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THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

When jobless benefits run out

More and more people have not found a job by the time their benefits run out. Here's a game plan.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

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

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Tomorrow we'll get the latest unemployment figures. And if you've gotten a pink slip, or you've been unemployed for a while, here is what you need to know.

1. How long can you collect unemployment

Know that at the very least, you are eligible for 46 weeks -- that's 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits and 20 weeks of federal unemployment benefits.

And you may be able to get more than that, it depends what the unemployment rate is in your state.

If you live in a state with high unemployment -- defined as over 8% -- about 32 states are, you are eligible for up to 79 weeks of unemployment.

If your state has unemployment above 6.5%, you can get up to 72 weeks. For state between 6 and 6.5%, you'll get up to 59 weeks, and finally, if your state is below 6%, about 6 states fit the bill here, you'll get 46 weeks.

To find out what the unemployment rate is in your state -- check your local state unemployment insurance office. Keep in mind, there is legislation in Congress that would extend benefits for another 10-20 weeks.

2. Some benefits are expiring soon

The Stimulus Bill in February provided an extra $25 in weekly unemployment checks. And this year you were able to exclude up to $2,400 in unemployment benefits in your taxes. Both of these provisions will expire at the end of this year unless they're extended.

Health insurance provisions will be impacted too. The stimulus bill right now provides a subsidy that covers 65% of the COBRA premiums for up to nine months after you lose your job. But this break applies only if you lose your job by December 31, 2009. You won't get this break if you lose your job in 2010.

3. Get help

Call your local unemployment insurance agency.

Find one at servicelocator.org. If you're having trouble getting through on the line, try waiting until later in the week. These places tend to be very busy on Monday and Tuesday. Plus, many agencies are opening up the phone lines for a few hours on the weekends to accommodate folks.

To keep up with the developments in Washington, D.C., check out unemployedworkers.org and unemploymentlifeline.com.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to CNNMoney.com/helpdesk to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions.

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