No matter what State you live in, if you are out of work there are important things you should know before filing a claim for unemployment insurance benefits. The following article goes over everything you need to know and should help you determine some of the pros and cons of filing. If you’d like to file claim for unemployment benefits online you can do so by clicking your State’s link at the bottom of the page. Not every State will allow you to file for unemployment benefits online, but most do.

The first thing you should know about collecting unemployment is that you must pay Federal income tax (but not State tax) on the money you receive. There are two different ways you can do this. You can report the income at the end of the year when you file your Federal tax return. Or, when you file for unemployment, you can choose to have your State withhold the tax for you. This way is easier, but keep in mind that if you choose to do this your weekly unemployment checks will be smaller and if you don’t have any savings it may be wiser for you to pay the taxes later when you have more money coming in from your next job.

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The amount of money you can receive on unemployment varies in each state, but it is always a percentage of the wages you earned during a previous, established period of time. This is normally the 12 month period prior to the beginning of the most recent completed calendar quarter. A calendar quarter is three months (Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sept, Oct-Dec). Therefore, if you are filing in April, you would look at the previous completed calendar quarter (which would have ended March 31st) and you would count back one year from the beginning of that quarter (January 1st). Unfortunately, no matter how much money you made at your job, the maximum amount of unemployment benefits you can receive is between $300.00 and $400.00 per week, depending on your State.


Another common question is whether or not a person who has quit his/her job can still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Normally the answer is “no” because the idea of unemployment benefits is to help people who are forced out of work “through no fault of their own”. However, there are certain circumstances where if you can show a good reason for quitting you will still be eligible. What matters is that your State Unemployment Office agrees that your reason for quitting is good enough. Here are several example situations where you could quit your job and your State would still allow you to receive unemployment benefits:

Scenario 1: Your employer is relocating to a new area and offers you a job at the new location, however the commute is too far for you and you decide to quit instead of relocate with the company. As long as your employer is relocating outside a reasonable commuting distance, you will still be eligible. What your State will consider to be a “reasonable commuting distance” will vary depending upon your local conditions such as geographic accessibility of the workplace, the quality of the roads, weather, commonly available modes of transportation and the usual travel time (from your home).

Scenario 2: You develop a physical limitation, or disability, that your employer cannot accommodate. For example, you would still be eligible if you develop a chronic pain that prevents you from walking long distances and there is no available parking near your place of work. The nearest parking is 1,000 yards away. Walking this distance would aggravate your condition and there is no other way for you to get from your car to your employer’s office… Therefore you quit. You would still be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Scenario 3: Your paychecks are bouncing. This is obviously a good reason to quit and you will still be eligible for unemployment.

When you file for unemployment, your former employer immediately receives notification that you are filing. If you are fired for misconduct and you lie in your claim and say you were laid off or “downsized” or some other distortion of the truth, your employer will most likely appeal your claim and you will be denied benefits. It would be in your employer’s best interest to set the record straight and prevent you from receiving unemployment because your employer’s unemployment premiums (State taxes) are raised as more employees receive benefits.

If you live and work in different States, you always file in the State you work in, not the State you live in. If you perform work in multiple States you will file for unemployment in the State where your employer pays unemployment taxes.

Once you’re receiving unemployment insurance benefits you must do several things in order to maintain your eligibility and continue receiving checks. You must continue to be physically capable of working, available for work (time wise) and you must be actively looking for work each week benefits are claimed. To confirm that you are meeting this criteria, your State will mail you claim forms that you must file, usually weekly or bi-weekly and you must respond to questions concerning your continued eligibility. If you take a job, even part-time or temporary, and receive pay you must disclose this information and report the earnings. If you receive a job offer and you refuse it, you must report this. Also, if you refuse a job offer, your unemployment insurance office is then going to decide whether or not the work was suitable. If they determine that the work you refused was suitable, you will have to show a good reason for refusing the work. If you fail to show a good reason for refusing the work your unemployment benefits may be suspended for a period of 2-10 weeks.

In addition to filing weekly or bi-weekly claim forms, you may be asked to show up in person for an interview at your local unemployment insurance benefits office. If this happens you must show up on the right day and at the right time, otherwise your benefits can be denied. At the interview they will ask the same kind of questions that are on the claim forms they mail you.

It may sound like common sense, but while collecting unemployment it is crucial to save money by cutting corners and reducing your costs of living as much as possible. Here are some tips:
1. Buy groceries instead of eating out. If you buy reasonably priced groceries and avoid spending money at restaurants and cafes you will save an average of $10 – $15 per day. After just 30 days that equals $300 – $450 in savings. Pretty substantial savings. Home prepared food is usually much healthier too.
2. Temporarily cancel or downgrade services you don’t absolutely need. This includes things like the expensive channels on cable and extra minutes on your cell phone calling plan that you never use.
3. If you have a monthly mortgage payment, talk to the bank and see if you can reduce it. This alone could save you hundreds per month.

Unemployment insurance benefits exist because when people are out of work through no fault of their own it is important that they can still pay bills and put food on the table – while searching for a new job. Being unemployed often means being unable to associate with fellow employees, lacking a feeling of purpose, lowered self-confidence and, of course, the inability to pay bills. Not paying rent, or make mortgage payments, can lead to homelessness through eviction or foreclosure. The loss of health insurance and access to medical services, which many people receive through their employer, can cause illness and health problems. The mental stress and loss of self-esteem that comes from being unemployed may lead to depression, alcohol and drug abuse and may have a further negative impact on health. Your State provides unemployment insurance benefits to prevent these downward spirals from ever starting.

You may also be interested in the article: Finding Grants and Free Money You Qualify For.

Here are links to every State unemployment insurance benefits website. In most States you can file a claim for unemployment benefits online:

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Dakota
West Virginia