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Do I Have to Pay Taxes On My Unemployment Benefits?

Last Updated on May 19, 2022 / Benefits & Compensation, Recordkeeping

HR Question:

It’s tax season, and I’m a little confused about how to handle the unemployment benefits I received in 2020 – do I have to pay Federal and State taxes on this income?

HR Answer:

Millions of people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic were able to receive some relief through unemployment benefits. As the nation navigates our annual tax season (a little later than normal, as the tax deadline was delayed until May 17), many are surprised to learn that income is actually taxable!

When it comes to federal income taxes, unemployment benefits are taxed as if they were wages. The American Rescue Plan, signed into law on March 11, 2021, includes a provision that makes the first $10,200 of unemployment nontaxable for each taxpayer who made less than $150,000 in 2020. If you are married, and your spouse also received unemployment, both of you can exclude $10,200.

However, when it comes to state income taxes, it depends on where you live.  Some don’t tax them at all, while others are making exceptions for 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic. To help taxpayers understand how unemployment benefits are taxed on a state-by-state basis, Kiplinger created a comprehensive guide. Let’s take a look at the guidance for Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana:


Ohio remains aligned with the federal government exemption guidelines for unemployment income in 2020, meaning the individuals are not required to pay taxes on unemployment benefits up to $10,200. The IRS is expected to issue a refund for anyone who filed prior to the American Rescue Plan being enacted. More details to come.


Kentucky will not provide an exemption for up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation received in 2020. Kiplinger provided further guidance by highlighting that “[any] unemployment compensation excluded on a Kentucky resident’s federal income tax return must be added back on his or her Kentucky individual income tax return on Schedule M, Line 5, as an ‘Other Addition.’”


Indiana is not currently allowing for an exemption for unemployment compensation, which means that “an amount excluded for federal income tax purposes has to be added back when filing your Indiana income tax return.” As Kiplinger pointed out, this could change depending on what the Indiana General Assembly decides in the coming months.

But a key point to note here is that there may be a part of unemployment benefits that are deductible (as Indiana considers unemployment benefits taxable). “The deductible amount depends on your federal adjusted gross income, how much unemployment compensation you receive, and your filing status,” Kiplinger reports. In order to calculate the exact amount of your deductions, Kiplinger also recommends completing the “Unemployment Compensation Worksheet” in the Form IT-40 instruction booklet.

For additional guidance on how unemployment benefits are taxed in your state, contact your tax advisor or get in touch with your state’s Tax and Information Assistance contact.


Thank you to Strategic HR’s Terry Salo, Senior HR Consultant, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

Strategic HR knows that keeping abreast of legal compliance issues can be daunting, especially when the laws keep changing. We can help you stay compliant by fielding your questions and offering resources to help you identify and mitigate compliance issues. Visit our Legal Compliance and Recordkeeping page to learn about our auditing services which can help you identify trouble spots in your HR function.