How to File for Unemployment Benefits

unemployment benefits

You’ve been fired or laid off from your job … now what? After the anger and frustration fades, you’re left facing the fear of making ends meet. How can you pay your bills and afford groceries without a biweekly paycheck? All of the job searching in the world can’t put money in your pocket immediately, and your savings account won’t last indefinitely. Fortunately, there’s an easy answer: file for unemployment.

If you lost your job through no fault of your own, you may qualify to receive the financial support provided through your state’s unemployment insurance program.

Unemployment insurance is a joint state and federal program designed to provide compensation to those out of work. It offers enough money to help you stay above water until you find a new job and recalibrate your income. Take these steps to file and ease your financial concerns.

Step 1: Find Out If You Qualify

Before you spend time filling out the application, educate yourself on the qualifications for unemployment benefits. Specific requirements vary by state, but in general, you need to meet these basic elements of eligibility:

  1. You worked for a certain period of time before losing your job
  2. You lost your job due to circumstances out of your control (not for a crime or other inappropriate on-the-job behavior)
  3. You were employed as an employee, not an independent contractor
  4. Your employer paid into the employment insurance fund in your state

If you meet all of these specifications, it’s worth applying for unemployment benefits to receive a portion of your old income.

Step 2: Gather Information

Make your application process as smooth as possible by gathering the following information beforehand:

  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Full name and address of previous employers over the last two years
  • The Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number of your most recent employer (if possible)
  • If you were a federal employee, SF8 and SF50 forms from the past 18 months
  • Bank routing and checking account number if your state allows or requires direct deposits (some states provide debit cards instead)
  • The specific amount of any vacation or holiday pay that you’re owed

Step 3: Apply Through Your State Online

You don’t need to worry about completing a paper application and waiting days while it’s mailed and received. Simply hop online and search for your state’s unemployment benefits site. Create an account, log in, and follow the instructions to complete your application. You can expect to provide all of the information you collected and explain the reason you are currently unemployed.

If you don’t want to complete your application online, you can always mail or fax the paper version into your state’s agency. Keep in mind that some states require a one- or two-week waiting period before you can receive benefits.

Step 4: Collect Your Payments

States use varying methods of payment, so make sure you know what to expect from your own unemployment agency. Some states send debit cards that are automatically loaded with each week’s funds. Other states require the funds to be deposited directly into your bank account. You may have a choice in your payment method and frequency as well.

The benefits payment you receive each week will depend on your previous income and how long you worked before becoming unemployed. States use their own formulas to calculate specific payments, but you can generally expect to receive, at best, half of your previous income for up to 26 weeks. States typically cap the maximum benefit too. You can’t receive more than the max, no matter how much you were making.

Overall, filing for unemployment is a relatively easy process with a turnaround time of one or two weeks. The government understands that unexpected unemployment is a terrifying situation, so the program is designed to offer assistance as quickly as possible. If for whatever reason your application is denied, you are entitled to an appeal process to argue your case.

Don’t wait to get out of debt! Read this: A Complete, Step-By-Step Guide to Get Out of Debt.

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