Guide to filing a Wisconsin state tax return

Milwaukee, Wisconsin's scenic skyline during winter. Come spring, residents will have to think about filing their Wisconsin state tax returns. Milwaukee, Wisconsin's scenic skyline during winter. Come spring, residents will have to think about filing their Wisconsin state tax returns. Image:

In a Nutshell

Wisconsin may be light years ahead of Washington, D.C. when it comes to producing great cheese, but its income tax rates work a lot like federal ones. Here’s some information to help you file your Wisconsin state tax return.

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Whether you work on one of Wisconsin’s iconic dairy farms or in a Milwaukee high-rise, chances are you’ll have to file a Wisconsin state tax return.

Fortunately, the state of Wisconsin offers many different tax deductions and credits that can help lower your tax bill. And with just four tax brackets for 2018, Wisconsin’s tax rates work a lot like the federal system you’re already familiar with.

Armed with a bit of information, you’ll have the confidence to tackle your Wisconsin state tax return — with a goal of maximizing any refund the state owes you.


The basics of Wisconsin state taxes

Taxing body

You’ll be working with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to file and pay your Wisconsin state taxes. Its website has a wealth of information about Wisconsin state taxes, including tools to help you track your refund, pay online or even request a payment plan if you can’t pay your taxes all at once.

Here’s how to get ahold of them.

Wisconsin Department of Revenue
Customer Service Bureau
P.O. Box 8949
Madison, WI 53708-8949

Phone: 1-608-266-2486
Fax: 1-608-267-1030
Email: DORIncome@wisconsin.gov

Filing and payment deadline

Like most states, Wisconsin requires you to file and pay any taxes due by April 15. If that date falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline will be pushed back to the next business day.

Filing statuses

Wisconsin makes things easy by having you use similar filing statuses as your federal return.

Just as a reminder, they are …

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household

Wisconsin income tax rates

Some states have a single flat income tax rate. Wisconsin is not one of those states.
Instead, Wisconsin has a progressive income tax system like the federal income tax system. This means that your marginal tax rate depends on your income and filing status. Here are the Wisconsin tax rates and bracket thresholds for 2018.

Tax rate Single or head of household Married filing jointly Married filing separately
4% $1–$11,450 $1–$15,270 $1–$7,630
5.84% $11,451–$22,900 $15,271–$30,540 $7,631–$15,270
6.27% $22,901–$252,150 $30,541–$336,200 $15,271–$168,100
7.65% $22,151 + $336,201+ $168,101+

For each tax bracket, there is also an additional amount of tax to pay. You can see the full tax rates here.

Learn about 2018 federal tax brackets and tax rates

Wisconsin state tax deductions

Standard deduction and exemptions

Wisconsin did not adopt the changes to federal standard deductions that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made. It has its own standard deduction, which is progressive based on your income and filing status. Generally, the more you earn, the less you can claim as a standard deduction regardless of your filing status.

Wisconsin also allows personal exemptions for filers and their dependents. The exemption amount is $700. There is an additional $250 exemption amount for filers and their spouses (if filing jointly) who are 65 or older.

Itemized deductions

Rather than itemize deductions on your Wisconsin state tax return, the state allows eligible filers to take a credit for certain federal itemized deductions — after taking the standard deduction for their filing status and income level.

If the total of certain itemized deductions on your federal return exceeds your Wisconsin standard deduction, you may be able to claim an itemized deduction credit. Not every deduction listed on your federal Schedule A will qualify for the credit, so you’ll need to do some calculations to determine how much you can deduct.

Subtractions

In addition to the standard deduction and a credit for some federally itemized deductions, Wisconsin also allows subtractions from income for certain expenses, including the following:

  • Adoption expenses — If you adopted a child or children, you may be able to subtract up to $5,000 for adoption fees, court costs and legal fees you paid for each child you adopted.
  • Edvest or Tomorrow’s Scholar college savings contributions — If you contributed to a Wisconsin state-sponsored college savings account (such as Edvest or Tomorrow’s Scholar) either as the account owner or an authorized contributor, you may be able to subtract the amount you contributed.
  • Human Organ Donation subtraction — If you paid for travel (including lodging) or lost wages while you, your spouse or your dependent were donating bone marrow or qualifying organ, you may be able to subtract some of those costs. You may be able to deduct up to $10,000 of unreimbursed expenses.
  • Private school tuition subtraction — If you sent your dependent child to a private school, you can deduct up to $4,000 of tuition for private elementary school, or $10,000 for secondary school.
  • Child and dependent care expenses subtraction — If you claimed the federal deduction for child and dependent care expenses, you might be able to deduct up to $3,000 of expenses (for one dependent) or $6,000 of expenses (for more than one dependent).
Standard deduction vs. itemizing: Which should you choose?

Wisconsin state tax credits

In addition to subtractions, Wisconsin offers state-level tax credits. Here are some credits that are available for 2018.

  • Wisconsin earned income credit — If you received the federal earned income tax credit, were a full-year resident of Wisconsin, file jointly (not separately) if you are married and have at least one child, you may qualify for a Wisconsin version of this credit as well. It’s worth between 4% and 34% of however much you received for your federal earned income tax credit.
  • Homestead credit — The name of this credit may be confusing, since it’s designed to help lower-income folks afford their property taxes or rent. There are a whole host of boxes you’ll have to check to be able to claim this credit (see this document), but if you qualify, you can receive a credit worth up to $1,168.
  • Renters and homeowners school property tax credits — If you paid rent or property taxes on your own residence, you may be able to claim a credit worth up to $300 on your taxes ($150 for those married filing separately or married filing as head of household), depending on how much you paid and whether heat was included with your rent payment or not (Wisconsin does get cold, after all). If you rented a $1,500 apartment and heat wasn’t included with your rent, for example, you could claim a credit worth $47.
  • Working families tax credit — Married couples filing a separate return who earn less than $10,000 and are younger than 65 can claim this credit. It’s worth up to the full amount of your tax liability if your income is $9,000 or less, meaning you technically wouldn’t owe any tax at all.
  • Married couple credit — If both you and your spouse filed a joint return and earned money during the year, you might be able to claim this tax credit. You’ll need to fill out a separate form to calculate it, but it’s worth up to $480.

How to file your Wisconsin state taxes

The easiest, fastest and most accurate way to file your Wisconsin state tax return is to e-file.

The state offers a list of approved vendors that can help you e-file. You may be able to e-file for free if you meet income, age and other requirements. Vendor requirements may vary and if you don’t meet those qualifications, the vendor may charge you a fee to file. Credit Karma Tax®, which is included in Wisconsin’s list of approved vendors, never charges you to file your single-state and federal tax returns. However, if your Wisconsin filing status is married filing separately, you won’t be able to use Credit Karma Tax to file your Wisconsin state tax return.

If you do your federal tax return separately, you can e-file your Wisconsin state tax return on the WI e-file site on its own.

5 things to know about free tax-filing services

If you prefer to mail in your Wisconsin state tax return, you can also do so by downloading the necessary forms here. One thing to note is that in recent years, Wisconsin had four separate income tax forms, depending on your situation. But this year due to the new federal tax changes, they’ll be migrating to a new system. Going forward, residents only need to worry about one main form — the aptly titled Form 1. Nonresidents and people who only lived in Wisconsin for part of the year will instead file Form 1NPR.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has five different mailing addresses to send your paper tax return to, depending on which form you file (Form 1 or Form 1NPR) and whether you owe money or not. Here are the mailing addresses.

If you need in-person help filing your basic Wisconsin state tax return, you may be able to get help for free with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program. This program offers free tax preparation for eligible individuals, including people who earn a “low-to-moderate income,” military personnel, seniors, non-English speakers and disabled people. You can find locations by calling 1-800-906-9887, 1-608-266-2486 or 211. Or you can use the IRS website to locate a center.

If you owe and can’t pay

If you owe money and can’t pay the full bill just yet, you should still file your return on time and pay as much as you can. That way, you can minimize any interest or penalties that may be due on the unpaid balance. After you file your return, you can also sign up for a payment plan. The cost of the payment plan is $20, and you can be charged interest and penalties for any amount not paid in full by the due date.

Tracking your Wisconsin tax refund

You can check the status of your refund on this website. You’ll need your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, the amount of your refund and the tax year that you’re checking in order to view your refund status.


Bottom line

Living in Wisconsin comes with a lot of perks. Great deer hunting, great dairy, great beer and the Green Bay Packers. Along with all that, you get a relatively simple tax rate and tax bracket system that offers plenty of credits and subtractions — helping you minimize your Wisconsin state income tax burden and maximize any state refund you may be owed.