Updated January 29, 2019
You won't lose everything when filing for bankruptcy in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's bankruptcy exemptions allow you to protect property you'll need to work and live, such as a home, car, and retirement account.
For more information, see Filing Bankruptcy in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin, like every state, has a set of bankruptcy exemptions. Federal bankruptcy exemptions also exist.
Some states allow residents to choose between the state and federal exemption laws, but not Wisconsin. You'll use Wisconsin's state exemptions and, if they're helpful, the federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.
To learn more about bankruptcy exemptions, the state exemption system, and the homestead exemption rules, read Bankruptcy Exemptions – What Can I Keep When I File for Bankruptcy?
Here are some of the more common exemptions in Wisconsin. When reviewing them, you'll want to keep these things in mind:
815.20 – You can exempt property you occupy or intend to occupy to $75,000; $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. Sales proceeds are exempt for two years after the sale if you acquire another home.
815.18(3)(g) – Equity in a motor vehicle up to $4,000, plus any unused portion of the $12,000 personal property exemption.
303.065 - Wages of inmates who are under a work-release plan.
303.08 - County jail prisoners' wages.
303.10 - County work camp prisoners' wages.
815.18(3)(h) - 75% of net wages or 30 times the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. A judge might approve more for low-income debtors.
11 U.S.C. § 522 - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans).
11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to maximum (amount changes).
40.08 - Public employees.
62.63 - Certain municipal employees.
815.18(3)(ef) - Police officers and firefighters who work in a city greater than 100,000 people; military pensions; and public and private retirement benefits.
815(3)(n) - Veterans' benefits.
108.13 - Unemployment compensation.
49.46 - Social service payments.
949.07 - Crime victims' compensation.
102.27 - Workers' compensation.
Tools of Trade
815.18(3)(b) - Equipment, inventory, farm products, books, and tools of trade up to $15,000, or like amount in a closely-held business.
Alimony and Child Support
815.18(3)(c) - Alimony and child support needed for support.
614.96 - Fraternal benefit society benefits.
632.42 - Life insurance proceeds if policy prohibits use to pay creditors.
815.18(3)(f) - Unmatured life insurance contracts up to $4,000 in value in accrued dividends, interest or loan value (except for credit life contracts) if owned by debtor and insuring debtor, dependent, or person debtor is dependent upon; federal disability benefits; life insurance proceeds if debtor was dependent upon insured, to extent necessary to support debtor or family.
815.18(3)(o), (p) - College savings account or tuition trust fund.
20.921(1)(e) - Wages used to purchase savings bonds.
182.004(6) - Tenant's stock or lease interest in co-op housing up to homestead amount.
815.18(3)(d) - Household goods and furnishings; wearing apparel, keepsakes, jewelry, appliances, books, musical instruments, firearms, sporting goods, animals or other items for family use up to $12,000 total.
815.18(3)(k) - Bank deposits up to $5,000.
815.18(3)(i)(1)(b) - Wrongful death proceeds needed for support.
815.18(3)(i)(1)(c) - Personal injuries recoveries up to $50,000.
815.18(e) - Fire and casualty proceeds for destroyed property that is exempt for 2 years of receipt.
815.18(3)(i)(d) Lost future earnings recoveries needed for support.
815.18(3)(a) - Burial plot, tombstone, coffin.
Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.
Some people can keep all assets, but that isn't always true. Here's what will happen to nonexempt property:
You'll learn more about Chapter 7 and 13 in Which Type of Bankruptcy is Right for Me?
This list includes the majority of bankruptcy exemptions available in Wisconsin. However, it doesn't include all exemptions. Also, specific exemptions could have qualification requirements you must meet, and Wisconsin might have changed the amounts since this list was last updated. Check the Wisconsin Statutes or with a local bankruptcy lawyer.