Today, unemployment is simply a fact of life for many people. In fact, nearly 400,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in April 2012. If you’re among those who need to file, you may feel somewhat confused or even intimidated by the process. Filing for unemployment, however, is rather straightforward – as long as you educate yourself in advance.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take when filing for unemployment:
1. Determining eligibility
First, determine if you’re actually eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Requirements differ by state, but most stipulate that you must have been employed for a minimum period of several months, often between three and six.
How you lost your job is also crucial: If you quit or violated company policy and were fired, you may not be eligible. However, if you were a victim of a layoff, you’ll probably qualify for benefits. Check with your state’s Department of Labor website for details.
If you’re going to file, it’s important to file for unemployment as soon as you lose your job. Some states offer online filing or filing by phone, which makes the process quite simple. When you file, be sure to have your Social Security number, address, previous employer’s information, and at least two years of work history on hand. You also need the exact date you were hired for each job, when you were terminated, and a few recent pay stubs.
3. Appealing the decision
If your unemployment claim is denied, you can appeal the decision. Though the process varies by state, you generally need to file in writing and include contacts, such as your former employer, who can verify or otherwise support your unemployment claim. The unemployment office will usually contact these people before ruling on your appeal.
Once you receive the original paperwork on which your claim was denied, carefully review the instructions for filing an appeal to make sure you properly submit by the deadline.
4. How much to expect
Though multiple factors determine how much you receive, the most influential is your salary during the previous year. On average, you can expect to receive 50 to 75 percent of your prior income. States also cap how much you can receive on a weekly basis, and the federal government has capped the duration of unemployment benefits at 99 weeks. However, individual states may limit your benefits to a shorter period of time unless you file for an extension, so be sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s unemployment terms. (Many of these laws are constantly in flux, so even if you think you know how unemployment works, it’s best to get a quick refresher.)
5. Keeping benefits current
Nearly every state requires that you actively search for jobs during the time you receive benefits. You may be required to call in every few weeks to report how many jobs you applied for and how many interviews you had. Be 100 percent honest about this. Many states now require proof, such as interview schedules, emails, and faxes to support your claim.
It’s also very important to inform the unemployment agency once you find a job. Accepting unemployment benefits after you’ve gained employment is a federal crime.
6. Paying Taxes
Unemployment benefits are considered income and are therefore taxable by the federal government. They may not, however, be taxed by your state. It’s essential to keep accurate records and report all of your income.
Filing for unemployment can be frustrating, but may be crucial to your survival when you find yourself out of work. If you’re able to find part-time work (or a job that pays very little relative to your previous position), you may still qualify for a portion of your unemployment benefits. Provide your unemployment office with full details, and let them know if you need to continue receiving benefits – they can determine whether you qualify and how much you’re eligible to receive.