Unemployment compensation can keep you from damaging your credit, being evicted or foreclosed on by your mortgage lender. But how do you find out if you qualify?

If you’ve never applied for unemployment benefits, or it’s been years since you applied, it’s time to brush up on how to apply for unemployment benefits, how state programs generally work and how to know if you could qualify.

State unemployment programs differ

Don’t assume that just because your friend who lives in a different state can receive up to 24 months of benefits, that the same benefit period applies to you. Each state administers its own unique unemployment benefits program.

Generally, state unemployment programs offer anywhere from 12 to 24 months of unemployment benefits. Select your state here for information about filing for unemployment benefits. [1]

You can apply online

Remember the days of standing in line or waiting for hours at your state office to apply for unemployment? Thankfully, those days are gone. Now you can easily apply online.

In fact, in some states – Arizona for example – you must apply online, since the Arizona Department of Economic Security doesn’t have unemployment insurance offices. [2]

Unemployment benefits are taxed

Unemployment checks may seem like “free” money, but they’re not. Generally, you still have to pay federal income taxes on unemployment compensation received. [3]

Also, most states impose a state tax on unemployment compensation received with a handful of exceptions, including California, [4]

Montana, [5] Pennsylvania, [6] New Jersey, [7] and Virginia. [8]

Unemployment Insurance Compensation is Just 1 of 4 Situations Where the IRS can Seize Your Tax Refund

Don’t assume receiving severance pay disqualifies you

If your employer let you go but paid a severance package, don’t assume that you won’t qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. [9] Depending on whether the severance pay was a lump sum or paid over time, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits. In certain states, however those benefits could be reduced or delayed.

For example, in Michigan, if your employer pays out your severance package over six months, the payments may prevent you from receiving unemployment insurance until the six-month period ends. [10] Check with your state unemployment insurance agency before ruling out unemployment benefits due to receiving a severance package.

Quitting your job probably disqualifies you

If you quit your job before our nation descended into economic chaos, you probably thought it’d be a snap to find another job in a robust economy. Now, however, restaurants, bars, hotels and local and national businesses are closed or closing.

Even if you find a job opening somewhere, you could be competing with hundreds of applicants. But if you need the money, you have to get out there and earn it, since you probably won’t qualify for unemployment.

Don’t give up, though. Places still hiring include Amazon; grocery chains; pizza and other food delivery services, along with grocery shopping and delivery services such as Instacart.

Apply even if you think your employer will contest

Think there’s a good chance your employer will contest your unemployment claim? Go ahead and apply anyway. What do you have to lose?

An employer can contest but won’t have the final say on whether your claim for unemployment benefits is approved. Instead, the final decision on your eligibility comes from the state agency administering unemployment insurance.

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Article last modified on March 22, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC