\ˈlēn, ˈlē-ən \

Definition of lien 

1 : a charge upon real or personal property for the satisfaction of some debt or duty ordinarily arising by operation of law The bank had a lien on our house.

2 : the security interest created by a mortgage the lien of a mortgage

Examples of lien in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Wanda had clashed with a hotel labor union, and late last year, contractors that had worked on One Beverly Hills filed liens against the property, saying they were owed millions for their work. Esther Fung, WSJ, "Chinese Exodus From U.S. Real Estate Accelerates With Sale of L.A. Site," 15 Nov. 2018 Several other firms that filed liens did not respond to inquiries. Jim Brunner, The Seattle Times, "Dino Rossi has done well in real estate, but his work is also fodder for campaign opponents," 16 Oct. 2018 Tax liens on the house had been auctioned to investors, and a foreclosure case proceeded through Baltimore Circuit Court. Tim Prudente,, "Collapse: The rise and deadly fall of a Baltimore rowhouse," 12 July 2018 Some companies have used hardball tactics to get patients to pay, including harassing phone calls, hiring debt collectors and placing liens on houses, media investigations have found. Rebekah L. Sanders, azcentral, "Arizona family shocked by $47,000 air ambulance bill for their child," 25 June 2018 According to the complaint, the error on Bodine's credit report involved a tax lien on property owned by his ex-wife. Myah Ward, charlotteobserver, "NC man says Experian refused for five years to fix a credit error. Now he's suing.," 20 June 2018 And in July 2015 and July 2016, the state revenue department placed tax liens on Pauling for failure to pay sales or use tax in 2014 and 2015. Glenn E. Rice And Judy L. Thomas, kansascity, "Weekly family dinner erupts in murder-suicide; shooter was bipolar, friends say," 12 June 2018 In West Manchester Township, for example, the government files liens on people’s homes for unpaid trash bills. Dylan Segelbaum, USA TODAY, "A deputy sheriff came to inventory family's property — over a $160 trash bill," 28 Apr. 2018 Currently, the district is barred from selling its schools because the Internal Revenue Service has liens on all of them since the district failed to pay payroll taxes from 2013 to 2014. Meredith Colias-pete,, "Residents float ideas for futue of Wirt-Emerson building," 27 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'lien.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of lien

1531, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for lien

Anglo-French lien, loyen bond, restraint, from Latin ligamen, from ligare to bind — more at ligature

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Statistics for lien

Last Updated

25 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for lien

The first known use of lien was in 1531

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More Definitions for lien



Financial Definition of lien

What It Is

A lien is a lender's claim against a collateral asset that may be legally sold should the borrower fail to repay a loan.

How It Works

When someone takes out a sizeable loan, such as a home mortgage or an auto loan, the lender often requires an asset that can be held as collateral against the loan. Thus, the collateral has a lien placed upon it. In the event of non-payment on the part of the borrower, the lending institution can exercise the lien and sell the collateral asset to offset the unpaid loan. Once the loan is repaid in full, the collateral asset is returned to the borrower and the lien dissolved.

To illustrate, suppose someone takes out a $10,000 loan for a new car. As part of the loan's terms, the bank gets to hold the title to the car as a lien against the car until the loan is fully repaid. Should the borrower, at any point, default or refuse to repay the balance of the loan, the bank can use the title to the car to sell it in order to recover the money that was lent.

Why It Matters

A lien protects lenders in the event of non-payment. Since loans with collateral are less risky for the lender, they can lead to lower interest rates for the borrower.

When purchasing a used car, for example, it's important to check for liens against the vehicle. If there is an outstanding debt on the car, the buyer runs the risk of having it repossessed by the lender.

Source: Investing Answers

judgment lien


Financial Definition of judgment lien

What It Is

A judgment lien allows a creditor to take possession of a piece of a debtor's property if the debtor does not pay his or her debts.

How It Works

Let's say John Doe owns a pit bull breeding company that borrows $1 million from Bank XYZ. Sales aren't going so well, and John falls behind in the payments to Bank XYZ. Bank XYZ obtains a judgment lien, which allows it to seize his house, car and any other assets necessary to get the $987,465 outstanding balance repaid in full if John does not start making regular payments again. If John does not comply, Bank XYZ simply repossesses and sells the assets.

Judgment liens are also common in cases where a person's insurance doesn't cover the full amount of a judgment resulting from damages in a car accident or other situation.

There are different kinds of judgments. A default judgment, for example, occurs in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to appear in court to defend himself or does not respond to a summons. A deficiency judgment occurs when the sale of a seized piece of property does not generate enough cash to pay the judgment and the court has to place a lien on more property.

Why It Matters

The laws on judgment liens vary by state and by jurisdiction. However, the intent of most judgment liens is to compel the borrower to repay the creditor.

Source: Investing Answers

tax lien


Financial Definition of tax lien

What It Is

A tax lien is a claim placed on a piece of real estate by a tax authority due to a taxpayer's failure to pay taxes.

How It Works

When a taxpayer fails to pay either income taxes or property taxes, the taxing authority to whom the debt is owed may place a lien against the taxpayers property to ensure that the tax liability will eventually get paid. A property with a tax lien cannot be sold by the owner, which prevents the owner from walking away from the tax liability.

Why It Matters

Tax liens are highly effective for tax enforcement since the property holder can not sell a property that has a lien on it. The taxing authority will keep a lien on the property until the tax liability is paid.

Tax liens can be purchased by investors as an investment. Such investments are considered solid since they are tied to a hard asset.

Source: Investing Answers



English Language Learners Definition of lien

law : a legal claim that someone or something has on the property of another person until a debt has been paid back


li·​en | \ˈlī-ən, ˈlī-ˌen \

Medical Definition of lien 

: spleen

Other Words from lien

lienal \-​ᵊl \ adjective

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\ˈlēn \

Legal Definition of lien 

: a charge or encumbrance upon property for the satisfaction of a debt or other duty that is created by agreement of the parties or especially by operation of law specifically : a security interest created especially by a mortgage

assessment lien

: a lien that is on property benefiting from an improvement made by a municipality and that secures payment of the taxes assessed to pay for the improvement

attachment lien

: a lien acquired on property by a creditor upon levy of an attachment

carrier's lien

: a lien against freight conferring on the carrier the right to retain the property until the amount due is paid

charging lien

: a lien attaching to a judgment or recovery awarded to a plaintiff and securing payment of the plaintiff's attorney's fees and expenses

called also special lien

choate lien

: a lien that requires no further action to be made enforceable and that identifies the lienor, the property subject to the lien, and the amount of the lien

common-law lien

: a lien under common law giving a creditor (as a bailee) in possession of property the right to retain possession until payment of the amount due

equitable lien

: a lien against property that does not require possession of the property and that is available in equity to prevent unjust enrichment

factor's lien

: a lien against property held on consignment by a factor conferring the right to retain possession of the property until payment of the amount due

Note: A factor's lien is simply a security interest and, unlike a common-law lien, is enforceable even after the factor is no longer in possession of the property.

first lien

: a lien taking precedence over all other claims, charges, or encumbrances of the same general category but not necessarily over those (as taxes) imposed by government sanction

floating lien

: a lien created in a security agreement against property owned by the debtor at the time of the agreement's creation as well as property acquired after the agreement's creation

general lien

1 : a lien that is for the satisfaction of a balance due from an owner of property and that is not confined to the amount due in respect to the property itself

2 : retaining lien in this entry

inchoate lien

: a lien for which some procedure remains unfinished or some term remains undetermined

involuntary lien

: a lien that arises other than by the debtor's consent (as by operation of law)

judgment lien

: a lien acquired against the property of a debtor by a creditor upon obtaining a favorable judgment

judicial lien

: a lien obtained by a legal or equitable process (as judgment, levy, attachment, or execution)

junior lien

: a lien that is lower in priority relative to other liens

landlord's lien

: a lien against the goods and valuables of a tenant to secure payment of rent or sometimes repayment of money otherwise owed to a landlord

maritime lien

: a lien arising under maritime law against a ship or its cargo (as for services or supplies tendered or for damages caused by a collision) which may be enforced by a court-ordered seizure of the property in order to satisfy the obligation

materialman's lien \mə-​ˈtir-​ē-​əl-​mənz-​ \

: a lien on property for materials supplied

mechanic's lien

: a lien against a building and its site to assure priority of payment for labor or services (as construction and sometimes design) or material

retaining lien

: a lien that attaches to the papers or property of a client which have come into his or her attorney's possession in the course of employment and that secures payment of the attorney's fees

called also general lien

senior lien

: a lien that is higher in priority relative to other liens

special lien

1 : an equitable lien enforceable to compel performance of an obligation (as under a divorce settlement)

2 : charging lien in this entry

specific lien

: a lien upon specific property as security for the payment of a debt or the satisfaction of some other obligation arising out of a transaction or agreement involving that property — compare general lien in this entry

statutory lien

: a lien imposed by statute

tax lien

: a statutory lien on property for taxes due giving the taxing authority a security interest in the property — compare tax sale at sale

vendor's lien

: a lien on especially real property securing payment in full of the purchase price by the buyer

voluntary lien

: a lien created (as by contract) with the consent of the debtor

History and Etymology for lien

Anglo-French, bond, obligation, literally, tie, band, from Old French, from Latin ligamen, from ligare to bind

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More from Merriam-Webster on lien

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with lien

Spanish Central: Translation of lien

Nglish: Translation of lien for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about lien

Comments on lien

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living or existing for a long time

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