What Is a Notary Public?

Rosemary Terpolilli
Notary public working tools

A notary public is an official who is commissioned to witness the signing of legal documents. There are over six million notaries in the U.S. Their duties include screening the signers of documents such as deeds, wills and powers of attorney to make sure that the signer is properly identified. A notary helps to prevent identity theft and protect consumers.

Notary Public Services

Notaries certify the proper execution of legal documents and keep a record of those transactions. A notary public acknowledges that the signer of a document is the person he or she claims to be and that the individual signed the document willingly and under his or her own power. The signer needs to be physically present with the notary and must show valid identification.

The services of a notary public are important in many business and legal transactions. Notaries are typically required during the signing of mortgage closing documents as well as many other legal events. The signing of a will, administering oaths, signing contracts, deeds, and powers of attorney are just a few of the types of transactions that may require a notary public.

How to Become a Notary Public

The requirements for becoming a notary public vary by state and by county, so one option is to start with a review of the National Notary Association (NNA) website and then input your state of residence to review the specific requirements that apply to your location.

Qualifications

On the NNA website, you will also find most state required application forms to download and complete. If the application is not available on NNA for your specific location, there will be additional details provided with contact information. Another option for applicants, is to contact their Secretary of State's office directly to research the requirements and start the application process.

Typical requirements for a notary include:

  • Must be over age 18
  • Must be a legal resident
  • Must be proficient in English
  • Must not have a criminal record

In addition, the state may require the completion of a training course and passing an exam. The NNA page provides the list of states with their education and exam requirements. Be aware that there may be fees for the training and the exam as well as stamps and supplies to order.

Bond Requirement

All states and the District of Columbia require that notaries have a notary bond. A notary bond protects the public from financial harm that may result from mistakes or misconduct committed by a notary during the performance of related duties.

The notary bond binds the notary and the state agency, and is backed by a surety company. These bonds are issued for specific terms and coverage amounts, with requirements varying by state. The term is typically four or five years with the amount ranging from $5,000 to 10,000.

For most states, these bonds cost about $50 per year. You can get a quote from SuretyBonds.com by entering your state and the bond amount. These bonds are also available from some insurance agencies, including State Farm.

Notary Fees

Notaries are allowed to charge for their services. The amount typically ranges from $2 to $20 per signature. Each state sets the amount that can be charged for notary services. For example, the state of Texas specifies that notaries can charge $6 for the first item and $1 for an additional signature. A list of the notary fees by state is available on the NNA website.

Benefits of Becoming a Notary Public

There are a number of key benefits associated with becoming a notary public.

  • Since a notary can charge for services, this credential can provide you with earning opportunities.
  • The notary commission may complement your current job duties or lead to future career opportunities. Having a notary commission may be valuable in several occupations. Examples include:
    • Real estate agents
    • Car title clerks
    • Mortgage loan officers
    • State or federal government agency workers
    • Attorneys and legal staff members
    • Insurance agent
  • Having a notary public commission may help in serving community centers and non-profit groups or events.

Where to Find a Notary Public?

  • To locate notary public services, start with your local financial institution. Banks and credit unions are a good resource because sometimes they don't charge their customers for this service.
  • UPS Stores and AIM Mail Centers also offer this service. Hours of availability and pricing vary by location, and your local store may require an appointment in advance.
  • You can use an online directory to help locate a notary in your area. For example, the Notary Public Directory allows you to search by state or zip code. The directory also shows mobile notary public services that will come to your location and may offer weekend and evening hours.

Notary Versus Signature Guarantee

It's important to note that a signature guarantee is different from the validation provided by a notary public.

  • Pen and glasses
    A signature guarantee can be obtained from a financial institution such as a brokerage firm or bank. A signature guarantee is usually required for securities transactions such as transferring stock certificates, in order to prevent identity fraud. A stamp or medallion imprint is made on the document as a guarantee that the customer's signature is valid.
  • Notary services are more commonly required and are used on many legal documents to confirm the signer's identity.

Be sure to verify what is required for your documents before proceeding with a signature.

Understanding the Role of a Notary Public

It is helpful to recognize the role of a notary public during many life events. Knowing how and where to find a notary may save you time and money.

What Is a Notary Public?