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Straight Answers About Unemployment Compensation

I receive a wide variety of questions on my "Got a Career Question?" page, but no subject generates as many inquiries as unemployment compensation benefits.

I've pulled together the 20 most frequently asked questions. Use the information, and pass it along to your family and friends. They probably have the same concerns.

1. How can I learn about unemployment benefits in ____________ (fill in your state)?

The rules, amounts, and payment periods vary by state. This applies to state unemployment benefits and to Federal benefit extensions. That means the only definitive place you can get the right information for yourself is from the state agency that administers unemployment compensation, typically called the "Career One Stop" (the new name for what we age-50+ folks used to call the "unemployment office." Career One Stop Web sites have all the information you need, but they can be challenging to locate. You can call instead, but expect a wait. These offices have many customers. So be sure to do an additional Internet search for your specific topic and state name.

2. Can I collect unemployment compensation and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time?

Yes! This perhaps the single most-asked question I get. Please tell people about this very positive, and relatively new (since 2000) news. Sadly, there are exceptions: If you live in Illinois, Utah, Louisiana, or South Dakota (though South Dakota may soon change, when state funding becomes available), the four states that continue to offset unemployment by $0.50 for each $1 of Social Security—essentially resulting in no payment for most people.

3. Is unemployment compensation really welfare?

No! While you had your job, your employer paid state and federal unemployment premiums. If you lost your job through no fault of your own as defined by your state, you have a right to collect all the benefits available. For more on this, take a look at another article on unemployment compensation.

4. How much can I get in weekly benefits?

First, go back and read Question 1. It varies by state, and within your state, your weekly benefit is based on your earnings history and family status—some states add a fixed amount for each eligible child. Maximum benefits vary widely by state and can range from a bit over $200 to more than $450.

5. How do I apply for benefits?

You can apply in person (be ready to wait), by phone (be ready to wait), or online if available in your state (go online anytime, 24/7, and have an easier time of it).

6. When should I apply for benefits?

Apply as soon as you learn you are, or will be, unemployed. If you've applied too soon, you'll be told. The important point is this: Apply quickly!

7. If I quit, can I collect unemployment?

In general, no, you can't—unless you can verify that you were forced to resign.

8. I'm retiring; do I qualify for unemployment?

No again. The generally requirements for eligibility are: (1) You lost your job through no fault of your own (as determined by your state); (2) You're ready, willing, and able to work, and you're actively searching for a job. Some people think that because a spouse or partner is retiring and relocating (therefore can't continue in their job), they are eligible. Nope.

9. I've been self-employed and can't find any work and have no income. Do I qualify?

This answer is "no" again. As a self-employed person, you paid no unemployment taxes. Sorry.

10. I've worked at my current employer for three months; do I qualify?

Most states require 12 months of employment before you qualify (see Question 1 again). If you worked elsewhere before serving your most recent employer, you may have accumulated enough time and earnings to qualify.

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