How to File for Unemployment in 4 Simple Steps

Photo Credit: © Sila Tiptanatoranin / Flickr

By Sarah Landrum

READ MORE: Career advice, New job

The time between jobs can be difficult, but unemployment benefits can help alleviate some of the financial strain. State and federal resources provide temporary assistance to people like you who are out of work by no fault of their own. All you have to do is apply for unemployment and file a claim. Then you'll be able to receive unemployment compensation and keep yourself afloat while you find a new job.

Every unemployment agency's set of requirements for obtaining benefits will be slightly different, including the amount of time for which you can request assistance, the amount of money you’ll receive and the regulations (for example, you might not be eligible for unemployment if you have part-time work in some states). That said, applying is typically simple and discrete as it can be done online.

Follow these four simple steps to file an application for unemployment.

1. Find Your State’s Requirements

Each state will have a different set of rules for those filing for unemployment. The U.S. Department of Labor’s main website can help you find your state’s unemployment website, as well as all the referential information and forms you may need to complete your application.

Once you find your state on the list, you’ll easily be able to research the best way to apply for unemployment: online, by phone or in person by going to an unemployment office. You likely find your state’s application form on the internet, making it easy to file a claim.

You should never use any random website to apply, nor should you rely on a third party to file for you. It's illegal for anyone but you to apply for your own benefits and, in many cases, third parties that claim to want to help you are attempting to scam you for your personal information. Official government websites will end with .gov, so double-check the web address before entering your personal information like your social security number.

Just remember to file in the right state. If you were working in a neighboring state before you lost that job, or the loss of employment forced you to move elsewhere, you'll want to file in the state where you were employed, not in the state where you live.

2. Fill Out the Forms Carefully

In most cases, it takes two to three weeks for your first benefit check to arrive. Again, that will vary from state to state. Some will put you on a one-week probationary period, for example, meaning you won’t get your first check until the second week after you file. Regardless, your unemployment benefits are important to you, so be sure you don’t do anything that could jeopardize how eligible for unemployment you are or impede the arrival of your unemployment compensation.

Something as simple as a typo on your application form could stall the process, so be sure to read over your unemployment claim carefully before submitting it. Also make sure you know all the information you’ll need; it'd be best to have an idea of what questions they’ll ask beforehand so you can prepare. In most cases, you’ll want to have the following information at the ready:

  • Your mailing address, phone number and social security number
  • Your driver’s license number or another form of identification
  • Information about your last employer including the name, address and phone number
  • General information like employer name, timeframe, etc. for all previous employers, though typically you’ll only need information for jobs you’ve held two years prior to applying for benefits

Forms may also ask you if you’d like taxes withheld from your benefit checks and if you’re owed vacation pay from your previous employer. They’ll also want to know why you left the position to make sure it was no fault of your own.

3. Stay on Top of Weekly Claims

Account maintenance is key. Once you’re officially set up and have filed that initial claim, it’s up to you to make sure you’re filing claims as regularly as required to steadily receive your checks. In most cases, you’ll have to apply for your benefits each week in order to receive them. Set up a weekly to-do reminder on your phone, computer or calendar so you don’t miss out on that week’s worth of benefits. You can receive your weekly funds through direct deposit.

4. Ask Questions

Filing for unemployment can be stressful, but the above information should make your application for unemployment benefits much easier. Still, you might come across questions about how to file for unemployment, wait or refile your claims. In that case, your best bet is to contact your state’s unemployment office. They’ll be the best resource able to answer questions and provide any further information you’ll need going forward. Go reap those benefits!

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