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How to Become a Notary

Notary public A notary is an impartial third-party witness to legal agreements. For some, becoming a notary could help secure a job in a competitive market. / Credit: Lucky Business | Shutterstock

If you’ve ever bought a house, started a business or written a will, then chances are you’ve used the services provided by a notary. Notaries serve as impartial witnesses to the signing of documents and the swearing of oaths.

Notaries public — or notaries who are not also lawyers — are appointed by state or county government agencies to ensure that individuals entering into legally binding contracts are who they claim to be and understand what they are agreeing to do.

If you’re interested in becoming a notary, either to further your career or to supplement your income, then keep reading to learn more about what the job entails, including what the responsibilities of a notary are and what qualifications you’ll need to become a notary.

What notaries do

Notaries public are essential to the way business, legal and financial institutions are run in the United States. They function as impartial third-party witnesses to the signing of documents and other proceedings.

In many states, it is necessary to have important documents notarized. Loan agreements, title or property transfers, sworn affidavits and many other documents require notarization for legal reasons. In these instances, notaries confirm the identity and signature of the individuals signing the documents.

In most states, notaries are responsible for witnessing acknowledgements and jurats, which are legal processes for which the notary must fill out forms provided by the state in which they practice.

For both of these simple proceedings, a notary public must verify that the person signing the documents is who they say they are and that they are signing the document of their own free will. In the case of a jurat, a notary must also administer an oath verifying the truth of the statement or document to be signed. 

Notaries possess a seal or stamp that accompanies their signature on notarized documents. Most notary licenses expire after four years and must be renewed by the license holder.

Where notaries work

Because banks, law offices, courthouses and post offices often require that documents be notarized, it is common for them to employ notaries. Most notaries are regular employers, such as clerks or secretaries, who also have notary certification.

And while notary certification isn’t a prerequisite for employment at most institutions, it is a valuable asset that could help candidates secure a position in a competitive job market.

Some notaries public do not work for employers who commonly need notary services, but instead function as independent agents. They may choose to work part time as notaries or provide full-time notary service through an agency.

Some notaries travel to different places of business to provide their services. Such individuals, known as mobile notaries, provide an important service to real estate offices, banks, lawyers and doctors that do not have a certified notary on staff.

Becoming a notary

The qualifications for becoming a notary vary from state to state. But all states require that a notary be at least 18 years of age and a legal resident of the state in which they are to provide services. Most states also require that notaries speak and read fluent English and have lived within the state for at least a year prior to applying for a notary license.

Some states reserve the right to deny an applicant licensure on the basis of prior felony convictions. And several states also require that applicants complete a notary training course as well as pass a written exam prior to obtaining a license.

Other states do not require notary applicants to pass a test but do provide them with a handbook for the regulations and responsibilities of notaries.

For more information on what the requirements are for becoming a notary in your state, visit the National Notary Association’s interactive notary map.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .