How to File for Unemployment Benefits

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If you have been laid off from your job, you should be able to file for unemployment online without visiting an unemployment office. In most states, unemployed workers can apply for unemployment benefits online, over the phone or, in some cases, by mailing a form. Many states provide information for applicants in Spanish, and in other languages.

Applying online is the quickest and easiest way to file for unemployment.

Your claim will be processed right away, and you will start receiving benefits sooner than if you applied by mail.  

How to File for Unemployment Benefits

In New York, for example, filing for unemployment benefits is relatively simple. Unemployed workers can visit the Unemployment Benefits website to file a new unemployment claim, claim weekly benefits, or check on the status of an existing unemployment compensation claim. Filing by phone is also an option.

In California, workers can also file an unemployment insurance claim by completing an online form. In addition, there is a form that can be printed out, completed, and mailed or faxed, as well as a toll-free number you can call to file for unemployment.

Most states have similar options, and all have a website with the details on how to apply for unemployment benefits. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions for filing or your claim could be delayed.

Search Google for "your state name unemployment" to find the website for your location. You'll find detailed instructions on how and when to apply for benefits, and the information you need to provide to open a claim.

Where to File an Unemployment Claim

If you live in one state and work in another, or if you have moved, usually, you should file your unemployment claim with the state where you worked.

If you worked in a state other than the one where you live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment office where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.

Information Needed to Apply for Unemployment

Before you file, check with your state unemployment office to determine the best way to open a claim.

Requirements may vary from state to state, but here is a sampling of the information you will need to have available when filing for unemployment:

  • Mailing address, including zip code
  • Phone number
  • Social Security number
  • Driver's License number (if you have one)
  • Veteran/Military separation date
  • Mother's maiden name (for security/access purposes)
  • Name, address, phone number of your last employer
  • Previous employer information, depending on how long you worked for your last employer. Typically, employer information for the last two years is requested.

Questions You Will be Asked

    If you quit or if there are questions about your termination, the application process may be more complicated. However, if your claim is denied, there is an appeals process. Here's how to appeal if your claim is denied.

    Claimants will also be asked to create a user name and/or password in order to log in to their account to file for unemployment benefits.

    You'll receive a confirmation of your claim once your application is processed.

    Filing for Weekly Benefits

    Once you have filed your initial claim for unemployment benefits, you will be able to go to your account each week and apply for benefits. You can also check on the status of the claim to see when payment was made and to review how much unemployment compensation is left in your account. Mark your calendar with the day you need to file. Payment won't be made unless you file for benefits each week for which you're eligible.

    Unemployment Payments

    Depending on your state, unemployment benefits are paid via check, debit card or direct deposit. When you file for unemployment, you will be able to review and select an option for payments, typically debit card or direct deposit. Payments are made weekly or bi-weekly.

    Avoid Scams

    When filing for unemployment be careful to avoid scammers who say they will file the claim for you. Unemployment benefit scams typically involve websites that offer to file for unemployment benefits for you. The sites provide a form that unemployed workers fill out to supposedly collect unemployment compensation.

    In other cases, phone calls or email may be used to solicit personal information from unemployed workers.

    However, a third party cannot file for unemployment for you. You are the only person who can apply for unemployment and your claim has to be filed directly with your state unemployment office. Make sure you are applying directly on your state's unemployment website (the URL of the website will include .gov) before you enter your personal information online.

    Have a Question or Need More Information?

    Do you have a question about your application or benefits? The best thing to do is to contact your state unemployment office. You may find the information you need on the website, or you will be able to find a phone number to call for assistance. Most sites have a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section or a search option to look for answers to your questions.

    More Information on Unemployment: Unemployment Compensation | How to Calculate Your Unemployment Benefits