How to Calculate Your Unemployment Benefits

© The Balance 2018

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to calculate how much money you'll receive through unemployment benefits or for how long you'll be able to collect those benefits unless your state has an online unemployment calculator.

Each state has a different rate, and benefits vary based on your earnings record and the date you became unemployed. Once you find out whether you are eligible, you can file a claim for unemployment benefits. If you're not sure about your eligibility, check with your state unemployment office. You don't want to lose out on unemployment compensation because you didn't think you would qualify.

Are You Eligible for Unemployment?

First, make sure you are eligible for unemployment. While it varies based on your state, you generally need two things to qualify. First, you need to have lost your job through no fault of your own. It typically means you are ineligible if you quit—although there are exceptions, like if you quit because of impossible work conditions. If you are fired for cause, you also are likely ineligible.

You also have to have been employed for a minimum amount of time or have earned a minimum amount in compensation.

Requirements for collecting unemployment are currently more flexible because of coronavirus: additional weeks of benefits will be available, and the amount of weekly benefits may increase, depending on your eligibility. Some states have also waived waiting periods. Here's an update on the new benefit guidelines and on COVID-19 unemployment and sick leave compensation.

Once you find out whether you are eligible, you can file a claim for unemployment benefits. If you're not sure about your eligibility, check with your state unemployment office. You don't want to lose out on unemployment compensation because you didn't think you would qualify.

How Much Will Your Check Be?

Once you file for unemployment and are approved, you will begin to receive benefits. Your benefits might come in the form of a check, but more often they will come in the form of a debit card or direct deposit to your bank account. It varies by state. You typically can file weekly online, by email, or by phone.

The amount you receive depends on your weekly earnings prior to being laid off and on the maximum amount of unemployment benefits paid to each worker. In many states, you will be compensated for half of your earnings, up to a certain maximum.

The CARES Act, which has been passed by Congress, provides an additional $600 a week benefit for up to 4 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

State benefits are typically paid for a maximum of 26 weeks. Some states provide benefits for a lower number of weeks, and maximum benefits also vary based on where you live. In times of high unemployment, additional weeks of unemployment compensation may be available.

Regardless of how much you make, you never can collect more than the state maximum.

When You'll Get Paid

Most states pay benefits on a weekly or biweekly basis. There may be a lag before you receive your first check. For details on when to expect payment, check the unemployment website for your state.

Finding a Benefits Calculator

There are two types of unemployment calculators. One tells you how much money you are entitled to collect, and another tells you how many weeks your benefits will last.

Benefit calculators most likely won't include the $600 per week supplemental benefit which is in effect through July 2020.

New York, for example, has a UI Benefits Calculator on which you can enter the starting date of your original claim to determine how many weeks of UI (Regular Unemployment Insurance Benefits) you will receive.

Wisconsin has a Weekly Benefit Rate Calculator that helps you figure out the amount of your unemployment benefits.

Check with your state unemployment office website to see if they have any information that might help. If one is available, you usually can find it on the FAQ section of their website. If they don't have a calculator, they may have a chart that lists weeks of eligibility. You can use that information to determine how many weeks of unemployment you are entitled to collect.

If you are struggling to find information on your state unemployment office website, you could contact the office via phone or email. You usually can get information about the location of the office, the phone number, and any email addresses under the “Contact Us” section of the unemployment office website. However, it often is difficult to get through to an unemployment office over the phone. Most offices encourage you to file claims and calculate benefits online.

Taxes on Unemployment

Unemployment benefits are considered taxable income, and the unemployment compensation you receive must be reported when you file your federal and state tax returns. Taxable unemployment compensation generally includes any amounts received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state, so both state unemployment benefits and federally funded extended benefits are considered income.

Supplemental unemployment benefits received from a company-financed fund are not considered unemployment compensation. Rather, these benefits are fully taxable as wages and are reported on Form W-2 as income.

Tax Withholding

Some states withhold a percentage of your unemployment benefits to cover taxes—typically 10%. If the option to have taxes withheld is available, you will be notified when you sign up for unemployment. It's a good idea to consider having taxes taken out of your checks rather than having to pay income taxes on all the unemployment you received when you file your tax returns for the relevant year.

Tax Reporting Requirements

If you received unemployment compensation during the year, you should receive Form 1099-G, which is a report of income received from a government source, showing the amount you were paid. Any unemployment compensation received must be included in your income and should be reported in the appropriate sections of your federal and state tax returns.

Avoid Unemployment Scams

Some websites say they will figure out your unemployment benefits or file a claim for you. However, the only place you can get a definitive answer or file for benefits is on your state unemployment website. ​Avoid getting scammed, and do not give personal information to a third-party website.

The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.