If you need to get a document notarized, a simple free solution can often be found at the nearest branch of your bank. A document is notarized when a third party, known as a notary public, verifies your identity, witnesses you signing the document and, in some cases, requires you to swear or affirm that the facts in the document are true. Notarization covers almost every kind of legal document, including letters of indemnity.

Since banks handle a lot of documents that must be notarized, it’s common for some bank employees to be notaries and for the bank to offer free notary services to its customers. If you are not a customer, you may be charged a fee or advised to go to your own bank.

How Notarization Works

The notarization process is typically simple. You present a document to a notary public and sign it in their presence. After that, the notary officially notarizes the document using an official stamp, writes in the date, and adds their own signature. The notary usually asks to see a photo ID to verify that you are indeed the person whose signature they are notarizing on the document. The notary will also confirm that you understand the meaning of what you are signing and are doing so intentionally.

While almost any document can be notarized, some of the most common ones include sworn statements, powers of attorney, deeds of trust, rental agreements, copy certifications, beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, promissory notes, and motor vehicle bills of sale.

The Importance of the Notary Witnessing Your Signature

When you have a document notarized, the notary certifies your identity and that you are the person signing the document being notarized. For this reason, the notary must witness you signing the document. That means you should not sign it before seeing the notary. Notaries take a legal oath that they will not notarize any document unless they have witnessed it being signed by the appropriate party.

If you mistakenly sign a document ahead of time, you may need to return with an unsigned copy of the document. After witnessing you sign the copy, the notary will compare that signature to the one you made on the original. If the signatures appear to match, the notary will notarize the original document for you. In some cases, the notary can notarize the copy and will not need to notarize the original document.

Types of Notarization

There are several different types of notarizing. Here is what happens with each one.

  • Signature witnessing. This is the most common notarization. The notary certifies that you are who you claim to be and that they witnessed you signing the document.
  • Acknowledgement. This type is used for documents that convey ownership of assets such as property deeds, powers of attorney or trusts. It requires you to appear in person and declare (acknowledge) that the existing signature on the document is yours, that you intended to sign it and that you agree with the provisions of the document.
  • Copy certification. In this type of notarization, the notary makes a copy of an original document and certifies that the copy is true, exact, and complete. This could be done for documents such as college degrees or transcripts, passports, and driver’s licenses.
  • Jurat. Performed on affidavits, depositions, and other types of evidentiary documents, this requires you to sign the document and then swear or affirm that the statements in the document are true.

Notarize Free at Your Bank

It is customary for nearly all U.S. banks – certainly all the major money center banks, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. – to have a notary public on staff in most of their branches. If not, the branch manager, or even a teller or personal banker, can usually direct you to a local branch of the bank that has a notary on the premises.

Most banks provide free notary public services to their customers. If you aren’t a customer of the bank, the bank may charge you for the notary service, or decline to provide the service and suggest that you go to your own bank.

Other Locations that Notarize Documents for Free

Other financial services firms, such as credit unions, thrifts, real estate firms, tax preparation firms or insurance company offices also commonly have notaries available and provide that service to clients at no charge. Additional places that commonly have a notary on staff include law offices, local clerk of court’s offices, and some public libraries. Pharmacies or doctor’s offices may also offer free notary service for medical records.

If all else fails, UPS, FedEx stores, and your local AAA office often perform notary services for a nominal fee. If you do get something notarized for free, it’s appropriate to tip the notary a couple of dollars for providing the service.