Brenda Charles-Edwards has always sought out jobs that involved serving the public. For 27 years, the mother and wife was a flight attendant for Delta Airlines and now-defunct Western Airlines. She loved flying to exotic locales such as Hong Kong and Taipei, but the work no longer suited her.
“In the early days, before airline deregulation in the late ’70s (when the government regulated fares, routes and market entry of new airlines), the traveling public was primarily business travelers who were fun and happy,” says Charles-Edwards, a 60ish professional living in Seattle. “After deregulation, the attitude changed. But I stayed because the salary, medical and retirement benefits were adequate. I also enjoyed working with my flight crews.”
Though she didn’t leave the airline industry until 2000, she had begun considering other careers in the early ’90s. “I wanted to do something involving the government, but I didn’t want to run for a public office,” she says.
She discovered that a notary public – an official appointed by the state to act as an impartial witness during the signing of vital documents – didn’t have to be elected. It was a chance to make some money on the side and give back to her community.
With two young daughters at the time (now ages 21 and 33) and supportive husband Paul, Charles-Edwards set up shop in 1992 as a mobile notary public. Her tagline: “Tell me where, I’ll meet you there!”
While every state has different requirements for certification, she received her training and certification through the National Notary Association, which involved taking courses, studying and passing a rigorous exam on notarial acts and procedures.
According to the National Notary Association, there are 4.4 million notaries in North America. The notary population is overwhelming female (some 84 percent), older (ages 46 to 65) and well-educated, with nearly two-thirds having a college degree. Traditionally, notaries are found in the real estate, legal, health care and banking industries, and interestingly, of those who are self-employed, 54 percent have been self-employed for less than five years.
“I notarize wills, powers of attorney, living trusts, deeds, adoptions and more,” says Charles-Edwards, who has traveled up and down the Pacific Northwest corridor from Bellingham, Washington, to Vancouver, Canada, to meet clients. Most people assume that a notary is someone who simply stamps documents, she says, but it’s a vital role.
“A notary’s duty is to screen signers for their true identity, their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation and their awareness of the contents of the document or transaction,” she says.
In addition, impartiality is the cornerstone of the notary’s trust with the public. A notary must ensure there is no personal interest when providing services, and he or she cannot refuse to serve a person based on race, religion, politics or sexual orientation.
Notaries make $10 per notarization due to state-regulated laws. However, Charles-Edwards is also a notary signing agent who notarizes mortgage loan documents, earning $100 to $250 per signing.
If you’re interested in pursuing a side hustle as a notary public, Edwards offers these tips:
• Take an education course: Every state does not require passing an exam to become certified, but Charles-Edwards recommends selecting a course from an approved list of education providers referred by the National Notary Association.
“Taking a course ensures you are up to date on the laws, especially if something goes wrong during a notarization because you can be held liable and sued,” she explains. “For instance, if a signer has a question, refer the person to his or her attorney or to the document’s issuing agency (i.e., mortgage company) for an answer. Notaries who step outside these narrow limits risk civil and criminal penalties for practicing law without a license.”
• Keep a journal: “I’ve always kept one, but my state didn’t require it,” she says. “If you have a journal, it shows what identification was used to confirm they are who they say they are. You also list which documents you notarized.” A bonus tip: Take a thumbprint of the signer(s), the notary public advises. “It’s not mandatory, but I explain that it’s for their protection and mine.”
• Think safety first: She retells the story of reviewing real estate paperwork at a gentleman’s home, and he got upset about something he read. “It had nothing to do with me, but he had a Doberman, and as his owner raised his voice, the dog, who was laying down, got up because I guess he thinks his master is upset with me,” she says. She left immediately and now asks clients if any pets should be put away before her arrival.
“Decide why you want to be a notary public,” Charles-Edwards says. “It can be a very lucrative side hustle, and it’s rewarding to help people, but it’s also a responsibility I take very seriously.”