Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at

Dear Thea,
Any recommendations for filing your own mechanics liens? I see lots of seminars on mechanics liens but none of them have explained how to do it yourself. I want just the process. What gives?
signed, DIY in Denver

Dear DIY:

Reconsider that plan. I’m serious here.

Given that I’m a big believer in the DIY mantra, my answer may have surprised you. Au contraire, DIYer, this is one area you can't play around with, being penny wise and pound foolish. The laws regarding liens are unforgiving and inflexible as a bitter ex-wife going for alimony.

I am assuming you also mean preliminary lien notices as well as the actual filing of the mechanics lien. Since I am guessing, I am going to address both.

You don't see a lot, if any, seminars on the DIY lien process because it gets complicated real quick. There are a lot of rules and timelines when it comes to mechanics liens, all of which are state specific. Pretty hard to cover 50 states, in detail, in any one session seminar. They are also legislation-driven, which means they are constantly subject to change.

Now, if you are doing business in one state and have the time to review the statutes and process, keep up on any changes, you could pull if off. For me, it holds no allure.

The overview seminars give you the basic rules of the road, but it's the state-by-state nuances where you can get tripped up. Something as simple as not knowing the variances in timeframes for a preliminary lien notice will lose you those rights.

The prelim has to have all the correct information, on the correct state-mandated form, delivered in the correct, state-mandated manner, within the timeline specified in the statues, with proof of service or it is not valid when you file that lien. Mess up anywhere and all your hard work is for nothing.

I am a fan of the prelim/lien service. One of the biggest draws for me is the E&O (errors and omissions) policy. I provide the correct information and if anything goes wrong, it is on the service’s dime. You can also have the service double-check the information if the tracking down of the correct legal address, entity, and assorted other bits of information is not your strongest skill set.

Timing and consequent follow-up actions are another piece of this pie. You can have all the correct information and get it delivered in a timely manner, but if you are not calendar-tracking the next "action required" dates, you lose out again. The pitfalls in the lien process are many. I equate them to the ball pit at a Chuck E. Cheese: The balls are colorful, messy, and laden with creepy stuff left behind by God knows how many sniffly-nosed kids.

The is nothing worse then feeling confident, smug even, that you secured your rights and tipped the risk/reward scales in your favor, then finding out you have the equivalent of wallpaper. Yep, that will look real nice on your office wall, but it’s not a great story to have to explain to your CFO.

If you are comfortable with the basic process and still want to go it solo, there are some good DIY support service companies out there. They can provide all the forms, with instructions, for you to complete for the preliminary lien notices and subsequent notices in accordance with the laws in the state you are securing in. Some provide service for mailing and services if you need to perfect your lien. These forms and services are provided for a fee, which may be comparable to what you would pay to if you went with a service.  

Take it a step further and do a cost/benefit of both methods.  Compare a few lien services to a couple of DIY options.  Do a cost analysis of each. DIY isn't always cheaper. What you save in money, you may end up spending in your time-researching and filling out the forms and making sure they are "noticed" to the proper parties correctly.

I have tried both methods on this issue over the years. I prefer all the extra benefits I get from a service. A service will send you updates on any legislative changes in each state, emails following up on important dates so you don't miss deadlines, free webinars on the process, correlating lien waivers, and someone to answer your questions. Whether it is interrupting a bond issue or clarification of any part of this process, there’s someone you can call.

Part of being a good credit manager is building your internal and external teams. Surround yourself with good resources for you and your team and you will be able to do more with less while supporting sales and protecting the company's money.