Before we bought our first house, I had no idea what a notary public did.
Turns out that a notary public is a public official that has been given the right to “administer oaths and affirmations” by the state. When you need to sign a document and “prove” you were the one signing it (or more importantly, the document requires it), you need to find a notary public (usually shortened to just a notary) to watch you do it. You show your ID, you sign, and they put their stamp on the document indicating they witnessed it.
If you've ever looked for Missing Money (I recommend you give it a look if you haven't in the last few years), the claim forms will require you to get it notarized.
When I worked at a company, all the administrative assistants were notary publics. It made finding a notary for my home purchase documents simple.
In the years since, having left corporate America, finding a notary has become slightly harder.
Where to Find a Notary Public
Anyone could be a notary public. So just start stopping people on the street and asking!
I'm just kidding, here are the best places to look:
- Your company – It's very likely that administrative assistants can notarize documents and will likely do it for free (they can usually charge a few dollars per signature, in Maryland it's $2).
- Your bank – Your bank usually has notaries as well. They are also able to provide Medallion Guarantees, which are similar to notary publics except with more stringent requirements. Years ago, when I converted a paper Series I bond into an electronic bond, I needed to get a medallion guarantee. If you need one, call your bank to find out when someone with it will be present (usually the branch manager)
- Your pharmacy – Many pharmacies, including Walgreens/CVS, may offer notary services too. The independent pharmacies are more likely to have them than a CVS but call to find out and you may be surprised.
- Your library (maybe) – Sometimes your local public library may have a notary and it might even be for free (or very inexpensive, like a dollar versus $2-3). Search because not every library offers this and they may only offer it on certain days.
- AAA – AAA branches usually offer these for free as a member benefit for free (included in your membership) and to non-members for a fee.
- UPS Store – Did you know that almost every UPS Store owner is a notary? It's a nice little side hustle and you can find out if your local UPS Store offers Notary Services.
- Ask a friend – Seriously, if you have a friend who you think deals with documents often – like a lawyer – find out if they're a notary. Many lawyers are notaries, especially if they do estate planning, so reach out to one of those first before other groups.
- Search Google for “Notary Public” – If all else fails, you can Google for a local notary public.
It's best to find someone who you know you can find again, like the bank or UPS store, because you may need to reach out to them again in case there's something wrong with the document. 99.9% of the time it's unnecessary but precautions are usually to make sure those rare 0.1% occurrences are less impactful, right?
Why Not Become a Notary?
It's not difficult to become a notary. In Maryland, you can apply with the Maryland Notary Public Division and the fee is $11 ($9 for the application, $2 to pay with a credit card). You have to pay for various supplies too, like the record book. A commission lasts four years. It's pretty cheap.
I thought about doing that too.
Here's the catch – you can't notarize your or your family's own documents! You can't notarize anything where you have a vested interest or could benefit from it. While the universe of situations where you can turn your notary public stamp into a fountain of cash is … well, nil… it's frowned upon. (maybe my imagination isn't wild enough)
Technically, you should “refrain” from it so it's not expressly forbidden … but why push it. 🙂