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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. vince says:

    Question: If I got fired for misconduct of theft, can I still file for unemployment benifits? I know i didn't steal anything but I still got fired. I am having a hard time finding a lawyer to represent me but I am still looking. Please advise. Greatly appreciated.

  2. Anne says:

    My husband has been collecting unemployment in MI for more than a year (we have the highest unemployment rate in the country) and NOW, after more than a year, his former employer states he quit, and we have to answer MESC as to why we filed that he was laid off. He worked for a security company that lost its contract where he was employed. The point is, how can they claim he quit after all this time? If they really thought that, wouldn't they have had to claim that in the beginning? Can they change their position like this?

  3. Charles (Rob) Mills says:

    I have been unemployed for several months and drawing unemployment. I have found a part time job but I will not get paid for 2 weeks. Can I still file my claim at the end of the first work week? I worked that week but will not be paid until the following week. I live in Indiana.
    Thanks, Rob.

  4. Delitta says:

    Hi, I recently quit one job to go to a higher paying job. After working there for only a month, the position I have is being cut. I was offered a severance check for two weeks, or let them transfer me to another location within a 25 mile radius of the location I work at. Not knowing what department I will be in or where I will be transfered to bothers me. If I take that option, I forfeit my severance.

    Will I be able to file for unemployment in the state of California?

  5. Linda says:

    I received a questionnaire from the unemployment office asking how much do I have in my checking and savings accounts. Can they disqualify me because I have sufficient funds to carry me until I find a job? My husband passed away and I had to sell my home and move in with my daughter in another state. So I filed to see if I can collect until I get a job.

  6. Tony G says:

    Hi, I received a bonus in a quarter that was more than 1.5x the total of my other 3 quarters of compensation. Because of this, I was denied Emergency Unemployment Extension. The criteria prevents individuals from receiving extended benefits if any quarter of income is more than 1.5x the sum of the other three quarters. The reason this was implemented is to prevent people from receiving unemployment if they only worked one quarter or so. In my case, I worked all year, but received a large bonus in the 4th quarter that was earned throughout the course of the year, similar to how an insurance company receives a lump sum payment for insurance that is earned throughout the entire period.

    Anybody have any advice on how i can appeal this? i can't find a job and the bonus money is gone!

  7. Cindy says:

    I am currently laid off from my job as a secretary for the school system in Michigan. I am currently seeking employment, but my search is taking me further and further from my home. If I get a job offer from a company that is too far (in my mind) to travel everyday, do I have to accept the job. I own a home and have children that attend school, etc. I guess I am wondering what the distance is that would require me to accept a job offer, or lose my unemployment benefits.

  8. EJ says:

    hi raymond, i recent filed the claim for unemployment ( i was a teacher at public school) but now i also work 28 hours as part time earn about $330per week before tax reduction. what I am worried about is tax filing. am I able to receive any benefit? or do i need to pay the tax...
    I am on the edge so.. I am so so worrried.
    what can i do?

  9. Matt S says:

    I am a NC business owner that is structured as a PLLC (professional limited liability company) filing as an S-Corp. I have been paid as an employee through payroll for several years and therefore had SUTA withheld. My business partner and I do not want to close the business, but cannot continue to 'pay' ourselves through a credit line. We are a design service company and have little to no work at the moment. Can we collect unemployment for a short period of time until business picks up again?

  10. Jane says:

    If I make a claim for uneployment and move to another state can I still collect my money while looking for another job?

  11. David says:

    I worked for a company that was primarily construction and they branched off into a media division. I was hired as lead technician for the media division at a base salary of 50k a year. Due to lack of work I received a letter from the office stating that my position was being ELIMINATED and that they wanted to offer me a position on the construction side (of which I have no experience) for an hourly rate of 1/2 what I was making and they took the company van back as well. I live an hour away and the gas alone would kill me. I turned down the position for these reasons and filed for UE. I get one check and 2 days later I receive a letter from the EC informing me of a hearing for eligibility due to concern raised om whether I QUIT for good cause. Do I have the right to UE because I believe I do. Please let me know. I do not want to collect UE if I will get burned for some crap like this. I have a family of 4 and trying to find work but this industry of audio/video is dead at the moment. I live in VA by the way.

  12. Meredith says:

    I just spoke with the labor board in the state of CA and was informed that though I did give my resignation by the company letting me go befor that date I was "Fired". Can I file a claim for unemployment with that?

  13. Sandra Cade-Crowell says:

    I was wrking a job in Louisiana and my husbands company relocated us to another state and I had to quit my job to go with my husband. Am I eligible to draw UI in the state of louisiana? I have been filing for ten weeks and every week I get a letter from Louisiana UI stating a determination has not been decided yet to keep filing. I have called UI's office 14 times and have been on hold up to 1 hour and still have yet to talk to a person. Can you HELP with suggestions

  14. Debbie says:

    If I work in one state but live in a neighboring state, where do I file my unemployment insurance benefits with? My guess is that I ought to file it with the state I actually work in since that's where my current employer is paying his unemployment insurance premiums to, however I can also see how the state I reside in might be responsible as well since I do pay income taxes to them.

    Either way, I dread filing for unemployment benefits. Just got laid off from my administrative assistant job. Makes me feel like I've done something wrong, but I guess free money is free money and besides, it's governmental money that I'm entitled to. In this rough recession, who in the right mind would turn down a much needed handout I suppose. This economy needs major help.

  15. Richard says:

    I work in PA. my position was eliminated -- my employer wanted me to sign a paper agreeing that I take a pay cut of over $700 and a lower position. Can I file for unemploymnet?

  16. LISA says:

    I am working for a company in Alabama, and i am in sales. MY employer has written me up several times for being in the bottom third of the sales saff, but the write up say differnt things from termination to coaching. Can i get unemployment for not producing enough sales? this company doesn't have any written information ragarding what the bottom third is,how much i have to produce or how many times i can be in it. I am still working there even though i've been on a final since august, i think they are keeping me there untill they hire someone else to fill my spot.

  17. Liz says:

    Hello, I would like to know if i can get benefits if i was working at a company and that company terminated me because clocking in for someone else? as soon as i was terminated i got a new job after 2 months i left that second job and got a new one better paid but i didn't now that last job was seasonal only. Can i get benefits cause of all this? Thanks

  18. vsv says:

    I have a questiona I filed for UI and recieved "determination of benefits eligibility stating that I am approve some $$ my questions are:
    1. How long will it take to recieve my check?
    2. Do I have to keep filing every week until I get the job?
    please help me with the process.

  19. Ron says:

    I was terminated from my job and want to know where I should file for unemployment insurance. The company I worked for is headquartered in Massachusetts, but I worked for them in a small office of 2 people in New York. There is a clause in my termination agreement that states that all disputes will be resolved under the laws of Massachusetts. Does any of this allow me to file my claim in MA?
    Thank you.

  20. James says:


    I have collected two tiers of unemployment benefits and the third tier was a policy signed by Obama for an extension of unemployment benefits due to such a high unemployment rate in this country. Thanks to the recession, finding work is very difficult and no one is hiring due to "hiring freezes".

    My question is that the amount of my extension has not been exhausted, however when I claimed my weekly unemployment benefits the "recording" told me that my benefits were exhausted since it has been a year since I have started collecting. But, I don't understand how can that be since my remaining balance has not been exhausted completely.

    Hope someone can help me out. Thank you.

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