Learn Things You Need to Know About Receiving Unemployment Benefits

If you have lost your job through no fault of your own, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits. The first step in receiving unemployment insurance (UI) is to file a claim with your state unemployment office. If you live and work in different states, you will usually submit your claim to the state where your job is located. 

Once you begin receiving UI, it is important to understand your obligations under this program. You must complete a variety of steps to maintain your eligibility and keep getting benefits while you look for work. Learn everything you need to know about receiving UI and upholding your responsibilities under this program in the sections below. 

Learn How to Maintain Your UI  

Once you are approved for unemployment insurance, you need to prove that you meet certain requirements in order to keep getting benefits. Your eligibility may end at any time if you fail to follow all of the rules set by your unemployment office. 

Some states require that you certify your eligibility every week, while others allow you to recertify every other week. You are only eligible to keep getting unemployment benefits if all of the following apply: 

  • You are physically able to do a job. 
  • You are currently available to take work. 
  • You are willing to accept a reasonable job offer right away. 
  • You are taking steps to search for a new job. 

Each state has its own additional standards and requirements. Some will require you to show evidence of your continued search for work. Others might request that you register with a state job center or post your resume on a specific job-searching website 

It is common for states to require that you register with an American Job Center and report to the office at a specified time. Even if you are not required to do so, registering with an American Job Center can help you locate work faster. These centers provide many free resources such as resume help, referrals, interview practice and more. 

Learn How to File Weekly Unemployment Claims 

Your state UI office will require that you file a new claim each week or every other week that you are unemployed. This is the only way to continue receiving benefits long-term while you are out of work. The initial claim you file at the beginning of your unemployment will only cover one or two weeks of UI payments. 

Each state has a separate system for filing weekly claims. In many cases, you can fill out a form online. If not, it is usually possible to file claims by phone, fax or mail instead. 

Your weekly claim contains information that the UI office uses to determine whether you are still eligible. Claims typically request all of the following details: 

  • Wages you earned during the past week or two weeks. 
  • Job offers you received. 
  • Whether you registered for job sites or submitted your resume anywhere. 
  • Other activities you performed to look for work. 

You typically will need to agree to a statement that certifies that you are still eligible for benefits. By signing the statement, you agree that you are still able, willing and ready to accept a job, as mentioned above.  

Learn How to Receive Unemployment Benefits 

When you successfully file an unemployment claim, the state UI office will process your payment within two or three weeks in most cases. Each state has its own system for delivering unemployment funds. Some may issue paper checks, while others make funds available on a debit card or through direct deposit.  

The amount of benefits you receive may stay the same each week as long as your eligibility has not changed. However, the UI office may reduce or deny your benefits based on the information in your claim. For example, if you reported wages on your last claim, you might receive a lower UI payment the following week. 

Note that you can only receive benefits for a set amount of time. In most cases, UI payments only last for 26 weeks in a one-year period. However, states may provide you with additional time in some situations. There is also a maximum benefit amount that you can receive in a 12-month period before your payments stop. 

Learn About Taxes on Unemployment Benefits

It is important to understand that unemployment payments are usually treated as taxable income. Therefore, you may need to pay taxes on UI benefits that you receive. When you file your taxes, your UI benefits usually need to be included in your gross income for the year. 

In some cases, you might be required to pay estimated quarterly taxes on unemployment benefits that you received. However, you may request that federal income tax is withheld from your UI payments instead. 

At the end of the year, you will receive a tax form that provides details on your unemployment payments. You may need information from this form when filing your taxes, and the form may need to be submitted with your tax return. 

Learn What to Do About Unemployment Benefit Overpayments 

In some cases, you might receive a benefit payment that is too high. This can happen if there are errors or omissions on your claim, or if the UI office miscalculates anything. In any case, it is important to understand that you are not allowed to keep money that you are not eligible for. 

It doesn’t matter if the UI office made the error or not. Keeping money that you are not entitled to may come with serious consequences, such as losing your benefits. You can also be charged with fraud if you intentionally withheld information in order to receive more UI money than you should. 

If you notice a benefit error or the UI office contacts you about an overpayment, you must give the money back. States have their own policies and procedures for returning money that was issued in error, so be sure to contact your UI office. 

Learn About Continuing Your Health Insurance While on Unemployment

In addition to UI benefits, you might be eligible to continue getting employer-based health insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). This may help you save money on health insurance coverage while you receive UI payments. 

COBRA is not available for everyone. In order to get this benefit, all of the following must be true:  

  • Your employer health plan was covered by COBRA. 
  • You lost your job or experienced another life change that affected your health insurance coverage. 
  • You are a beneficiary of a health insurance plan that was affected by a job loss.