California unemployment benefits guide

profile Erin Bruehl  |  December 9, 2020

Your hours were cut. Or, worse yet, you lost your job altogether. California unemployment benefits could help to see you through until your next job arrives.

But signing up for California unemployment benefits can seem like a job in and of itself. Wading through eligibility rules, ongoing requirements, and potential benefits can leave you feeling exhausted and worried.

It's worthwhile to push through, especially because there are ways to make sure you get the right benefits, faster.

For many people, unemployment benefits are a lifeline. People just like you use the funds to cover important things like rent, food, and utility payments. Signing up, no matter how hard, can mean the difference between keeping your home and living with friends.

Here's how to do it. You can also receive your unemployment benefits up to two days FASTER with direct deposit when you sign up for Current premium banking account.

What Is Unemployment Insurance?

In 2020, California unemployment benefits were critical for many people. In May 2020, for example, California's unemployment rate was 16.3%. For those people, unemployment benefits were a source of much-needed income.

Unemployment insurance provides temporary financial assistance to people facing unemployment they didn't cause. If your company faced a downturn in business and slashed your job as a result, you're facing an unwilling unemployment trigger. But if you acted poorly on the job and got fired for it, you've had a role in your unemployment.

Multiple forms of unemployment insurance exist in California, including:

  • Regular. This traditional form of unemployment draws on funds employers pay each month.
  • Federal. Civilians who work for the federal government, such as employees of the United States Postal Service, could be eligible for this form of unemployment.
  • Service. Former military members released from active service could be eligible for this form.
  • Disaster. When natural disasters strike, dislocated people and unemployed people who are typically self-employed may be eligible.
  • Education. People who offer services to public or private schools may be eligible.

California also offers some types of unemployment programs based on current crisis situations. In 2020, for example, legislators released a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for people out of work due to coronavirus who aren't eligible for other types of unemployment insurance.

We'll focus on standard unemployment benefits in this guide. But know that officials may suggest that you apply for a different version if you're turned down for the conventional program.

How to File for California Unemployment Benefits

California has strict rules about who can and can't apply for financial compensation. Once you've determined that you meet those requirements, the application process can begin, and most people complete it online.

If you meet any of these requirements, you could be eligible for standard unemployment benefits.

  • Work history: You have a W-2 that proves a formal employer/employee relationship.
  • California residency: You live within the state, either full-time or part-time.
  • Unintentional unemployment: You lost your job due to a layoff or furlough. Or your hours or wages were cut for something other than your performance.

The Employment Development Department (EDD) of the State of California says filing online is the quickest and most convenient way to get your benefits. You can also use the online system to:

  • Reopen closed claims.
  • Change your contact information.
  • Reschedule phone interviews.
  • Download and print tax information.
  • Stay in touch with EDD officials.

Gather critical data before you start your online claim so you won't waste time. You'll need information about:

  • Yourself. Your name, Social Security Number, mailing address, phone number, and driver's license number are among the critical items that can prove your identity.
  • Your last employer. You'll need the formal name, mailing address, phone number, your supervisor's name, and the reason for your employment change.
  • All employers within the last 18 months. You'll need the names, employment start/stop dates, and wages earned.
  • Your bank accounting and routing number: You can receive your tax refund via direct deposit. When you enter your Current account number and routing number, your refund will be credited to your account up to two days faster than with traditional banks.

    Not yet a Current member? Sign up to get your unemployment benefits up to two days faster.

Complete your form carefully, and answer every question as honestly as you can. The EDD says up to 30 percent of forms aren't filled out right, and mistakes can mean payment delays.

After your form is completed, the EDD may schedule a phone interview to talk over your history and your recent job change.

If your forms and phone call don't prove your case, you may be denied benefits. Don't be discouraged. You have 20 days to appeal that denial, and about half of those appeals are successful.

How Much Money Will You Get?

If you are approved for benefits, you'll get a weekly benefit ranging between $40 and $450. That wide variation is based, for the most part, on the salary you pulled down before your employment changed.

Unemployment benefit amounts can also sometimes increase due to current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states gave recipients an additional $300 or $600 per month.  

The EDD maintains an unemployment insurance calculator. Use this tool to get a rough idea of how much you might get with a successful claim. You'll need wages from the last 18 months to get started.

Comply With Unemployment Rules

An accepted claim doesn't guarantee a check in the mail for life. Your conversation with the EDD must continue, and often, you're required to submit paperwork proving that you're following their guidelines to the letter.

Typically, you must prove that you are:

  • Searching for work. Sending out resumes, participating in interviews, and searching online job boards should fill your days.
  • Able to work. You must be physically able to do the job you lost. Otherwise, you can apply for a different type of benefits. You must also be ready to work if offered a job.
  • Not earning a salary. Unemployment benefits should apply to those who don't have a job, not those who are working.

You will also be asked about schooling status. If you're still in school, or hoping to switch jobs and need training, classes will take up your time. This can affect your benefit amount.

Showing that you are following these rules is called certifying for benefits, and you're typically required to give that information every two weeks. You can walk through this process using the same website you used to apply for benefits.

Pay close attention to all of the rules and regulations you see on your claim forms, the EDD website, and your approval letters. Sometimes, the rules change.

For example, in response to COVID-19, officials removed rules about looking for work each week. They also removed a seven-day waiting period for benefit approvals.

When you are receiving unemployment benefits, it's your job to pay close attention to what you should or shouldn't do to stay in the EDD's good graces. But if you have questions about anything regarding your claim, your benefits, or your checks, contact officials right away using the online signup portal.

Keep Your Claim Honest

Unemployment benefits are made for those who lost their jobs due to things like pandemics, market downturns, or financial unrest. If you've lost your job, you're entitled to get help to return to the job market. But cheaters can ruin the process for everyone.

If you land a job, tell the EDD immediately. Let them know when you started and how much you're making. In most cases, the EDD will close your claim.

If you earn any money while you're looking for a job, such as completing a quick task online for pocket change, report that money to the EDD. Your benefits may need an adjustment.

No one at the EDD is trying to police your work or tell you how to behave. But the group must keep close tabs on your progress and ensure that no fraud is taking place.

If you do cheat the system, you could face severe penalties, including:

  • Jail time.
  • Hefty fees.
  • Repayment schedules that are hard to meet.
  • Loss of future tax refunds.

Worst of all, you could lose the ability to collect unemployment benefits in the future. If your new job doesn't work and you must apply again, you could lose a crucial safety net.

Use unemployment benefits wisely, and if you need them, apply for them. But resist the temptation to abuse the system. It's simply not worthwhile.

Still not a Current member? Sign up today to get your unemployment benefits up to two days faster.

Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group, Member FDIC. The Current Visa Debit Card is issued by Choice Financial Group pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.


California Unemployment Lowers Slightly to 16.3 Percent in May. (June 2020). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Types of Claims. Employment Development Department of the State of California.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. (September 2020). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Filing an Unemployment Claim. (September 2020). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Apply and Manage Your Claim Online. (September 2020). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Unemployment Insurance: Information You Need to File an Unemployment Insurance Claim. (February 2009). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Frequently Asked Questions and Helpful Tips for Filing for Unemployment Insurance Benefits in California. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Lost Your Job? Your Rights and Benefits. Legal Aid at Work.

Eligibility Requirements. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Calculator: Unemployment Insurance. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

A Guide to Benefits and Employment Services. (February 2012). Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Certifying for Unemployment Insurance Benefits. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Eligibility Requirements. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud. Employment Development Department of the State of California.

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