1. Careers
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Unemployment Insurance

What You Need to Know About Filing for Unemployment


Businessman holding plant pot and drawer, colleagues smiling in background
Sean De Burca / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Have you lost your job? If so, you may be eligible to receive unemployment compensation. United States workers who are out of work due to no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. When the unemployment rate is high, benefits may be paid for additional weeks. Depending on your state there may be eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance coverage, including having worked for a certain period of time.

Unemployment Compensation

If you meet the eligibility requirements you will be entitled to receive temporary compensation. In many cases, the compensation will be half your earnings, up to a maximum amount. For example, in New York State you're entitled to collect up to a maximum of $405, which is half the state's average weekly wage. While in Arizona, the highest benefit rate is $205. The maximum benefit in California is $450 and the average weekly unemployment benefit for all states is $293.

The Internal Revenue Service counts unemployment insurance benefits as income, so your check is taxable. Depending on the state, state and federal income tax can be withheld from your check.

When to File for Unemployment

Filing for unemployment should be the first item on your agenda when you've been laid-off. It might take a few weeks to collect a check, so the sooner you file, the faster you'll get paid. A delay in filing will mean a delay in collecting unemployment benefits.

How to File for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Contact your State Unemployment Office or State Department of Labor Office for directions on how to file for unemployment compensation. You may be able to file over the phone. In some states, you can file online for unemployment. In general, to file a claim you will need:

  • Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration Card if you're not a US citizen
  • Mailing address including zip code
  • Phone number
  • Names, addresses and dates of employment of all your past employers for the last two years


The following circumstances may disqualify you from collecting unemployment benefits:

  • Quit without good cause
  • Fired for misconduct
  • Resigned because of illness (check on disability benefits)
  • Left to get married
  • Self-employed
  • Involved in a labor dispute
  • Attending school
  • Check with the Unemployment Office if you have the above or other special circumstances

When You Quit

Can you collect unemployment if you quit your job? It depends. In most cases, if you voluntarily left employment you are not eligible. However, if you left for "good cause" you may be able to collect. "Good cause" is determined by the state unemployment office and you will be able to make a case for why you are eligible for benefits. If your claim is denied, you should be entitled to a hearing where you can plead your case.

State Job Service Offices

Registering with the state job service and actively seeking work is a requirement while collecting unemployment. You must be ready, willing, available, and able to work. The Job Service may require job seekers to apply for jobs, submit resumes, and not turn down a position if it meets certain standards.

The state Job Service Offices are excellent resources to assist with a job search. Many free services are offered including job listings, career counseling, resume and cover letter writing help, and training. Our job listings by state directory has links to state employment services. Take advantage of the help they can give you - it will make your job search easier.

Please note: This is general information on unemployment compensation and benefits. Contact your State Unemployment Office for a determination on your specific circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: The private websites, and the information linked to both on and from this site, are opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.