Written by Avvo Staff

What to know before you file for unemployment

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If you've recently lost your job, you may decide to file for unemployment. Unemployment is a useful provision for people who need a little financial help to get them through difficult times, but if you leap into the process without knowing what you're doing, you might meet some unpleasant surprises. Take a look at some of the things you need to know before you start filling out unemployment paperwork.

Starting the filing process

The first thing you need to do is investigate your state's unemployment eligibility laws. You'll be able to find these online, but generally, if it is not your fault that you are out of work, you are likely to qualify for unemployment.

Next, get a copy of the state's unemployment application form. Most states even allow you to apply online. Filing over the phone may also be an option.

If you need help with the application, you may be able to head to a local agency where someone can assist you.

Gather your information

Because each state has its own unemployment application, it's impossible to give specific guidelines on what information you'll need to submit. However, in general, you will need the following:

  • Personal identification. This should be an official form of identification, such as a driver's license or state-issued ID card. You may also have to provide your social security number.
  • Information about your employer. This often includes the employer's address, phone number, and other contact information.
  • Information about your job. Be prepared to describe your job duties, your pay, the dates you worked, and your reason for leaving.

You can expect a more complex application process if your eligibility for unemployment is not obvious. For example, if you quit your job and were not laid off, you should gather evidence related to the reason you quit your job. This might include another job offer that did not work out or copies of harassment claims you filed while employed.

Potential disadvantages to applying for unemployment

If you think you may qualify for unemployment compensation, you shouldn't hold back from applying. However, keep in mind that there are serious consequences for falsifying the information on your application. You could be criminally charged with fraud, which will make it difficult for you to find a job in the future. You would also have to repay any unemployment money that you collected under false pretenses.

What to expect after you apply

If your case is a fairly simple one, you can expect to start receiving benefits 2 or 3 weeks after you file for unemployment. Remember, though, that this varies by state. You could end up having to wait up to 8 weeks to receive your first check.

You'll probably receive a packet of information that gives you detailed information about your unemployment benefits. It may tell you about some of the following:

  • How to file your weekly unemployment claims.
  • How much money you'll receive for benefits. Minimum and maximum compensation numbers vary by state, but the amount you receive will be based on the income you received while you were working.
  • What you need to do in order to continue to qualify for benefits. You'll have to document your job search, proving that you are able and willing to work.
  • How long you are eligible to receive benefits. In most states, you will not receive compensation for more than 26 weeks, or about 6 months. Some states will allow you to ask for an extension.

If you encounter problems

If you run into a problem when you file for unemployment, you can research the issue online or reach out to local government agencies that can provide you with more information.

It may also benefit you to talk to an attorney who is familiar with unemployment regulations in your state. Talking to an attorney will be especially beneficial if your claim is denied because your eligibility for benefits comes into question.

Unemployment benefits are essential for many who fall on hard times. Having the right information and expectations can mentally prepare you to take advantage of this valuable provision.

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