THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Layoff survival guide

Gerri gives her tips on making the most out of the benefits available to you, if you've received a pink slip.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

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For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Since the recession began, 4.4 million people have lost their jobs. Here are some steps on how you can survive a pink slip in this week's survival guide.

Your job number one here is to know your rights. You are due wages, including overtime or commission. Severance, sick time or vacation pay is at your employer's discretion. Policies will vary here.

If you think your rights have been violated, call the Department of Labor at 866-4-USA-DOL.

Be sure to get all the public assistance you can -- the average worker is unemployed for five months -- but there's no guarantee how long it will take to find a new gig.

Apply for jobless benefits -- they've been expanded to up to 33 weeks of benefits, and as much as 59 weeks for people living in states with high rates of joblessness.

You'll be paid roughly $325 a week and the first $2,400 will be exempt from federal taxes.

Check out workforcesecurity.doleta.gov to find details for your state. Don't wait. It takes two to three weeks before benefits start.

The government maintains local career centers where you can go for advice. Go to careeronestop.org for details.

When it comes to health benefits, here's what you'll want to think about.

First try to get on a working family member's plan. You don't have to wait until open enrollment. This will be the cheapest option.

If you can't get on someone else's plan, make sure to apply for COBRA benefits. COBRA benefits are simply an extension of your existing health insurance coverage, but the difference is that you pick up the tab.

The stimulus package includes some assistance from the federal government, which will pick up 65% of your COBRA premiums. Bear in mind how important this is because the number one cause of bankruptcy is high medical bills. Go to the Department of Labor's Web site at Dol.gov for more information on COBRA.

And don't forget about your flexible spending accounts. Every company has a different policy. Sometimes you'll be able to use yours for a few months after you're let go.

Got a question about jobs or unemployment? We want to hear from you. Send us an email and a picture and your question could be answered in an upcoming story on CNNMoney.com. To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send an e-mail,we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.
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