How To Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment line waiting for an interview
Lining up for an interview with an employment counselor.. Michael Krasowitz/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Job loss is devastating. Not only does it bruise your ego and make you question your identity, but it can also wreak havoc on your finances. Without a regular paycheck, you will likely have trouble paying your rent or mortgage as well as your other bills. This hit to your wallet can be especially disastrous if you haven't managed to save much money or if you invested your earnings in a retirement or other account that you won't be able to easily access until a certain age.

While the government can't do anything about your ego or your identity, it does provide financial assistance if you lose your job. Every state in the U.S. administers unemployment benefits in the form of unemployment insurance.

This "temporary paycheck" can help keep you from falling into financial ruin. Here is what you need to do to file a claim and keep your benefits active for as long as you can:

  1. Contact the Unemployment Insurance Division of your state's Department of Labor to find out if you qualify for benefits. Each state determines individuals' eligibility. You can find details, including contact information for those offices, on the Unemployment Benefits Finder on CareerOneStop, a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor: Employment and Training Administration. Generally, you must have lost your job through no fault of your own, and you must be willing and able to work.
  2. Gather the information required to file your claim. You will need your Social Security number, the name and address of your employer and the dates of your employment. You may also need this information for previous employers.
  1. Apply for benefits as soon as possible after you lose your job. There is a mandatory waiting period that will delay your first payment for one week after you apply for benefits.
  2. Appear at your Unemployment Insurance Office when you are requested to do so. Be on time for all appointments. You may be asked to provide proof that you are actively looking for work so be prepared to do so.
  1. Take advantage of the free services offered by the U.S. Department of Labor's American Job Centers. You can find these facilities around the country. They offer workshops and one-on-one counseling. You can get help with your job search including advice on resume writing, job interviewing and networking. Job centers also provide job training and access to local employment listings. Use the American Job Center Finder on CareerOneStop to locate an office near you.
  2. Look for a job. To maintain your benefits, you must be actively looking for work, and you cannot turn down any suitable offers.
  3. Consider taking a part-time job. If you accept an offer for a part-time job, you may be able to continue to receive benefits. Check with your local unemployment office to find out how much you can earn without losing your benefits.

Other Things You Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits

  • The amount recipients of unemployment insurance benefits receive is based on a percentage of the individual's earnings over a 52-week period. The amount will not exceed a maximum benefit amount that varies by state. You will likely have to make some adjustments to your way of life since you will not be earning your regular salary until you find a new job.
  • Benefits can be paid for up to a maximum of 26 weeks in most states, although additional weeks of benefits may be available during periods of high unemployment.

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