Complete guide to filing for unemployment

  • Remember individual states have their wage requirements which gauge how much unemployment you can receive each week.
  • With the Federal CARES Act, Americans can get up to $600 on top of what they normally get from their state’s unemployment benefits. It also provides a three-month extension on a typical unemployment period.
  • To file for unemployment in most cases you will need a driver’s license, social security card, as well as your previous employer's contact information.
  • As the economic crisis continues, there will be more and more people losing their jobs. That means millions of more people will likely be filing for unemployment. The thing is, it is not a very straight forward process to file, and determining how much you can expect to qualify for is confusing. That is why we have put together a comprehensive guide explaining it all.

Filing your claim

You can file an unemployment claim at any time after having been laid off. When you decide you would like to file for unemployment, you do it with the department of labor in the state where you lived when you had your most recent job. Normally you can do it online but if you cannot, then you can always call an unemployment office directly. Some states make your file in person.

What documentation do I need?

· Social Security card

· Driver's license

· Details regarding your previous employer: company name, address, federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), and supervisor's name and phone number.

· Annual income

· Timeframe worked

· Pay schedule

· Prior military service

· Reason for termination

· Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

What is the process like to receive benefits?

After submitting your claim, it takes roughly a month before you will know if you are approved or not. It would be nice if the turnaround time were faster, but unfortunately, it is pretty slow. Now you also need to take into consideration the fact that unemployment filings are at an all-time high so it could take even longer. You need to factor this in if you are in desperate need of funds to stay afloat. Give it time and be patient.

When exactly can I file?

Time is of the essence. Your best odds are to file right after you have been laid off. Some people hesitate and don’t file immediately which causes delays on the back end when they get their benefits. The important thing is to get into the system as soon as possible so you can get approved and start getting payments.

How do I know if I am eligible?

Just because you have been laid off and are out of work does not always mean you will be approved for unemployment benefits. If you were fired because of poor performance or you quit on your own accord, then you might not qualify. Every state has its specific policies and take into consideration things like how much money you earned, how many hours you worked, and most importantly why your employment was terminated.

Due to the crisis, there are also extenuating circumstances that might affect your application. If your company had to terminate your employment because they had to halt operations due to the health restrictions in place, then the government will accommodate you. At the same time, if you are in quarantine and are not able to return to work immediately, this could also qualify you for benefits.

How much money will I get?

It is important to realize that unemployment payments are not meant to fully replace the previous income you enjoyed while you were working. Once again, the amount you can qualify for varies by state. It generally is between $300 and $700 a week. New Jersey offers the highest unemployment and Louisiana has the lowest. It is also good to remember if you have dependents you can claim, they will take that into account and pay you more.

One nice thing you can count on right now is that the CARES Act gives eligible Americans an additional $600 on top of their state benefits through the summer.

How long can I stay on unemployment?

Unemployment in general is meant to be a short-term safety net, not a long-term crutch. That is why there is a cap to how long you can receive benefits. Most states put this at six months but other states like Florida, has the program only last three months. Luckily, CARES Act puts a temporary extension on this where anyone can extend their term by three months. It is important to take into consideration how long you will have this safety net for and not rely on it for too long.

Unemployment is intended to support you while you find another job, not be general welfare for your family. That is why during your benefits period you have to report progress in your job search. Some states even require you to report on the number of jobs you have applied to each week. Don’t even think about trying to trick the government to keep sending you benefit checks after you have found a new job. If you do you can be severely penalized and fined.

Do I pay taxes on my benefits?

Yes, you still have to pay taxes on the unemployment checks you get. You are required to report it on your taxable income. It would not be wise trying to lie about it either since the government knows exactly how much you received. Unfortunately, you can’t have taxes automatically deducted from your paycheck. It is something you must do manually at the end of the year on a 1099-G form.

Bottom line

We live in an amazing country that has these types of welfare programs to help all of us when we fall on hard times. This is the reason we pay taxes so that one day when we need it, we can rely on the government for help. If you have been laid off recently or if you are ever laid off in the future, make sure to apply for the help you and your family need and use it to support yourself while getting back on your feet.