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Unemployment Debit Cards Explained

Chime Team • November 6, 2023

If you’ve applied for unemployment benefits, you may be paid with an unemployment debit card or electronic payment card. Find out how the card works, where you can use it, and when funds are deposited.

Most states now offer unemployment benefits via a debit card that can be used to pay for bills and everyday purchases while you look for a new job. Issuing paper checks is a thing of the past, as unemployment offices now use cheaper and more efficient methods of getting the funds to you — like the unemployment debit card. 

If you’ve applied for benefits and are wondering what’s next, check out how an unemployment debit card works, when your card will arrive, and how to use the funds.

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What’s an unemployment debit card?

An unemployment debit card is mailed to you after you apply for unemployment benefits through your state and can be used just like regular debit cards. For example, you can make purchases, withdraw cash, and pay your bills. But, once all of the money on the card has been spent, you can’t use it again until you receive another unemployment payment deposit.

When you sign up for unemployment benefits, you can usually decide how to receive your payments. One payment method is via direct deposit debit payments made to your bank account. Another is by receiving an unemployment debit card. This card can also be referred to as a direct payment card or electronic payment card. The debit card issuer will also depend on what state your unemployment benefits are coming from. Most states use Mastercard, while some still issue Visa debit cards.

How do unemployment debit cards work?

After you file your unemployment insurance claim with your state’s unemployment office, you should typically receive your debit card by the third week of your claim. Some states have shorter time frames, so it’s always good to check with your specific office to know what to expect. 

Your state’s unemployment website will typically let you know when you can expect to receive your debit card. Again, this can take a few weeks after you initially file your claim, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of your budget while you wait for your card to arrive. Most states generally use standard mail to send your card, so tracking won’t be available.

If there are any issues with your claim, it can potentially take longer. For security purposes, you’ll receive your debit card in a standard envelope, so be sure to watch out for it in the mail. 

How to get an unemployment debit card

After you sign up for benefits, your unemployment debit card will be mailed to the address that you provide. Once you receive your card, you’ll need to activate it by calling the number on the card. You will also need to set up a PIN and then you can use your card like any other debit card. 

Unemployment debit card withdrawals

When it comes to withdrawing funds from an unemployment debit card or moving money to your personal bank account, you can transfer or withdraw some or all of your balance. For example, in the state of New Jersey, your unemployment debit card has no daily withdrawals or purchase limits. 

But, be aware that ATM owners ultimately determine the amount of funds that can be dispensed per transaction. You can also check with your state’s unemployment office for more specific guidelines regarding withdrawals from your unemployment debit card.

You can use your unemployment debit card to withdraw cash using an ATM. But, beware: There may be fees if you withdraw money from a bank that’s out of network. For this reason, it’s important to read the fine print on your state unemployment card before using it at an ATM. In general, you’ll have an unlimited number of fee-free withdrawals at ATMs listed with your unemployment debit card information and with in-person tellers at any bank that displays your card carrier’s logo.

You may also be able to use your unemployment debit card to make a purchase at millions of businesses, like grocery stores, that might even allow you to get cash back with your purchase.

When do unemployment benefits get deposited?

When first applying for unemployment insurance benefits, it can take up to 3 weeks in most states to receive your card with your first round of funds on it. You can then expect to receive your unemployment benefits onto your debit card weekly or biweekly, depending on your state’s unemployment benefit payment schedule. 

How to check the balance on an unemployment debit card

If you want to check the balance on your card, there are a number of ways to do that. You can check your balance at an ATM or online with your card issuer. Your card issuer may also offer the option to sign up for text alerts to let you know when your funds have been deposited. 


Can I pay bills with my unemployment debit card?

An unemployment debit card comes with spending flexibility. If you need to pay bills online, like your utilities or phone bill, you can do that with your unemployment debit card. When you use your card, it won’t be apparent to the vendor that it’s an unemployment debit card, as the payment will be made just like a personal debit card.

If the debit card offers it, you can also set up online bill pay

How do I transfer money from an unemployment debit card to a bank account?

If you want to move your unemployment funds off your debit card and into your checking or savings account, you have the option to do this. Transferring funds can be helpful when it comes to paying bills that you generally can’t pay with a debit card, like your rent or mortgage. Before you make a transfer, however, check with the card issuer to see if they charge fees, and check with your local bank to see if it provides this service.

I lost my unemployment debit card. What can I do?

To request a new card, you’ll need to contact customer service for the debit card, not your unemployment agency. The number can be found online or in the documentation you originally received with your card. If you lose your card or it’s stolen, you should call for a replacement card immediately so that your remaining balance can be transferred to a new card. 

I received my unemployment debit card, but there’s no money on it. What should I do?

There could be a few reasons why the funds aren’t showing up on your unemployment debit card. Here are some things to check:

  • Was your unemployment insurance claim approved?
  • Did you activate your card and create a PIN?
  • Did you recertify for your weekly or biweekly unemployment benefits?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, contact your state’s unemployment office and try to get in touch with a customer service representative to solve the issue. 

What if my unemployment debit card is taking a long time to arrive?

Call your state’s unemployment office if it seems like your debit card is taking too long to arrive. Keep in mind that it is not unusual for your debit card to take several weeks to arrive.

What time will my unemployment benefits be on my card?

Once your claim has been approved, your benefits can be deposited into your account as early as 2 business days after you request your weekly benefits. But each state ultimately works with a different payment schedule, so always check with your state’s unemployment office to find out the exact timeline.

Final thoughts: Get more information

Your state’s unemployment office will have the most accurate and reliable information about their unemployment debit card and the answers to FAQs specific to your state. While most unemployment debit cards work in a similar way, there may be differences in fees and payment schedules, depending on which state you live in.

When using your unemployment debit card, it’s also a good idea to tweak your budget to help keep track of your monthly expenses and spending. From there, you can put together a financial plan to help get ahead for the future. 

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