If you have lost your job through no fault of your own, you are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. These are short term payments that will help you keep your house, purchase food, and buy other necessities while you search for another job.

While there are national standards concerning who qualifies for unemployment and the way the money is distributed, each state manages its own unemployment system. You will need to check with the unemployment office in your own state for specific details on how to apply and how to receive the money you qualify for.

While the details may change depending on where you live, these seven basic steps will help you be prepared to apply for unemployment without confusion.

1. Know if you qualify for unemployment.

To be eligible for unemployment, you must:

  • Be out of work for a reason that is not your fault. If you quit your job or were fired for serious misconduct, you will not qualify for unemployment. If you were terminated because you did not meet standards or the job was not a good fit, you can still apply for unemployment.

  • You must have been working recently. Anyone who has been unemployed for a long time or has only worked in very temporary or seasonal positions will not be eligible. Most states have an income minimum that you must have met in the last 12-15 months. Check with your state to see if you qualify based on your income.

  • You must be available and able to start, and actively seeking a new job. If you have become disabled or otherwise unable to work, you won’t qualify for unemployment. You can look at other government assistance programs such as disability benefits or workers’ compensation in these cases. Those are long-term programs that can help anyone who is unable to work in the near future.

2. File as soon as possible.

There is no waiting period to apply for unemployment. It can take two to three weeks to receive your first payment so the sooner you apply, the sooner you will start getting your benefits.

3. Find the Unemployment Insurance Office for your state.

You can find information for your state on the Department of Labor website.

You should apply for unemployment in the state you worked in, even if you live in another state. In most states, you can file in person, by phone, or online. If you create an account and file online, you will be able to submit any additional information and check the status of your claim. You’ll need to apply for benefits weekly, so if you have regular access to the internet, applying online is the easiest way to keep your account in good standing.

4. Gather all the information you will need to make the process quick and smooth.

Be prepared to answer all of the questions the unemployment form requires. You will need:

  • Dates of your most recent employment
  • Addresses and phone numbers of all of your employers from the past two years
  • Your social security number
  • Your drivers license or ID number
  • A phone number where you can be reached during business hours

5. Write down or print the claim number you are given at the end of the application process.

You will need this number if you have any questions or need help with your application.

6. Receive your benefits.

Although this also varies by state, you can receive an average of 50% of what you made while employed. There is a 26 week limit for unemployment, unless you qualify for a specific extension.

There are several methods states use to deliver your weekly benefits:

  • Direct Deposit - If your state gives you the option or requires you to have your unemployment directly deposited into a checking or savings account, you will need to give the routing and account numbers. These can be found at the bottom of a check or on any account statements. The routing number is the first set of nine numbers at the bottom of the check. The account number is the second set of ten to twelve digits.

  • Debit Card - You can choose to receive a debit card where your money will automatically be added to the account every week. You can use this the same way you use any other credit or debit card at a store.

  • Check - Some states still mail a paper check every week. Be sure that you give them a valid address where you can collect the check.

7. Continue filing for benefits every week that you are eligible.

You will be required to log in or call every week to continue your unemployment claim. This is not a one time process! You will need to verify weekly that you are still unemployed and looking for a new position.

Some states require you to show that you are actively looking for a job while receiving unemployment. You may need to submit a log (a written list) of where and when you have applied. You should prepare to be required to take any position you are offered, even if it is at a lower pay or a further commute than your previous job.

While you are filing for unemployment benefits, be sure to ask any questions you have about these work search requirements or any other requirements your state has so you don’t miss any payments.