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How to Become a Notary: A Step-By-Step Guide

We don’t often think about notaries public until we need them. But some of our lives’ most important transactions and agreements will require their help and supervision.

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In connection with this, few people consider becoming a notary public when they’re looking for work-from-home job opportunities, but being able to notarize documents is an in-demand capability that can easily be a side hustle.

If you’re interested in becoming a notary public, whether as a side hustle or as a necessity in your full-time job, look no further.

Today, you’ll learn all the basics on how to become a notary: the qualifications, detailed steps, how much everything will cost and how much you can potentially earn.

What Does a Notary Public Do?

A notary public is an official appointed by the state government to serve as an impartial witness to the signing of important legal documents.

They have to make sure that the documents are indeed legal, verify that those signing the documents are who they say they are (usually through ID), and make sure that they know what they’re signing and aren’t doing so under duress.

Notary publics have the freedom to choose who they work with and how; either by opting to work with signing services or getting direct business on their own.

Some notaries simply get the certification to add to their résumé, as many companies, such as banks, schools, and law firms require this type of service often.

It takes around a couple of weeks to become a notary, depending on the process of the state you live in.

After that, you’re free to offer your services to any individual or business that needs official documents signed; and there will be plenty. Notarial services are needed across almost all sectors, from banking and real estate to medical services and tech companies.

What is the Difference between a Notary Public and a Notary Signing Agent?

The main difference is the focus of their responsibilities. Notaries public handle a wide variety of documents, while notary signing agents (NSAs) specifically handle home loan documents.

Both are required to obtain their notary commission (more on this later), but NSAs are required to pass a yearly background check and a yearly exam in addition to their commission.

What Are the Qualifications Needed to Become a Notary Public?

The exact qualifications for who can become a notary differs among states.

However, in general, those wanting to be appointed as a notary public must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a legal resident of the United States
  • Complete a course of study approved by the Secretary of State
  • Pass a written examination prescribed by the Secretary of State
  • Clear a background check

If you have a past criminal record or conviction, it’s still possible to become a notary in plenty of states. Most of them disregard petty crimes as long as they don’t involve fraud or dishonesty.

It’s better to declare any arrest or criminal record at the time of your application, as non-disclosure can hurt your application more that it can help.

How to Become a Notary in 6 Simple Steps

1. Apply to become a notary within your state.

The very first step is to apply to become a notary with your state. This can be done through mail or online through their respective websites; search for “apply to be a notary [your home state]” to find those websites.

You’ll be asked to pay an application fee, and this varies by state as well. Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $120.

You can apply to become a Notary Signing Agent (NSA) in addition to your regular Notary Public responsibilities. This generally requires an extra certification and a training course to handle the extra complicated documents. But again, the requirements vary between states, so you’ll have to check up on that for your specific state.

Many states will do a background check on you. There are a few states that don’t, but it’s better to be prepared for it than not. Those applying to become an NSA will also have to go through a separate background screening.

2. Undergo training.

After applying, you’ll need to complete a training course. In most cases, this can be done online and takes anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.

Some states have only a number of approved notary training courses or providers that you can enroll in, so you’ll need to enroll in the right ones for your training to be valid.

3. Take the notary public exam.

The notary public exam isn’t the same everywhere, but some states allow an open-book exam. There is also a fee, which also varies per state.

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To pass the exam, you’ll need to learn the finer details of being a notary. You’ll likely be asked about notary law, how to handle specific notarial situations, and the best way to accurately identify signers.

The full texts of notary laws are usually available on state legislature websites, and the state agencies licensing notaries normally provide notary public handbooks for your reference.

You can also ask the state agency issuing the notary public exam if they have practice tests available.

Practice tests are also available, usually with the state agency issuing the notary public exam, through the agency you trained with, or online through notary associations, such as the National Notary Association.

The results will be sent by email or by mail and usually take a minimum of 7 business days. Retake policies differ per state as well, so consult the specific state agency website.

4. Take your oath of office.

Once you’ve passed the notary public exam, you’ll get your commission certificate in the mail, usually after around 6 weeks.

Information on how and when to take your oath of office will be included in the information packet that will be sent with your commission certificate.

Oath-taking is usually done before the Secretary of State or another government official. Then, you’ll have to register your signature at your state’s notary regulating office.

Most states require you to post a surety bond, which is intended to compensate aggrieved parties in case you make a mistake that injures or costs someone. Most states require bonds of between $5,000 and $10,000, though it could be more or less than these amounts.

In addition, most notaries need to take out an Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance to protect you as well if you do make a mistake.

5. Gather the necessary materials.

Then, buy any necessary supplies before you can start your new business. Your commission certificate should also include a list of supplies that you’ll need, as well as the authorized vendors from whom you can buy these supplies.

At the barest minimum, you’ll need a notary public seal and a notary journal.

Your notary seal will include your name, the words “Notary Public,” your commission’s expiry date, and the county where you live.

Your notary journal can be any ledger or notebook, but it is recommended that you choose a hardbound one with page numbers, rather than loose-leaf, perforated, or spiral notebooks whose pages can easily be removed.

I break down all the supplies needed and the costs associated below.

6. Start networking to gain clients.

As with any other business, you’ll have to network a bit to get clients.

Check your state’s notary law to learn the allowable, legal ways to advertise your services.

Many people opt for signing up with a signing service that get the loan signing appointments for them.

But you can also print out business cards or contact businesses/realtors to offer your service as a notary.

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How to Become a Remote Online Notary

If you live in a state that allows remote notarization, you can take your notary services online and work as a remote online notary.

Remote online notarization works pretty much the same way as the usual notarization but using two-way audio-video technology, digital signatures, and an electronic seal.

In some states, you’ll have to already hold a commission as a traditional Notary Public before you can apply as a remote online notary, while in other states, you can apply to be both at the same time.

If you were already commissioned as a notary public, bear in mind that applying to be a remote online notary is a separate application and thus has different fees, training, and needed supplies; you’ll need to have an electronic seal and digital certificate, again, only from approved vendors.

Your surety bond and insurance should also be amended to cover remote online notarizations.

You can work through websites such as Notarize.com connect individuals and businesses with online notaries public so documents can be signed remotely by all parties as needed.

The Cost of Becoming a Notary

There are a few costs associated with getting started as a notary, but, these fees put together still come down to a relatively low start-up cost.

Here’s what you’re likely to spend:

First off, there’s the application fee when you submit an application, which is different from one state to another but ranges between $20 to $120 as I mentioned above.

Then, there’s the cost for the training course and the exam.

You will have to supply a passport photo (and live scan fingerprints in the state of California) before you’re certified.

Most states require you to pay for the oath of office, which is in the range of $40.

The surety bond costs around $50 for a four-year bond, after which you’ll have to renew it. E&O insurance premiums cost around $50 annually.

Finally, there are the supplies.

The National Notary Association recommends the following supplies for anyone starting out:

  • Official notary public seal stamp
  • Basic journal with a notary privacy guard cling (Required in some states)
  • A 5-year hotline subscription to the NNA (not necessary, but being an NNA member is not a benefit)

Most notaries agree that it’s good practice to keep a journal even if the state doesn’t specifically require it. It’s safer for you to keep records of your notary public obligations to avoid any possible confusion or future questions about the legitimacy of your business activities.

In total, becoming a notary can cost you around $300 to $500 for the whole process.

Other expenses:

As a notary, you will likely need a computer, cellphone, car or other transportation, and a printer.

The latter is very important because you might have to print out various certificates or loan packages when you prepare for a meeting with clients. At times, there can be over 100 pages of both legal-size and letter-size pages so you’re going to be relying heavily on your printer.

Unlike most of the other work from home jobs I’ve talked about, becoming a notary requires a bit of capital to get started and a lot of paperwork to get through before you can start working.

However, it can be a very fulfilling part-time or full-time career so don’t feel disheartened at these costs.

How Much Do Notaries Earn?

This depends somewhat on the state you’re practicing in. The fees you’re allowed to charge differ between states, but this usually doesn’t include travel fees.

So most notaries can charge whatever they want for travel expenses, within reason of course.

Most notaries charge between $2 to $15 per signature, depending on the state. How much you earn depends on the need for notaries in your area and subsequently how many documents/signatures you can notarize every hour or day.

When documents are signed, there’s often a need for more than one signature and from more than one person, meaning a notary can make upwards of $50 an hour depending on the state they’re in.

Sometimes, businesses even have multiple documents that need to be signed, driving up the price even further.

From what I could gather, however, most notaries public make more money through their additional traveling fees.

There are plenty of industries that require notaries public, but some also seem to be more lucrative than others. Those that opt to specialize even further, into becoming an NSA, seem to be earning the most out of the group.

This is because signing agents in the mortgage industry usually negotiate premium rates with the title companies or signing services that hire them and they make a considerable amount of income from this one part of the industry alone.

Apply to Become a Notary Soon!

Being a notary public can be a fulfilling job as you get to meet interesting people from all over and exercise your duty as a ministerial official.

It’s a flexible option and a great choice for both those who want to make side cash and anyone who’s looking for a solid full-time job.

If the startup costs of becoming a notary feel a little steep to you, then you could always opt for these work-from-home jobs that require no financial investment on your part.

Planning to become a notary? Let us know in the comments!

1 thought on “How to Become a Notary: A Step-By-Step Guide”

  1. Hi Steve!

    Good article about becoming a Notary Public. I find the articles you post on your site extremely helpful, and know that others also appreciate the amount of research you have done to present to those wanting a freelance, part time, or full time gig! In these challenging times, any edge can be an advantage to supporting themselves and their family! You are truly a gem!

    If I could add an addendum, those interested in becoming a Loan signing agent should budget for at least a monochrome laser printer and lots of copy paper, as mortgage document packages are usually around 150 pages (legal size for the mortgage/escrow companies, additionally a letter size copy for the home buyer).

    Your reference to NNA (National Notary Association) is the first place I would look online, as there is a wealth of free information to become a Public Notary or Loan Signing Agent. There is a lot of really good free information on YouTube, and Loan Signing Agent courses online. Of course reviewing Notary Public info at your Secretary of State’s website is always suggested!

    The pay can be quite lucrative for Loan Signing Agents, of course, depending on the amount of work you put into it, as each loan signing can be anywhere between $75 and $200, depending if you get referrals from a loan signing service, or cut out the middle man, and approach the mortgage or real estate companies yourself! Not bad for an hours worth of work (or less time, if proficient)! Just remember, you are a public servant, it is your own business, you will need to put in the work, and the position holds an incredible amount of responsibility! P.S: Always get the Errors & Omissions Insurance!

    I hope your readers have found this additional info helpful, and good luck in your pursuits of obtaining meaningful work on your own terms!

    Reply

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