Here are a few tips about best practices. Maybe none of your clients will care, or maybe they will even adamantly dislike your best practices. But, if you have any self-respect, you will engage in best practices.
LEGAL & TECHNICAL BEST PRACTICES
(1) Hand written documents.
As a notary, it is not illegal to notarize a hand written document. The issue is if there are cross-outs, or blanks. Blanks make it illegal to notarize, but cross outs are a question mark. Personally, if you care about best practices, and not ending up in court for some stupidity that the signer did, then require typed documents with no cross-outs or blanks.
(2) Don’t pick the type of notarization for your signer
That is their job. Legally, you can not choose for them.
(3) Blanks in documents
Put a line through the blanks or refuse the notarize. (that was quick)
I would avoid notarizing anything with a cross-out. If you can do a cross out, you don’t know if it was there before the notarization or not. If there is one before, what prevents there from being more after. You can forge an initial without being detected, so cross outs are an indication that you need a redraw.
(5) Affixing your seal over wording
This is illegal in many states. The notary seal should be placed in an area of the paper where there is no wording, and do not sign or write over the stamp impression or you void it. If there is no space, then attach a loose notary certificate and make sure you document all pertinent facts on it.
(6) Loose certificates
NEVER send a loose certificate in the mail or hand it to a client. Always attach the loose certificate to the document, preferably before affixing your notary seal. Always document the name of the document, document date (if any), number of pages in the document, document description on the certificate in addition to filling in the standardized state wording, signing and sealing the form.
Keep thumbprints in your journal. If your state doesn’t require journals, write them a letter about how poor their standards are and then go and buy a journal from the NNA. Also, there is a section called, “additional notes” in your journal (hopefully). Please use this to write down anything unusual about the signer during the signing, or anything unusual about the circumstances. Write it so thoroughly, that when you are in court five years later about that signing which could have involved fraud on the part of the signer, that you will have your evidence handy! Impressive!
If you do sworn Oaths, make sure to have the affiant (know this term) raise their right hand. Make sure to study up on formal Oath wording. Oaths are serious, and you are a state appointed official, so keep it official, okay?
If you don’t have a 2nd notary seal, get one. Embossers create a RAISED inkless impression. Use it as your secondary seal, and you can affix it to all pages of all documents you notarize for security. There are many frauds out there who do page swapping after the fact. To avoid page swapping (which could lend you in court for something they did after the fact) use an embosser. That way when you get a phone call 2 months later to notarize that separate page they are adding, tell them that you have to do the whole thing all over again. Sorry Charlie, that is a best practice!
(10) Learn the correct verbiage for power of attorney signings
But, there are four accepted verbiage variations. My favorite is Joe Doe, as attorney in fact for Mary Doe. Always call the lender to find out what type of verbiage they want at a signing. Remember, it is their loan, and just as long as you are not breaking the law — do it their way!
(11) Overseas documents
People overseas have bizarre standards. Some require the stamp to be on the document itself no matter what, but they didn’t put the verbiage in for your state. There is nothing LESS legal about attaching an acknowledgment form, but it is not about the law at this point. It is about whether or not THEY like it! So, find a legal way to handle their overseas the way they like. Once I manually wrote in the California Acknowledgment verbiage by hand and then sealed it. It was legal. Not exactly a best practice, but if they won’t accept best practices, then settle for “best practices under the circumstances”. Chinese are a tough crowd — you will find out!
Many Title companies don’t like suffixes such as Junior, or IV at the ends of names. But, if you are Louis Remy Martin IV, then the IV is part of your name, the 4th part of your name to be precise. Ronald R Rubin initials RRR. Get the initials to be correct and thorough. And if a lender doesn’t like it, should you break a best practice for their happiness? I don’t know of any laws about initialing, but making an initial of each part of the name is only logical, right?
(13) Signing for confused elderly people
If you sign for a person in a hospital, or someone who is just elderly. Make sure you have whomever calls you READ the identification over the phone to you including the expiration date. Have them read the name on the document too. Elderly people can never find their ID’s, and if they assure you that they have it, don’t believe it, they are lying. Trust me. I know! I am experienced and you are not! Otherwise you would be writing this blog. Do not notarize an elderly person if they can not move their arm on their own. Do not let their daughter drag their arm across a page that they are signing. You can use the daughter’s arm as a brace, but not a movement device. If the elderly person can not paraphrase what the document says, DO NOT NOTARIZE. And, by the way, the night daughter might be a con-artist who is pretending to help the elderly woman, only to be trying to cheat the old lady out of her money. Notaries beware!
(14) When in doubt, call your state notary division
Sometimes the handbook is just not enough. It doesn’t include all situations, and it is not written in English either. Legalese is not my mother tongue, what about you? Call them and bug them. Do it right or not at all. The NNA offers a good notary law hotline too, but get your information from the SOURCE and call your state notary division as your first choice!
(15) Safeguarding your seal and journal
Keeping it under lock & key is the rule of many states. A locking bag, a locking file cabinet. Keeping it in your car, etc. But, honestly, property DOES get stolen, and you need to protect yourself the best way. If your goodies are in your car, keep in in a place where it won’t get taken in a break-in. Keep it under the seat, or behind some large container in the trunk. I kept it in my trunk, but where the robbers could see it. Everything was in a little bag, and they probably thought it was a lap top and valuable. They were in a rush and didn’t inspect it before they took it. If it is at home, keep it in a locked file cabinet instead of hanging around in your locked bag. Go above and beyond the law for best practices. Keep your seal in a place where it is least likely to be “robbable”.
(16) Be an expert at your state notary laws.
Look them up in your state notary handbook. Keep this book with you. It is your bible when you are at work.
(17) Be an expert at credible witness procedure, and signing by X procedure in your state.
(18) Be an expert at all notary and signing related knowledge.
Don’t half know it or kind of know it. Be an expert, and it will show. You will be higher on people’s list if you are.
(19) Keep four phone numbers with you at signings.
In jail you get one phone call. But, as a notary you get many, and should have three phone numbers. The number of the signing company, the lender, the borrower, and the lenders’s wife. Just kidding about the last one. You need to call the lender half the time at a signing because they are such a careless bunch, that they will not have thoroughly prepped the borrower for the signing, plus there might be unexpected surprises on the documents as well. Be prepared!
(20) Using your seal on a blank piece of paper.
ILLEGAL. However, if you go to a jail, they require this for security. So, affix your seal, and then cross it out and write the words void. It is no longer illegal. It is the BEST way to clean up a WORST practice that the jail makes you do. I joked with them and told them that I thought it was funny that I was being forced to break the law by a guard at a jail. What is the world coming to?
(21) Check the signature on the identification
Does the signature on the identification match the one on the document? Did you check? Start checking.
(22) Bad identification?
Is the identification peeling? Is the signature above the lamination? Does it look like a fake identification document? Do you even have a reference guide to know if it is fake? It is your business to know. Get the NNA book on identification and drivers licenses. Also, take thumbprints. Standards for identification should be a government issued photo ID with a physical description, serial number, signature, and expiration date. Nothing else will do. Whether or not the government issuing the document need to be in the USA or not depends on what your state laws are!
Take thumbprints for all Deeds, recorded documents, power of attorney — as a minimum. Do this regardless of what your state requires. It could keep you out of court, and time is money. Get an inkless thumbprint pad from the NNA. Get this today. You should not be without it for one nanosecond. They can fake an ID, and fake a signature, but you can not fake a thumbprint.
(24) Don’t notarize for people who ask you to break the rules or who look suspicious.
Are you notarizing a kidnapper, or is the signer under duress? Stay away! It is not worth the money and you could get involved in a nightmare that just doesn’t end. What if someone asks you to notarize them under a different name variation than is what their identification says, and you tell them it is not legal. What if they say, “Oh, come on!!!”. What if they threaten to not pay your travel fee if you don’t? First of all your travel fee should be paid in cash at the door, or just leave. Avoid this type of people. They will make your life twisted.
(25) Don’t backdate
Signing companies will put you under pressure to do this if a borrower will lose their lock. Just say no. Tell them that their lock is their business and that your business is obeying the laws of your state which say, “No backdating“. Tell them that the security of your commission is not worth their convenience. Just leave. Don’t deal with these frauds.
(26) Don’t use white out
White out is a worst practice and will get you fired. Cross outs are a bad practice as well.
(27) Name changes the kosher way
A processor I used to work with instructed me not to cross anything out. Just have the borrower initial under the last several letters of their last name and then sign the way the new name will be typed in the document. After the fact, the processor can type in the new name. The cross-out simply doesn’t help. They just need the initial. The processor can cross it out in a way that they think is professional.
(28) Don’t explain the specifics of the loan or when the loan will fund
Just explain the basic definitions of loan terms such as APR, or rate if your state allows that. Specific information particular to their loan is for their lender to discuss with them. You can get in trouble if you make any explanations or commentary about information specific about their loan. On the other hand, you should be an expert at looking up specific pieces of information. APR is on the TIL and perhaps the Settlement Statement, so tell them that and show them where it is. The interpretation of what the information on the Settlement Statement is up to them and their lender, not you!
(29) Don’t notarize for someone who you can not communicate directly with
Some states allow the use of interpreters. I say you should not as a best practice. The interpreter could be lousy, and misinterpret something that you said. You are leaving yourself open to communication gaps. If you speak a little Spanish and can get by, and the signer understands you and vice versa, that works. Don’t create opportunities for communication gaps. I have traveled to enough foreign countries to know that people in different cultures communicate differently, they say yes when they mean no, they lie, they misrepresent, they save face, and fail to explain things thoroughly (especially asians who do the quickie explanations that leave out 95% of the meaning). I am not knocking foreigners — I just don’t believe half of what they say — and I don’t believe half of what Americans say either since Americans are a bunch of liars too! Speak directly to your signers! Learn oath verbiage in Spanish, or whatever your rusty foreign language is. Learn how to ask if you understand the document.
(30) Have a registered business name
We have notaries on the site who change their business name on our site every month. Each month it is the name of the month. This is illegal. If you have a registered business name that is registered with your county, then that is your business name, and you should have a bank account that takes checks paid to that name.
(31) Don’t draft documents
Unless you are an attorney, or authorized to draft documents, don’t get involved. You can get into bad trouble.
(32) Don’t give legal advice
If you are not an attorney, do not give legal advice. Interpreting laws, or suggesting that a person take a particular legal action might be construed as legal advice or the unauthorized practice of law.
(33) Consult an attorney before doing modifications
Although modifications could be legal in some states under some circumstances, they are often done in an illegal way, and YOU are not knowledgeable to know the difference, or to know what you can or can not do. Consult an attorney or stay away!
PRACTICAL BEST PRACTICES
(34) If you don’t get paid on time, contact the Title company.
They might fire or discipline the signing company in that case.
(35) Charging travel fee in cash upon arrival
It is ILLEGAL for a notary to have beneficial interest in the signing. However, many clients including Title companies will simply not pay the notary if the documents or loan packages don’t get signed, notarized, and funded properly. Unfortunately, that is illegal to put the notary in the position where they will only get paid if they notarize. It is actually a MISDEMEANOR in many states to ask the notary to do something illegal which could include having beneficial interest. If you don’t get your cash up front BEFORE you see the signers, documents or identification, you will be sorry. Get your cash, and THEN see the document. If it is incomplete, that is their problem. No identification, or the names don’t match? Their problem. Signer is in a coma and can not talk — their problem. Some situations will merit waiting time, and you will have no way to enforce your WAITING FEE if you don’t have your travel fee. You will not be in a bargaining situation as they will have the upper hand. If you have your $40 cash travel fee, you can say that you want waiting time when the clock strikes 20 minutes otherwise you are leaving. You have the power that way, and you DON’T have beneficial interest anymore (learn to define this term to be professional).
(36) Contracts with signing companies
Have your own contract that you make companies sign to get a better price with you. Make sure you indicate that if there is any ISSUE with the signing such as a last minute cancellation, no-sign, redraw, or anything unusual, that you get paid quickly. These are exactly the types of situations whre notaries typically get stiffed. So make them pay you faster in these situations so you don’t get stiffed. Even if you charge them a discounted fee. Make them pay within 10 days for these types of signings or charge them a penalty. No contract on your terms, then no discounts for you! Take the upper hand. You are a business person!
(37) Background check all companies who want to hire you
Check them on NR and the 123notary forum — OR ELSE… You will live to regret it if you don’t.
(38) Don’t put the Fedex in the drop box
Fedex is a great company, but they do hire human beings which is their downfall. Not recommended. If a driver changes routes, the new driver might goof (once in a long while) and that drop box in a remote area might not get picked up on time — or at all. Drop your Fedex at a staffed location. The deadlines are later, and it will be in the right hands 100%. Be safe.
(39) Printing on the road
This is a business best practice. If you can print on the road, you will be on time to more appointments, and can print last minute documents in a flash. You will be popular with lenders, plus gain people’s respect for being a prepared trooper. It is very expensive to have a comprehensive mobile office, so be ready to pay through the nose.
(40) Don’t go to houses that smell bad
You can end up in a hospital with a serious bacterial infection. If it is really filthy or smelly, tell them you will do the signing at Starbucks and that you have to leave at 5pm. Risking your lungs is not a best practice.
COMMUNICATION & ETIQUETTE BEST PRACTICES
(41) Don’t talk about the wrong things at signings
Don’t talk about politics or religion. Stick to the weather and traffic, but not in the context of complaining!
(42) Call back etiquette
Announce who you are when you call back. Don’t demand to know who they are until you are politely introduced yourself and explained that you received a missed call from that number. Also, don’t call people back only to tell them that you can’t talk. That is plain stupid and is a worst practice.
(43) Announce who you are when you answer the phone
Do you say, “This is Linda”, when you answer the phone? Or do you say, “Hullo?”. Be professional.
(44) When you confirm the signing, make sure all signers are there
If you do a signing where the wife is not on the loan, she might be on a few of the documents such as the Deed of Trust, Right to Cancel, and one or two others depending on what state you are in and who the lender is. Make sure you know where the wife will be during the signing, otherwise it might be a short signing. Remember, that you don’t know what is on the documents until you get the e-documents which is within minutes of the signing. Plan ahead and confirm the signing.
(45) Make sure your answering machine states your name!
Don’t make people guess if they dialed the correct number.
(46) Don’t ramble, make long pauses, or give opinions
Nobody wants to hear your life story, especially not me or my staff. Nobody wants long answers to quick questions. Nobody likes it when you ask them a question and you pause for 45 seconds to think. Don’t criticize others or give opinions either. Your job is to be a notary. Notaries don’t have opinions — or at least shouldn’t.
(47) Leave enough time between appointments
There is no point being late because you were delayed at your last appointment
(48) Determine how long your signing session will be.
Charge based on time. When you go to a massage therapist, you pay for a 60 minute session. If you go over 60 minutes, the next victim is waiting and they have to stop. Notary signings should be no different. Agree ahead of time how much time they want, and make them commit to that, or don’t work with them. If they want 90 minutes or 120 minutes, that is fine. Have them agree to that up front, and pay accordingly. Your job is not to be delayed endlessly. After all, your next appointment has the right to see your face showing up on time, right?
(49) Don’t have noise in the background when you talk on the phone
If someone calls you and there is noise. Apologize for the noise, and then walk to a quieter location. Don’t let the background noise continue otherwise you are unprofessional in my book.
(50) Don’t park in the driveway.
Your job is not to notarize, don’t put the Fedex in the drop box, and don’t park in the driveway. These are my three golden rules for notaries. Notarize only if it is legal to do so. Bring Fedexes to staffed locations, and park on the street unless there is a good reason why you should call the borrowers and ask if you can park on their driveway.
(51) Know your hours of operation
Never say that you are flexible. Tell people when you are available. I am available from 11am to 2am seven days a week unless I am already engaged, on vacation, or dead. That is a quick and professional answer. Don’t say that it depends. Don’t say that you sign anytime. People who say anytime have such restrictive schedules that they won’t sign any time other than 9-6. Flexible means 9-5:30. These terms mean absolutely nothing. Act like a professional and give people hard numbers when they ask a question — and don’t keep them waiting.
(52) Use your notes section to describe your service thoroughly
Don’t use empty adjectives like thorough and professional. Describe what YOU are like at a signing which is unique to you, so people can get to know you through your notes rather than reading something that looks like you copied it from 3000 other boring notaries who use exactly the same adjectives in exactly the same order. Talk about how fast your laser printer is. Talk about your exact counties or cities that you cover. Give people real information in your notes section, not some empty sounding sales literature that tells them nothing.
MARKETING BEST PRACTICES
(53) Get certified by ALL listing agencies who you advertise with.
If you advertise with ten companies, do all of the certifications. You look like an idiot if you can’t even be a professional at your profession!
(54) Having reviews on your profile from esteemed Title Companies looks great.
It is not a crime to have reviews from “nobodies”, but it is a best practice to have the people who review you be as reputable as possible. Their reputation is your reputation when they write a review about you.
(55) E&O insurance looks professional
E&O insurance looks professional, but is it? It makes it attractive for a company to hire you. E&O doesn’t protect you that much though. You can still get sued if the lender makes a mistake and the borrowers sue all parties involved. This happened before. You will not be covered. It actually encourages lenders to make claims rather than reducing your liability! E&O insurance makes you look good, so get some! But, is it a best practice? Being covered is better than being not covered, so I will call it a “better than nothing practice”. Or, I can call it something that looks like a best practice to the uninformed.
(56) Background screening
If your state doesn’t screen notaries as well as California does with the FBI, DOJ and KGB, then there might be some merit in a background screening.
(57) Advertise on all major directories
Have a well filled out profile, amazing notes, and reviews if possible.
(58) Call all local title companies
Call them up and announce yourself. Call them every month to remind them that you are good, and that you want to work.
(59) Get on the list of all nationwide signing companies.
Fill out the paperwork each signing company requires ahead of time. Make it a best practice to be on as many company’s lists as possible.
(60) Read notary blogs
The more you know, the more impressive and knowledgeable you will be. Know as much as possible to be the best that you can be. 123notary has an interesting Facebook, Linked in and Twitter profile as well. The more you read, the more you know!
(61) Don’t lie about your number of signings
Keep a count. Look them up in your journal. When someone asks you how many signings you have done, don’t ramble about how many years you have been in business. Nobody wants to hear that. Tell them how many you did. 1012 signings, plus there will be another one tonight! Don’t tell them you did two yesterday and three the day before. Nobody has patience to hear you count. Don’t think — KNOW!
(62) Guarantee your work
If you goof, go back and do it again for free. Make this a policy.
(63) Send complete bills regularly.
You need to know exactly what information goes on the invoices you send out. Name of borrower, loan number, address, date of signing, name of lender, etc. Bill regularly and keep good records, including the CHECK # of incoming checks. Otherwise you won’t get paid.
(1) Is it legal to notarize a hand-written document? What if there are cross outs?
(2) Blanks in documents? Put a line through it buddy!
(3) It is illegal to use your seal on a blank piece of paper. Yet jails usually require this! (cross it out)
(4) Notary topics: Hand-written docs, Blanks in docs, seal over wording, loose certificates, overseas docs.
(5) Don’t go to houses that smell bad #mobilenotary
(6) Notary contracts, fees at the door, background screening signing co’s, call Title if not paid on time.
You might also like:
Notary Public 101 – a free notary course
The 30 Point Courses – a free loan signing course
Notary Marketing 102 – a free marketing course for Notaries