25 January 2021
Want to start a business that’s always in-demand and practically recession-resistant?
Then you might want to consider learning how to become a notary.
A notary (also known as a notary public) is a person who is authorized to act as an official witness to specific events (like signing a will, creating a deed, opening a bank vault, etc.). This person “notarizes” what they saw, making it more likely that the document or event was signed correctly and in good faith.
If you’ve been thinking about becoming a notary for a long time or you’re new to this field, this guide — which includes advice from a seasoned notary — will provide the steps you typically want to know on how to become a notary.
Why is becoming a notary considered such a smart move?
Well, it’s because notaries are regularly in demand, as they typically perform three essential, likely never-ending functions:
They screen any document signers for their true identity (in other words, verifying that the people signing a contract are who they say they are);
They help ensure that any signers are not being intimidated to sign an important document, like a will or a deed; and
They make sure that all parties are cognizant of what’s contained within the documents they are signing.
“A lot of what I do involves just making sure people are who they say they are, and that they’re not under duress when signing something,” says Mary Prouty, a notary public from Massachusetts.
In some states, notaries can even have people swear under oath that a document is not fraudulent.
Given the scope of what a notary can usually do, it’s no surprise that their services are needed for everyday transactions. And while pandemics can range on and economies shift, notaries are still consistently needed to witness and sign off on wills, deeds, contracts, and more.
Here’s more proof as to why you should consider becoming a notary. During 2020, when COVID forced thousands of businesses to close, there was a surge in demand for notaries — so much so that several states passed laws to allow notaries to witness signatures remotely or via curbside in their cars.
This caveat was in place so long as the notary and signer were still able to communicate with each other by sight and sound through the window and by normal means.
Convinced? Then let’s take a look at the requirements for how to become a notary public.
While most states have different notary requirements, they do agree on one thing: Anyone interested in becoming a notary typically must be 18 or older.
In general, most states require you to be a resident of the state where you’ll be performing your notary services. So if you just moved to a new state, you should likely work on becoming a resident before looking into how to become a notary.
There are a few states that allow residents in neighboring states to register as a notary. For example, a notary from New York can apply to become a notary in New Jersey, provided they have an office in one of the states.
Most states require that you don’t have a criminal record in order to become a notary. Some states perform background checks, especially if you’re applying to be a Notary Signing Agent.
Most states require a notary public to be able to read and write in English to ensure that any legal documents they’re notarizing are authentic.
Each state is different, but most will likely require one or more reference letters from people who can vouch for your good moral character. These letters help ensure that you will carry out your important notary duties without being swayed or influenced.
For Prouty, one of those letters had to be from a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “In Massachusetts, part of becoming a notary means having a lawyer provide a letter that speaks to your good character,” she says. “The letters are included as part of your notary application.”
Before applying to become a notary, make sure you know all of your state’s requirements. The National Notary Association (NNA) has an excellent state-based search tool that allows you to select your state to view its requirements for how to become a notary public.
Now that eligibility requirements are out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff: our step-by-step guide on how to become a notary!
You can find your state’s notary application form by visiting its Secretary of State website or by visiting the NNA’s state search tool.
Make sure you’re meeting your state’s requirements for who these letters need to be from. For example, do the letters need to be from business members within your community, or a lawyer? Double-check before you ask people to write one for you.
Follow the step-by-step instructions on applying to become a notary. Information about your state’s filing fee will be included in the application.
To get a quick look at how much your application fee might cost, here are a few examples of states’ current notary public fees:
Some states may require you to go through a certified training program or pass a notary public exam before being able to operate as a notary.
You may be required to go through notary training if you live in one of the following states:
Additionally, you may be required to take a notary exam if you live in one of the following states:
If your application is accepted and you pass your training and/or exam (if required in your state), you’ll be sworn in.
For Prouty, part of becoming a notary public involved taking an official oath to swear to uphold her duties as a notary.
“I had to make an appointment, go into downtown Boston, and take my oath in front of a government official,” she says. “The whole oath-swearing process didn’t take long at all.”
Note: With some COVID-19 restrictions, your state may opt for virtual appointments for swearing in new notaries.
Once you’re officially sworn in as a notary public, you’ll need to order your notary supplies.
For Prouty, this was getting her notary book, ink rubber stamp, and seal.
“The notary record book is especially important because you’re required to keep a record of everything you had notarized,” Prouty points out.
Your state should have guidance on where to buy your notary supplies. These costs are determined by the state, but they’re relatively affordable; for example, a notary seal typically costs about $20.
A notary bond is a financial guarantee (purchased from a surety company) that protects the public from financial harm from your notary services.
If, for example, you fail to verify that a person signing a contract is who they say they are (and they actually aren’t), the person who was harmed by your actions can be paid out (up to the maximum amount of the bond).
Note: A notary bond is not a replacement for business insurance, which we’ll discuss in just a moment!
Your state should be able to provide you with guidance on where to obtain a notary bond.
As a notary public, you’re responsible for ensuring that many of life’s most important moments — signing a big contract, creating a will, etc. — are witnessed so they’re legitimate.
Consequently, if something goes wrong or if you’re accused of improperly doing your job, you could potentially find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
That’s where errors & omissions (E&O) insurance can come in.
This type of business insurance policy protects you in cases where you’re accused of making an error or leaving out important information (an omission) during the course of your work.
If a client sues you due to negligence or an error while carrying out your notary duties, your E&O insurance could pay for the cost of the claims, as well as legal fees if the client takes you to court.
Important note: A notary bond is not a substitute for a business insurance policy. This type of bond doesn’t protect you as a notary — it protects the public. If a customer makes a claim against your bond, you’ll still have to reimburse the bond company for that claim.
However, if you have E&O insurance, your policy could potentially cover that payment so that you’re not out any money.
Let’s take a closer look at E&O insurance in action. Let’s say you’re contacted by someone — named John Smith — who wants you to witness him signing a quitclaim deed. You’ve done several of these jobs before, so you rush through the verification process and sign off on the quitclaim deed.
Later, you’re contacted by a furious individual. He’s the real John Smith — and now he has to take time, money, and energy out of his schedule to correct the error you signed off on. That’s why he sues you, as you didn’t take the proper steps to verify the identity of the bogus John Smith.
Without E&O insurance, you’d be on the hook for the costs to defend yourself in court, as well as any claims you’re ordered to pay.
With E&O insurance, those costs may be able to be covered (up to your policy limit), including any claim payouts you have to cover.
Want to see how much your E&O insurance policy may cost? Use our free quote comparison tool to shop for policy quotes from the nation’s top insurers. If you see a policy option you like, just click on it to get it — it’s really that simple!
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Now that you’ve learned how to become a notary, it’s time to start making money … right?
Here’s where things can get a little bit complicated. Notary rates tend to be regulated by the state, meaning you’re required to charge a specific amount for a certain activity.
It doesn’t seem like much at first glance. But here’s the thing: Many clients need more than one signature notarized at the same time. Since you’re allowed to charge a set fee per individual notarization, you could end up making a lot more, even if you’re witnessing only multiple signatures on a single contract.
Don’t forget, notaries are allowed to charge for travel fees and supplies, so be sure to include those costs into how much you charge for your notary services.
So there you have it: Your step-by-step guide on how to become a notary.
Whether you’re looking into the process because you want to become a notary public full time or do it as a side gig, having a notary license in your back pocket gives you plenty of options.
And if you do want to transform your newfound skills into a full-fledged notary business, we’ve got you covered there, too. Download our FREE guide on how to start your own business; it contains all the tips and techniques you need to turn your notary license into a rewarding, fulfilling career.
Get all the secrets and tips to starting your own small business here!
I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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