Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions

Learn about the property you can protect in bankruptcy using Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions.

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 Exemptions v. Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

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?

Common Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions

Here are some of the more common exemptions in Wisconsin. When reviewing them, you’ll want to keep these things in mind:

  • Joint filing. Unless otherwise noted, when spouses file together in Wisconsin, each spouse can claim the full amount of the exemption (informally called “doubling”) as long as each spouse has an ownership interest in the property.
  • List and verify your exemptions. You must claim an exemption by listing it in the official bankruptcy forms. You might qualify for exemptions not included in this article, or be required to meet qualification requirements. Consulting with a local bankruptcy attorney is the best way to ensure that you’re protecting your assets.
  • Legal citations. You’ll find each of the statutes in the Wisconsin Statutes or the federal law.

Wisconsin Homestead Exemption

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.

Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Exemption

815.18(3)(g) – Equity in a motor vehicle up to $4,000, plus any unused portion of the $12,000 personal property exemption.

Other Wisconsin Exemptions

Wages

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.

Pensions

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.

Public 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.

Insurance

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.

Personal Property

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.

Other

Add any applicable federal nonbankruptcy exemptions.

Nonexempt Property—Property You Can’t Protect With a Wisconsin Exemption

Some people can keep all assets, but that isn’t always true. Here’s what will happen to nonexempt property:

  • In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee appointed to administer your case will sell nonexempt property and distribute the proceeds to creditors. Find out more about the bankruptcy process and the Chapter 7 documents you'll need at each stage.
  • In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it works differently. You can keep everything you own, but you’ll pay creditors the value of the nonexempt property, your disposable income, or your nondischargeable debt (support obligations, most taxes, and the like), whichever is more, through your Chapter 13 repayment plan.

You’ll learn more about Chapter 7 and 13 in Which Type of Bankruptcy is Right for Me?

Confirming Wisconsin Exemptions

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.

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