What is a notary?
A notary (or notary public) is person who is authorized by their state to notarize legal documents and certify signatures. They personally witness signatures, verify the identification of each person signing a document, confirm the signer is present without duress or intimidation, and validates the signer understands the contents of the document they are signing.
A key part of a notary’s job is to be an impartial witness. They aren’t allowed to gain in any way from acting as a notary except to collect any fees for their services that are allowed by the state. This means a notary can’t be biased toward one party or the other and can’t be related to a document signer. Impartiality avoids conflicts of interest, ensures the integrity of the document, and instills public faith in the notarial process.
Qualifications and eligibility
Each state has different requirements for becoming a notary, however, there will be common elements across all states. These core include:
- You must be at least 18 years of age
- You must be a legal resident of the United States
- You must be a legal resident in the state in which you’ll work
- You must have no felony charges or convictions
- You must not be imprisoned in any state, county, or federal correctional facility
- You must be able to speak fluent English
A notary must also have good judgment. They can, and should, refuse to notarize a document if they suspect fraud or are unsure of a signer’s identity. They also need to keep a keen eye out for any signs of a party being coerced into signing a document. This can have a significant impact on wills, deeds, power of attorney, or other important documents.
Notaries can work in a variety of locations and environments, but you’ll typically find them in office settings where they typically handle notarizing documents as part of their daily job functions. Examples include:
- Real estate agencies need notaries for deeds and titles. If you’ve ever bought a house, a notary was sitting there witnessing you sign the paperwork.
- Many banks offer notary services to their customers.
- You’ll also run into notaries in legal offices who prepare wills and deeds.
Some notaries work independently, where they’ll run their own notary businesses out of a small office or via a mobile service. They might also run a notary business out of their home where you come to them by appointment. Notaries who run their own businesses generally do it as a side job to make extra money.
Typical work hours
As you might have guessed by now, the typical hours for a notary can vary. Those notaries who work in offices normally work during traditional 8-5 business hours. Independent and mobile notaries can work any day of the week and any time of day.
If you’re working as a freelancer or independent notary, you have the ability to set your own hours and rates. This means you can create a schedule that aligns with your specific needs. And if you’re offering nights, weekends, or weekends for services, you can charge an increased rate for services outside of normal business hours.
Types of notaries
Notary services fall into five different categories, although the types of notaries used will vary state to state. A notary can handle all five or might only provide services for one or two of them.
- Acknowledgments – An acknowledgment certifies the document signer is who they claim to be and has voluntarily signed the document. These types of notary services are typically used for deeds, mortgages and deeds of trust.
- Jurat – A jurat certifies the contents of the document are accurate. They require that the signer agrees to the information in the document before signing it.
- Oral Oath or Affirmation – An oral oath or affirmation doesn’t require a signed document. A notary’s job here is to swear in an individual who swears that any statements they provide will be completely truthful.
- Copy Certification – A copy certifications verifies that a copy made of an original document is an exact copy with nothing changed or missing. Examples of documents requiring copy certification are diplomas, driver’s licenses, leases, contracts, vehicle titles, Social Security cards, medical records, or bills of sale.
- Signature Witnessing – A signature witness certifies the individual appearing signing the document is who they claim to be and the signature on the record is their signature.
A notary salary range will vary widely depending on the state you work in, your education, your certifications, and the number of years experience:
- Salary.com estimates the average annual income for a notary is $39,000 and the range is $37,000 to $59,000.
- A notary’s salary can vary greatly when you break this down by state, so it’s best to view data on your specific state. For example, ZipRecruiter estimates Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island offer the highest average salary at $60,000 – $62,000. Louisiana and Georgia round out the bottom end with salaries between $39,000 and $40,000.
- Indeed places the average notary salary at $47,713 and lists California and New York salaries ranging between around $55,000.
Keep in mind that many notaries begin working on a part-time basis, so their wage is typically based on individual appointments. A general range for an individual notary gig is $125 to $200. Considering part-time notary loan signing agent can easily perform 5 signings a week working between 10 hours (includes the notary appointment and driving time), that places estimated income at $150 per session, $750 a week, $3,000 a month, and $36,000 per year. If that same notary doubled their work hours to 20 hours a week, their annual income would increase to $72,000.
Since notary services fit nicely into the freelance and gig economy, the estimated annual earnings are fluid and left to the notary to decide how much they’d like to work and earn.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks data on occupations and job outlook, does not provide figures for notaries public.
As a certified notary, you can then pursue a position in a bank or other financial institution, a law office, a real estate or lending agency, or you can become a self-employed notary. Many people who apply to become notaries are already working at financial institutions, schools, law offices, etc., and become notaries to expand their opportunities at work.
Below is a list of positions that are natural career paths for notaries:
- Administrative assistant
- Court clerk
- Claims assistant
- Claims processor
- Claims specialist
- Contract administrator
- Escrow assistant
- Escrow officer
- Executive assistant
- Loan processor
- Mortgage closer
- Records clerk
- Settlement officer
- Title clerk
- Title processor
Steps to becoming a notary
The career path steps to becoming a notary include:
1. Get the right training
Training requirements varies by state. Not all states will require notary education, but many do, and this will most likely increase. States that currently require notary training are California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Delaware requires training and continuing education for electronic notaries.
Even if your state doesn’t require training, it is certainly recommended because you will be financially liable for any errors or mistakes you make.
Options for obtaining notary training:
- American Society of Notaries – Offers notary training at the national level and states notary education for Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
- National Notary Association – With over 60 years of expertise, the National Notary Association is the nation’s leader in providing notary training and education through live seminars, independent study, CD-ROM, or online courses.
- Notary.net – Provides online training and proof of completion certification for all fifty states.
- Notary Public Writers – This introductory course, developed by the American Society of Notaries, is designed to provide you a comprehensive and informative overview of the general responsibilities of a Notary Signing Agent – a duly commissioned notary public trained to present loan documents for signing, perform all necessary notarizations, and return the executed documents to the closing agent for processing.
2. Pass your notary exams
A few states require you to pass a notary exam, but most don’t. States that require applicants to pass a notary exam are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.
3. Submit a notary application to your state
While not every state requires an application, most states do enforce this step for becoming a notary. Most notary applications are available via the state’s government website and they are easy to complete. When submitting your notary application, you’ll be asked for basic personal information, you’ll need to provide your official notary name and signature, and you’ll also pay a filing fee.
If you don’t want to do the legwork of researching your state’s application and licensing requirements, you can hire companies like CorpNet.com to do research notary licenses for you.
4. Pass a background check
A notary background check is an investigation into the notary’s background and identifies whether they have any arrests or convictions. A background check will typically review 7-10 years of federal, state and county records.
The general standard for background checks will include the following:
- Social Security Number
- County Criminal Court Search
- Motor Vehicle Records
- National Sex Offender
- Nationwide Criminal Database
- Federal District Court Search
- USA Patriot Act including Terrorist Watch List
Certain industries will require a yearly background check to continue notary services.
5. Obtain a notary bond
Most states will require a notary to post a notary bond when applying to become a notary.
A notary bond is a legally binding contract, which guarantees the notary will complete tasks correctly, ethically, and according to law. If a notary fails to perform their duties, a claim can be issued by the state and those harmed by the notary’s wrongful actions.
The dollar amount of the bond and the cost for obtaining a notary bond can vary greatly from state to state. Bond amounts can range between $500 and $25,000 with costs ranging from $30 – $110.
Providers of notary bonds include:
6. Obtain a notary Errors and Omissions insurance
A notary Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance policy protects you against financial harm if you make an unintentional mistake or omission while notarizing documents, if someone files a false claim against you, or if you unintentionally violated a law while providing notary services.
E&O insurance will cover your legal defense in addition to your claim, legal fees, and court costs.
Companies that offer notary Errors and Omissions insurance include:
7. Order your notary supplies
If you’ll be an independent notary, you’ll need to obtain the required supplies to perform your job. These include core items like certificates, stamps, a seal embosser, and record books. Notary seals and embossers will be custom made to your state’s specifications. Certificates are the most challenging purchase because there are different types of notarizations, each requiring a different certificate.
A list of popular notary supplies provides includes:
8. Take continuing education
There is no national requirement for notary continuing education, however, states like California, Delaware, and Missouri do require it. It is best to visit your state’s notary licensing and education requirements to validate what regulations you need to adhere to.
Tips for becoming a notary
If you are interested in becoming a notary, there are a few things you should do. Here are some tips for becoming a notary:
- Research what the notary requirements are in your state. You can do this at the Secretary of State for most of the states within the United States.
- Sign up for training, even if your state doesn’t require it.
- Join associations so you have a pool of resources and advocates ready to help you:
- If you plan on freelancing, treat this like a business. Create a business plan and set measurable goals for getting started and growing your revenue.
- Make time to market yourself. Build a website, set up social media profiles, create local profiles in Google and Bing.
- Get yourself organized and keep yourself organized. It will be vital to maintaining a high quality of service for your customers.
- Create business partnerships, so work comes to you. This requires networking and does a great job.