How to Qualify for Jobless Benefits and Start Collecting

By Kimberly Lankford
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Sunday, February 22, 2009

QI was laid off from my job and am wondering whether I can receive unemployment benefits. How do I sign up for them?

ATo qualify for unemployment benefits, you must be out of work through no fault of your own and be actively looking for a job. File for benefits as soon as you lose your job so you don't miss out on any money.

The size of your weekly benefit varies depending on the state and your previous income (the higher your income, the higher your benefit). In Maryland, for example, the weekly benefit ranges from $25 to $380. You apply for benefits in the state where you worked, even if you live in another state.

If you qualify, you normally receive your first check within three weeks of applying. But these are not normal times. More than 4.8 million people were collecting unemployment benefits in mid January, the highest number since the Department of Labor started keeping track of these figures in 1967.

State unemployment offices have been inundated with requests for payments, and it can be difficult to get through on the phone. Pennsylvania, for example, expanded its unemployment office's call-center hours (it now accepts calls on Sunday) and recommends calling on certain days based on your Social Security number. (Some state unemployment offices are adding staff -- making them great places to find work in this economy.)

To speed up the process, most states recommend that people file online rather than over the phone or in person. Your state's unemployment-benefits Web page will provide details on how to apply for benefits, how to file an appeal and what you need to do to maintain your eligibility.

Unemployment benefits are taxable, but taxes are not automatically withheld. You can elect to have taxes withheld from your checks, or you can set aside extra money so you aren't surprised later. Keep an eye on your state's unemployment-benefits Web site for updates.

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