Tips for Filing Unemployment Claims
If you’re suddenly out of a job, unemployment claims can help you get by. Here’s what you need to know to start claiming unemployment benefits.
By Megan Doyle | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | February 14, 2020 in Money
If you’re out of work, unemployment benefits can temporarily help you pay for basic expenses while you are looking for a new job.
Filing an unemployment claim can be tricky since each state has its own eligibility requirements and guidelines – follow them closely to help ensure your benefits end up in your bank account without any hiccups.
Don’t forget that you’ll likely have to regularly file unemployment claims and prove that you’re actively seeking a new job to continue receiving benefits.
Losing a job can be a blow to your self-esteem, not to mention your income. But layoffs are more common than you might think, and mass job cuts can grab the attention of headlines even when the economy is booming. The good news is that losing your job – or even experiencing a major cut in your hours – doesn’t have to leave you high and dry. As long as it’s through no fault of your own, you are likely eligible to claim weekly unemployment benefits that can help you cover basic expenses while looking for a new – and dare I say better? – job.
But filing an unemployment claim can be a bit tricky if you’re not careful, especially since each state has its own specific guidelines. Here are some key things you need to know:
Unemployment insurance is a government-run program that provides temporary cash assistance to eligible workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, like if a hurricane damaged an office building and put employees out of work, or a company facing economic hardship had to lay off half of their workers to cut costs.
In other words, the federal and state governments aim to help financially protect their citizens during times of unemployment. Your weekly unemployment claim can help you cover some, if not all, of your basic expenses during the time it takes to find a new job – or while you hone the skills you need to start the next chapter of your life.
General eligibility guidelines are set by the federal government, but each state administers its own unemployment insurance program with different requirements and benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, to file an unemployment claim, you must:1
- Be unemployed through no fault of your own. What qualifies may vary from state to state, but it usually refers to things like layoffs or furloughs, not quitting or being fired “for cause.”
- Meet work requirements. Again this tends to vary between states, but usually you must have held your job for at least one year. Many states also have wage requirements, meaning you must earn a minimum amount within a certain period of time, usually a year.
- Any additional state requirements.
It’s worth noting that self-employed workers and gig workers are typically not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, special circumstances like periods of high unemployment rates can prompt the federal government and state governments to make changes to unemployment benefits laws as needed. For example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020:2
- Expanded unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, gig workers, and more.
- Allowed unemployed workers to receive 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond their state’s time limits.
- Provided an extra $600 weekly in unemployment benefits for up to six months.
To be sure whether you qualify, it’s best to check your state’s unemployment insurance requirements. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a list of contact information and links to each state’s unemployment insurance program.
Again, exactly how to file for unemployment can differ depending on the state. But here’s a basic rundown:
1. Find the details of your state’s unemployment insurance program. If you live in a different state from where you worked, you typically should file your claim with the state you worked in, but it’s probably a good idea to check with each state’s unemployment program just to be sure.3
2. File your claim. Usually you can file online through your state’s unemployment program website, but you might also be able to file by phone or in person. You’ll likely be asked for certain personal information like your name, address, Social Security number, former employer information, and dates employed. Be sure to double check – errors can delay the process.
3. Wait for your first benefit check. Typically, it takes about two to three weeks to get your first benefit check or direct deposit.
4. Don’t forget to file regularly – and keep up with any other requirements. When it comes to unemployment insurance, applying once doesn’t always mean you’re set. You likely have to file an unemployment claim weekly or biweekly. To stay eligible, you should also be prepared to keep up with any additional eligibility requirements. For example, your state might require proof that you’ve been actively looking for another job. Or, if you’re eligible for extended benefits through the CARES Act, you can apply for extended benefits only if you’ve run out of regular benefits.4
When will I get my unemployment benefits?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, after you file your first claim, it generally takes two to three weeks to receive your first unemployment check or direct deposit.5
Are unemployment benefits taxable?
Yes, unemployment benefits are considered taxable income, and they must be reported on your federal tax return and state tax return if you live in a state that imposes income tax.
Who pays unemployment benefits?
Unemployment benefits are funded by unemployment insurance taxes employers pay to the federal and state governments. Eligible recipients receive their unemployment benefits from their state’s government.
Can you claim unemployment if you quit or if you’re fired?
In most cases, the answer is no because unemployment benefits are reserved for individuals out of work through no fault of their own. However, if you feel you were wrongfully fired, you may still be eligible for unemployment. In that case, the federal government recommends you contact your state’s labor office for more information about wrongful termination laws.6 And, if you feel you have a case, seek legal counsel.
Losing your job isn’t fun, but government assistance like unemployment insurance can be helpful in paying for basic expenses while you take the time to find a new job – maybe even the job of your dreams.