Can Unemployment Take Your Federal Taxes? Explaining Taxation on Unemployment Benefits

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Unemployment benefits are a financial lifeline for individuals who have lost their jobs. These benefits are designed to provide temporary financial assistance to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. The amount of benefit you receive varies by state but is typically calculated as a percentage of your prior earnings over a 52-week period, up to a maximum set by law each year.

To qualify for these benefits, you must meet certain eligibility requirements including being able and available for work and actively seeking employment during each week in which you claim benefits.

Can Unemployment Take Your Federal Taxes? Explaining Taxation on Unemployment Benefits

Taxation on Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment compensation is considered taxable income by the federal government. That means if you receive unemployment insurance payments from your state’s department of labor or similar agency then it will be subject to federal income tax withholding if applicable. Additionally, some states also require individuals who receive jobless aid to pay state income tax on those funds as well.

It’s important to note that while unemployment compensation is generally taxable there are some exceptions based upon specific circumstances such as:

  • If only one spouse receives payments
  • If someone repays any overpayment in the same tax year
  • If an individual cashes out all other accrued leave before going onto full-time joblessness
  • If the benefits are received in a lump sum
  • If the payments are made to an estate or as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.

It’s important to understand these exceptions and check with a tax advisor to determine how they affect you based on your specific situation.

Why Unemployment Benefits Are Taxed

You may be wondering why unemployment benefits are taxed in the first place. Simply put, unemployment compensation is considered income just like wages from employment. Thus, it’s subject to taxation at both federal and state levels.

The IRS requires that recipients of unemployment compensation report these funds as income on their federal tax return. You will receive a Form 1099-G from your state agency which shows how much you were paid in unemployment benefits during the year that must be included with your return.

How Much Tax Will I Pay?

The amount of taxes you pay on your unemployment benefits will depend on several factors including:

  • The amount of benefit payments you receive
  • Your overall taxable income including other sources such as earned wages, investment income or retirement distributions
  • Your filing status (single, married filing jointly) and deductions.

Calculating exactly how much taxes you may owe can be complex as there are many variables involved but below is a rough guideline:

Unemployment insurance happens at two different stages – when money enters into an account by Cares act relief fund deposited directly into bank accounts before April 15th 2020;

  • In this case, no deduction has –or ever– been made by Federal Taxes for any appropriations inside CARES stimulus checks.
  • All other cases:
  • If withholding wasn’t elected during signup then beneficiaries should plan for paying 10% Federal tax.
  • Beneficiaries who opted for holding back would have up-to 10% withdrawn automatically.

It’s always advisable to consult with an experienced accountant/tax professional who can provide advice tailored specifically around your financial circumstance.

How to Pay Taxes on Unemployment Benefits

Depending on the amount of taxes you owe and how it relates to your overall tax situation, there are various options for paying any owed taxes. Here are some common ways:

  • Filing quarterly estimated tax payments, if your unemployment benefits aren’t subject to withholding or the amount withheld isn’t enough
  • Adjusting your withholdings from another source of income like wages
  • Identifying eligible deductions and credits that can help lower your taxable income.

It’s important to remember that not paying the required taxes on time can result in penalties being added by IRS, so it is best practice to plan ahead when filing.


Unemployment benefits can be a lifesaver for people who have lost their jobs but they may come with unexpected tax implications. Understanding how unemployment compensation is taxed at federal level along with an understanding about some specific exceptions based upon circumstances, will help individuals avoid surprises come tax season. Remember that consulting an experienced accountant/tax professional for personalized advice is always recommended as everybody’s financial situation is unique.


Can the government take my federal taxes if I receive unemployment benefits? Yes, if you owe federal taxes, the government is allowed to garnish your wages and other income sources, including unemployment benefits. However, they can only take a portion of your benefit payments after applying certain deductions.

How are unemployment benefits taxed at the federal level? Unemployment benefits are considered taxable income by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). When you file your tax returns, you will need to report any amount received from unemployment compensation during that year.

Do I have to pay state taxes on my unemployment benefits as well? It depends on which state you live in — not all states impose an income tax on unemployment compensation. Therefore it’s important to check with your specific state’s tax laws for more information about whether or not this applies to you.