How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Every state has its own Unemployment Insurance Program to which unemployed workers can apply for unemployment benefits, provided they lost their job through no fault of their own. When applying, you will be required to meet state-specific eligibility requirements. Keep in mind the following points:

  • Each state has its own requirements for receiving unemployment benefits. The purpose of these benefits is to provide temporary assistance to unemployed people qualify.
  • Each state has its own unemployment insurance program that operates according to federal guidelines.
  • Each state determines the applicant's eligibility, amount and the length of time of unemployment benefits according to its own criteria [source: USDOL].

Here's how to apply for unemployment benefits:


  1. File an unemployment claim with your state's Unemployment Insurance Agency or Department of Labor within the first week of the date your unemployment is terminated (or reduced). This is important, since in many states the first week is treated as a waiting period before the agency begins processing your application (you won't be compensated for that week). Therefore, any delay on your part in applying will reduce the total benefits you receive. You can generally file a claim online or over the phone [source: New York].
  2. Be prepared to provide such information as the address and employment dates of your former employer. Make sure the information you provide is accurate and complete to prevent unnecessary delays in processing your claim.
  3. Apply in the state in which you were employed. If you worked for an out-of-state company, moved to another state or worked in more that one state at a time, ask your state's Unemployment Insurance Agency for information on how to apply to other states.
  4. Be prepared to wait two to three weeks after you apply before you begin receiving your unemployment checks [source: USDOL].