How to File for Coronavirus Unemployment if You’re Self-Employed

Kelsey SheehyDecember 22, 2020
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A new coronavirus relief package passed by Congress on Monday extends unemployment benefits for self-employed workers.

The bill breathes new life into temporary federal unemployment programs established under the CARES Act in March 2020, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to gig workers, freelancers and self-employed workers who lost their income due to the coronavirus.

It also revives the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which supplements state benefits with an additional $300 per week. The CARES Act included weekly payments of $600 on top of state unemployment benefits, but those payments expired in July.

Who qualifies

People who are self-employed (including independent contractors and gig workers) and don't qualify for regular unemployment insurance can receive benefits if they are unable to work or are working reduced hours due to the coronavirus.

Those benefits include:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: This program originally included up to 39 weeks of benefits, but that was extended to up to 50 weeks in the December relief package. The exact amount you receive is decided by your state, which has some discretion in determining eligibility and calculating benefit payouts. People who lack sufficient wages or work history to qualify for regular unemployment benefits may also qualify for PUA.

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: The funding bill passed in December 2020 revives this program, providing $300 per week on top of state and federal unemployment benefits. You have to apply for unemployment through your state to get the $300 per week, which kicks in after Dec. 26, 2020, and is payable until March 14, 2021, at the latest.

The coronavirus relief package passed in December 2020 also established a new program for self-employed workers who also earn income via traditional, W-2 employment.

  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation: Provides an additional $100 per week, on top of regular unemployment benefits and the $300 per week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. To qualify, you must be able to show that you earned at least $5,000 in self-employed income in the prior tax year. States can choose not to provide this benefit.

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Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will be paid retroactively to as early as Jan. 27, 2020, (PUA) and March 29, 2020, (FPUC).

The CARES Act also established Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. This program originally provided up to 13 weeks of benefits for people who maxed out their regular unemployment compensation on or after July 1, 2019. The new relief bill extends this program by an additional 11 weeks.

How to file a claim

In most states, you need to apply for, and be denied, regular unemployment benefits before you will be considered for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Once you’ve been denied regular unemployment benefits, your state agency will either automatically review your claim for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or prompt you to submit an additional application for those benefits.

A handful of states don’t require self-employed individuals to go through the regular unemployment claim process first. Instead, they have developed a separate application process for gig workers, independent contractors and those who are self-employed. Check your state unemployment agency’s website for specific guidance on when and how to apply.

What you need

When you file your claim you will need to provide personal information (name, address, Social Security number) and work history for the past 18 to 24 months.

Your work history should include any traditional (W-2) employment, gig work and self-employment. If you were self-employed the entire time, you will typically list yourself as the employer and include your home or business address.

You will also need to verify your income. This is a bit trickier for people who don’t receive a W-2. Here’s what your state may allow as proof of earnings from self-employment or gig work.

  • 2019 federal tax return, including the following when applicable:

    • Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

    • Schedule F, Profit or Loss from Farming.

    • Schedule K-1, Partner's Share of Income.

  • 2019 1099 form.

  • Final pay stub in 2019.

  • Invoice, billing or other documentation to provide proof of self-employment.

Workers who don’t fall into the self-employed bucket will still certify their income via pay stubs and a W-2.

After you apply

The next steps depend on the state. Keep an eye on your email or unemployment portal for updates or requests for additional information.

In most cases, you need to file a weekly claim certifying that you are still out of work. You will not be paid benefits for the week if you don’t file your claim, so don’t skip this step, even if your claim is still being processed.

Starting Jan. 31, 2021, you will need to provide proof of prior employment, including self-employment, in order to receive federal unemployment benefits. At that time, new applicants will have 21 days to provide proof. Those already receiving benefits need to provide proof of prior employment within 90 days of Jan. 31 to continue receiving benefits.

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