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How to Collect Unemployment Benefits

Find out how to start getting payments as soon as you lose your job.

Who qualifies for unemployment benefits, and how do I sign up?

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must be out of work through no fault of your own and be actively looking for a job. The size of your weekly benefit varies depending on the state and your previous income -- the higher your income was, the higher your benefit.

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You apply for benefits in the state where you worked, even if you live in a different state. File for benefits as soon as you lose your job so you don’t miss out on any payments.

Those who qualify usually receive the first check within three weeks of applying. To speed up the process, most states recommend that people file online rather than on the phone or in person. See the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop unemployment-benefits map for links to your state’s unemployment-benefits agency, online claim form and phone number for claims filing. Your state’s unemployment-benefits Web page has more information about how to apply, how to file an appeal, the size and length of benefits (and updates about extensions), and what you need to do to maintain your eligibility. For example, you may need to register with the state employment service to receive benefits.

For more information about unemployment benefits and other key decisions to make after a layoff, see Job Dislocation: Making Smart Financial Choices After a Job Loss, created by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. You can also find helpful information at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance resource page.

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