How Are Unemployment Benefits Taxed?

You may be surprised to discover that unemployment benefits are taxable. These payouts are subject to federal income taxes and, depending on where you live, state income taxes.

But don’t despair; you can take steps to avoid an unexpected bill at tax time.

How Unemployment Benefits Are Taxed

Unemployment benefits are taxed as ordinary income (like wages) but are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes.

You should receive Form 1099-G from your state unemployment division in January reporting the total amount of compensation you received for 2023. Include this information on Schedule 1 of your 1040 form when you file your federal return.

[READ: How to Collect Unemployment Benefits.]

Form 1099-G also shows how much money, if any, you had withheld from your benefits for federal and state income taxes, which you also report on your tax return.

Most states tax unemployment benefits, too, although there are a few exceptions. Five states that have a state income tax do not tax unemployment benefits: California, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, says Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at the Tax Foundation’s Center for State Tax Policy.

And Alabama, Indiana and Wisconsin may exclude some or all unemployment benefits from taxes in many cases, he says.

[See: Answers to 15 Common Tax Questions]

How to Pay Taxes on Unemployment Benefits

When you receive unemployment benefits, you have the option to have taxes withheld from your payments — like you would from your salary — so you won’t have a surprise bill at tax time.

You can ask to have taxes withheld from your payments when you apply for benefits or you can file IRS Form W-4V Voluntary Withholding Request with your state unemployment office. Keep in mind that you can request only 10% of each payment be withheld from your unemployment benefits for federal income taxes.

“The decision as to whether or not to have income taxes withheld from unemployment benefits is uniquely yours,” says Mitchell Freedman, a CPA and personal financial specialist in Westlake Village, California.

“If you still receive a refund of taxes withheld or estimated, even after receiving the benefits, consider nothing. However, if you are concerned as to whether or not you will be able to write a check to the IRS come April, then have them withhold income taxes, which will take some of the stress out of paying your liability,” he adds.

[What Happens if You Don’t Pay Your Taxes?]

Other Options to Pay Taxes on Unemployment Benefits

You may also have some other options to pay taxes on your unemployment benefits. Instead of having income taxes withheld from them, you could pay estimated taxes each quarter, which adds more flexibility. Or, you could have more money withheld from your paychecks if you return to work later in the year.

“If you’re strapped for cash and need every dollar for living expenses, I would take out minimal taxes now and deal with the shortage at tax time,” says Morris Armstrong, an enrolled agent in Cheshire, Connecticut.

You may have to pay a penalty, however, because you didn’t pay taxes throughout the year. “Keep in mind that interest rates are higher than they have been in years and shortfalls will cost you more,” he says.

“(Unemployment) is taxable and you should have taxes withheld, if feasible, or make adjustments further down the road through withholding or estimated payments,” Armstrong adds.

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How Are Unemployment Benefits Taxed? originally appeared on

Update 03/26/24: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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