What Is a Judgment Lien?

Learn what a judgment lien is, how a creditor can get one, and what property the lien can affect.

By , J.D. · Wayne State University Law School

A judgment lien is a type of security interest that a judgment creditor can obtain against your property. Below you can learn how a creditor gets a judgment lien, what property the lien can affect, and more.

How a Creditor Gets a Judgment Lien

When you owe money to a creditor and don't pay it according to the agreed terms, the creditor can sue you in court to get the money from you. If you don't respond to the lawsuit, or if you do respond but the court rules for the creditor, the court will enter a judgment in favor of the creditor for the amount that you owe, plus interest.

Once the creditor has the judgment, the creditor can file a judgment lien against you. This means that the creditor can take a security interest in property you own -- the creditor will have the right to take the property that is subject to the lien and sell it to satisfy the judgment.

Example. Noah owes the creditor $5,000 and doesn't pay it back. The creditor sues Noah for the money and obtains a judgment against him. The creditor files for and obtains a judgment lien against Noah's household furnishings -- his furniture, appliances, and artwork. The judgment lien means that the creditor can send a sheriff to Noah's house to take all the household furnishings and sell them until the $5,000 judgment is paid in full.

What Property Is Subject to the Judgment Lien?

A judgment lien can attach to either real property or personal property. Real property is the same as real estate and refers to homes, buildings and land; personal property is generally any other property, such as jewelry, cars, furniture and appliances. Judgment liens against you can only attach to property you legally own. For example, if you drive a car that belongs to your father but is not titled in your name, a judgment lien against you cannot attach to that car.

How the Creditor Files a Judgment Lien

The process for filing a judgment lien varies from state to state. Typically it requires recording the judgment with your county in the same manner that one might record a mortgage. The judgment lien will specify the amount of the judgment and will often give a very general description of the property to which it attaches -- for example, it may say "all personal property," "all home furnishings," or "all real property."

If you do not own any property at the time the judgment lien is filed but acquire property later, the judgment lien can attach to your later acquired property unless it expires.

Example. The bank obtains a $20,000 judgment lien against Sam, who does not own any property. The bank records the judgment with the county in which Sam lives, obtaining a judgment lien against all of Sam's real property. Four years later, Sam buys a house. The house is impaired by that $20,000 judgment lien on top of Sam's mortgage.

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