Someone authorized by their state government to attend signings of legal documents.

Author: Divya Ananth
Divya Ananth
Divya Ananth
Finance and Business Analytics & IT student at Rutgers University. Passion for sustainability.
Reviewed By: Patrick Curtis
Patrick Curtis
Patrick Curtis
Private Equity | Investment Banking

Prior to becoming our CEO & Founder at Wall Street Oasis, Patrick spent three years as a Private Equity Associate for Tailwind Capital in New York and two years as an Investment Banking Analyst at Rothschild.

Patrick has an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from The Wharton School and a BA in Economics from Williams College.

Last Updated:November 6, 2023

What Is a Notary?

A notary, also known as a notary public, is someone authorized by their state government to attend signings of legal documents. Their notarial acts are necessary to help prevent fraud.

Some of the ways they do this include: 

  • checking the ID of signers to ensure there is no identity fraud
  • ensuring that all parties are willing to sign the documents without coercion
  • confirming that all parties understand the content of the paper, they are signing
  • verifying that all signers are 18 years of age and older.

Notaries are necessary to help facilitate fair agreements between parties. To ensure this happens, notaries must be impartial towards all parties and not have a bias regarding gender, race, age, politics, etc. 

Most states require notaries to take the Notary Public Oath of Office to confirm they will adhere to the above rules and guidelines. If one does not follow these guidelines or stops meeting the requirements to have this job in their specific state, they can lose their license. 

Some of the reasons one will lose their certification include notarizing a document without witnessing the signatures, giving signers improper legal advice, not identifying the signers prior to notarizing the signatures, or committing a felony.

Key Takeaways

  • A notary's job is to avoid fraud while signing legal documents.
  • Fraud is avoided by ensuring the following about signers:
    • They are at least 18 years of age.
    • They have a proper ID present.
    • They are willing to sign the document without coercion.
    • They fully understand the details behind the document they are signing.
  • Each state has its own set of requirements to get and renew a license. This information can be accessed on the NNA website.
  • Other requirements that vary by the state are the fees one must pay to have this job and the maximum fee they are allowed to charge for their services. In the U.S, the maximum typically ranges from $2.50 to $10.00 per signature.
  • Workers have flexible hours and must fulfill easy-to-meet requirements to get certified. Certified is a skill often valued by companies because it demonstrates that the license holder understands legal work. 
  • Getting certified, maintaining the license, and the other equipment needed to perform the job are all expensive. 
  • Notaries most often work in banks, real estate agencies, law firms, and government offices to oversee the signing of important documents.

How to become a notary

There are nine general steps. 

  1. Ensure you meet your state’s qualifications. These generally include being 18 years of age and older, applying for the job in your state of residence, and having no felony charges to your name. 
  2. Fill out and submit your state’s application and pay your state’s application fee, where the Secretary of State will process your application.
  3. Get trained by an authorized educator.
  4. Take and pass your state’s exam.
  5. Complete the background check and fingerprinting.
  6. Receive your certificate from your state.
  7. Get a surety bond. This bond means that you will be liable in case of failure.
  8. File your paperwork and bond with a Notary regulating official. 
  9. Get your supplies, which typically include a stamp you will use when notarizing documents and a notary journal where you will record your actions. This will be helpful if there are any discrepancies in the future, as the journal can confirm what truly happened. 

Because each state has different requirements, check the qualifications and prerequisites in your state. Additionally, information on renewing this license varies between states, so it is crucial to check your state's requirements for this too. 

You can access state-specific information on the National Notary Association (NNA) website.

Pros of being a notary

Being an authorized person can be challenging and stressful, as workers may deal with illegal requests, disruptive customers, and complex situations. One of the most common stressors is the fear of making a mistake, which could lead to a lawsuit. 

However, with experience, notaries will gain cautious confidence. Having this job also has its rewards, as it has the potential to be a fulfilling occupation for people who enjoy helping their community.

There are quite a few upsides to having this job, including

  • Flexible work hours; depending on the place of work, this job does not require a person to have a traditional 9 to 5. This can be important to those who have another job or other responsibilities that take up a lot of time. 
  • It is relatively easy to meet the requirements needed to get certified, including the education requirements. While most notaries have at least a bachelor's or associate's degree, many have just a high school diploma and can still get certified.
  • Each state has different educational requirements; New York requires a Common School Education Level, so those who dropped out of high school can still be notaries. 
  • People typically gain all the knowledge they need to do this job through their training and then continue to get periodic class sessions from certified organizations and associations. 

  • It is a good skill to put on a resumé because it shows you understand the legal precedents behind documents you may work within a different job. 
  • This job can be a good source of extra income, especially if one decides to become a notary signing agent (NSA). While these jobs are quite similar, an NSA has more complexities in their job. 

cons of being a notary

However, there are a few financial downsides to having this job that can add to the stress. 

  • There are large costs associated with getting certified, getting a surety bond, and renewing your license every few years. 
  • In California, notaries must purchase a $15,000 surety bond. Because the bond amount and requirement vary by state, it may be cheaper for people in other states to have this job.
  • If it is someone’s only job, they may not have a steady income; some states have a maximum fee that notaries can charge, and these are quite low. 
  • New York notaries may charge $5.00 per signature if remote, but if not remote, they cannot charge over $2.00. 

  • It will take some time before notaries earn a profit. 
  • It often takes at least two years for full-time notaries to make a profit. Less than half of part-time notaries make a profit in their first year. 
  • The average salary of an American notary is $39,000, and the middle 50% of notaries earn between $38,000 and $40,000. This is just under the average income of Americans.

Where do notaries work?

They are often seen in places of business where contracts with substantial weight are signed. 

These include deeds and other property records, mortgages, wills, passport documents, etc. Thus, the most common places they work include banks, real estate agencies, law offices, and government offices. 

Banks and other lending institutions need them to oversee the signing of documents associated with mortgages and other loans. This is important because the average American’s mortgage is around $300,000, which is quite a large sum.

Real estate agencies need them for a similar reason, to oversee the signing of deeds and titles. Because these documents declare ownership over the property, they must be signed legally.

Law offices can greatly benefit from having someone in-house that can notarize, as many legal documents require notarization. Completing the notarization process at the law firm can save time and money and attract additional clientele if they understand how convenient the process is at the given law firm. 

Similar to their function in law offices, notaries can be useful in government settings as they can help expedite the process of signing and submitting legal documents. 

The National Notary Association and the American Society of Notaries

NNA, founded in 1957, was first known as the California Notary Association, aiming to support notaries within California. Through expansions, the association grew to support members across the U.S.

The NNA has provided seminars, a telephone hotline, and an annual conference for workers. This organization has also created the Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility, which details their workers’ responsibilities. 

The NNA is the leading association for this occupation; it is nationally recognized, especially because of its infamous code of honor. 

The American Society of Notaries, founded in 1965, provides support and training courses to those aspiring to work as a signing authority. 

This non-profit also offers information to keep notaries updated on their requirements and teach the public about this job. It also has a directory to help the public access a worker to help with their legal needs.

There are other associations, including the American Association of Notaries, as well as organizations operating on a state level. 

While they have some minor differences, the main objectives for all of these organizations are to educate those aspiring to get certified, assist them in staying certified, and help the public access their services. 

Researched and authored by Divya Ananth | LinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

Uploaded by Omair Reza Laskar | LinkedIn

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