Losing a job doesn't mean you will be without resources to help pay your bills. One of the first things to do is to file for unemployment benefits. Though unemployment insurance is a federally mandated program, each state sets its own rules for collecting benefits. How much money you’ll get can vary from state to state.
Figuring Your Benefit
Though each state sets its own benefit minimums and maximums, they all base their payments on roughly the same information. Unemployment administrators look at how much you made when you were fully employed – but they usually don’t consider the most recent three months you worked. Instead, they look back to the year before that – starting about 15 months before you applied for benefits. They consider how much you earned each three-month period – or quarter – for four quarters, and take the average of your wages in your two highest-earning quarters. So, if you received a big raise the month before you were let go, that probably won’t figure in to your state’s benefit formula. If you worked for more than one employer during the benefits review period, all your wages will be considered, not just what you made working for your most recent employer.
Minimums and Maximums
Each state sets a minimum benefit they’ll pay and a maximum. As long as you made the minimum wages required by your state, or worked the minimum number of hours, you’ll receive the minimum amount of benefits. And no matter how much you earned at your former employment, you cannot receive more than your state’s maximum benefit. The amounts can vary widely, depending on the state. For example, in 2012, if you lived in Maryland, your minimum benefit amount would be $50, and your maximum would be $430. In Virginia, benefits ranged from $54 to $378, and in Washington state, claimants could receive between $143 and $604 a week.
Factors Affecting Payments
If you perform any odd jobs, temporary work or part-time work while you’re receiving unemployment benefits, the amount you bring in will reduce your check for that week. Only earned income – money paid for work – counts against your weekly benefit. Money from investments, selling your extra stuff at a garage sale or cashing in your 401(k) doesn’t affect your benefit amount.
How Long You'll Be Paid
States pay between 24 and 28 weeks of basic unemployment benefits. You have one year in which to collect all the benefits you’re entitled on this claim. If you don’t collect the full benefit one week, that extends the time during which you can collect benefits. If you take a temporary job and work two weeks, you can’t collect benefits during those two weeks, but you can resume collecting unemployment without filing a new claim when the temporary job ends. After you exhaust your basic benefits, you may be eligible for extended unemployment benefits.
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