How to File for Unemployment in 4 Simple Steps

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Sarah Landrum20
In March of this year, more than three million Americans filed for unemployment claims after being shuttered or laid off from their companies. And while some employees can count on lingering benefits or severance pay to get them through the next few months, this is not a luxury available to many hourly workers, freelancers or creatives.
The time between jobs can be difficult, especially now, 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, like the one out of five U.S. workers who lost their job due to the global pandemic. To receive the benefit, you have to 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.

Each unemployment agency will have a different set of requirements for obtaining benefits, 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. At this time, you may experience long waits and delay due to the overwhelming amount of claims filed due to the pandemic. 

Who Is eligible for unemployment?

You may or may not be eligible for unemployment, but your state's unemployment site will be able to tell you. Each state has different guidelines regarding eligibility and how much compensation you'll receive if you are, indeed, eligible.
Simply google "unemployment in X" with your state, find your state's labor website and fill in the answers to the questions. You'll be asked about the period of time you worked, the minimum earnings you made, how you lost your job, when and more. If your claim is accepted, you can file for unemployment.

types of unemployment eligibility requirements

There are several types of unemployment eligibility requirements.
  1. Earnings Requirements: "To receive unemployment compensation, workers must meet the unemployment eligibility requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established (usually one year) period of time; also, workers must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of their own, so if you quit or were fired, you may not be eligible for unemployment compensation," according to The Balance.
  2. Eligibility Based on Type of Job Loss: "A person is eligible for unemployment if he or she is unemployed for reasons other than his or her own fault, such as a layoff," according to The Balance. This means that if you quit or are fired, you are unlikely to be eligible (unless, perhaps, you were wrongly terminated or forced to quit).
  3. Hours Worked Requirements: "Additionally, most jurisdictions require a person to meet his or her resident state’s weekly requirement for hours worked or compensation earned for a specified period of time before being eligible to collect unemployment," according to The Balance. While each state is different, most people who lose steady, long-term employment will likely meet their state's criteria so long as they're not leaving their companies by any fault of their own.

How to file for unemployment

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 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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