How Do Unemployment Debit Cards Work?

a person holding an unemployment debit card

Jacques LOIC / Getty Images

When you receive unemployment compensation, your benefits may be paid via a prepaid debit card (also known as a direct payment card or electronic payment card) issued by the state. The card will be provided to you by your state unemployment office. It will be mailed to you once your claim is approved.

Other options for receiving unemployment benefits include a direct deposit to your bank account or prepaid card or, in some states, a paper check delivered by mail.

Here's information on options for receiving unemployment benefits, how state-issued prepaid debit cards work, how often you'll be paid, and what to do if there's an issue with your benefit payments.

Key Takeaways

  • Unemployment benefits are typically through a direct deposit to a bank account, credit union account, or prepaid card. In some states, paper checks are an option.

Unemployment Compensation Payment Options

When you file for unemployment, you will be advised of the options available for receiving benefits. Unemployment benefits are typically paid through a direct deposit to your bank account, credit union account, or prepaid card.

Most states provide an option to receive benefits through a state-issued prepaid debit card. Some states still issue paper checks. Others don't because it is far less expensive to process benefits electronically.

In the states with electronic payments, options for receiving unemployment benefits include having a direct deposit transferred straight to your bank account or having your benefits added to a bank debit card. For example, in Connecticut, claimants have two options for payment: direct deposit or a debit card.

The benefits of using a state-issued prepaid debit card include the following:

  • You will receive a free card by mail.
  • Benefits are automatically loaded onto your card for free.
  • It's faster and safer than a paper check.

How Unemployment Debit Cards Work

After you sign up for benefits, your card will be mailed to you. Once it's received, you will need to activate it and set up a PIN in order for it to receive funds from the government. You'll receive your funds according to a schedule determined by your local unemployment office.


If your state unemployment office provides a debit card, it will work just like any other bank debit card. You will be able to withdraw cash at an ATM machine of your choice and use your card for purchases at stores.

You can also pay bills with your debit card. For example, you may be provided with a Chase Visa card, a KeyBank K2Benefits debit card, a Bank of America Mastercard, or another bank-issued card. When you use your card, it won’t be apparent to a retail store or anywhere else you use it that it’s an unemployment payment card. Your card will be similar to a personal debit card.

In addition, you may be able to transfer funds from your unemployment debit card directly to your bank account via a direct deposit transfer if you want to pay your monthly bills that way. Check with your local bank to see if they provide this service.

How Often You'll Be Paid

Payments are typically made on a weekly or biweekly basis, depending on your location. To find out how to sign up for (or change) your unemployment payment option, check with your state unemployment office.

What To Do if You Don't Receive Your Payment

If your payment is more than a few days late, call your unemployment office. They will be able to provide you with information as to whether or not your payment has been processed and what to do if your payment is delayed or there's been some kind of issue.


Most states have a special number to call for debit card problems.

What To Do if You Lose Your Debit Card

What should you do if you have lost or misplaced your unemployment debit card? If your debit card is damaged, lost, or stolen, check the FAQs section of your state unemployment office for instructions on how to get a replacement card. For example, in California, there's an 800 number to call to get a replacement card mailed to you.

How To Avoid Unemployment Debit Card Scams

Unemployment debit card scammers are thieves who target unemployment recipients in order to get their hands on their funds.

The good news is, you can protect yourself. Unemployment offices do not ask for your personal information once your claim is set up. Therefore, most likely you're dealing with a scammer if you receive a phone call, email, or text message requesting the following information:

  • Social Security number
  • Bank card/direct payment card number
  • Direct deposit account number
  • PIN

To protect your privacy, do not provide any of the above information to a third party.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should I do if I receive an unemployment debit card but, there's no money on it?

It can take a few weeks to get your first unemployment payment. After that, you should receive payment a few days after filing your weekly claim. For example, in Pennsylvania, it can take four to six weeks to receive payment on your debit card if there are any eligibility issues. After the first payment, you'll be paid within two to three days of filing your weekly claim.

I can't find my unemployment debit card. What should I do?

Your state unemployment website will have instructions for what to do if your debit card is lost or stolen. In most locations, you will need to report a lost or stolen card and request a new card from the bank that issued it.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Board. "You Have Options for How To Receive Your Unemployment Benefits."

  2. State of Connecticut. "File for Unemployment Benefits."

  3. KeyBank. "Get All the Benefits of Key2benefits."

  4. Employment Development Department. "How Can I Get My EDD Debit Card Replaced?"

  5. Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation. "Debit Card FAQs."

Related Articles