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How to file for unemployment online

how to file for unemployment online
(Image credit: ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic continues, and it extends far beyond health. The economy is taking a hit, too, with unemployment surging. Last week, jobless claims filed in the U.S. surged to a record 3.3 million, and job losses are expected to continue as businesses either scale back or close entirely.

Losing your job can be stressful at any time, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. But if you've been laid off due to the coronavirus outbreak, resources are out there to help you file for unemployment and collect payments that defray some of your regular expenses. 

Here's a quick resource guide on how to file for unemployment online, with some general guidelines about your eligibility and where you can file your claim.

What is unemployment insurance?

Unemployment insurance is the benefit paid to laid-off workers, drawn from payroll taxes that employers are charged. Each state operates their own unemployment benefits program under guidelines established by the federal government. That means the process of filing for unemployment and the amount of benefit you receive varies from state to state. 

How do I know if I'm eligible for unemployment insurance?

Again, that can depend based on where you live, but generally speaking, most states follow the main guidelines set by the federal government. You're eligible to file for unemployment benefits if you've lost your job through no fault of your own — basically, if you weren't fired for cause, but laid off or let go because your job was eliminated.

You also have to meet wage and work requirements, meaning that you were employed long enough to be eligible for unemployment benefits. States have their own formulas, but generally the base period is determined by how much you've made in the past year dating back to when you file your unemployment claim.

With the COVID-19 leading to a spike in unemployment, the federal government has advised states to adjust eligibility requirements so that more furloughed workers will be eligible for benefits. Specifically, federal guidelines now allow states to pay benefits when employees can't work because an employer has temporarily ceased operations. You may also be eligible if you've been quarantined for COVID-19, but expect to return to work when the quarantine ends, of if you've left your job due to risk of exposure to coronavirus or because you're caring for a family member.

The U.S. Department of Labor includes extensive information on eligibility for filing unemployment insurance on its website.

How long will my unemployment benefits last?

Typically, unemployment benefits last for six months, though like most things about unemployment insurance, that can vary from state to state. Also, the government is likely to push for an extension of benefits related to COVID-19. That's a part of the stimulus package that's currently working its way through Congress.

Where do I file for unemployment online?

You should file for unemployment with the state in which you worked, even if you live in another state. The U.S. Department of Labor provides an unemployment benefit finder by state, where you'll get a list of links providing general information on a specific state's unemployment benefits, where you can file claims online or by telephone and any COVID-19 related changes to unemployment eligibility and benefits offered by that particular state.

Here's where where you can learn more about filing for unemployment insurance in each U.S. state. Each state will require different information when you file for unemployment benefits, but you should have your social security number, the name and address of your former employer, and that employer's Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) on hand. That latter bit of information is included on your W-2 tax form.