if i went back to work, made more money and then re-collected unemployment if I were to lose that job. This does not make sense, I thought it would go by the amount of time you put in after coming off of unemployment that dicates the weekly benfit since you may be making sugnificantly more money. In this case it would be since the job they made the determination on was p/t while going to scholl and I made very little money hourly. BTW, this would be MD UC benefits.

    Does this sound right to you or should I call them back again and try to speack to someone else who may know better.?

  10. Matthias Wayland says:

    Mel, what state does he intend to seek benefits from?

  11. Matthias Wayland says:


    Based on your description it sounds like you have the base period requirements covered.

    Hope the following handbook link helps.


  12. EC says:


    I've been working for the same company for over 15 years. Due to the current economic situation the company has offered a one-time early retirement option to qualified employees (employees must be 50+ years old AND have at least 10 years of service). This is part of the cost cutting measures they're taking. This retirement is strictly voluntary. My question is....if I take this early retirement can I still apply and qualify for unemployment? The company is in California.


  13. Edd Jobs says:


    The following is from the Arkansas unemployment handbook:

    "An Interstate Claim is a claim being paid by Arkansas even though you live in another state. To file an interstate claim, go to your nearest unemployment insurance office and request this type of claim. You will be given the forms and/or information on how to file. To contact Arkansas' Interstate Unit, call (501)-683-2760."

    Hope that helps.


  14. Edd Jobs says:


    I think that you have probably waited to long, although that may differ depending on the state. Bottom line is, nothing ventured, nothing gained. You may want to submit a written application with accurate information included. If you're rejected, there will probably be an administrative appeals process available to you.

    Also, unemployment isn't the only benefit available. Go to http://www.govbenefits.gov/govbenefits_en.portal and click your state to see what other help you might qualify for.


  15. Melissa says:

    I over collected....what do I do?

  16. Edd Jobs says:


    Contact your state's appropriate unemployment department. In California, that would be the Benefit Overpayment Collections Section at 1-800-676-5737.

    What state are you in?


  17. Kimberlynn Stokes says:

    I was notified today that in 6 months my position is no longer going to exist and if I want to keep my job I will have to apply for another position within the company. I was told I would keep my pay rate but will have to work at nights and weekends. I took my current position due to it being Monday through Friday day shifts and I cannot work on nights nor weekends due to childcare. If I do not conform and work them I will not have a position. Will I be elegible for unemployment if the company doesn't accomodate me?

  18. Edd Jobs says:


    The answer will vary depending on which state you reside in. Almost all states provide online sites with handbooks and Frequently Asked Questions sections. If the new position doesn't involve a reduction in hours, it could be a problem.

    If you are without work, there are a number of help programs available in most states such as foodstamps, medicaid (adult and child health care), State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), energy assistance programs, school breakfast and lunch programs, WIC (supplemental foods and health care) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), among others.


  19. Shelly says:

    In Arkansas the company I have worked for going on 15 years has now cut my hours from 3 days a week 9-5 to none. They offered me some work but said if there was not enough work for me to do I would be sent home. There reason was: I gave a co worker much of my work to do along time ago because I did not want to do it any longer. Also they wanted to train me for a new process the company was going to start doing to support one of the programs they had for customer support. I told them I did not want to do it and they did not make me but gave the work to the other office workers that did want it. I was told that this is the direction they was going due to customer demand and that they would go forward with it that the old way is no longer a process. My boss did tell me that if I did not do it I would not get work hours. I did not want a reduction of hours on the days I worked there and told my boss I only wanted a full day of work not partial and I did not want the work they was implementing for the office workers. I make $7.50 an hour and put in for partial umemployment on 22 Jan. 09 as my last work day was 21 Jan. 09. Now I am not getting any hours at all. I have not quit, they have not fired me but I was told I would just be on call now that they could not work me because i refused the new process they was starting and that they could not work me full days with what little work I agreed to do and that I had given my work away. My boss told me he could not take the work back from the other workers that I did not want to do anymore that it would not be fair to the other workers. Since my boss is saying no work is available (because I gave my work away and I did not want less hours and I did not want to do the new process of a program they was going to start doing) can I draw partial unemployment or umemployment period because I don't think they are going to call me back in to work. I applied for partial umemployment but now they have not called me in at all and I don't know if I will get partial and if so or not, should I apply for being laid off, even though they did not lay me off-my boss just said no work for me based on what I would and would not do, meaning I would work full days 3 days a week, I would not learn the new program so that left me with nothing to do 3 full days a week, and I gave my other job to someone else that kept me pretty busy before. Again, now I have no job because they are not calling me in to work at all. Please help! Thanks in advance. I just don't want to go in and work 4 or 5 hours a day 3 days a week and I do not want to learn that new program, plus they will not give me what I use to do back from my co worker that has been doing what I did for about 3 years or more now. What do I do?

  20. Edd Jobs says:


    Good luck getting back on your feet. Here's a site with a list of benefit programs in Arkansas that may help until you find new work.


    Once you're at the site, click Benefits, then click State, then click Arkansas.

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