Step-By-Step: How To Apply for Unemployment as Quickly as Possible

Updated on 05/20/2022

If you’re let go from your job or leave your job for a reason that is no fault of your own, you may be eligible to receive payments from unemployment insurance. This program allows you to receive payments from your state’s government to pay for food, shelter, bills and more until you can find a new job.

While the federal government gives funds to each state, it is a state’s employment division that facilitates the unemployment insurance program. State employment departments review unemployment claims from residents and distribute funds appropriately.

What’s more, the federal government has extended unemployment benefits and bolstered funds to every state’s program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program allows unemployed residents who are about to or have hit the maximum amount of unemployment insurance, which could be up to six months, to receive unemployment benefits for up to 13 more weeks. 

In addition, this program also provided extra money per week on top of regular unemployment insurance payments, but that portion of the program ended in July 2020.

So, you may be wondering, “How do I apply for unemployment?” Here are the steps for how to apply for unemployment to guide you through this process and get financial assistance as fast as possible.

Find Out If You Qualify
Find Out If You Qualify

Before you file an unemployment claim, you should consult your state’s eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance payments. In general, you could qualify for unemployment benefits if you become unemployed through “no fault of your own,” which is the U.S. Department of Labor’s own definition. However, since each state facilitates the unemployment insurance program, there may be discrepancies between each state’s definition of “no fault of your own.” But most states consider unemployed workers eligible if there is a lack of available work.

Another basic qualification you will have to meet are work history and wage requirements. Most states require you to have earned a certain amount of wages earned or worked a certain amount of time of a specific time period, referred to as a “base period.” This base period is usually the first four out of five of the previous calendar quarters before applying for unemployment.

You are not eligible for unemployment if you’ve left your job without “good cause,” a definition that can vary from state to state. However, some states understand “good cause” to include toxic work environments. You also won’t be eligible for unemployment insurance if you were fired from your job due to misconduct.

Since each state manages their own unemployment insurance benefits program, there may be other, state-specific requirements you need to meet in order to qualify and file a claim. Doing so without being qualified could be a waste of your time. You can visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website page on unemployment insurance, find your state in the list and review the requirements from there. Or, you can contact your state’s department or office of employment, labor or economic development by phone, via email or on their website.

Gather Information About Your Work History
Gather Information About Your Work History

Each state may have different requirements in terms of how much information you need to file an unemployment claim. In all states, though, you will be required to provide information about your recent work history, including addresses and dates of your previous employment, including the job you left most recently. Some states may require work history across many months, such as over the last 18 months.

Other information you will likely have to provide includes:

  •   Social Security number
  •   Birth date
  •   Home address
  •   Email address
  •   Phone number

Gather all of this information and have it handy when you file for unemployment online, over the phone or in person. Note that it’s incredibly important to provide the correct information to ensure your claim is processed quickly.

File Your Unemployment Claim
File Your Unemployment Claim

There are a few ways you can complete an unemployment application: online at your state’s department of labor or economic development, in person at local unemployment insurance claims agency or over the phone. While many states allow you to apply for unemployment online, especially due to social distancing restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, some states may still require you to file a claim in person or over the phone. Check with your state’s department of labor, employment or economic development to determine the best way to file your claim.

You may be asking, “How do I file for unemployment online?” Here’s how:

  •   Go to your state’s unemployment program webpage.
  •   Find the application portal.
  •   Follow the prompts or application questions to input your personal information, relevant financial information (i.e. Social Security number) and your work history.
  •   Submit your claim.
  •   Look for a notice in your email or mail that confirms your application was received.
Wait for Your First Check
Wait for Your First Check

After filing your claim, you should expect to wait at least two to three weeks before receiving your first check. It takes time for your state’s department to process and confirm unemployment claims, especially during times of high unemployment. For example, some residents in various states reported longer-than-normal wait times when layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic sharply increased. However, state governments worked hard to reduce processing times so residents in need could get their unemployment benefits. After that, you can expect weekly checks as long as you continue to meet eligibility requirements.

Apply to Jobs to Keep Receiving Unemployment Insurance Payments
Apply to Jobs to Keep Receiving Unemployment Insurance Payments

Now that you know how to get unemployment, you should learn how to stay eligible for these benefits to keep receiving the financial assistance you need.

  •   File a weekly or biweekly claim with your state’s department, which may be online, over the phone or by mail.
  •   Be able and available to work.
  •   Be actively seeking work, through completing job applications, each week you claim benefits.
  •   Report any earnings from work you receive during the week(s) you receive benefits because states have different rules for how much money you can earn while on unemployment.
  •   Report any job offers or offers you’ve denied during the week(s) you receive benefits.
  •   Attend any scheduled in-person meetings at your local unemployment insurance claims office or American Job Center.
  •   If required by your state, register with the state’s Employment Service, which aids with effective job searching.
  •   Continue to meet any other relevant state requirements.

Make sure you meet these requirements to keep receiving benefits as long as you need them. Once you find a new job, you can report that to the state’s unemployment agency and cease filing unemployment claims. If you do not meet the job search requirements, accurately report income earned or job offers received/denied, you may be denied benefits when you file a weekly or biweekly claim.