The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered businesses across the country indefinitely, making unemployment a lifeline for millions of Americans. If you've been laid off, you probably need that money as soon as possible to help cover your basic expenses, but unemployment offices are so overwhelmed right now that even filing a claim can be difficult.

There are a few things you can do to speed up the process and prevent disruptions in your weekly checks. Here are four of them.

Man typing on computer at home

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Have all of your information ready

Your unemployment application will go much more smoothly if you don't have to take breaks to hunt down key information. Every state has slightly different requirements for what information you need to apply, which you can find on your state's unemployment website. Most of them will require at least:

  • Your Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • Your address
  • Your employment history for the past 18 months, including the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your employers and the first and last dates worked for each
  • Your bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit

Gather this information before you sit down to do the application so you can finish it all in a single sitting.

2. Apply as soon as you are laid off

While most states have waived the one-week waiting period on unemployment, it still takes a little while to get your application processed. The state has to verify the information in your application and check that you earned enough income during the relevant time frame to ensure your eligibility. Applying as soon as you get laid off will ensure you get your money as quickly as possible.

If your application is denied, that could slow things down a little. But if you applied as soon as you were able to, you can work to resolve the matter as soon as you get your denial notice so you can get the money you and your family need more quickly.

3. Apply online instead of by phone

Some states enable you to apply for unemployment by phone if you're not comfortable doing so over the internet. But applying online is the way to go if you're trying to get your checks as quickly as possible. As I mentioned above, unemployment offices are extremely busy right now and you'll probably experience long wait times if you try to call to complete your application. 

Your state should have an online application form where you can enter all the required information. Due to the high volume of traffic to these sites, some states are requesting that you apply on a specific day or at a certain time, depending on the first letter of your last name, to avoid overwhelming the system. You can find this information on your state's unemployment website.

4. File your benefit claims on time

Most states require you to file weekly benefit claims in order to get your unemployment check for the next week. Some states require applicants to file biweekly claims instead. Failing to file your benefit claim could result in a disruption of your unemployment checks, and that could put a strain on your finances if you're counting on unemployment to provide a steady source of income. 

Set an alarm or a reminder for yourself to file your benefit claims if you're prone to forgetting. Your state unemployment website should instruct you on when and how to file an unemployment benefit claim once you've set up your account.

When you aren't working, you want your unemployment checks to come as quickly as possible so you don't fall behind on your bills. Follow the four steps listed above to ensure you get yours in a timely fashion.