If you happen to find yourself among the ranks of the unemployed, there are a few things you can do to make life easier as you search for a new job. The most important of those things is to file for unemployment benefits immediately.

The country's unemployment rate has reached 8.5 percent. In Franklin County, that number is 7.8 percent.

If you happen to find yourself among the ranks of the unemployed, there are a few things you can do to make life easier as you search for a new job. The most important of those things is to file for unemployment benefits immediately.

Brian Harter, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, advises people who find out they've lost their job "to get online and get their application process started as soon as possible," before they do anything else.

Here's what else to keep in mind:

Unemployment benefits

* File your application as soon as you lose your job. You'll be paid from the day you file, even if you were laid off the week before.

* Benefits last up to 79 weeks, and the maximum payment in Ohio is $297 a week. Your exact amount is determined by a calculation based on your former salary.

* Filing online is advised. You can find the form and more info at unemployment.ohio.gov.

COBRA

* The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act allows you to be covered under your company's group health insurance policy for up to 18 months after you've been laid off.

* In the past, people who took advantage of COBRA had to pay the full premium, but thanks to a recent subsidy, the government now covers 65 percent of your premium costs.

* You must apply for these benefits; you'll get paperwork from your employer.

401(k)

* Experts advise that you should stop contributing to retirement plans if you get laid off. And remember, most plans require you to repay any loans from your 401(k) within 30 to 60 days of leaving the company.

* Some companies might allow you to keep your existing 401(k), but most people would be better served rolling a 401(k) into an IRA.

* Liquidating the 401(k) should be a last resort; your tax liability won't make it worth it.

Debt and loans

If you find yourself having trouble keeping up with your bills, contact creditors and lenders to schedule a meeting and explain your situation. They could help you work out smaller payments, refinance your loans or offer a consolidation loan, although most choices will likely cost you more in the end.

Social services

* To be eligible for food stamps, your family income cannot exceed 130 percent of thefederal poverty guideline. An application is available at jfs.ohio.gov.

* Medicaid provides health-care coverage for children, pregnant women, families with children younger than 19, and those disabled or age 65 and older. You must meet certain financial requirements and fill out an online application.