How to Become a Notary - Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Applying for a notary commission
Although each state commissions its own notaries public, there are similarities in the application process. Following are answers to questions of a general nature. These questions and answers are meant to provide basic information to the person who might be considering applying for a notary commission in his or her state. Visit the “How to Apply” section of our site for state-specific information. You may also check with your state notary public administrator for specific answers.

2.  Who appoints notaries?
Authority to commission notaries usually falls to the Governor of the state, the Lieutenant Governor or the Secretary of State. There are a few exceptions: in New Jersey the State Treasurer appoints notaries, for example.

3.  How old must I be?
The great majority of states require that a prospective notary public be at least eighteen years of age.

4.  Is there a residence requirement?
All states will give notary commissions to applicants who reside in that state. Some states allow a notary to live in an adjoining state and have a physical business address in the state in which the applicant is intending to become a notary for business purposes.

5.  Can I have a criminal record and still become a notary?
Most states will allow an applicant to become a notary with minor crimes in his or her past that do not have to do with fraud or dishonesty. Many of these states will allow the applicant to have a record of more serious crimes as long as the person has had his or her civil rights restored. A few states do not allow anyone with a felony on his or her record to become a notary.

6.  What are my civil rights?  How can I have my civil rights restored?
Most people think of the right to vote when they think of restoration of civil rights. Your civil rights can also include serving on a jury, signing initiatives, running for office and serving as a state officer by becoming a notary public. Check with the appropriate agency in your state to find out which civil rights are restored.

Your state may restore your civil rights automatically upon completion of your sentence and/or probation. The Department of Corrections should notify the court, and a certificate of restored rights is issued. Other states require a person to apply for the restoration of civil rights to the state agency charged with restoring civil rights.

7.  What if I have had a notary commission or other license revoked in the past?
Such an occurrence could cause your application to be denied in a few states. In some other states this would be a negative factor  when your application is being considered.

8.  Should I leave a negative event off my application if it is doubtful that it will be discovered by the appointing authority?
Put everything on the application. It is more likely that a “material omission” on your application will cause your application to be rejected than a minor infraction of the law that took place twenty years ago.

9.  Do I have to be a United States Citizen to become a notary?
The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Bernal v Fainter, decided in 1984, that a notary applicant does not have to be a United States citizen. The resident alien notary applicant must be in the country legally, however.

10.  Declaration of Domicile–what is it and how do I file one?
If you are not a citizen of the United States, your state may want you to file a Declaration of Domicile stating that you are a resident of the state in which you are applying to become a notary public. Your county courthouse should be able to provide you with this form and accept it when it is filled out. Check with the notary public office in your state to see what you need to do as a resident alien.

11.  Do I have to take a notary education course to become a notary?
Notary education requirements vary by state. Check with your state’s notary web site or contact your states notary public administrator for your state’s specific education requirements, or just visit the Notary Information by State section of our web site.

12.  Do I have to take a test to become a notary?
There are states that require a test without requiring notary education (Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, and Utah). There are also states that require both notary education and a test (California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Oregon). As stated above, some states require neither a test nor notary education.

13.  Do I have to do anything at the County Clerk’s Office?
In some states the county clerk’s office or a circuit judge will begin the application process. In other states the notary goes to the county clerk’s office to be sworn in and the county where the notary was sworn in (usually the county of residence for the notary, although it could be the county of the notary’s employment if the notary works in that state but lives in an adjoining state) appears on the notary’s commission stamp. In a number of states the entire application process takes place at the state level and the county where the notary lives or works is not involved.

14.  What is a bond?  Do I have to be bonded?
Many states require notary applicants to obtain a bond before becoming commissioned. People who work in businesses where security is an issue or in which there could be a monetary loss are bonded. Someone who sprays private homes for insects, for example, may have a house key for entry when no one is home.  He is bonded to protect the homeowner against loss in case an unscrupulous employee uses this access to steal something. 

Notaries are bonded so that a client who suffered a loss because of an improper notarization can be financially reimbursed. The bond does not protect the notary. Bond limits can run from $500 to $15,000 among the states that require a notary bond, but the actual purchase price is very reasonable.

15.  What is Errors and Omissions Insurance?
Errors and Omissions Insurance (E&O) is an insurance policy that protects the notary. Usual amounts for E&O coverage are $10,000 or $25,000. If the notary works around documents where the possible loss to an individual can be more than $25,000, he or she should consider an amount of E&O insurance closer to the value stated in the documents (notary signing agents or witness-only loan closers). This type of insurance is also reasonably priced.

16.  Are there fees involved with becoming a notary?
The appointing authority will charge a fee for processing the application and printing the notary commission certificate. This fee varies widely among commissioning jurisdictions. If the applicant is applying in a state that requires a notary bond, there may be an additional cost for filing the bond. Some states require applicants to take an oath of office at their local county clerk's office, which may also require a fee.

17.  My boss is in a hurry for me to become a notary. Is expedited service available?
Some states have expedited service. The applicant would have to physically bring the application and any fees to the notary public administrator’s office. There will be an additional fee for expedited service.

18.  Will I need a notary seal?
Most notaries will need an official seal: either an ink stamp or metal embosser, depending on their jurisdiction's specific requirements. Ink stamps can cost $13 to $20. Embossers are more expensive. The heavier desktop embosser costs around $50, and the hand-held embosser that can be carried with the notary costs around $30. Actually, some states do not require that a notary use an official seal. Notaries in those states do so as a convenient way to put their notary information on the notarial certificate.

19.  My employer paid for my commission. Do I have to leave my stamp, commission certificate and recordbook if I take another job?
Regardless who paid for the commission, the commission certificate, stamp and recordbook belong to the notary. If you leave your place of employment you must take these things with you.

20.  My spouse and I are partners in a business. Can I notarize his signature on business-related documents?
Some states have detailed laws prohibiting a notary from performing a notarial act for relatives, including a spouse. Other states do not mention notarizing for family. No matter your state’s laws, ASN strongly recommends you not notarize for immediate family members. The notary has to be impartial. Notarizing the signature of a spouse for a business that brings money into the household impairs the notary’s impartiality.

21.  I just opened my own business and would like to offer my clients notary service. Can I perform notarizations as part of my own business?
Yes, you can. Your impartiality has to do with the person you are notarizing for and the transaction involved. You would be able to be impartial.
 

22.  I own homes in two states that are some distance apart. Can I be a notary in both states?
Both states would want you to declare residency in that state. You are a resident of the state that you write on your federal income tax form. You can be a notary in that state and not the other one. You could be an exception to this rule if you have a business address in the other state and that state allows people to become a notary for business purposes. Carefully check that rule before applying in the second state.

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