Bills can become overwhelming without much warning, and when that happens, filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can offer the relief you need. Gathering your financial information together is a good place to start. But you'll need to know about other things, too, such as where to find the official bankruptcy forms, completing the Wisconsin means test (needed to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy), obtaining credit counseling information, locating the Wisconsin bankruptcy court, and protecting property in a Wisconsin bankruptcy proceeding.
Official Bankruptcy Forms
Before the Wisconsin bankruptcy court discharges (forgives) your qualifying debt, you must disclose a complete picture of your financial situation on official bankruptcy forms. You can fill out the forms on the court's website. Your case after you file the paperwork along with a filing fee or fee waiver.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Information
Bankruptcy falls under federal law, but some aspects of state law and procedure will affect a bankruptcy case filed in Wisconsin. Here's information you need to know.
Wisconsin Means Testing and Credit Counseling Information
On the U.S. Trustee website, you'll find two types of information necessary to file a Wisconsin bankruptcy case: means testing figures and approved credit counseling providers.
- Means testing information. You can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if your income passes the “means test.” A family income is lower than the median for Wisconsin will qualify. If your family income exceeds the median, you might still pass the means test after subtracting a set of pre-approved expenses. The income charts and expense guidelines are on the website of the U.S. Trustee (select “Means Testing Information”). A Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires you to perform a similar calculation to determine your plan payment amount.
- Credit counseling providers. All individuals must take a credit counseling course before filing for bankruptcy and a debt management course afterward. Look for the list of approved Wisconsin providers under “Credit Counseling & Debtor Education” (scroll down to your bankruptcy district).
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court Locations
Wisconsin has two bankruptcy jurisdictions: Eastern and Western. You can click on the district name to go to the court's website. Each site has a jurisdictional map that will help you locate the correct court for your area.
Eastern District of Wisconsin
Western District of Wisconsin
517 East Wisconsin Avenue, Rm 126
Milwaukee, WI 53202
The Eastern District also holds hearings in Green Bay and Oshkosh.
120 North Henry Street, Rm 340
Madison, WI 53703-2559
500 South Barstow Street
Eau Claire, WI 54701
On both websites, you'll find the local rules, instructions for filing your paperwork, as well as links to means testing information and credit counseling providers. In the Eastern District click on “Filing Without an Attorney.” For the Western District, click on “For Debtors.”
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions
When you file a bankruptcy case, you'll likely be able to keep most or all of your property. Whether you can protect specific property (exempt it) will depend on whether it appears on the Wisconsin exemption list (below) or the federal bankruptcy exemption list. You'll be required to choose only one of the exemption schemes.
Married debtors filing a joint bankruptcy in Wisconsin can each claim the full exemption amount (“double” the exemption) for any property in which they hold an ownership interest.
Property that isn't protected by an exemption is considered “nonexempt.” The Chapter 7 trustee can sell it for the benefit of the creditors.
By contrast, you get to keep your nonexempt property in a Chapter 13 case, and you'll pay the value of the property to your creditors through plan payments over three to five years.
Common exemptions available under Wisconsin law include:
- Alimony and child support. Alimony and child support needed for support. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(c).)
- Bank deposits. Up to $5,000. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(k).)
- Burial property. Burial articles including tombstones, coffins, cemetery lots owned by individuals. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(a).)
- Crime victims' compensation. 100% exempt. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 949.07.)
- Fraternal benefit society benefits. 100% exempt. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 614.96.)
- Homestead property. Equity up to $75,000 in your home. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.20.)
- Insurance benefits. Accident insurance proceeds; federal disability benefits; fire insurance proceeds; life insurance payments; unmatured life insurance and annuity contracts; dividends from unmatured life insurance and annuity contracts up to $150,000 ($4,000 if issued less than two years before filing). (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(i)-(f).)
- Motor vehicles. $4,000 in motor vehicles, plus the unused portion of $12,000 personal property exemption. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(g).)
- Pensions and retirement benefits. Veterans' benefits and war pensions (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(n)); pensions for certain municipal employees, firefighters and police officers working in cities of more than 100,000 residents (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(ef)); pensions for public employees (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 40.08); tax-exempt retirements (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(j)).
- Personal property. $12,000 in total value for any tangible property (other than real estate) used for personal or family use, such as household goods, appliances, and furnishings; wearing apparel; jewelry; keepsakes; books; musical instruments; firearms; sporting goods; animals (Wis. Stat. § 815.18(3)(d); wrongful death award necessary for support; $50,000 personal injury recovery (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(i)(1)(c)); college savings or trust fund (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(o),(p)).
- Prisoner property. Wages earned during imprisonment. (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 303.065(4)(b), 303.08(3), 303.10(7).)
- Social service payments. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 49.96.)
- Trade implements and family business. $15,000 in tools, equipment, and professional books, or in a closely-held company. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(b).)
- Unemployment Compensation. Except for child support claims. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 108.13.)
- Veterans' benefits. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(n).)
- Wages. 75% of weekly income, but not less than 30 times the greater of state or federal minimum wage, if reasonably necessary for support. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(h).)
- Workers' Compensation Benefits. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 102.27.)
Wisconsin's exemption amounts are adjusted periodically. To ensure that your figures are current, check for updates at the official website of the Wisconsin State Legislature or speak with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney.
This overview provides some, but not all, of the necessary information needed in a bankruptcy case. Filing for bankruptcy without a lawyer can be challenging. You're responsible for familiarizing yourself with the law. Consider purchasing a do-it-yourself book like How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer J.D. to help you make well-informed decisions about your bankruptcy matter.