How to Calculate Unemployment Wages

If you have recently lost your job and will be relying on unemployment benefits to pay your bills, you may be wondering how much that will be. Unemployment benefit compensation is calculated based on the amount of money you have earned in the past 18 months. The exact calculation formula actually varies slightly from state to state. Most states offer a way for you to estimate your expected unemployment wages as long as you know how much you earned from past jobs.


Step 1

Determine which of your previous jobs will be used to calculate your wages by examining your base period. The base period is the first four of the past five completed calendar quarters. Calendar quarters are three-month periods starting with January of each year. Once you know your base period, you know which jobs will be used to calculate your benefit amount.

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Step 2

Calculate how much wages you earned during your base period using your old paycheck stubs and W-2s. The amount you earned is what the unemployment office bases your unemployment compensation amount on. Calculate the amount earned in each quarter as the highest quarter is what is commonly used for benefits determination.


Step 3

Look on your state unemployment office website to see if a benefits estimator or calculator is available, such as on the Colorado and Michigan unemployment office websites. If your state does not have one of these calculators, look to see if the benefits guide book is available as a PDF download. If so, there is likely a chart in it that can be used to determine your benefits amount based on the wages in your highest quarter. If you don't know your state unemployment website, use the Job Hunt website to get it.


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