Assessing Notarial Fees
Most notaries have a good understanding of what they can charge for performing a notarial act, but calculating fees becomes confusing when dealing with multiple notarial certificates or signatures. Because overcharging for a notarization may be grounds for suspension or violate the state's code of ethics for public officers, notaries must exercise caution and discretion when determining their fees.
State laws regarding notarial fees vary greatly. Most states specify a maximum amount notaries can charge, but there are a handful of states that allow notaries to set their own fees. Regardless, it is important that the signer(s) and notary agree to any fees before the notarization proceeds. For example, if the notary charges a travel fee, the fee should be calculated and discussed ahead of time. A few states have imposed limits on the amount of travel fees that can be charged, but the vast majority leave it up to the notary and signer(s).
Some states, including California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, allow notarial fees to be charged on a "per signature" basis. This means that you can charge a fee for each signature you notarize - regardless of how many certificates the notary actually completes. For example, a husband and wife appear before you and each acknowledges his or her signature. However, the pre-printed certificate lists both names, and you are only signing and affixing your seal once. Because you would be notarizing two signatures, you would be able to charge for two notarial acts.
Like California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, Texas notary law allows notaries to charge per signature. However, Texas notaries can only charge $1.00 for each additional signature when performing an acknowledgment notarial act. Using the example above, a husband and wife appears before you to acknowledge signing a document, and both of their names are listed on the notarial certificate. In this case a Texas notary is allowed to charge $6.00 for the husband's signature and $1.00 for the wife's signature for performing the notarial act. Now, if there are two notarial certificates on the same document, one for the husband and one for the wife, a Texas notary is allowed to charge $12.00 ($6.00 for completing each notarial certificate.)
The more common method of assessing fees is on a "per certificate" basis. Florida and New York are examples of states where a notary may only charge fees based on the number of notarial certificates the notary completes (or the number of notary signatures and seals the notary affixes). Using the previous example (two signers with one notarial certificate), in a "per certificate" state, the notary would only be able to charge for one notarial act - even though two signers appeared before the notary and acknowledged their certificates.
In states that do not specify whether fees must be assessed per signature or per notarial certificate, it is recommended that notaries use the "per certificate" method. It is the more conservative of the two and would prevent accusations of overcharging. In addition, customers may feel that paying "per seal" makes more sense, tangibly, than per oath administered or acknowledgment taken.
The fees notaries can charge vary widely - from $1 per certificate, as in Illinois and Rhode Island, all the way up to $15, as in California. For this reason, it is crucial that notaries consult their state laws regarding notarial fees. When the law does not specify whether to charge per signature or certificate, contact your state's commissioning authority to receive their official recommendation. If all else fails, err on the side of caution by charging your fees per certificate. Notaries should also be ethical in the assessment of fees - you should not discriminate in your pricing. There is, of course, no requirement that a notary charge to notarize the signatures of friends or co-workers.
It is important to note that the fees a notary public collects from notarial acts should be claimed on the notary's income taxes. Consult your local tax professional and always be sure to keep an accurate record of the fees you receive.
By Robert T. Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.