Become a Notary Public

There are more than 4.4 million notaries in the United States. The majority of them trained to be a notary because it enhanced their primary job. For instance, for a loan officer or mortgage agent, it is a value-added skill that streamlines their work or looks good on a resume.

Besides adding to their income, it gives the individual credibility and provides a valuable service. A notary does not serve his or her employer, but the state or territory in which he or she is recognized.

The requirements to become a notary vary greatly from state to state but, the majority require that an applicant be at least 18 years of age, be a legal resident of the state and not have a criminal record. Some will require that an applicant be able to read and write English.

California has the most stringent requirements, Vermont the fewest. Compare the two and then expect to fall somewhere in between if neither is your home state.

California passed tighter laws because of lawsuits that occurred relating to notary issues. Their requirements now include mandatory training, passing an exam, a passport-style photo identification, filing of fingerprints and a $40 application fee. Once you have complied and fulfilled the training requirement and been granted a California Notary commission, you must purchase a Notary Seal and purchase a minimum $15,000 4-year bond. You must make provisions for collecting fingerprints from your clients.

In Vermont, a prospective notary is required only to purchase and use an official seal on any documents that are to be sent out of that state. The process is simpler but the risk, obviously, is greater.

The best approach to getting information relative to your own state is to contact the state agency with Notary oversight. Usually it is the office of the Secretary of State. Do an Internet search of "Notary Education" to find the organizations and vendors that provide training in your area.

California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania all require training. Applicants in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, some jurisdictions in Ohio, Oregon and Utah must pass an exam.

Training can range from three to six hours and can be obtained in a classroom or online. The National Notary Association sponsors live seminars in California and has online training for the rest of the country. Tests usually take about an hour. Fees vary according to the provider. The cost of training also varies, but online courses generally are less than $100, with live seminars costing from $100 to $200.

A few states will ask you to undergo a background check, and others make the demand only if you have stated on your application that you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the past.

A practicing notary is required to have a seal for stamping notarial certificates, a supply of certificates (there are several kinds specific to the item being notarized.) Some suppliers offer certificates that can be downloaded and there are vendors who stock Notary packages that include all the required supplies for your state.

Most states require that you post a surety bond, ranging from $500 to $25,000. The most common are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. If through an error or other complication the bond is put to use, the amount of the bond will be paid, with the remainder your responsibility.

In most states there are organizations that can help you through the process should be want to become a Notary. The process can take from a few days to six months, depending on your location. Some states require that you go through such a vendor and won't accept a direct application.