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Traditionally hailed as the “Dairy Capital of the USA,” the heartland of Wisconsin is also the birthplace of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright; the home of the world’s largest music festival, Milwaukee Summerfest; and a prime location for nature lovers with easy access to the Great Lakes.
While the thriving milk, cheese, and yogurt industry is a boon to Wisconsinites, other industries bolster the state’s economy as well. Harley-Davidson, Jockey, and Kohl’s are just a few of the Fortune 1000 corporations that maintain headquarters in the Badger State.
Despite the presence of these lucrative companies, Wisconsin has a lower per capita income than almost half the states in the U.S., and many residents are struggling to make ends meet. Some are facing an uphill battle with credit card debt, medical bills, and variable mortgage rates. Drowning in debt can feel like diving into a black hole with no escape, but there is hope if you live in Wisconsin and need a fresh start.
This post provides an introduction to the basics of filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the State of Wisconsin. For a detailed legal analysis, please reach out to a qualified Wisconsin bankruptcy attorney before you decide your next step.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Wisconsin: The Basics
In layperson’s terms, Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a clean slate for a financially struggling individual — a chance to rebuild both your bank account and credit score, although your credit score will initially take a hit. Unlike a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, outstanding debts do not need to be repaid and are permanently discharged or “forgiven.” Certain debt, however, may be ineligible for discharge, including taxes owed to the IRS and child support.
In legal terms, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy means that creditors and collection agencies are no longer permitted to contact you while your case is pending and after your case has been successfully discharged. For many, this news will come as a great relief after months or even years spent worrying about unpaid bills.
Not every resident of Wisconsin may qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge, especially those with higher incomes. Taking the means test for the State of Wisconsin is the quickest way to see if you financially qualify to receive a discharge under this bankruptcy category.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions: What property can I keep?
Homeowners may file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and keep their home investment in certain cases. As such, homesteads are one of the primary exemptions (assets that are untouchable by creditors) in many Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases.
The homestead is the most important exemption for many Wisconsin filers, but there are many other exemptions which may apply. In Wisconsin, filers may opt to use state-specific exemptions or federal exemption statutes.
Here are some of the top bankruptcy exemptions in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin vs. Federal ExemptionsThe top 5 exemptions under Wisconsin law compared to federal law.
|Type of exemption||Wisconsin law||Federal law|
|Homestead||$75,000, or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly||$23,675 of equity in principal place of residence|
|Personal property||$12,000 aggregate value||$12,625 aggregate value on household goods, plus federal wildcard exemption applicable ($1,250 plus $11,850 of any unused portion of your homestead exemption)|
|Vehicle||$4,000; an additional $12,000 in unused personal property exemptions can be added to this||$3,775|
|Wages||75% net weekly income||Income you've earned but not yet received becomes part of your bankruptcy estate|
|Pension/retirement||Tax-exempt retirement accounts, including pensions for some firefighters, police officers, and municipal employees||Exempt, with a cap of about $1.28 million on IRAs and Roth IRAs|
The homestead exemption through Wisconsin code is more beneficial than what federal exemptions allow. Bankruptcy filers may exempt up to $75,000 equity in their home for individuals, or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. If you intend to purchase another home, your sale proceeds are exempt for up to two years, but this cannot be doubled when married. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.20
Up to $4,000 equity in a motor vehicle may be exempt using the state exemptions. An additional $12,000 in unused personal property exemptions can be added to this for vehicles that are worth more money. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(g)
Personal property is exempt up to $12,000 in aggregate value. This includes the following:
- Household goods and furnishings
- Keepsakes, jewelry, and other articles of personal adornment
- Musical instruments
- Sporting goods
Money paid into a trust fund or college savings account also is exempt under the personal property exemptions, in addition to personal injury recoveries up to $50,000. Wis. Stat. § 815.18(3)(d)
Up to 75% of a debtor’s net weekly income is exempt, limited to what is reasonably necessary. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(h)
Pensions and Retirement Accounts
Various pension and retirement accounts are covered by Wisconsin or federal law, including tax-exempt retirement accounts. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(j) Some municipal employees, firefighters and police officers who work in cities with more than 100,000 residents have exempt pensions under Wisconsin bankruptcy code. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(e)(f)
Additionally, public benefits including veterans benefits, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and disability insurance are all 100% exempt.
Where are the bankruptcy courts located in Wisconsin?
After conferring with a bankruptcy attorney to determine your exemptions, you will undergo mandatory credit counseling, followed by the formal filing of your bankruptcy petition. Ultimately, if your case moves forward, you will make an appearance in a Wisconsin bankruptcy court according to where you reside.
The court locations in the State of Wisconsin are as follows.
Individuals may file for bankruptcy independently, but the representation of an attorney is highly advisable as the legal process (which will include a court date) can be complex to navigate. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin may seem daunting at first, but we have experienced member attorneys ready to guide you through the process.