What is a Notary Public?
State governments – generally specifically the Secretary of State – appoint Notaries Public as officials of integrity who perform a public service by acting as impartial witnesses in a number of capacities concerned with signatures on significant documentation to prevent fraud. The acts taken by these officials are referred to as notarizations or notarial acts. Notaries are given a public commission as “ministerial” officials, which means that there is an expectation they will follow regulations to the letter without significantly exercising any personal judgement, and in this respect they differ from “judicial” officials.
Why become a Notary Public?
There are around 4.4 million Notaries Public in the USA, and most of them qualified as Notaries to be able to carry out their jobs or to add an extra skill to their portfolio. Some opted to become a Notary to set up their own business as a mobile Notary or a Notary Signing Agent. In this case, the Notary is an independent contractor who is paid to deal with cases where notarization is required such as trust documentation, mortgage signing, and many other instances.
As well as being an opportunity to create extra income, there is a significant history in the US for the office of Notary Public; it offers distinction to the Notary and the opportunity to serve one’s state or territory. A Notary is not in the service of their employer; they serve the issuing state or territory responsible for their commission.
If you think being commissioned as a Notary Public might interest you, this guide will answer the questions that most frequently arise. Please note that this guide deals in general principles; every state has different procedures for commissioning Notaries Public.
Requirements for Notaries
Who can become a Notary Public?
Every state has its own qualifying criteria for Notaries Public. Generally, any applicant must be 18 years of age or older, legally resident in the commissioning state, and have no criminal convictions. In some states it is compulsory to be able to read and write in English. In certain states, the residency condition is extended to those living in adjacent states.
What is the cost of becoming a Notary?
Costs for becoming a Notary differ from state to state: in certain states it will cost less than $100; in others it may cost several hundred dollars. Costs depend on the fees for filing an application, any mandatory training, examination, screening, compulsory supplies, and costs of Notary Public insurance bonds (where applicable) required.
Are background checks required for Notaries?
Certain states ask for background checks for Notaries. In other states it is not compulsory for all applicants, but you may be subjected to a background check if your application reveals that you have a previous conviction for misdemeanors or felonies.
Notaries who select the path of becoming a Notary Signing Agent will require separate background checks to satisfy industry requirements.
What Notary supplies do I require?
In general, there are three specific types of supplies that Notaries require, these being certificates, a seal to stamp the certificates, and a journal in which all notarizations should be recorded. This last-named is not compulsory in most states, but all Notaries should keep a record of all their notarizations for their own protection and that of their clients.
Certificates are the most complex items required as there are a variety of forms of notarization, and each one needs an individual certificate. The majority of state-run sites for Notaries offer basic certificates for downloading, however these frequently look less than impressive for those wanting to appear professional to their clients. Because of this, it is possible to download certificates from other suppliers as required that look rather more impressive.
Notaries should always remember that although a particular tool may not be a legal requirement in your state, you can still use it. Have a look around and select anything that could make your work easier, more professional, and more secure.
California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania all require some form of Notary training. In addition, Delaware mandates training and ongoing education for an electronic Notary.
All mandatory Notary training must be state approved, so you can be sure that any approved course will cover the essential requirements of the state.
Although only the above-named states have mandatory training for Notaries, numerous other states recommend that Notaries should voluntarily participate in training.
Notary training in states where it is not mandatory
Your first port of call to find training should be with the state agency for regulating Notaries: this will generally be the Secretary of State’s office. In certain states local community colleges will provide training for Notaries. Some organizations and commercial endeavors, e.g., the National Notary Association, offer Notary training as well. Certain providers may offer practical tips helping Notaries learn how to undertake their official tasks.
Notary training can be either online or in person. The National Notary Association offers live seminars in California and online training for all other states.
How long does it take to train?
In states where training is mandatory, courses generally last between three and six hours. Other non-mandatory training you opt to undertake may take less time or be longer.
What is the cost of Notary training?
Costs can differ significantly depending on the provider. Online training generally costs less than $100, with in-person training costing between $100 and $200.
Are Notary examinations compulsory?
Only California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah have mandatory testing for Notaries. In Wyoming applicants are encouraged to take a self-administered test, but it is not mandatory.
How long do Notary exams take?
Examinations for Notaries generally take around an hour. Examinations could incorporate taking fingerprints that will be submitted along with your application to become a Notary when the exam is finished.
Notary bonds and insurance for Notaries Public
Are Notary bonds required?
In the majority of states (thirty plus the District of Columbia) Notaries require a surety bond, but the required amount differs significantly. The average is between $5000 dollars and $10,000, though in some states it may be just $500 or as much as $25,000.
Surety bonds exist for consumer protection. If as a result of your error somebody experiences loss or damage, the bond exists to provide compensation up to the sum of the bond. It would then be your obligation to repay that amount to the bond company.
Do I need Errors and Omissions insurance for Notary Public?
You do not require notary public insurance or errors and omissions insurance for notary public, because the laws regarding Notaries exist for public protection, not for protection of Notaries. That’s why bonds are required in the majority of states. However, you should consider purchasing errors and omissions insurance for notary public to cover yourself against any liabilities that may arise because of mistakes made by you as a Notary.
Who regulates Notaries?
Commissioning and regulation of Notaries occurs at state level. Most states give this responsibility to the office of the Secretary of State. In some states a Notary will be commissioned by the county clerk or other administrator.
How long does it take to become a Notary?
In states where no training or examinations are required, you can become a Notary in around four weeks. If training, examinations, or both are required, it can take up to 9 weeks, or even longer if your state has many renewal applications to cope with.
Can I get help with my application?
Most states have organizations that can assist you with the application process. Vendors or associations can be useful to make sure that you complete all the required stages of the application. In Florida, Illinois, and Texas you must use state-specified vendors, and it is not possible for an individual to apply directly.
Where can I work as a Notary?
In most states, you will be given authority to notaries documents state-wide. In some states there will be different rules about jurisdiction, sometimes placing limitations on the areas of the state in which you can work as a Notary, or giving permission for you to undertake notarizations out of state for state residents.
Who can I Notarize for?
In virtually every state a Notary should perform their duty for anyone who legitimately and legally requests a notarization and identifies them self adequately. In certain states, provisions exist which allow an employer to proscribe the work of any Notary employed by them, limiting their work to documentation related to their business within business hours.
How long does certification last?
The average term for certification is four years, but this varies between states. In certain states it lasts for five years, and in other states ten.
Why does the process for Notaries differ between states?
Each state commissions and governs its own Notaries and has its own laws regarding Notaries, so naturally certificating requirements can vary. An example is that in California there have been a considerable number of lawsuits and public damage resulting from notarizations, and so strict laws have been imposed.
Can I be a remote online Notary?
Processes for attaining commission/authorization as a remote online Notary differ from state to state (some states do not allow this form of notarization at all).
Wherever you choose to become a Notary Public, you should seriously consider taking out Notary Public liability insurance: find out more here.
*As with any insurance, cover will be subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions contained in the policy wording. The information contained on this web page is general only and should not be relied upon as advice.