How to File for Unemployment

Unemployment insurance (filing for unemployment) exists as emergency help for people to use when they have lost their source of income and need to supplement their income. But how and where do you start? And how do you know if you qualify?

If you've recently lost your job or aren't working as many hours as before, check out this “how-to” list about filing an unemployment claim, and learn how to receive temporary income (if you are eligible).

1. Determine if you qualify.

Here are the general eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits:

  • You were laid off from your job
  • You were furloughed
  • Your hours have been reduced
  • You were/are required to quarantine due to coronavirus.
  • You had to leave your job because of a risk of exposure or to care for a family member who had the coronavirus.

You're not eligible if you quit or were fired — it has to be a lack of work that was out of your control. If you volunteered for unpaid leave, you may not qualify either.

Act fast! As soon as you believe you have a claim, apply immediately. It often takes a few weeks to process benefits.

2. Have your employment history ready.

Collect this basic work information for each job you’ve had in the last 18 months to 2 years:

  • Where you were employed
  • Dates of employment
  • Earnings information (all income info) per month

3. Be ready to prove you are looking for work.

Most states require people receiving unemployment benefits to be actively looking for work. With the coronavirus outbreak, some states are currently waiving that requirement, so make sure to check the requirements for your state. Also, check the definitions of "actively looking for work" as they vary from state to state.

4. Go online to file your claim.

Go to you’re the unemployment website for your STATE. This is a state benefit, not from the federal government. Filing online is the best option, though some states allow in-person claims or phone claims.

It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check. Some states require a one-week waiting period; in other words, you would receive your first payment for the second week of your unemployment claim. Note: in March 2020, most states began waiving the one-week waiting period.

5. What if the system crashes while I am applying?

File during odd hours or on your assigned day

Because of the large increase in claims, many states have had errors or crashes on their unemployment claim websites. Try applying either early or late in the day (or late night). Some states require you to apply on a certain day based on your last name (to help with the system overload), so check the requirements for your state to see if you need to apply on a particular day.

6. What happens if I get denied?

You can be denied for:

  • Making false statements
  • If you voluntarily left your job
  • You’re not ready or able to work
  • Not meeting eligibility requirements

But you do have the right to appeal and can find that information on your state’s unemployment agency site.

7. What happens if I get approved?

Once your claim has been accepted, a check should come in the mail or through a direct deposit you set up. You should start receiving benefits in about two to three weeks.

In most states, you will need to continue verifying you are actively seeking work and will receive instructions on how to do this from your state.

8. Remember, you will need to pay income tax on your unemployment benefits.

Unemployment income is subject to income taxes but is not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. Make sure to document how much unemployment income you receive.

9. How much money will I receive and for how long?

Most states let you collect benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, though some are as low as 12 weeks. Under the coronavirus relief bill, eligible workers may receive up to $600 per week of federal unemployment income on top of what they get from their state program. Usually, workers will see about a 40% to 50% wage replacement under state benefits.