The Smartest Way to Use Unemployment Benefits

Losing a job can turn your world upside down, especially when it comes to your finances. But with the right strategies, you can weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about managing unemployment benefits, from understanding how they work to prioritizing your expenses and planning for the future.

Understanding Unemployment Benefits:

Unemployment benefits provide a crucial safety net for millions of Americans who find themselves out of work. Administered by individual states but overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, these benefits typically replace about half of your average wages for up to 26 weeks. However, the exact amount you receive can vary depending on where you live.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal relief measures provided additional support to unemployed workers. The CARES Act, passed in March 2020, offered a $600 weekly supplement, while subsequent legislation provided further extensions and enhancements to benefits.

Planning for Taxes:

It’s important to remember that unemployment benefits are considered taxable income at the federal level. While some relief measures waived taxes on a portion of benefits in 2020, you’ll likely need to report them on your tax return going forward. Consider electing to have taxes withheld from your benefits to avoid a hefty bill come tax time.

Adjusting Your Budget:

When creating an unemployment budget, focus on essential expenses like groceries, housing, utilities, and health insurance. Cut back on non-essential spending, such as subscriptions or dining out, and look for ways to save money on basic necessities, like shopping at discount grocery stores or utilizing food pantries.

Prioritizing Your Expenses:

Rent should be a top priority in your budget, as housing insecurity can have serious consequences. While eviction moratoriums provided temporary relief during the pandemic, it’s essential to stay current on rent payments to avoid accruing debt or facing eviction once moratoriums expire.

Seeking Hardship Agreements:

If your unemployment benefits don’t cover all your expenses, reach out to your creditors for hardship agreements. Many lenders are willing to work with you on payment plans or forbearance options, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Building Your Emergency Fund: Use any leftover funds to build or replenish your emergency fund. Having savings set aside can provide a financial cushion in case your benefits run out before you find a new job.

Focusing on High-Interest Debt:

Once you have a solid emergency fund in place, prioritize paying off high-interest debt, such as credit cards. Focus on tackling debts with the highest interest rates first to minimize interest charges over time.


Navigating unemployment benefits can be challenging, but with careful planning and smart financial decisions, you can maintain stability during difficult times. By prioritizing essential expenses, seeking assistance when needed, and focusing on building your financial resilience, you can weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever.


1.Can I still receive unemployment benefits if I’m self-employed?

Yes, many states offer unemployment benefits for self-employed individuals, freelancers, and gig workers under special provisions enacted during the pandemic.

2.What happens if I can’t pay my rent or mortgage?

If you’re struggling to make rent or mortgage payments, reach out to your landlord or lender to discuss hardship options or payment plans. Additionally, explore local and federal assistance programs that may provide relief for housing costs.

3.Are unemployment benefits subject to federal taxes?

Yes, unemployment benefits are considered taxable income at the federal level. However, you may be able to elect to have taxes withheld from your benefits to avoid a large tax bill at the end of the year

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