To collect unemployment benefits, you have to meet your state's eligibility requirements. Although the rules and definitions vary from state to state, unemployment benefits are generally available only to those who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. States use some version of these four criteria to determine whether an applicant is eligible for benefits:
- You must be unemployed. This probably seems obvious -- they're called unemployment benefits, after all -- but you may be surprised to learn that most states allow applicants to collect benefits even if they are earning some money. As long as an applicant isn't earning much more than he or she would get as a weekly benefit if completely unemployed, the applicant may be allowed to collect partial unemployment benefits.
- You must be out of work through no fault of your own. If you quit your job, you'll have to show that you had good cause to leave, as your state defines it. If you were fired for serious misconduct, you may not be eligible for benefits.
- You must meet your state's work and/or earnings requirements. To ensure that your unemployment is only "temporary," states look at your recent work history. Benefits aren't available to those who've been out of the workforce (raising children or going to school, for example) for a while. You will have to show either that you earned at least a minimum amount or worked a minimum period of time, recently, in order to qualify.
- You must be able, available, and looking for work. You can collect benefits only if you are searching for another job -- and prepared to accept it, should you get an offer.