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The Bottom Line: Unemployment Benefits 101

If you become unemployed through no fault of your own, you could be eligible for unemployment benefits . The benefits are designed to provide some financial help until you find another job. If you are out of work, first cut unnecessary spending ; then keep these points in mind when applying for unemployment:

Apply Promptly

Getting your first unemployment check can take up to a month or more, depending on many variables, including where you live. Not all states have the same unemployment rules. If you’re fortunate enough to know in advance when your job will end, be proactive: Contact your state's unemployment agency right away and complete an application form, which usually can be found online .

Determine Your Eligibility

In most states, to qualify for full unemployment benefits, you’re required to prove that you have been working for at least a year. If you meet that qualification and your application is denied , it could be for one of the following reasons:

  • You quit your job without good cause.
  • You were fired because of misconduct.
  • You aren't willing to seek work.
  • You quit because of health reasons.

Know how to Stay Eligible

Unemployment benefits are meant to be temporary income to help you get by while you look for work. To keep receiving benefits during the allowed period, you’ll need to meet certain requirements. In general, state jobs service offices require you to document that you are actively seeking work. For example, you may be instructed to submit a weekly report, either online or through the mail, detailing the jobs you've applied for.

Know Your Limits

Exactly how much you'll receive in benefits each week largely depends on how much money you were making in your most recent job. Keep in mind that your benefits, as helpful as they may be, won't last forever: Under current federal law, unemployment benefits are available up to a maximum of 26 weeks (including Extended Benefits and Emergency Unemployment Compensation), though in some states benefits stop after 19 weeks .

A period of unemployment can be stressful, so if you need help understanding what benefits you’re eligible for, ask your state’s jobs service specialist for more information.

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