How do you claim unemployment benefits?

March 03, 2016 : Mohit Sandu

It’s never easy talking about unemployment, but it is something that can happen from time to time. Since it’s always important to be prepared for the unexpected, here are some tips on qualifying for and claiming unemployment benefits, as well as how they are reported on your federal tax return.

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits

The first big question to tackle is to see if you qualify for unemployment benefits. Though the Department of Labor administers the guidelines, each state has its own separate requirements to qualify. There are generally two requirements you’ll have to meet:

  1. The state will look at whether you’ve been working for a certain period of time called a “base period.”
  2. The unemployment must have happened without any fault of your own.

Contact your State Unemployment Insurance agency to look at the other requirements and also to file a claim.

Applying for your Unemployment Benefits

Each state has its own guidelines for how you can apply for unemployment benefits. There are also, typically, requirements you must follow to continue receiving the benefits.

The first thing to do is gather the documents you will need to file your claim. This is because when you file a claim, your state’s unemployment insurance agency will ask you for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. By giving complete and accurate information, it lessens the chances of your claim being delayed.

Second, you should contact your State Unemployment Insurance agency as soon as possible after you become unemployed. You don’t always have to walk into an office because in some states because it is now possible to file a claim by telephone or over the Internet.

A general tip is that you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you lived in one state but worked in another or you worked in multiple states, the unemployment insurance agency of the state where you live now can help you with information on how to file your claims with the other states.

Usually, you’ll get your first benefit check about two to three weeks after you’ve filed your claim if you qualify.

Maintaining Eligibility for your Benefits

At this point, you’ve filed your claim with your state’s agency and have begun receiving benefits.

The next step is to follow your state’s procedures to continue receiving those benefits, if any. You could have to file weekly or biweekly claims after each week(s) has ended, and/or respond to questions about your continued eligibility. If you do have to file these claims, they generally require information about specific earnings, job offers or job refusals. Generally, these claims are filed by mail or telephone. Your state will provide filing instructions.

Finally, you must report to your local Unemployment Insurance Claims Office or One-Stop/Employment Service Office for any day you were scheduled to do so by the agency. If you don’t attend a scheduled interview, that could cause you to lose your benefits.

The Amount of Weekly Benefits

Usually, benefits are going to be based on a percentage, which varies state by state. The percentage is based on the amount of your earnings over a recent 52-week period. There is a different maximum for each state.

In most states, benefits will be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks. However, there is an exception where extra weeks of benefits may be available during times of high unemployment (see Extended Benefits). Other states grant additional benefits for specific purposes.

Reporting the Unemployment Benefits

These benefits are subject to both federal and state income taxes. They must be reported on the Federal tax return and possibly your state tax return as well. It could be possible for you to elect to have the tax withheld by your state unemployment insurance agency.

You’ll receive a Form 1099-G in the mail that will report the amount of the unemployment benefits paid to you. You can report the unemployment benefits on Form 1040 line 19. However, these payments are not subject to self-employment taxes.

Hopefully this preparation information can provide you with some support during this hard time.

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Mohit Sandu

Mohit Sandu

The Tax Institute, H&R Block

Mohitindervir Sandhu, JD, is a senior tax research analyst at The Tax Institute. Mohitindervir leads a research team focused on international tax issues.