How to File for Unemployment Benefits (2021 Guide)

If you have lost your job, you may qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI), which is temporary income to support you while you look for a new job. In this post, we will detail what you need to know to file for unemployment benefits in your state.

"How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits"

This post will cover:

  • How Unemployment Benefits Work
  • What You Need to File for Unemployment Benefits
  • What Happens after you file for Unemployment Benefits
  • Tips for Applying for Unemployment Benefits
  • How to File for Unemployment Benefits in each state

How Unemployment Benefits Work

If you lost your job through no fault of your own, have qualifying wages in the past 18 months, and are able and available to work, you may be eligible to receive unemployment insurance.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a benefit program for workers who have lost their job by no fault of their own.

According to the United States Department of Labor (DOL), the average weekly unemployment benefit amount is about $318.

Depending on your state, this amount may be less or more.

Qualified applicants are only eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment insurance in a year.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks.

Additionally, there are several supplemental programs that have been introduced by the federal government to increase the size of weekly benefits.

This includes the following programs:

Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Programs

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation $300 (FPUC) December 27, 2020 – March 13, 2021 This is a federal program providing an additional $300 weekly benefit.
Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) December 27, 2020 – March 13, 2021 Additional $100 a week for claimants receiving UI, PEUC, or EB who also meet self-employment income requirements.
Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) July 26 – September 5, 2020 This is a FEMA-funded program providing an additional $300 weekly benefit
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation $600 (FPUC) March 29 – July 25, 2020 This is a federal program providing an additional $600 weekly benefit.

The best time to file a claim is during the first week you become totally or partially unemployed.

That’s because an unemployment compensation claim becomes effective when filed.

Therefore, if you choose to wait to file your claim, then you may not go back to the date you first became unemployed.

What You Need to File for Unemployment Benefits

"What You Need to File for Unemployment Benefits"

Here’s what you need to file for unemployment benefits in your state:

Note that your state may require additional information.

However, the list below is generally what you will need to apply for benefits.

To file for Unemployment benefits, you need to provide personal information including:

  • Social Security number
  • Birthdate
  • Home address
  • Email address (optional in some states)
  • Phone number

Furthermore, you also need information about your employment history from the last 15 months, including:

  • Names of all employers, plus addresses and phone numbers
  • Reasons for leaving those jobs
  • Work start and end dates
  • Recall date (if you were laid off but have a set date to return to work)

Also, you may need additional information in certain situations:

  • If you are not a U.S. citizen — your Alien Registration number
  • If you have children — their birth dates and Social Security numbers
  • For those who are members of a union — your union name and local number
  • If you were in the military — your DD-214 Member 4 form. If you don’t have it, you can request your DD-214 online.
  • For those who worked for the federal government — your SF8 form (optional)

Scroll down below for information on how to file for Unemployment benefits in your state

What Happens after you File for Unemployment Benefits

Here’s what to expect after you have successfully filed your claim for unemployment benefits.

Step 1 – Request weekly benefits

You must request weekly benefits every week that you are unemployed.

This is perhaps the most important weekly task you must perform to keep your benefits, in addition to looking for a new job.

You will make your first weekly benefit request the week after you file your claim for unemployment benefits.

Step 2 – Begin your work search

Next, you must begin searching for work immediately.

You are required to perform 3 work search attempts (varies by state).

Furthermore, you must track your search for new employment by using the Work Search Activity Log tool or process provided by your state.

Step 3 – Your Unemployment Application will be Reviewed

Next, your state’s unemployment agency will review your application and confirm the details of your application with your former employer.

If you provided an email address when you filed your claim, you will receive an email from your state’s agency asking you to verify your email address.

Step 4 – You will Receive Monetary Determination

After your application has been reviewed, your state’s unemployment agency will send you an “Unemployment Insurance Monetary Determination” letter.

This is a letter that tells you how much you’ll potentially receive in unemployment benefits.

The letter will include:

  • The start date of your unemployment claim
  • Your base period
  • The amount of wages reported by each employer
  • Your weekly benefit amount
  • Your total benefit amount

The information in the letter will show whether you have earned enough wages to establish an unemployment claim.

However, if you believe that wages on your “Determination Letter” are incorrect or missing information, contact your state’s unemployment agency for assistance.

You will be asked to provide proof of the correct wages (check stubs, W–2 statements, or other documents) in order to review your claim.

It is important to note that a monetary determination letter does not mean you will receive unemployment benefits.

Additional information may be needed from you and/or your employer to make sure you are eligible.

However, you must continue to file your weekly claim for payment while your claim is being investigated.

Step 5 – Respond to questionnaires from the state Agency

Also, if there are questions about your eligibility for unemployment benefits, you’ll receive a fact-finding questionnaire from your state’s unemployment agency.

They will request additional information from you.

You must respond to this questionnaire by the deadline specified.

Failure to respond may result in disqualification from receiving benefits.

Respond to requests for information about your unemployment claim

Step 6 – You will Receive a Non-Monetary Determination

Next, you will receive a notice that tells you whether you’ve been approved for unemployment benefits.

If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision within 10 days.

Step 7 – Start receiving your benefit payments

If you are approved for unemployment benefits, you will receive your benefit payment according to the payment preference that you selected upon applying for benefits.

Depending on your state, your payment options will include all or two of the following:

If you select Direct Deposit, you will need the following information:

  • Your Bank Routing Number (First 9 digits located at the bottom of your checks), and
  • Bank Account Number (5-17 digits, its exact location and number of digits varies from bank to bank).

However, if you do not make a selection for a payment method, you are likely to receive your benefits on an unemployment debit card.

You are allowed to switch payment methods later, once you start receiving benefits.

Tips for Applying for Unemployment Benefits

"Tips for Applying for Unemployment Benefits"

The unemployment benefits application process can be overwhelming, especially for first-time applicants.

Follow the tips below to help you navigate the process better and also increase your chances of getting approved quickly, assuming you are eligible.

Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits Immediately

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it can take about 2–3 weeks from the day you applied to receive your first unemployment payment.

Therefore, if you are eligible to receive unemployment insurance, the sooner you file your claim the sooner you’ll receive your benefits.

Also, the sooner you file, the less likely you are to tap into your savings or use a credit card to cover essential expenses.

Double Check for Errors

Furthermore, it is important that every time you file for unemployment claims, you fill everything out correctly.

Errors can delay payments, and multiple inconsistencies can seem suspicious, jeopardizing your ability to qualify for benefits.

Continue to Request Weekly Benefits

It can take a few weeks for your unemployment benefits application to be processed.

It is important that while you wait, you continue to request weekly benefits after you apply even if you haven’t heard back from the state’s unemployment agency.

Apply for an Extension

Unemployment insurance benefits are temporary. In most states, you can get benefits for up to 26 weeks.

However, some states offer benefits for only 13 weeks or fewer.

If you have exhausted your regular unemployment insurance benefits and are still between jobs here’s what you can do:

If your state is experiencing particularly high levels of unemployment, you may be eligible to receive up to 13 additional weeks or more depending on the state and the circumstances.

Furthermore, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has programs that extend unemployment benefits beyond the state limits.

Check with your state’s unemployment agency for information on how to apply for an extension.

How to File for Unemployment Benefits in each state

Here’s the information you need to file for unemployment benefits in all 50 states and territories.

State Agency Phone Number(s) Website to Apply
Alabama Alabama Department of Labor 334-242-8025 File for AL Unemployment Online
Alaska Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development 907-269-4700 File for AK Unemployment Online
Arizona Arizona Department of Economic Security 1-877-600-2722 File for AZ Unemployment Online
Arkansas Arkansas Department of Workforce Services 501-682-2121 File for AR Unemployment Online
California California Employment Development Department 1-800-300-5616 File for CA Unemployment Online
Colorado Colorado Department of Labor and Employment 303-318-9000 File for CO Unemployment Online
Connecticut Connecticut Department of Labor 1-800-956-3294 File for CT Unemployment Online
Delaware Delaware Department of Labor New Castle County: 302-761-6576
Other Areas: 1-800-794-3032
File for DE Unemployment Online
District of Columbia District of Columbia Department of Employment Services 202-724-7000 File for D.C Unemployment Online
Florida Florida Department of Economic Opportunity 1-800-204-2418 File for FL Unemployment Online
Georgia Georgia Department of Labor 1-877-709-8185 File for GA Unemployment Online
Hawaii Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Oahu: 808-586-8970
Hilo: 808-974-4086
Kona: 808-322-4822
Maui: 808-984-8400
Kauai: 808-274-3043
File for HI Unemployment Online
Idaho Idaho Department of Labor 208-332-8942 File for ID Unemployment Online
Illinois Illinois Department of Employment Security 1-800-244-5631 File for IL Unemployment Online
Indiana Indiana Department of Workforce Development 1-800-891-6499 File for IN Unemployment Online
Iowa Iowa Workforce Development 1-866-239-0843 File for IA Unemployment Online
Kansas Kansas Department of Labor 1-800-292-6333 File for KS Unemployment Online
Kentucky Kentucky Career Center Office of Unemployment Insurance 502-564-2900 File for KY Unemployment Online
Louisiana Louisiana Workforce Commission 1-866-783-5567 File for LA Unemployment Online
Maine Maine Department of Labor 1-800-593-7660 File for ME Unemployment Online
Maryland Maryland Department of Labor 410-949-0022 File for MD Unemployment Online
Massachusetts Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance 617-626-6338 File for MA Unemployment Online
Michigan Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity 1-866-500-0017 File for MI Unemployment Online
Minnesota Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Twin Cities Area: 651-296-3644
Greater Minnesota: 1-877-898-9090
File for MN Unemployment Online
Mississippi Mississippi Department of Employment Security 1-888-844-3577 File for MS Unemployment Online
Missouri Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations 1-800-320-2519 File for MO Unemployment Online
Montana Montana Department of Labor and Industry 406-444-2545 File for MT Unemployment Online
Nebraska Nebraska Department of Labor 1-855-995-8863 File for NE Unemployment Online
Nevada Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation Northern Nevada: 775-684-0350
Southern Nevada: 702-486-0350
Rural Areas and Out of State Callers: 1-888-890-8211
File for NV Unemployment Online
New Hampshire New Hampshire Department of Employment Security 1-800-852-3400 File for NH Unemployment Online
New Jersey New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development North New Jersey: 201-601-4100
Central New Jersey: 732-761-2020
South New Jersey: 856-507-2340
Out-of-state claims: 1-888-795-6672
File for NJ Unemployment Online
New Mexico New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions 1-877-664-6984 File for NM Unemployment Online
New York New York Department of Labor 1-888-209-8124 File for NY Unemployment Online
North Carolina North Carolina Department of Commerce 1-888-737-0259 File for NC Unemployment Online
North Dakota North Dakota Job Service 701-328-4995 File for ND Unemployment Online
Ohio Ohio Department of Job and Family Services 1-877-644-6562 File for OH Unemployment Online
Oklahoma Oklahoma Employment Security Commission 1-800-555-1554 File for OK Unemployment Online
Oregon Oregon Employment Department 1-877-345-3484 File for OR Unemployment Online
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry 1-888-313-7284 File for PA Unemployment Online
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources 787-625-7900 File for PR Unemployment Online
Rhode Island Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training 401-243-9100 File for RI Unemployment Online
South Carolina South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce 1-866-831-1724 File for SC Unemployment Online
South Dakota South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation 605-626-3179 File for SD Unemployment Online
Tennessee Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development 1-877-813-0950 File for TN Unemployment Online
Texas Texas Workforce Commission 1-800-939-6631 File for TX Unemployment Online
U.S. Virgin Islands U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Labor 340-773-1994 File for UVI Unemployment Online
Utah Utah Department of Workforce Services Salt Lake and South Davis Counties: 801-526-4400
Weber and North Davis Counties: 801-612-0877
Utah County: 801-375-4067
Other Counties and Out of State: 1-888-848-0688
File for UT Unemployment Online
Vermont Vermont Department of Labor 1-888-807-7072 File for VT Unemployment Online
Virginia Virginia Employment Commission 1-866-832-2363 File for VA Unemployment Online
Washington Washington Employment Security Department 1-800-318-6022 File for WA Unemployment Online
West Virginia Workforce West Virginia 1-800-379-1032 File for WV Unemployment Online
Wisconsin Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development 1-844-910-3661 File for WI Unemployment Online
Wyoming Wyoming Department of Workforce Services 307-473-3789 File for WY Unemployment Online

How to File for Unemployment Benefits Summary

We hope this post on how to file for Unemployment Benefits was helpful.


If you have further questions about Unemployment Benefits or Unemployment Debit Cards, please let us know in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out our other articles on Unemployment Benefits, including:
Nevada Unemployment Debit Card Guide
Maryland Unemployment Debit Card Guide
Whether Unemployment Benefits are Taxable
List of States Extending Unemployment Benefits
Massachusetts DUA Unemployment Debit Card
Check the Balance on Your ReliaCard