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If you’re getting ready to start collecting unemployment, it will be very important for you to know how long you can expect that unemployment to last. The answer to that question is based primarily on two things: The size of your benefit and the duration of your payments. Understanding the answer will also require you understand some basic terms.
Benefit Year and Base Period

The benefit year is the year in which you will be collecting benefits. In most cases, this is the 52 week period starting with the first week you put in your claim. You will not be collecting benefits for the entire year, this is simply a term for understanding the period within which you are collecting benefits. In most cases, you can only collect benefits for a single benefit year without getting a new job. The base period is the time period that is used to calculate your benefits. It is the first four out of the last five completed quarters of the year. The amount you earned in that time, your Base Period Wages (BPW), will determine your benefit.

Amount of Benefits

The first thing you need to know how is much you are getting to have an idea of how long you can make it last. This amount also varies from state to state and is calculated in one of four ways:  The High Quarter Method uses the base period quarter with the highest wages to determine the benefit. This amount is divided by 13 (the number of weeks in the quarter) and a percentage of that weekly wage is awarded in benefits, usually half. The Multi-Quarter Method uses several quarters to calculate the weekly wage rather than just the highest quarter. The Annual Wage Method calculates a percentage of the annual wage of the employee to determine the weekly wage, while the Average Weekly Wage Formula simply takes a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage during the base period.

Duration of Benefits

Probably the most important factor in knowing how long your unemployment will last is knowing the duration of benefits. Unless you are in Montana (28) or Massachusetts (30), you can receive no more than 26 weeks of benefits during the benefit year. If you are in a state with variable duration coverage, you may in fact receive less than 26 weeks of coverage. The most common variable duration coverage allows you to receive a maximum of one third of your base period wages in benefits, up to 26 weeks. This means if your weekly benefit amount is $350, your total benefit for the year would be no more than $9,100. However if you earned less than three times this amount, or $27,300, your benefit duration would be shorter. For example if you earned $24,000 during the base period, you would only be eligible for $8,000 in benefits, this amount divided by $350 means you would only be receiving benefits for 23 weeks.

Additional Benefit Year and Waiting Period

Although you cannot receive additional benefits in the same year after your duration is complete, you may be able to qualify for benefits in the following year if you had some additional employment during your first benefit year. Whether or not you will qualify and for how much will vary from state to state. Also be aware that is some states there may be a one or two week waiting period before you start to receive benefits.

TSC Sources & Recommended Resources More on unemployment from the Survivors Club.
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