Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to be scary and confusing. We provide helpful tips and resources to help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state without a lawyer.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated May 10, 2023
Deciding to file bankruptcy can be difficult. But many people who begin the process feel relief because they know they’re taking steps to get their financial future back on track. Remember that bankruptcy isn’t a dirty word and that it isn’t the only option for people looking for debt relief. But it does help people get back on the right foot and eliminate debt, sometimes in a matter of months.
While you’re working through Chapter 7, remember to take a deep breath and follow the instructions. You’ll be finished before you know it!
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Wisconsin
Lawyers can be one of the most expensive parts of filing bankruptcy. But you don’t have to hire a lawyer to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This guide walks you through the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process in Wisconsin, so you can see what steps you need to take to file on your own for free.
Collect Your Wisconsin Bankruptcy Documents
Whether you’re using an attorney, going through Upsolve, or filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin without any help, the first thing you’ll need to do is get your financial documents together. The bankruptcy court has specific documents they’ll need to see, including:
Your last two years of tax returns.
The last 60 days of paycheck stubs. If you can’t find your paystubs, you can ask your employer’s payroll office to give you copies.
It’s also helpful to have bank statements from the past 6-12 months and a recent credit report. You can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies. If you file using Upsolve’s tool, it will pull your credit report for you. Your credit report lists all your creditors, or who you owe money to. You’ll need this information to file your bankruptcy.
Also, start collecting any letters and statements from debt collectors and collection agencies you receive. When you fill out your Chapter 7 paperwork, you’ll need to list who you owe money to, how much money you owe them, and their current contact information.
Take Credit Counseling
Before you can file for Chapter 7, you’ll need to take a credit counseling course. It covers topics like your income, expenses, assets, and budgeting. And it will also discuss your debt relief options. The class generally takes about two hours, and you can do it from home over the phone or online. Make sure you take the course from a provider approved by the state of Wisconsin. The course does cost money, but you can ask for a fee waiver.
It can be a good idea to take the class early and get it out of the way, but you need to complete the class within 180 days before you file your bankruptcy petition with the court. Once you finish the course, you’ll receive a completion certificate. You need to include this document with your bankruptcy filing.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the bankruptcy forms you’ll complete are the same nationwide. You’ll use the financial documents you gathered to fill out the forms, which are available for free online. The federal government has a guide for filling out the forms if you’re filing pro se (without a lawyer).
Even if you have a lawyer, you’ll still need to answer questions about your finances. You’ll usually do this by filling out a questionnaire. The lawyer will use your answers to fill out the paperwork. Upsolve works similarly — you’ll fill out an online questionnaire, then our software generates your forms for you.
Take your time when going through the paperwork. You need to be accurate and honest. If you submit false information to the court, you could be committing perjury.
Get Your Filing Fee
Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy costs$338. Normally it’s a good idea to wait to file your bankruptcy petition until you can pay the fee in full. But in some cases, people need to file quickly to take advantage of the automatic stay to stop a wage garnishment or a foreclosure. Once the court issues the automatic stay, creditors can’t continue their collection efforts.
If you’re in a similar position and need to file before you can pay the full fee, you can pay the $338 in up to four installment payments. Be careful, though — if you’re late with a payment, or miss a payment, the court can dismiss your case without giving you a refund.
If you earn less than $150% of the federal poverty guidelines for Wisconsin, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. See if you’re eligible by looking at our Wisconsin Fee Waiver Eligibility table below.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
After you finish filling out all your bankruptcy documents, you’ll need to print them. When you print, you should use regular, white letter-sized paper (8.5x11-inch paper). You should print everything in black ink and on one side only.
It’s a good idea to print everything the same week you file because the bankruptcy documents are time-sensitive. Go through each document to make sure you have everything you need and you’ve signed in every signature spot.
Upsolve users will get a packet as a single PDF download that includes dividers that flag each signature spot.
Make a copy of everything for your records and keep it in a safe space.
File Your Forms With the Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court
If you’re filing your bankruptcy petition pro se, you’ll need to get the physical papers to the courthouse. Only lawyers can file online. Not every courthouse in Wisconsin accepts bankruptcy filings, so you’ll need to get the papers to the Madison courthouse if you live in the Western Districts or the Milwaukee courthouse if you live in the Eastern District.
Before you head out, make sure you have everything you need, including a picture ID and all the forms that have to be filed. You’ll be entering a federal courthouse, so you’ll need to go through security. Once you get past security, make your way to the clerk's office. These are the folks who take your forms and make sure that you have everything together. You will not see a judge during this visit. Once you’re done at the clerk's office and they’ve given you your bankruptcy case number, you’ll be free to head home.
If you can’t make it to the courthouse, someone else can drop off the forms for you or you can mail them to the address provided on the court’s website. The courthouse may have additional COVID-19 safety precautions or options for filing during the pandemic, so double-check before you go.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Once you file your Chapter 7 paperwork, the bankruptcy court will assign a trustee to oversee your case. The trustee isn’t a judge, but they act as an administrator for the case.
At least seven days before the 341 meeting, you must send your trustee:
A bank statement covering the date you filed bankruptcy, and
The last two years of federal tax returns.
The bankruptcy trustee may send you a letter asking for other documents, like additional bank statements (usually the statement that covers your filing date) or pay stubs. Do your best to get the documents to the trustee as quickly as possible. This will help your bankruptcy case go smoothly and help you get your discharge sooner.
Take a Debtor Education Course
After you file your Chapter 7 case, you need to take a second financial education course before your Chapter 7 case can be discharged. This course focuses on financial management and aims to set you up with the tools you need to take full advantage of your fresh start. You need to take the course from a list of providers approved by the state of Wisconsin. You can take the course over the phone or online.
Like the first course, this class takes about two hours to finish and you’ll receive a completion certificate. Send this certificate to the court within 60 days of the meeting of creditors. If you don’t, the court could dismiss your case and you won’t get a discharge.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
After filing bankruptcy, you’ll receive a notice from the court about the 341 meeting, which is also called the meeting of creditors. It typically happens 30-40 days after you file your case. It’s the only formal proceeding for most folks filing Chapter 7. Right now, all of the creditor’s meetings are being held over the phone or by video conference as a COVID-19 safety measure.
At the meeting, your bankruptcy trustee will check your ID and ask you questions for about five minutes. The questions will be about your financial situation. It’s a good idea to prepare for the meeting by reviewing your bankruptcy papers. Creditors can show up to ask you questions, but that doesn’t usually happen.
After the 341 meeting, the only thing you need to do is turn in your completion certificate from the debtor education course (within 60 days of the meeting) and wait for your discharge. Congratulations!
Dealing with Your Car
You don’t have to delay filing for Chapter 7 relief because you’re worried about losing your car. The Bankruptcy Code has rules that protect your car or let you walk away from a bad loan.
Wisconsin bankruptcy laws allow you to protect up to $4,000 of equity in your vehicle if you own it or have paid off part of the loan. If you’re still paying off your car and like the car, the loan, and the monthly payment, you can reaffirm the loan and keep making payments as normal. If you’re leasing the car and are happy with the lease, you can usually continue with the same lease agreement.
If you like the car but the loan balance is more than the car is worth, you can pay the car’s actual value as a lump sum by redeeming the car. Finally, if the car is not really that great and may not even be around for that much longer, you can surrender it. If you surrender or redeem your car, you won’t have to pay the balance of the loan.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Means Test
The Wisconsin means test calculates whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or if you have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. First, the test compares your household income to the median income for the state. If you make less than the income limits, you "pass" the means test.
If your income is higher than the median, you will compare your disposable income and household expenses to your debts. If your debts are high enough that you can’t pay 25% of them within the next five years, you can still file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7. If not, you can look into filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2023
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Forms
everyone across the country uses. Second, you’ll use specific forms for the Wisconsin bankruptcy court for your district. The forms for the Western District of Wisconsin are available here, and the forms for the Eastern District of Wisconsin are available here.
Eastern District of Wisconsin Requirements
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin covers the 28 easternmost counties in the state and has locations in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Oshkosh. You can mail or drop off your papers to the Milwaukee office but not to Green Bay or Oshkosh. The district has an online form you can use to fill out your creditor’s matrix.
The Eastern District accepts the bankruptcy fee as cash (using exact change), certified check, money order, or cashier’s check. If you’re filing pro se, you can’t use a personal check or a debit or credit card to pay the filing fee.
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Western District of Wisconsin Requirements
This district accepts only cashier’s checks or money orders from pro se filers. The Eau Claire courthouse doesn’t accept mailed documents or cash payments. You can make a cash payment in the Madison office with exact change only. Also, if you mail documents to the court, you must mail them to Madison. Before you go to court, make sure you look at the latest COVID-19 safety precautions.
The Western District of Wisconsin allows pro se filers to use the Electronic Self Representation online tool for filing bankruptcy. You also ask the court to email you notices instead of mailing them out. Keep an eye on the mail, though — your bankruptcy trustee may still mail you important notices or document requests.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions
In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your personal property and real estate can be sold at a liquidation sale. All the money from the sale goes to pay the debts you owe your creditors. That said, most people don’t end up losing property because much of it is protected by state or federal bankruptcy exemptions.
If you file bankruptcy in Wisconsin, you can choose to use exemptions from either the federal Bankruptcy Code or pursuant to or Wisconsin law, but you can’t mix and match. One of the biggest differences between state and federal law in this context is the homestead exemption. Wisconsin’s homestead exemption allows you to protect up to $75,000 of equity in your home if you file individually. The federal homestead exemption only protects up to $25,150 in equity.
Both systems also protect your car if it’s worth less than $4,000, and both have a wildcard exemption that protects up to $13,400 in household goods like your clothes or furniture. Payments such as child support or spousal support (alimony), veteran’s benefits, and workers’ compensation are also fully protected under both systems.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Hiring a lawyer for your Chapter 7 can save you money in the long run, especially if you have assets that don't fit neatly into one of the exemption categories. Bankruptcy attorneys in Wisconsin generally charge a flat fee of $1,250 to $1,665 for Chapter 7 cases, depending on how complicated the case is. Cost isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re hiring a lawyer, so do your research to find the law firm you feel most comfortable with.
Wisconsin Legal Aid Organizations
If you don’t feel comfortable going through the bankruptcy process on your own but can’t afford to hire a private bankruptcy attorney, you should look for legal aid. These organizations provide free or low-cost aid for civil cases like bankruptcy across Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Court Locations
Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse
120 North Henry Street Madison, WI 53703
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Judges
|Eastern District of Wisconsin||Hon. Susan V. Kelley|
|Eastern District of Wisconsin||Hon. G. Michael Halfenger|
|Eastern District of Wisconsin||Hon. Beth E. Hanan|
|Eastern District of Wisconsin||Hon. Brett H. Ludwig|
|Western District of Wisconsin||Hon. Catherine J. Furay|
|Western District of Wisconsin||Hon. Brett H. Ludwig|
|Western District of Wisconsin||Hon. Thomas M. Lynch|
|Western District of Wisconsin||Hon. William V. Altenberger|
|Michael F. Dubisemail@example.com|
|Virginia E. George||Virginia@vegeorgelaw.com|
|Andrew N. Herbachfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Bruce A. Lanseremail@example.com|
|Larry H. Liebzeit||Larry@blocklegalservice.com|
|Helen M. Ludwigfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Douglas F. Mann||DFMatty@aol.com|
|Steven R. McDonaldemail@example.com|
|John M. Scaffidi||JMScaffidi@rsmlaw.com|
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|Brenda L. Zeddunemail@example.com|