Live in Wisconsin and need help filing for bankruptcy and can't afford an attorney? Our legal aid nonprofit guides Wisconsin debtors through the chapter 7 process.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated July 30, 2020
Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin can be scary, but it does not have to be. First of all, you have to remember that there is no shame in seeking the protections offered to everyone by the Bankruptcy Code. Often times, people see bankruptcy as a bit of a dirty word, when in reality it can be a great tool to get your finances back on track. The process of filing a Wisconsin bankruptcy is pretty straight forward, and while everyone starts out stressed at first, by the time you are done with even just the minimum requirements for getting your discharge, you will feel like a huge burden has been lifted off your shoulders. This guide will provide you with an overview of how to prepare for and what to expect during your Wisconsin bankruptcy. The key, throughout the entirety of the process, is to remember the big picture (no more debt!), take a deep breath, and follow the instructions you are given. No one will judge you because you are taking the steps necessary to take care of yourself and your family after a financial disaster has left you struggling every month.
How to File Bankruptcy in Wisconsin for Free
The two main types (called "Chapters") of bankruptcy that individuals filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin typically file under are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. You can file under both without an attorney, though Chapter 13 is complicated enough that you should seek legal counsel, even if that means investing some money for a lawyer. If your household income falls below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can ask the court to waive the filing fee for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin.
Collect Your Wisconsin Bankruptcy Documents
Whether you are using an attorney, going through Upsolve, or filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin without any help, the first step towards achieving your goal of financial freedom is collecting the documents you will need to go through the rest of the process. Some of them, like your credit report or your bank statements will provide you with information you need to complete the official court forms. Additionally, some of the documents, such as your federal income tax return and your paycheck stubs, also need to be submitted to either the court or the trustee administering your case. Since you will need 6 months of paycheck stubs to ensure you meet the requirements for filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin (7 if you’re moving forward quickly), start by collecting those. If you get paid by direct deposit, chances are your paycheck stubs are emailed to you and easy enough to retrieve from your email inbox. Otherwise, go to your payroll department (or human resources department) to ask for a copy of the last 6 months of paycheck stubs. You don't have to tell them that you are thinking about filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin. You are simply working on your financials and want to make sure you have a complete picture. Remember, there is nothing shameful about taking charge of your finances!
Take Credit Counseling
In order to be a debtor in a bankruptcy, you have to take a credit counseling course. This is a requirement that was added to the Bankruptcy Code in 2005. It aims to make sure that you know your options and alternatives to filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin. During the course, you will review your income, your expenses and whether your budget makes sense for you. It also takes a look at your assets. All in all, it will be a good refresher for you and help put the information that you have to provide to the court in context. Once you have completed the course, you will receive a certificate that is valid for 180 days. If you wait more than 6 months before filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin, you will have to take the course again. Since this course is required for an official court proceeding, make sure you go through a company approved to offer it for Wisconsin bankruptcy cases. Although most people take this course online, a number of providers in Wisconsin also offer in-person options. Two examples are Aurora Family Services, which offers the course in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Wauwatosa, and the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, which has locations in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Marinette, and Menasha. If you are not near any of these locations, make sure to check out the listing of approved providers as it contains several other options for in person credit counseling courses that may be closer to you.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
This is the part of the process where it gets a little more technical, as you will now have to match up the facts of your financial situation with the questions in the forms you need to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin. Everyone filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin has to file the same official bankruptcy forms. The good news is that you can get all of the necessary forms online for free. You even have access to a 49-page instruction manual that contains important information about how to go about completing your forms. If you are not using a lawyer to help you for this part of the process, you may want to check if you are eligible to receive help from Upsolve. Having someone that knows what they are doing, whether that is a private lawyer, a pro bono lawyer, or Upsolve, on your team helps alleviate the stress typically associated with ensuring full compliance with all requirements under Wisconsin bankruptcy laws.
Get Your Filing Fee
Although it sounds a little crazy that someone who has to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin would have to pay a court filing fee, keep in mind, not everyone's situation is the same. One person may not have a problem coming up with the $338, while the person next to them may not ever be able to raise that much money. Even though some of the court locations accept payment of this fee in cash (exact change only), if you do have the ability to pay the $338 necessary for filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin, it's best to bring it in the form of a cashier's check or money order as those forms of payment are accepted at all court locations. If you can't raise this much all at once, you can ask the court to allow you to pay the fee in installments instead. Finally, if there is no way that you will be able to raise this much money because your income is less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines, you can ask the court to waive the filing fee. This is done by filing an application to have the filing fee waived with the court at the time you file the documents necessary to start your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
This is the final step before you are ready to head to the courthouse to get your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin started. By now, you know that there is a number of forms that you will be taking to the courthouse, and that some of the information contained in the documents is time sensitive. That's why it's best to print everything the same week that you plan on filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin. If you don't have access to a printer, you can see if your local library offers printing for their patrons (though, since they are paying for toner and paper themselves, it probably won't be free) or visit a local print shop. If there are none in your area, you can always head to the local Walmart to pick up printer paper and head to a friend's house. Chances are, if they have a kid in high school, they have a printer (or know where to find one). Since you'll be printing a bunch of different forms that all look similar, the first item on your list to print should be a checklist of sorts. This will help you stay organized which, in turn, will come in helpful after filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Three of the five bankruptcy court locations accept the papers necessary for filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin: Madison, Eau Claire, and Milwaukee. 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 will be entering a federal courthouse, so dress appropriately, and leave anything the U.S. Marshals might view as a weapon outside. Once you get past security, make your way to the clerk's office. These are the folks that will actually take your forms and make sure that you have everything needed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin. If you can, avoid going during the lunch hour, as that is when most people head to the clerk's office and the line tends to be the longest. You will not see a judge during this visit to the courthouse. Once you are done at the clerk's office, and they have given you your bankruptcy case number, you will be free to head home. If any debt collectors contact you there, just give them your bankruptcy case number to let them know that Wisconsin bankruptcy laws forbid them from contacting you again.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
After your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin is filed, but before your 341 meeting takes place, you have to send, at minimum, your most recent federal income tax return to your trustee. The trustee uses the information contained in your tax return to verify certain information in your court documents. Depending on the trustee assigned to your case, they may also ask you for other documents, such as paycheck stubs, bank statements etc. Although bankruptcy trustees do not work for you specifically, you have a duty to cooperate with the one assigned to your case in the administration of your case. This includes complying with any document request they send you before your 341 meeting, as long as collecting the requested documents is not unduly burdensome. Remember, everyone filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin has one primary goal: Getting a fresh start by having the court enter a discharge order that relieves you from the obligation of having to pay back all of your debts. The trustee has the power to delay, or even prevent, the entry of the discharge in your case and they don't hesitate to do so when things don't seem to add up and the debtor (you) is not forthcoming with information.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
Before the court can enter a discharge in your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin, you have to take bankruptcy course 2. 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 while managing your finances responsibly. Even though everyone filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin has to take this course, you can't actually do so until after your case has been filed. Similar to the course you took before, you will receive a certificate of completion after you are done. This certificate has to be filed with the court in order to alert the judge that you have complied with this requirement. The United States Trustee has published a list of companies that are approved to offer this course to folks filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin. As before, you can choose to take the course in person, over the phone, or online.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
Shortly after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin is filed, you will receive a notice from the court notifying you about the 341 meeting, or meeting of creditors, you will have to attend. It typically happens about 30-40 days after your case is filed and is the only formal proceeding at the bankruptcy court for most folks filing Chapter 7 in Wisconsin. Even though your creditor can show up to this meeting to ask you questions, that does not usually happen. In most cases, your trustee checks your two forms of identification (one a government issued picture ID, the other proof of your social security number) and then takes about 5 minutes to ask you the same questions they are asking everyone who filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin. It's helpful to prepare for the meeting, if nothing else it will help you keep your nerves at bay. The location of your 341 meeting depends on whether you filed your Wisconsin bankruptcy in the Eastern District or the Western District and which county you live in.
Dealing with Your Car
Unfortunately, a lot of people delay seeking the relief they would get by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin because they are worried about losing their car. The first thing you should review is whether you have equity in your vehicle. The only way to have equity in a vehicle is if it is either paid off completely, or if you managed to pay down the car loan faster than the car lost its value. If you have equity, then your car is an asset. Wisconsin bankruptcy laws allow you to protect up $4,000 of equity in your vehicle, plus any part of your exemption for household goods and furnishings that you don't otherwise need. If you have a car loan, then filing bankruptcy in Wisconsin gives you the power to decide what to do about it. Do you love your car, and the loan balance and monthly payments on it are both reasonable? You can keep your car, and the loan associated with it, by entering into a reaffirmation agreement. Do you love the car, but the loan balance is way higher than what it's worth? You can keep the car by doing a redemption, which means you pay for its actual value instead of paying off the loan. Finally, if the car is not really that great and may not even be around for that much longer, you can surrender it back to the bank. If you do this as a part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin, you will not have to pay the balance that is left on the loan after the car is sold at auction.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Means Test
Everyone's Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin is different, except with respect to the income limits. The Wisconsin means test for bankruptcy calculates whether you qualify for Chapter 7 relief by first comparing your household income to the median household income for your state. If you make less than the income limits, you "pass" the means test. If you make more than that, you may still be eligible for a Chapter 7 because the Wisconsin bankruptcy means test allows you to consider your actual expenses as they compare to standardized expenses set by Congress in step two of the analysis.
Data on Median income levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Wisconsin
Wisconsin Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2021
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Forms
Every person that files Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin has to prepare the same forms for filing with the court. The forms are comprised of mostly the official national bankruptcy forms and some local forms. Each one of the two districts have a specific Wisconsin bankruptcy form for submitting your payment advices (paystubs) to the court. All online bankruptcy forms are available for free from either the Federal Judiciary, or the Wisconsin bankruptcy court for your district.
Eastern District of Wisconsin Requirements
The Eastern District of Wisconsin covers the 28 easternmost counties in the state and has locations in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Oshkosh. If you are married, but file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin without your spouse, this District requires you to complete and file a Statement of Non-Filing Spouse's Social Security Number(s) along with the rest of your bankruptcy forms. Additionally, this district has prepared an easy-to-use cover sheet for filing your paycheck stubs with the court.
Western District of Wisconsin Requirements
The Western District covers the rest of the state as shown on this interactive map of the district. Both locations have a computer terminal you can use, free of charge, to access your case information. Additionally, you can use this computer to submit your creditors' mailing address matrix when filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin. Like the Eastern District, this court has prepared a special cover sheet for you to use when filing your paycheck stubs with the court.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions
Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions can be claimed either pursuant to applicable Wisconsin state law, or by using the federal bankruptcy exemptions set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. You can choose whichever set of exemptions makes more sense for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin, but you cannot mix and match. In addition to the exemption available for your motor vehicle, you can also protect your homestead, as much as $5,000 in your checking account ($10,000 if you are married), and up to $12,000 ($24,000 if you are married) in consumer goods like household goods and furnishings, wearing apparel, keepsakes, jewelry and the like. With respect to these assets, the Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions are more generous than their federal counterparts.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
Hiring a lawyer for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin can save you money in the long run, especially if you have not lived in Wisconsin for at least 2 years or have assets that don't fit neatly into one of the exemption categories available to you. The cost of a bankruptcy lawyer depends on the relative complexity of your case with an average cost just under $1,500.
Attorney cost estimate: $1,250 – $1,665
Wisconsin Legal Aid Organizations
Of course, not everyone can afford to hire a lawyer, and folks filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Wisconsin are no exception. If you fall into this category, you can visit the Pro Se Help Desk at the Milwaukee bankruptcy court or look into pro bono (free) legal services available near you. Folks seeking legal aid in Wisconsin have several options, from Legal Action of Wisconsin with a variety of offices throughout the state, to the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, which helps folks making less than 125% of the poverty guidelines, and more.
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. Dubisfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Virginia E. George||Virginia@vegeorgelaw.com|
|Andrew N. Herbachemail@example.com|
|Bruce A. Lanserfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Larry H. Liebzeit||Larry@blocklegalservice.com|
|Helen M. Ludwigemail@example.com|
|Douglas F. Mann||DFMatty@aol.com|
|Steven R. McDonaldfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|John M. Scaffidi||JMScaffidi@rsmlaw.com|
|Paul G. Swansonemail@example.com|
|Titania D. Whittenfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|James V. Blockemail@example.com|
|Parrish J. Jonesfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Nicole I. Pellerinemail@example.com|
|Christopher M. Seelenfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Mark Joseph Wittmanemail@example.com|
|Brenda L. Zeddunfirstname.lastname@example.org|