How to Collect Retroactive Unemployment

If you didn't know you were eligible for unemployment benefits, you may be able to get your payments back-dated. This depends on your state; some states are more lenient than others. However, if the delay is due to issues processing your initial unemployment benefit claim, you are entitled to retroactive unemployment no matter where you live.

What are Unemployment Benefits?

The Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance programs provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own, and who meet certain other eligibility requirements. Benefits are generally based on a percentage of an individual's earnings over a recent 52-week period (up to a maximum amount set by the state) and can be paid for up to 26 weeks. However, the payment period is much shorter in some states. For example, Florida and North Carolina provide up to 12 weeks, Georgia provides up to 14 weeks and Kansas provides up to 16 weeks. Montana, on the other hand, provides longer period of 28 weeks.

Read More: How to File for Unemployment Benefits Extension

Definition of Retroactive Unemployment

Your normal weekly unemployment benefit amount is what you receive for each week of back-dated benefits. To get your benefits, you must file (by mail, by telephone or online depending on your state's provisions) weekly or biweekly claims at the end of the week or weeks, answering questions about your continued eligibility and reporting any earnings from work you had during the week(s) as well as any job offers or refusal of work. In some cases, you can file multiple weekly claims at once to catch up to your current benefit week, resulting in a lump sum payment or several benefit payments at once. If you get benefits for weeks earlier than the last back-dated week, this is known as retroactive unemployment.

Late Filing or Special Circumstances

If you file a late claim for unemployment benefits, you may request retroactive benefits. Whether this is granted depends on your state. For example, when it comes to retroactive unemployment benefits, California allows late claims when the claimant can demonstrate "good cause", such as when an employer doesn't inform an employee of her right to file for unemployment benefits. Every case is judged on its own merits, and your benefits will be delayed while the review takes place. If your request is granted, you get all retroactive benefits. If it is denied, you get only retroactive benefits for the time you were waiting for a decision.

Extended Unemployment Benefits

Some states offer extended benefits to workers who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits, but only during periods of extremely high unemployment. When a state is experiencing high unemployment, it may offer up to 13 weeks of additional benefits. Some states also offer a voluntary program to pay up to seven additional weeks (20 weeks maximum) of extended benefits during periods of extremely high unemployment. When a state begins an extended benefit period, it notifies all regular unemployment benefit recipients that they may be eligible for extended benefits.You may experience a delay when moving from a regular unemployment claim to an extended unemployment claim. If this happens, you are entitled to retroactive benefits for the period of delay.

Claim Processing Delays

You are not penalized if claim processing issues cause a delay with your unemployment benefits. The waiting period between filing your initial unemployment claim and receiving your first payment varies by state, but it tends to be about one week. Sometimes, delay is caused by difficulties verifying your information. As soon as the issue is resolved, you can collect retroactive benefits for the weeks since you first filed your claim.


  • If you think you are eligible for retroactive unemployment, contact your state's unemployment department (by phone, by mail or online depending on its directions) and provide your reason for your claim. You will have to complete paperwork and wait for your claim to be reviewed.

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