Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive

Collecting unemployment

Gerri Willis explains what to do when you've lost your job.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)
By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- Job losses are the worst in five years. If you've found yourself with a pink slip, or you're worried you might get one, here's what you need to know about your unemployment check.

1: Get the basics

First, these checks provide temporary financial assistance to people who have lost their jobs. Benefits can be paid for up to 26 weeks in most States - that's a little more than six months. The amount in that check is based on a percentage of what you were earning over the past year - up to limits set by your state.

About fifteen states have additional benefits that will kick in after you've exhausted the federal money. To find out if your state provides this, go to your state unemployment insurance agency. Also, your unemployment check will not affect Medicaid.

2: Do you qualify?

First, you must be unemployed through no fault of your own. So, your job has to be downsized or you must have been laid off. You won't qualify for unemployment if you quit your job. And, you must have worked at that job for a certain amount of time, that's at least a year in most states.

You can check in with your state unemployment insurance agency to get all the eligibility rules, since the rules can vary by state. To find one in your area, go to

3: Don't Delay

Job number one here is to do it quickly. As soon as you get laid off, contact your state unemployment insurance agency. Again, that Web site is It can take 2 to 4 weeks to have your claim processed, so the faster you file, the sooner you'll get your money.

In some states you don't even have to go to the unemployment office, you can file a claim by telephone or over the Internet. Keep in mind you will be asked about the addresses and dates you worked with your former employer, so make sure you have that info handy.

4: Get free counseling

Your town may have a one-stop career counseling center set up to help unemployed people find jobs. This employment service can refer you to training programs and labor market information.

You may also be referred to job openings in your area or be offered testing and counseling to determine other jobs you might like. Here's a number to call if you want to find a one-stop career center near you: 877-US2JOBS. To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and
They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
17 cool gadgets that tease the future Smart telescopes, surveillance for dogs, an electric roadster and more from CES 2018. More
These 12 airplane beds let you really sleep on a flight For the price of a premium class ticket, you may just get a space that's comfortable, private, and quiet enough to ensure a good rest. More
CES 2018 kicks off with oddball gadgets The biggest tech show of the year opened with a collection of quirky gadgets. More