Unemployment Benefits: 4 Steps to Filing a Successful Claim

Liz Ryan
December 18, 2008 — 2,664 views  
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Unemployment benefits are designed to help people cope with the transition between jobs by providing temporary financial help to qualified individuals, based on their previous earnings, while they are looking for other work. Unemployment insurance replaces part of the income you lose when you become unemployed, and is available to workers who are out of work through no fault of their own. Unemployment insurance softens the impact job losses have on communities by maintaining the purchasing power in the area where workers live. The money for benefits comes from a tax imposed on employers. The four steps listed below will help you successfully file a claim for unemployment benefits.

Step 1: Make sure that you meet your state's eligibility requirements. Eligibility for unemployment compensation, as well as the amount and length of time benefits are available, is determined by the state law. Typical eligibility requirements required to receive unemployment compensation payments include:

  • A minimum amount of earnings or a minimum period of time worked over a specific previous time frame
  • Registration with the state unemployment office
  • Unemployed worker is available to work
  • Unemployed worker is actively seeking work

Contact your state's Department of Labor to find out the specific eligibility requirements for your state.

Step 2: File your claim as soon as possible. Your claim should be filed in the first week that you have become totally or partially unemployed. Filing immediately is important for two reasons:

  • Ordinarily, you do not get paid for the weeks prior to the week you filed your claim. Benefits will not be paid retroactively for weeks preceding the filing of your claim unless it is established through a hearing process that there was a good cause for late filing.
  • Benefits will not be paid until all the paperwork is processed and eligibility for benefits is verified. It generally takes 2-3 weeks to receive a benefit check so you want to begin the process in a timely manner to prevent an extended delay.

Step 3: Be prepared when you go to file for unemployment. Employees can file claims for unemployment compensation benefits at their state unemployment office. You may be able to file for unemployment online or over the phone. Employees should take the following documents with them to the unemployment office to help verify their eligibility:

  • Social Security card
  • Recent pay stubs
  • Documentation relating to the reason for the job loss

Step 4: Decide whether you want federal income taxes withheld. Unemployment compensation is considered wage income. Therefore, it is subject to federal income taxes, and must be reported on your federal income tax return. When you apply for unemployment benefits, you may want to consider having federal income taxes withheld. This process is similar to the payroll withholding you encounter when you collect a paycheck. In this case, the form you fill out is the federal W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, or a similar, IRS-acceptable document that the paying agency has created. However, since unemployment compensation is usually less than your former paycheck, many people decide against having taxes withheld. This means you get your full unemployment check to use toward day-to-day expenses, but you will owe the IRS when you file your next income tax return.

It is important to be aware that in addition to weekly subsistence compensation, unemployment benefits may also include job-training opportunities, job-searching assistance, and other types of re-employment assistance for those who qualify. By taking advantage of these programs, you can expedite the process of finding a new job and limit the amount of time that you depend on unemployment.

About the Author

Liz Ryan is a Writing and Content Specialist for Lawyer Central. Visit Lawyer Central's Unemployment Resources for additional information about the rights of unemployed workers. Discuss unemployment benefits and related issues on the free Law Forum.

Liz Ryan