News·3 min read

How to File for Unemployment

unemployment benefits application
Getty Images
March 26, 2020

Editor's note: This article was updated on April 17, 2020.

The Story

If you recently lost work, you might want to apply for unemployment benefits. 

I could use some help.

Heads up that this process can vary from state to state. In general, you can file a claim with the unemployment agency in the state where you worked. And you’ll want to file as soon as you lose your job so you can start getting your benefits as soon as possible. You can usually do this online or by phone. But you might want to have a stress ball handy. 


State unemployment agencies are overwhelmed right now by the number of applications they’re receiving. There are reports across the country of unemployment sites crashing, and long wait times for people trying to call. That said, because of the wait times, your best bet is probably going to be avoiding a phone call and applying online. You can do this in every US state, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands (yes, we checked). Google search the state you worked in and the word unemployment. The application info should be one of the first results.

Cool cool. So how do I do this thing?

There are a few things you should be prepared with beforehand… 

Step 1: Figure out when to apply. In order to manage the volume, some states are asking people to apply on a specific day of the week, based on things like their area code or their last name. Check online with your state’s unemployment agency to see if they have guidelines for this.

Step 2: Prepare your details. These are things like your Social Security number, your employer’s name, address and phone number, and your gross pay before you stopped working. Look for that on your most recent pay stub. Remember, gross pay is what you made before taxes or other deductions. This number will be used to calculate your weekly unemployment benefits.

Step 3: Apply. On the application, you may be able to tell your state where to send the money. Your options might include direct deposit, a check in the mail, or a debit card. If you’re going with direct deposit, you’ll need to track down your account and routing numbers. You can usually find these on your online banking account. Or at the bottom of your checks.

Step 4: Check in. Once you’ve been approved for benefits, you’ll likely have to keep checking in with your state unemployment agency to essentially say, yes I’m still unemployed. And you may need to show proof that you’re job hunting.

So that’s it?

There are a few things we should note. First, if your application is denied, you can appeal. Second, if your application is delayed, the benefits might be paid retroactively. But check with your state. Third, let’s talk about severance. If you’re receiving a severance payment, that can affect whether you’re eligible for unemployment. The rules vary by state so look up how your state handles this before moving forward.

Ok I applied. When do I get the money?

It typically takes two to three weeks. But with the recent surge in unemployment claims, there could be a delay.


Filing for unemployment can be a frustrating and stressful process. But doing your research and going in prepared can make things easier.

Live Smarter

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.