The Wisconsin winter season can be tough on the pocketbook. We celebrate costly holidays in November and December, receive and owe on our Wisconsin real estate tax bills in January, and our utility bills skyrocket every month. The last few Wisconsin winters have been especially harsh due to the extreme cold temperatures. Many of you have likely seen your Wisconsin heating bills nearly double. Next thing you know, it is March. With utility bills due in full April 15th, March can be a stressful month for Wisconsin residents.
Where will you get the money to pay your overdue Wisconsin utility bills? It is not uncommon to receive Wisconsin utility bills in excess of $300 each month. It is hard to know what to do when you can still only afford to pay $150 a month, or less. For the last five months, November – March, you may have piled up nearly $750 or more in overdue Wisconsin utility costs. Although it is illegal for your Wisconsin utility company to shut off your utilities during the winter season from November 1st – April 15th, you risk disconnection if you cannot pay your current bill, plus your overdue amount, in full by April 15th. What can you do?
Your first option is to enter into a deferred payment agreement with your utility company. Some deferred payment agreements can be made online and others you will need to call and speak to a customer service representative. This option does not help everyone. Assistance mainly depends on how much the utility company is willing to work with you. WE Energies will normally take your balance owed and divide into 12 monthly installments over the next year. You will need to pay your current bill, plus the deferred payment agreement amount each month. If you fail to pay both the current amount and the deferred payment agreement amount, you have defaulted on the agreement and your utilities are in danger of disconnection. Alliant Energy is notoriously hard to work with. More often than not, they demand a large down payment and then divide the balance over the next three months. With your current utility bill already at a high cost, plus the down payment amount, plus the deferred payment amount, this “solution” usually does not help.
On top of it all, both utility companies have been reporting your lack of full payment each month to the credit reporting agencies. WE Energies can literally ruin your credit score. The only solution to stop the hindering of your credit score is to make your payments in full each month. You can also try calling the Wisconsin utility company and ask them to stop reporting you to the credit bureaus. This has worked for some people.
Be advised, if the disconnection will aggravate a medical or protective services emergency, the utility may delay service shut-off for up to 21 days. The utility may require documentation from a professional involved with the medical emergency or crisis. The language regarding Wisconsin utility shut-off protection reads:
“No disconnect during extreme weather unless last resort after all other legal means of collection have been attempted and only if : 1) income is >250% FPG; health and safety would not be endangered due to presence of elderly, small children, or mentally disabled; and utility has an approved winter disconnection plan on file. (As of 09/2008 no utility has an approved winter disconnection plan on file.) Prohibited when heat advisory from the National Weather Service is in effect. 2) 21 day delay if physician, social services, public health or law enforcement officer certifies to medical or protective services (elderly, infants, disabled etc.) emergency. Customer must agree to payment plan.”
Your second option to avoid a Wisconsin utility shut off, if you cannot afford the deferred payment solutions offered and do not meet any of the criteria outlined above, is to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will keep your power on. You will be able to discharge the entire Wisconsin utility balance owed on the day your Wisconsin bankruptcy case is filed. However, your utility company may require a deposit to keep your service on. The rules regarding Wisconsin utility deposits are as follows:
“A deposit requested due to non-payment during the winter months cannot exceed the four highest consecutive bills during the last twelve months. A winter non-payment deposit can be required if you had debt incurred during the winter that was 80 days or more past due and you had the ability to pay. For residential service, the deposit will be refunded, with interest, after 12 consecutive months of prompt payment. You do not have to post a deposit if you can document that your income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.”
If you have other outstanding debt, such as: credit card debt, medical bills, personal loan debt, and mortgage debt; a Wisconsin bankruptcy may be the right option for you. Contact our Wisconsin bankruptcy attorney to discuss your Wisconsin utility disconnection problem as well as bankruptcy solutions to your specific financial dilemma. Wynn at Law, LLC offers a free Wisconsin bankruptcy consultation. Wynn at Law, LLC has bankruptcy offices in Lake Geneva, Salem, and Delavan, Wisconsin. You can reach our Wisconsin bankruptcy attorney by phone at 262-725-0175 or by email via our bankruptcy website’s contact page.
*The content and material on this web page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.