When I bought my house a few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a notary public. In most capacities, a notary public is a “public official” given the right to administer oaths and affirmations. In many of the cases where you’ll need a notary public to “notarize” a document, they are there to affirm that the person signing the document is in fact the person who is supposed to be signing it. When you get a document notarized, you first provide proof of your identity, you sign the document in their presence, and then they sign and stamp the document, usually with a raised seal (depending on the state).
More recently, I had to get a notary to notarize my Pennsylvania claim form after I found some unclaimed property  about a month ago (an old Best Buy rebate I think). It was a little trickier than when I still worked at a company, but eventually I found one. Now I’m going to write it down so I don’t make the same mistakes again!
Not A Notary: Medallion Guarantee
If you see the words “Medallion Guarantee,” stop looking for a notary public because they will not be able to provide it. A Medallion Guarantee is usually only available through a bank officer though the process is not much different than a notary. This is usually used for financial instruments, like bonds, and the bank is guaranteeing the person signing the document is who they say they are. Should the person forge a signature and the bank guarantees it, they are liable.
I had to get a medallion guarantee whenever I converted by paper Series I bonds into electric bonds . My recommendation is that you go to a bank you have an account with (call beforehand to ensure the person with the right to sign is available and present).
Where To Find A Notary Public
Now you know you need a notary, where should go? Notary publics are not free but what they can charge is limited by state law, usually a few dollars. That means the best option is the one that is easiest and most convenient, since price isn’t a differentiator (in Maryland, it’s $2 per notarial act).
The cost of having someone certified to be a notary public is usually very small (in Maryland, you are certified for four years and it costs $20), so administrative assistants in many companies will be notaries. When I bought my house, I used a company notary to notarize the document. It’s, by far, the most convenient way to have a document notarized because you’re already at the office.
In the case of financial documents, banks often have notaries to notarize financial documents. If they are not financial documents, chances are your bank will refuse on the basis that their insurance doesn’t cover it (which makes sense). When I was looking for a notary, I tried calling my local Bank of America branch and they refused because it wasn’t a financial document.
This is probably the easiest way to get a document notarized because almost every UPS Store owner is a notary. To confirm, go to UPS Store’s store locator  to find a store near you, and call to double check the listing is correct. The listing will show you the Products & Services they offer and Notary Services is usually listed under “Additional Products and Services” (the last section, in the third column), but double check to save yourself a trip. Also, find out when the notary will be there because they might have out sick or have stepped out.
Actually, you can’t notarize documents on your behalf. I added this because with the low cost of certification, you might be tempted to become a notary public. At least in Maryland, it’s explicitely stated that “Notaries should refrain from performing any official acts for members of their immediate family or any acts where the notary is personally involved or may benefit from the outcome of the document.” It’s a simple conflict of interest issue.
So the next time you need a notary public, check to see if someone in your company is a notary. If not, head over to a UPS store. I wouldn’t bother searching the web or doing anything else to find a notary because it’ll only cause you headaches. My first reaction was to hit up Google and I emailed three or four local notary publics, none of them replied. I walked into the UPS store and was done in five minutes.
(Photo: rachaelvoorhees )