Skip to main content

You have options for how to receive your unemployment benefits

Millions of workers have filed for unemployment insurance benefits as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’ve lost your job or a portion of your income, you can apply for benefits through your state unemployment program, and if you qualify, you have options for how you can receive this money.

In most states, you can receive your money either on a state-issued prepaid debit card or by having it directly deposited into your own bank or credit union account or onto an existing prepaid card. In some states, receiving paper checks is also an option. While the majority of workers who are eligible for unemployment benefits have already filed as a result of COVID-19, many states will allow you to make changes to the way you receive your benefits.

Ways to receive unemployment benefits

Here are the most common ways to receive your unemployment insurance benefits:

Check the website of your state’s unemployment office because the options and processes for signing up can vary, and due to the coronavirus, it may be difficult to reach a customer service representative for additional support.

Direct deposit to your own bank account or prepaid card

Similar to how you may have used direct deposit to receive your paycheck, you can have your money automatically sent to your checking or savings account or a prepaid card that you already own.

What you need to know

  • Benefits go directly to your own bank or credit union account (checking or savings) or prepaid card
  • Access your benefits same as you already do with other money in that account
  • Benefits are sent to your account for free

What to watch out for

  • Look closely for this option when filling out unemployment forms
  • People without their own bank account or prepaid card must open one to take advantage of this option

With direct deposit, you receive your money quickly and safely, and you can manage your unemployment benefits just like any other funds in your account. It also eliminates the risk of paper checks getting lost or stolen, as well as the need to physically deposit or cash it at a bank or credit union.

If you prefer to use a prepaid card, direct deposit is generally an option, but you’ll want to check first with your card provider to find out if your card is eligible to receive direct deposit. If you don’t already have a bank or credit union account or prepaid card, you’d need to open a new account first, which many financial institutions are allowing you to do online.

To sign up for direct deposit, check with your state’s unemployment program. The process differs by state, but you can search the website or find this information when you log into your account. Look carefully for the timing of when to sign up: this could be either when you apply, are approved, or begin receiving unemployment benefits.

No matter what state you live in, the following information is typically what’s required for signing up:

  • Name(s) on the account
  • Bank or prepaid card account number
  • Bank or prepaid card routing number
  • Type of account (checking or savings). For prepaid cards, select ‘checking’

State-issued prepaid debit card

Most states currently provide the option for you to receive your unemployment benefits through a state-issued prepaid debit card. States, however, can’t require you to receive unemployment benefits on a state-issued prepaid debit card, so be aware that you do have options.

What you need to know

  • You will receive a free card by mail and then need to activate it
  • Benefits are automatically loaded onto your card
  • Faster and safer than a paper check
  • Benefits are loaded onto your card for free

What to watch out for

  • Review card information about possible fees
  • You can’t load your own money onto this card
  • Benefits will be reloaded onto the same card

Similar to direct deposit, your benefits are loaded onto your card and will be reloaded onto the same card each payment cycle. In general, it functions like other prepaid debit cards you may have used, except you can’t load your own money onto it.

Although these cards are provided by the state, they’re managed by a financial institution, which is usually a bank, and the bank’s logo may appear on the card. As a result, you may have access to the bank’s online and mobile tools to help you manage your money, but be aware that you may also incur fees for certain types of transactions, such as withdrawing funds from an out-of-network ATM. The state unemployment program is required to let you know what the fees are for the state-issued prepaid debit card before you choose to receive your benefits through the card. You can also expect to receive important information on other terms and conditions when you receive your card.

Paper check

Some states also allow you to receive your funds by paper check. If you prefer this option, check first with your state unemployment website to confirm it’s available to you and to learn how to sign up.

What you need to know

  • Check can be cashed or deposited into your own account

What to watch out for

  • You may pay a fee to cash your check if you don’t do so at your bank
  • Once deposited, it might take a few days before all your money is available for use

Remember, checks can take a few days to arrive so this may not be the best option if you need funds quickly. If you have your own bank or credit union account or prepaid card, you may be able to use a mobile banking app to capture an image of the check and have it deposited into these personal accounts. Otherwise, you may need to make a trip to a financial institution to cash or deposit it, but be aware that it may take a few days until all the money appears in your account and is available for you to use.

Watch out for potential unemployment scams

During times of emergencies and natural disasters, the rates of scam activities increase. It’s important to stay vigilant and aware of scammers who may pretend to be a government agency in order to gain access to your personal information.

Possible scams include emails, texts, phone calls, or social media messages that appear to come from the U.S. Department of Labor or your state’s unemployment office, asking you to verify your personal information, including your name, Social Security number, or bank account information. Scammers often also ask for up-front fees in order to process your payments or application.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that fraudsters may also try to file false claims to receive unemployment with your personal information .

If you think you may have been a victim of unemployment filing fraud, the FTC asks that you:

Learn how to protect yourself from coronavirus-related scams.

Find more information regarding COVID-19 from CFPB

We’re working to continuously update information for consumers during this rapidly evolving situation.

We will publish all COVID-19-related information and blogs to our resource page. Information should be considered accurate as of the blog publish date.

See our COVID-19 resource page

Join the conversation. Follow CFPB on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook .