How to apply for unemployment benefits in NC

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In a Nutshell

North Carolina’s Division of Employment Security more than tripled its staff to better manage the hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims filed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. If you’re out of work because of the pandemic, here are some things to know about filing for North Carolina unemployment benefits.

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Before COVID-19, North Carolina’s Division of Employment Security received about 12,000 unemployment claims per month. In March, when the coronavirus outbreak began, the number of claims skyrocketed to more than 630,000.

The ballooning number of claims drove North Carolina’s unemployment rate from 3.6% in February 2020 to 4.4% in March 2020.

To handle the tsunami of claims, the Division of Employment Security, which runs the state’s unemployment insurance benefits program, bought technology and equipment to allow staff to work from home and more than tripled its workforce of claims processors.

If you need to apply for unemployment benefits in the Tarheel State, here are some things to know.

Access to some NC unemployment benefits has expanded because of COVID-19. Learn more.

How do unemployment benefits work in North Carolina?

The North Carolina Division of Employment Security, or DES, administers the state’s unemployment insurance benefits program.

Unemployment insurance benefits programs are run jointly between the federal government and individual states like North Carolina. While each state has its own eligibility requirements, benefit amounts and maximum benefit periods, there are also federal guidelines for how state programs should work.

Employers pay an unemployment insurance tax to fund North Carolina’s unemployment program. If you qualify for unemployment, your benefits will come from funds that employers have paid into the program.

How can I qualify for North Carolina unemployment benefits?

Typically, to be eligible for North Carolina unemployment benefits you must meet these requirements.

  • Be out of work through no fault of your own — the DES will decide if you meet this requirement based on information you and your former employer provide
  • Have earned sufficient wages to be considered eligible
  • Be physically able to work, available to work and actively looking for a job
  • Register for work with NCWorks Online, the state’s job service office

Once you begin receiving weekly payments, you’ll need to take steps to maintain your eligibility, including filing weekly claims and reporting on your job search.

In North Carolina, unemployment benefits are usually available for between 12 weeks and 20 weeks. But as states may choose to revise their benefits in times of economic crisis, North Carolina has extended its benefits for up to an additional 13 weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How much might I get?

To determine eligibility for unemployment benefits, North Carolina reviews what’s known as a “base period,” which usually includes the first four calendar quarters of the last five quarters of your work history and wages.

If you meet wage and work requirements for the base period, the DES calculates your weekly unemployment benefit amount by looking at your total wages for the last two completed quarters and dividing that amount by 52. The total must be at least $15 or higher to receive a weekly benefit, up to a maximum of $350 per week.

For example, if your wages for the last two completed quarters were $8,000, your weekly benefit might be $153 (8,000 ÷ 52 = $153).

Again, because states may change their benefits during times of crisis, these maximums may be different during recessions or other difficult economic situations.

How can I apply?

The fastest way to file a claim for unemployment benefits in North Carolina is online at To file a claim online, you must create an online account with the DES. You can also file a claim by calling the DES customer call center at 888-737-0259.

To expedite the filing process, make sure you have the following required information on hand:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Details about why you separated from your last job, along with any vacation, retirement or severance pay received or owed to you
  • Your bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit
  • Work history for all employers over the last two years, including employer name, address, phone number, dates of employment, rates of pay and reason for separation

Non-citizens, former federal employees and former members of the military have additional documentation requirements.

How will I receive my payments?

You won’t receive your first payment immediately, since there’s a one-week waiting period before payments begin.

The DES pays weekly unemployment insurance payments through direct deposit into your bank account or on a DES debit card issued by Bank of America. You can use the card anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Be aware, though, you may encounter fees if you use the card at an ATM that’s not a Bank of America or Allpoint ATM, or if you use it outside of the country.

If you complete your weekly certification and still haven’t received your benefits within 14 days, you can contact the DES by email at

When do my benefits end?

North Carolina determines the number of weeks you may get unemployment based on the statewide unemployment rate, which is adjusted seasonally. North Carolina unemployment insurance benefits are typically available for anywhere from 12 weeks to 20 weeks but may be extended during times of economic crisis.

Under normal circumstances your unemployment payments may end earlier if you fail to meet continuing eligibility requirements. You’re typically required to keep a written record of your job search by filing a new claim via your online account weekly. Failure to file the weekly certification of benefits on time will stop your benefit payment for that week, and you’ll have to reopen your claim and delay payment with a new waiting period.

What if my claim is rejected?

If your claim is denied or the DES determines you’re no longer eligible, you’ll receive a written notice that includes an address and instructions for appealing. But the fastest way to file an appeal is online through the DES online benefits system. Once you’ve filed your appeal, the DES will send a notice with the date, time and contact information for your scheduled hearing.

Learn about coronavirus and your finances

Bottom line

Unemployment insurance benefits are meant to help out-of-work North Carolinians pay bills, buy groceries and cover expenses while looking for another job. With millions of people out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal and state governments have been taking steps to make unemployment available to more people and more helpful to those who receive it.

How has COVID-19 affected North Carolina unemployment benefits?

In response to COVID-19, the state has implemented a number of measures to expand access to benefits and expedite claims processing and unemployment insurance payments. These measures include …

  • Extending the unemployment insurance period by 13 weeks to those who’ve exhausted benefits.
  • Providing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for people not usually eligible for unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors.
  • Paying an additional $600 per week to eligible claimants. Keep in mind that this benefit is set to expire no later than July 31, 2020.
  • Increasing DES and call center staffing to process claims.
  • Making it easier for employers to file claims on behalf of workers they’ve temporarily laid off, or who worked less than 60% of their usual full-time hours.