How Long Does It Take to Process Unemployment?

By Jackie Lohrey - Updated June 07, 2017
Man filing an application online

The waiting time to hear about an unemployment insurance application might seem like an eternity when you are worried about income, but for most people really isn’t all that long. Although each state has its own policies and procedures for verifying eligibility and processing claims, the U.S. Department of Labor says that for most applicants, processing takes about two to three weeks. In addition to state-specific policies, how quickly you start receiving benefits depends on whether your application is error-free and whether your employer files an objection to your claim.

The Application Process

Although all the states accept telephone applications, most prefer that you submit an initial application online through your state's unemployment agency. According to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, it takes about 45 minutes to file an application online. After filing, your state's agency will review and verify the information in your application, instruct you to call a claims specialist if it needs more information to complete your claim and possibly interview your former employer. If the agency determines you are eligible, it will calculate your benefit amount and send your first benefit payment.

Waiting Period Requirement

Most states impose a one-week waiting period before you become eligible to start collecting unemployment benefits. The goal is to avoid processing claims for only a few days. Although you should not wait to file until the waiting time is over, the processing time for your application won’t start until the waiting period ends. In addition, your profession may extend the waiting period. For example, in Wisconsin, employees of educational institutions must often wait longer to start receiving benefits.

Common Processing Delays

Incorrect or incomplete information can delay benefit payments. To avoid this, answer every question completely and accurately, verify that your employment and earnings information is correct, and be honest in describing why you are out of work. If your former employer disputes your unemployment claim, the unemployment agency will hold your benefits for several weeks until your case is resolved. However, as long as you continue filing a weekly claim during the dispute, you will receive back payments if the resolution is in your favor.

Payment Methods

The payment option you choose can affect how quickly you receive weekly unemployment benefits. Direct deposit or adding funds to a state-issued debit card are the fastest and most common options. Although many states no longer offer a paper check option, in states that do, it can take an extra day or two to receive each payment. This method is also less secure, as paper checks can be delayed or lost in the mail.

About the Author

Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

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