How do you claim unemployment benefits?


Navigating unemployment can be confusing and frustrating at any time. With the recent changes from the CARES Act and other legislation, you may be even more unsure about eligibility and how to claim unemployment benefits.

Form to claim unemployment benefits with hand on it.

This post will outline the “normal” rules for eligibility for unemployment benefits. We’ll also cover how to apply and how to file unemployment income on your taxes.

Looking for details on the latest coronavirus unemployment relief? Visit our coronavirus resource center.

Have other tax-related unemployment questions?  Be sure to visit our Unemployment Resource Center.

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.

How to claim unemployment benefits

Each state has its own guidelines for how to claim 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 details around your former employment, such as addresses and dates. You should take the time to provide the most complete and accurate information you can, as 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 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. However, 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 unemployment 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 for unemployment benefits. 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 Career 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.

How to file unemployment on your taxes

If you’re wondering if unemployment is taxed, the answer is yes. These benefits are subject to both federal and state income taxes. The amounts you receive should be reflected on your taxes on Form 1040 (technically you will “report” not “file” unemployment on your taxes).

Important tax planning notes:

  • To pay less tax when you file your return, you should request withholding from your unemployment checks – on the federal and state level.
  • You’ll receive a Form 1099-G in the mail that will report the amount of the unemployment benefits paid to you. This form will also show if you had taxes withheld.

Help with unemployment benefits and how to file your taxes

We understand that you may have a lot on your plate right now. Where your taxes are concerned, H&R Block is here to help.  Be sure to visit our Unemployment Tax Resource Center for help with unemployment related topics.

Free tax filing with unemployment income: You can include your Form 1099-G for free with H&R Block Online Free.

Worried your taxes are too complex for H&R Block Free Online? Check out Block’s other ways to file.

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