How to Collect Unemployment

A job loss often brings some financial pressures. Unemployment benefits are intended to offset these until while you seek another regular source of income. Here are some tips on understanding how to qualify for and collect unemployment benefits.


  1. Image titled Collect Unemployment Step 1
    Locate your local unemployment office. Depending on the size of your state, there may be a single central office or several regional offices.
    • Often, you can find the "unemployment insurance office" for your state online. [1] Although you might be able to file a claim online, certain parts of the application process might need to be completed in person, depending on the state.
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    Learn the requirements to determine if you qualify to collect unemployment benefits. There are certain circumstances under which you may not qualify, including if you did not make the minimum required earnings or if you are a self-employed contractor to a corporation. However, most people who have been laid off and who are in the work force for at least six months will qualify to collect unemployment benefits.
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    Make sure your past earnings meet the requirements. States usually require you to have earned a certain amount during a one-year base period to qualify. The base period is usually the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your claim. For example, for a claim filed in December 2012, the base period would be July 2011 through June 2012.
    • Depending on the state, you usually need to meet one of two stipulation. California, for example, requires that you either:
      • Demonstrate to have earned at least $1,300 in your highest paid quarter during the base period; or
      • Demonstrate to have earned at least $900 in your highest paid quarter during the base period as well as at least 1.25 times your earnings in the highest paid quarter during the entire base period.
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    Make sure your reasons for leaving qualify you for unemployment benefits. Most states will accept certain reasons for leaving your job as legitimate — firings, layoffs — while denying others — quitting. Some exceptions exist.
    • Layoffs. If you are laid off, are out of a job due to a reduction in workforce (RIF), or are downsized, you will qualify in all states for unemployment, unless you fail to meet a different requirement.
    • Firings. If you were fired because the company decided you weren't a good fit, or because your skills didn't match the expectations of the former employer, you should be able to collect benefits. If you are fired because of serious and systematic misconduct — you intentionally neglected your duties, which harmed the former employer's business interests — there's less of a chance you'll get unemployment.
    • Quitting. If you quit because you didn't like your job or it was stressing you out, you probably won't get unemployment benefits. If you quit because of unsafe or unfair workplace conditions (harassment, discrimination, fraud), alerted your supervisor, and left enough time for the employer to fix the situation, you should qualify. If you quit because of health or family concerns (you are a victim of domestic violence, your spouse is relocating, etc.) you should qualify as well.
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    Make sure you are available and willing to work. The state may ask for records verifying your job search as well as for the results of your search. In order to collect unemployment, you must be actively looking for work, and if given a reasonable offer of employment, accept it. Exceptions to this rule often include:
    • The job does not fit with your prior experience or career trajectory.
    • The job forces you to join a labor union.
    • The job is unusually dangerous.
    • The wages offered are substantially below the norm for that job.
    • The job would offend your religious or spiritual sensibilities.
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    Fill out the required application for the state unemployment insurance. There will be questions such as, "When were you laid off?" "Are available for work?" and "Are you currently actively looking for work?" Standard information such as your name, date of birth, address and social security number is also be required.
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    Complete an interview in person or by phone. To cut down on unemployment insurance fraud, many states require that people be interviewed over the phone or in person before benefits can begin. Benefits will usually be paid retro-actively to the date of termination. Be sure to have copies of your pay stubs, your most recent tax return, you birth certificate, and your Social Security number in case verification is needed.
    • What can you expect in your phone interview? It's a simple, fact-finding interview. You'll be asked questions about your previous employment, along with basic questions about your application.
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    Appeal a denial of benefits, if necessary. If you are denied for unemployment benefits, you may file an appeal to be reconsidered. You must file the appeal within 20 days of the denial."Once the unemployment department receives the appeal, it will schedule a hearing before an impartial administrative law judge and mail you the results of the hearing.
  9. Image titled Collect Unemployment Step 9
    Collect unemployment benefits. The amount you earned while you were employed will determine your unemployment benefit. You will begin to receive a check from the state each week for a period of 26 weeks, possibly longer depending on whether there are extenuating prevailing economic conditions that prompt the state and federal government to extend benefits to some recipients.
    • Every time you file a benefit, you must state any earnings from any job you receive, not when you are paid, but when you earn them. If your gross earnings exceed 25% of your weekly benefit amount (WBA), you could see a reduction in your WBA.[2]
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    Continue to file for unemployment weekly or biweekly, depending on your state's rules, until you secure a job or your unemployment benefit runs out. The subsequent application will be much shorter than the initial one. It will essentially ask if you procured work, and if so, how much money you made.


  • In most cases if you quit your job, you are not eligible for unemployment. If you think your company may be downsizing in the future it may be in your best interest to be asked to be laid off if you feel like losing your job is imminent. That way you can collect the weekly benefit while looking for a new job.
  • If you happen to procure work while you are earning unemployment you must report it. The amount you earn will be applied against your weekly benefit. If you only have temporary work, you can begin collecting unemployment again when that work has ended.

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Categories: Job Loss and Change