A judgment lien is a court ordered lien that is placed against the home or property when the homeowner simply fails to pay a debt. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when the homeowner has a judgment lien against his or her home and wants to sell it, the judgment lien has to be paid in full before the home or property can be sold. Judgment liens can be placed against the property for a variety of reasons such as unpaid credit card bills, utility bills, department store bills, landscaping or home improvement bills, and just about any bill that the homeowner has failed to pay in a reasonable amount of time. Any bill that can cause one to end up in court can result in a judgment lien.
A judgment lien is different than a trust, in that the judgment lien holder cannot foreclose on the home or the property as trust holder can. Judgment lien holders can demand payment, but ultimately they must wait for the homeowner to sell the property before they can expect to be paid the money that they are owed according to the judgment. Luckily for the judgment lien holder, the court will typically assign an interest rate to these liens so that the lien holder is compensated for their waiting as the interest will continue to accrue until the debt is paid in full. Because the majority of people will live in their home for quite some time, the interest can make a judgment lien grow, and grow, and grow over the years so that it is quite large. Imagine what a lien of just $3,000 would grow to over the years if the interest rate were 15% annually and that would be an even bigger amount if the debt were $5,000 or $10,000!
Of course, judgment liens require court action. A creditor will take the homeowner to court where the judge will determine if the homeowner does in fact owe the creditor any money. If the court decides that the creditor is owed the money, and the homeowner will not or cannot make payment, the judge will order that a judgment lien be placed against the property. The judgment lien will then be entered into land records offices for the city or county so that the home cannot be sold without repayment of the debt. Once the lien is filed with the land records office, the judgment lien is said to be attached to the property, meaning that it cannot legally be sold without paying off that lien. If the judgment lien is not listed at the land records office, then it means that the debt or lien is not legally attached to the property and does not need to be paid off to sell the home.
A home or property can have numerous liens against it, which may present a problem when the home is to be sold. Fortunately, the law says that liens will be paid off in the order that they were attached to the property, meaning the first lien will be paid first, the second will be paid second, and so on. This is a law that was basically developed for when a home is foreclosed on. If a foreclosed home is auctioned it will first pay off the first lien, then the second, and the third until there is no money left to pay the debts that are still attached or associated with the home. Of course, all trusts against the house, such as mortgages and home equity loans, would be paid off before the judgment liens, so it’s not uncommon for these liens to simply go unpaid because there is no money remaining to pay these debts after the trusts are paid. If there is not enough money to pay for all of the judgment liens and trusts on the home or property, they are then wiped out and can no longer be collected on. Of course, the auction will usually attempt to pay for all of these debts, and they are paid for until there is no money. The reason for this is that the new owner will not be able to get any home equity loans or second mortgages with judgment liens already on the home. If there is money left over after everything is paid off, the remaining amount would go to the foreclosed homeowner as all debts are paid.
You can look for judgment liens at the land records office, though you will typically not find them listed with trusts. Investors or homeowners looking to sell their home will have to look into both trusts and judgments, as they are listed in different areas. Investors can often be caught off guard when they realize how much debt is attached to the home, and sellers are often startled at old judgment liens that they had forgotten about and don’t want to afford to pay off in order to sell their home. It’s a good idea to go over all of this information before one bids on a home or attempts to sell it or put it on the market.
Judgment liens are not something that anyone wants put against their home, but they are common enough. There comes a time for many people when they simply cannot pay a bill, and a judgment lien is ordered. Making a continued effort to pay down the debt is a great idea so that you don’t acquire large interest fees in addition to the initial dollar amount of the lien. The homeowner does not have to wait until the home is sold to pay off the lien, instead they can be paid off as soon as possible. The judgment lien is simply put in place so that the home cannot be sold without the debt being paid, and when you look at it from the creditors point of view, this is a great tool to ensure that you’ll eventually be paid the amount you are owed in addition to an interest fee that will pay you for waiting.