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How to Get a Contractor’s License in Wisconsin

4-minute read

Stephanie Knapp

Stephanie Knapp

26 November 2019

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So you’ve decided to set up your handyman business - now what? We’ve got the lowdown on getting your general contractor license in Wisconsin.

You’ve spent years working on construction or handyman projects. You’ve decided to start your own business. You may even already have a name picked out. So can you start advertising your services and signing your first customers? Not yet. We know you’re excited, but there are a few steps you need to take before your new venture is official (and legal).

Why Do I Need a Wisconsin Contractor License?

If you want to make money through your general contracting business, you need a Wisconsin contractor license. It’s a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

Much like your driving license, a business license holds everyone to the same standards of experience and knowledge. You wouldn’t send someone who's never picked up a hammer to take on a major building project, would you? The state of Washington certainly doesn’t want to, so there are experience and exam requirements in place.

Having licensure laws in place protects:

  • Consumers from wildly under-experienced contractors
  • The reputation of general contracting as a whole
  • Reputable contractors being underpriced by people who know very little

Business insurance is another requirement to get your Wisconsin contractor license. By having general liability insurance, you won’t be stripped of everything you own to pay for property damage or bodily injury. Accidents can happen, but they don’t have to drain your personal bank account.

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Steps to Get a General Contractor License in Wisconsin

If the thought of jumping through government hoops to finally start your handyman business seems daunting, we understand. We don’t know anyone who fills out applications for fun. However, the process is much easier to manage when you take it one step at a time. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to get all of this done in a single day.

Check specialty license requirements or applications

The steps in this guide are focused on general contractor licenses in Wisconsin, but we need to take a quick detour. If you plan on working on specialty projects, even just sometimes, you may have different license requirements.

The specialty contractor licenses in the state are:

  • Electrical
  • Elevator
  • HVAC
  • Utility

The steps in the licensing procedure are mainly the same between general and specialty contractors, but exams may vary. If you’re unsure which license you should apply for, reach out to the State of Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services at 608-266-2112.

Take an approved qualifier course

Getting a Wisconsin contractor license is a little bit like a video game. There are different levels and paths you can choose to follow. The first step in your quest is to take an approved qualifier course. Wisconsin wants all of its contractors to know their stuff, so you need to take 12 hours’ worth of classes from one of these course providers. Once you’ve earned your 12 hours, you have a year to move on to the next step.

Apply for a qualifier certificate

Before you can apply for your official general contractor license in Wisconsin, you need a qualifier certificate. This is essentially a way to check and formalize that you finished the 12 hours of required learning. Applying is simple, and the certificate is good for two years.

To apply, simply send:

  • Your filled out application
  • $15 application fee and $30 credential fee
  • Proof of completed approved course

To 4822 Madison Yards Way, Madison, WI 53705.

Choose your license level

After you’ve received your Dwelling Contractor certification, you can move on to applying for your general contractor license. At this step, you have two options for what type of license you want to apply for.

The Dwelling Contractor Restricted license is perfect for contractors who will work on smaller projects. The license:

  • Doesn’t have a general liability insurance requirement
  • Requires a bond between $5,000 and $25,000
  • Restricts the project size a contractor can work on to $25,000 or lower

On the other hand, the Dwelling Contractor license is unlimited in terms of project size. General contractors with this license:

  • Can work on larger value projects
  • Will need additional insurance
  • Must have a bond of at LEAST $25,000

The license you choose is entirely up to you, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. If you know you only work on small one-off projects, then the restricted license with lower financial obligations may be the right choice. However, if you know you want to work up to large, long-term projects, you’re safer choosing the unrestricted license.

What you need before applying

The two types of contractor licenses may have different project limits. Still, the documents you’ll need before applying are mostly the same. Here’s what your application will ask for:

Business representative. The person who is applying needs to be an owner, partner, chairman of the board, or CEO of the company. Basically, you can’t use an employee to qualify your business.

Worker’s compensation insurance. This requirement doesn’t apply to you if you’re a sole proprietor. However, an employer has to have worker’s compensation insurance. No matter the business structure, you’ll have to sign that you’re in compliance.

Unemployment insurance. This is another requirement for companies with employees. This handbook helps you determine what coverage you need.

Bond. Wisconsin wants to make sure that each contracting company can be held responsible for incomplete work. Your company needs to prove financial responsibility, which often comes from a bond. As a reminder, restricted licenses need a bond for the highest value contract they will have, up to $25,000. Companies that will have projects above $25,000 need an unrestricted license and a larger bond.

General liability insurance. This last requirement only applies to unrestricted licenses. Coverage of at least $250,000 is required for bodily injury or property damage.

Submit application

The previous step had all the hard work, and now it’s time to gather your forms and submit your application. Here’s what you’ll need to send to the state to apply for licensure:

  • Completed application for a Restricted or Unrestrictedlicense
  • Business representative information
  • Proof of applicable employee insurance and/or general liability insurance
  • Proof of bond
  • $15 application fee and $25 credential fee

You can submit everything online or send copies to:

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
4822 Madison Yards Way
Madison, WI 53705

Renew your license every year

Both license levels are good for one year and need to be renewed annually. Each year you’ll go through a similar process as you did to apply by sending an application and supporting documents online or to the department via mail. There’s also an annual fee.

If you still have some Wisconsin contractor license questions unanswered, check out the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services website.

If you still need to get general liability and worker’s comp insurance before you can apply, get a contractor's insurance quote to ensure you’re covered.

Stephanie Knapp

Written by

Stephanie Knapp

I'm a freelance writer who has always had an interest in entrepreneurship, starting way back with lemonade stands. These days I write to help business owners with their everyday challenges and choices. When I'm not typing away, you'll find me eating pizza, volunteering at the animal shelter, or taking too many pictures of my cats.

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