Wisconsin Collection Laws

  • Wisconsin's statute of limitations for most consumer debts is 6 years.
  • Collections is illegal after the statute of limitations expires.
  • You may have liability for your spouse's debts in Wisconsin.

Your Rights as a Consumer in Wisconsin For Collections

If you owe debt and reside in Wisconsin, it’s important to understand your rights and liabilities. It is even more important if a creditor threatens to file a lawsuit against you.

A lender, collection agent or law firm that owns a collection account is a creditor. Wisconsin law gives creditors several means of collecting delinquent debt from you.

Before a creditor may use these legal tools in Wisconsin, the creditor must go to court to receive a judgment against you. See the Bills.com article Served Summons and Complaint to learn more about this process, and how to fight a lawsuit.

Is Your Debt in Collections Causing You Problems?

Call 800-998-7497 and speak with a Money Coach. Review your options to resolve your debt and make a financial plan to avoid this problem in the future.

A court will hold a hearing after a creditor files a lawsuit. A hearing may result in a judgment awarded to the creditor. A judgment is a court’s declaration the creditor has the legal right to demand:

The laws calls these remedies. A creditor granted a judgment is called a judgment-creditor. Which tool a judgment-creditor may use depends on the circumstances and Wisconsin law. We discuss each of these remedies below. In Wisconsin, the following laws are found under Wisconsin Statute Chapter 801 unless specified.

Wisconsin Wage Garnishment Rules

The most common method used by judgment-creditors to enforce judgments is wage garnishment. A judgment-creditor contacts your employer and requires the employer to deduct a certain portion of your wages each pay period and send the money to the creditor.

How Much of Your Pay Can Be Taken?
In most states, creditors may garnish between 10% and 25% of your wages, with the percentage allowed determined by state law. Garnishment of or for consumer debt is not allowed under federal law, but may be allowed for child support. See the Bills.com article to learn more.

In Wisconsin, wage garnishment is allowed under (PDF). Unless the court grants relief under applies, 80% of the debtor’s disposable earnings are exempt from garnishment under this subchapter. If the judgment-creditor is aware of the debtor’s place of employment, it may seek wage garnishment.

Under federal law, the garnishment applies to 20% of the debtor’s net take home pay also known as disposable income, (i.e. gross pay less statutorily mandated deductions). Under , service on the debtor shall be made within seven business days after the date of service on the garnishee and at least three business days before the payday of the first pay period affected by the garnishment. Service by mail is complete upon mailing.

Under Wisconsin law, if the garnishment of 20% of the debtor’s disposable income under subchapter would result in the debtor’s household income being below the poverty line, the amount of the garnishment is limited to the debtor’s household income in excess of the poverty line before the garnishment is in effect. Also, under no garnishment action shall be brought to recover the price or value of alcohol beverages sold at retail. (In other words, a Wisconsin resident cannot have their wages garnished for a delinquent bar tab.)

Wisconsin law permits earnings garnishment for child support and maintenance up to 25% of the debtor’s disposable income.

Wisconsin Bank Account Levy

A levy means that the creditor has the right to take whatever money is in a debtor’s account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. Again, the procedure for levying bank accounts, as well as what amount, if any, a debtor can claim as exempt from the levy, is governed by state law. Many states exempt certain amounts and certain types of funds from bank levies, so a debtor should review his or her state’s laws to find if a bank account can be levied. Some states call levy attachment or garnishment.

In Wisconsin, attachment is allowed under Uniform Commercial Code-Secured Transactions (PDF).

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com resource to learn more about the general rules for this remedy.

Wisconsin Lien

A lien is an encumbrance — a claim — on a property. For example, if the debtor owns a home, a creditor with a judgment has the right to place a lien on the home, meaning that if the debtor sells or refinances the home, the debtor will be required to pay the judgment out of the proceeds of the sale or refinance. If the amount of the judgment is more than the amount of equity in your home, then the lien may prevent the debtor from selling or refinancing until the debtor can pay off the judgment.

Under Wisconsin (PDF), Creditor’s Actions, when a lien has been obtained by judgment against a debtor, the debtor may make an assignment of all non-exempt property for the benefit of all of creditors within 30 days of judgment. The lien shall then be dissolved and the property will be turned over to the assignee.

Under Wisconsin (PDF), Attachment, any creditor may attach a debtor’s property only through the issuance of a Writ of Attachment by a judge or judicial officer at the express request of the creditor at any time before final judgment and after a summons and a complaint are filed.

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com article to learn more.

Wisconsin Statute of Limitations

Each state has its own statute of limitations on civil matters. Under Wisconsin (PDF), the statute of limitations on open accounts (i.e., credit cards), and written and oral contracts is 6 years. The statute of limitations on promissory notes is 10 years.

Wisconsin law prohibits any collection efforts on accounts where the statute of limitations clock has expired. This rule applies to original creditors and collection agents.

Under Wisconsin § 893.05, a creditor may not file a lawsuit on a debt after the Wisconsin statute of limitations expires. If a collection agent or original creditor attempts to collect expired debt create a cause of action under Wisconsin law as well as under the federal because any collections actions misrepresent the legal status of the debt. This consumer-friendly rule is an exception only Wisconsin and one other state share (Klewer v. Cavalry Invs., LLC, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1778 *7 (W.D. Wis. 2002) and Gervais v. Riddle Associates, 479 F. Supp. 2d 270 (D. Conn. 2007)).

Strong Protection for Wisconsin Consumers
Collection agents violate the if they file a debt collection lawsuit against a consumer after the statute of limitation expired (Kimber v. Federal Financial Corp. 668 F.Supp. 1480 (1987) and Basile v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Liebsker & Moore LLC, 632 F. Supp. 2d 842, 845 (2009)). Unscrupulous collection agents sue in hopes the consumer will not know this rule.

The statute of limitations on Wisconsin judgments is a bit more complicated. In Wisconsin, a judgment becomes a lien for 10 years on all real property the judgment-debtor owns or acquires in the county or counties where the judgment is docketed. A judgment-creditor has 20 years from the judgment date to have a county sheriff attempt to seize the debtor’s property. The 10- and 20-year lengths on Wisconsin judgments can be extended another 10 and 20 years if the judgment-creditor obtains permission from the court and refiles an action against the judgment-debtor.

Wisconsin Foreclosure

Wisconsin foreclosure laws can be found in Chapter 846 (PDF), Real Estate Foreclosure. Under the original judgment of foreclosure, a deficiency judgment may also be rendered as a separate judgment (Chapter 846.04). The party is then liable on or after the confirmation of sale.

Community Property & Wisconsin Law

Wisconsin is one of 10 community property states. If you live in Wisconsin, you may have liability for your spouse’s debt. Wisconsin’s community property law is tricky, so do not assume you must pay your spouse’s debt automatically. Also, a separate law called the doctrine of necessaries may obligate you to pay your spouse’s debt. Read the Bills.com article Wisconsin Community Property to learn more.

Wisconsin Vehicle Repossession

Read the Wisconsin Bar Association’s article Wisconsin’s New Automobile Repossession Law: Creditors in the Driver’s Seat to learn more about Wisconsin’s repossession laws.


Consult with an attorney licensed in Wisconsin who is experienced in civil litigation or consumer law to learn precise answers to your questions about liens, levies, and garnishment in Wisconsin.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Legal Action of Wisconsin or another Wisconsin pro bono program to find no- or low-cost legal services.

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  • L
    Lisa R,
    Nov, 2020

    I am currently being garnished in the state of WI. My question is I had a criminal case in which the state issued a money judgement. The other party in the process also filed a lawsuit against and has a money judgement as well. Is this legal to have to money judgements on me for same debt?

    • 35x35
      Nov, 2020

      Lisa, are you sure they are the same debt? Is it possible that the two debts arose from the same set of circumstances, but what the state seeks is recompense for costs it bore and the injured party is due funds tied to the harm it was judged you were responsible for resulting from criminal behavior? There should be a cap on how much is garnished at one time. Speak with your HR department about that and to see if the paperwork that came to them indicates if it is or is not the same debt for which each is collecting.

  • T
    Tiger Miller,
    Nov, 2020

    I was taken to court in 2006 for a delinquent psychiatric bill. They took me to tribal court again in 2017 and the case was dismissed. Now it says that on 11-11-2020 there was a retainer entered. Does this mean they're going to take me back to court again?

    • 35x35
      Nov, 2020

      Tiger, I don't know the answer. Where I would start to look would be the party that sent you the information about the retainer being entered. If it is the party trying to collect from you, reach out to the clerk's office at the court that has jurisdiction. Speaking with an attorney is another very reasonable option, especially if the debt is large. If you have records as to why the case was dismissed in 2017, have those handy for anyone with whom you review the matter.

  • G
    Gary D Hamilton,
    Nov, 2020

    I am on SSDI, I cashed out my 401K after a divorce. I thought I paid enough taxes, but didn't pay the state of Wisconsin enough. I owe Wisconsin $8000.00. Does Wisconsin have the ten year rule. Will my IRS debt be erased after ten years?

    • 35x35
      Nov, 2020

      Gary, according the information on page 14 of this publication of Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue website, the collection statutory expiration date (CSED) is also 10 years, the same as the IRS's. That doesn't mean a tax debt can't last longer than 10 years.  FIrst, the clock starts running at the date of assessment, not when the tax return was due. Second, there are actions that a taxpayer can take that stop the clock from running, among them filing for bankruptcy or submitting an Offer in Compromise.

      If you can demonstrate that you lack the ability to pay based on a review of your income and your allowable living expenses, you should get statused as Currently Not Collectible (CNC). CNC needs to be renewed, periodicallly, but when the tax authorities recognize you are CNC, they cease collection efforts. You have to be filed up to date to be statused as CNC. If either judge you as able to pay even a small amount, then they will not status you as CNC, but require you to pay that small amount each month. In both CNC and making a payment that is not sufficient to pay off the debt, the clock is running on the CSED.

  • B
    Nov, 2020

    Just got a certified letter .. Open it to my shock it was a letter for Garnishment .. Long story shortish ... Had a house like 15 years ago old owner paid 3000 closing costs ... To be payed back from girlfriend an I .. we worked out deals with old home owner got it down to about 1400 .. We split up House went into foreclosure ... moved.. then few years later was taken to small claims court for 1400 in 2007 .. I payed most back by trades of Fireworks as I get great deals and cash deals ... Fast Forward to today certified letter for garnishment for 1585 dollars.. I was like wtf is this didn't even remember said person name ... Its been 13 years ... Is this under the SOL ? .. How do I prove something from 13 years ago and the fact it wasn't just me paying it was my ex as well ...

    • 35x35
      Nov, 2020

      Bob, my answer is not legal advice and should not be taken as such.

      The issue that the debt is also your ex-gf's responsibility does not lessen your full responsibility. Each of you is responsible for 100% of the debt.

      Judgments in the Badger State can be renewed. If the creditor renewed your judgment it would still be valid.

      You can't go back in time, but it would have been best if you had written out a letter when you paid off debt by using fireworks as payment that the creditor signed. Short of that, I don't see how you prove you should owe less.

  • S
    Samuel Harper,
    Aug, 2020

    I had a car repossessed back in 2014, they took me to court for garnishment for the remainder of what was owed and they were granted the garnishment. They got 13 weeks of payments back in 2015, than the case was closed. Now this year I find out that they had received another 13 weeks of payments but never took me to court to be granted another garnishment. What can I do, if anything?

    • 35x35
      Sep, 2020

      Samuel, I am not a lawyer so what I share with you is not to be taken as legal advice.

      Your employer can't take from your pay and send it to a third-party unless obligated to do so. I suggest you contact your employer and find out under what authority the second set of 13 payments were made. If your employer sent money without the due authority to do so, my guess is that your beef is with your employer. Whether raising that issue is worthwhile, even if it were done improperly, is worth weighing. I imagine they are legally barred from retaliating against you if you make waves over something legitimate, but it may make things more difficult for you.