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Bad habits that put Notaries at risk

Updated 2-14-23. The bad news is that it's easy for a Notary mistake to land you in legal or financial hot water. The good news is that in most cases, taking a few reasonable steps will keep you out of trouble. Here are some mistakes you should avoid:

1. Sloppy Notary journal entries
2. Offering improper legal advice
3. Incomplete or incorrect Notary certificates
4. Signing Agents: Don't harass signers for your payment

Sloppy Notary journal entries

Judges and juries form opinions about Notaries based on how records are kept in a Notary journal. Consequently, a journal with multiple cross-outs or otherwise illegible “chicken scratches,” a journal that omits information required by law or one that is sloppy or too disorganized to easily navigate, could readily be considered evidence of poor recordkeeping and therefore lose its value in protecting the Notary in a court of law. To retain its value, make sure your journal entries are legible, organized, and ordered consecutively by date, allowing for easy access — even years down the line.

Offering improper legal advice

You may know that you should never offer unauthorized legal advice to your clients. Remember that even explaining documents to signers or telling signers which type of notarial act they should use crosses the line into unauthorized legal advice. If signers have questions or need advice, they should contact the agency from which the documents originated, or the court or office where they are intended to go.

Incomplete or incorrect Notary certificates

Whether it’s a missing venue on the Notary certificate, an illegible or smudged Notary seal, or a case of mismatching document signatures, incomplete or incorrect certificates can render a notarization invalid. In fact, courts have invalidated mortgages because the Notary forgot to put the name of the person signing the mortgage in the acknowledgment. A rejected notarization can, in turn, cause potentially costly delays for your signers, which could result in a lawsuit against you. It’s worth your effort and time to carefully review every document for clarity, thoroughness and accuracy.

Signing Agents: Don't harass signers for your payment

For Notary Signing Agents, the waiting game for payment can cause serious frustration — but going directly after the borrower can result in even more serious trouble for the NSA. All payment inquiries should be directed toward the contracting company that hired you, never the borrower, who, chances are, has already paid for the service as part of the loan fees.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline

Notary Essentials

View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

John M Sewell

10 Mar 2015


Charles R. Kaul

14 Mar 2015

I am in New Jersey. Does this state have a similar law to Calif. requiring a notice box at top of a document stating is not responsible for content of document? If N.J. does not, would I be 7 to add my own in the same wording as Calif. ??

National Notary Association

16 Mar 2015

Hello Charles. No, the notice you are describing is required in California only, not New Jersey.

Agnes Reizik

12 Mar 2017

Could you please cite or reference a specific court case for: "In fact, courts have invalidated mortgages because the Notary forgot to put the name of the person signing the mortgage in the acknowledgment." I would love to read more details of this court ruling. Such as how come the recorder's office wasn't also held at fault and why the document wasn't rejected prior to recording. Just would be interested to read more. Thank you!

Monica Voloshin

11 Feb 2019

This article started out right habits and missteps of notaries. The last item about notaries not being paid for services rendered is actually not a misstep or faulty habit of a notary but of the hiring party and should never have been mentioned in the same article. I also would like to point out that defrauding a notary public is simply more than not paying a bill for services rendered and should be avoided by HIRING PARTIES at all costs and could negatively effect the borrower.

Deb Bell

18 Feb 2019

What Monica Voloshin said. And to piggyback on her comment — the fact that paying us seems to be an option.

Dan Kane

10 Feb 2020

There is a pending Virginia House Bill HB 1222 that will allow notaries to accept expired IDs from elder and disabled clients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities since many are too weak to get to the DMV to renew or have no computer access. We urge all Notaries in Virginia ask their delegates and senators to support this justice issue for our elderly seniors.

Marta Flores

10 Feb 2020

List of state that do not need a Journal. New Mexico?

National Notary Association

12 Feb 2020

Hello. New Mexico does not require its Notaries to keep a journal.

Susan Trevaskis-Owen

10 Feb 2020

Respectfully disagreeing with Monica V & Deb B. The misstep being addressed isn't the notary not getting paid, but rather a signing notary going directly to the signer for payment instead of to the party that contracted them. (For example, going after the homebuyer who signed the documents rather than the escrow office that gave the assignment to the notary.)


10 Feb 2020

I can't believe there are agents out there who have asked the borrower for their fees!! These people should not be signing agents.


15 Feb 2021

Notary Journal required in New York? I've been criticized by attorneys at closings for maintaining borrower's personal information in a journal. Apparently, the potential for identity theft was thought to outweigh the value of maintaining this information.

National Notary Association

25 Feb 2021

Hello. While a journal is not required by law in New York, the NNA strongly recommends this practice, because well-kept journal records provide valuable evidence the Notary exercised reasonable care in the event one of your notarizations is questioned or challenged in court.


15 Feb 2021

I sometimes feel when doing a loan signing the journal entries are redundant and take unnecessary time. If quotations will suffice I’d want to be certain that’s not considered a sloppy journal. Thoughts?

National Notary Association

16 Feb 2021

Hello. Please see this article for state-specific information and general guidelines on this topic:

Ellen Finley

15 Feb 2021

I had a stamp made up saying” we are not lawyers and cannot prepare documents or give legal advice” every notary that works for me stamps it next to every signature on their journal and has the client read and initial it. It’s an extra step but saves misunderstandings on the clients part.

08 Mar 2022

As of 1 January 2022 All NM Notarys are required to maintain a journal for at least (10) years regardless of Notary status. The information can be found on the NM SoS web site under Notary Public / Journal requirments. Hope this helps.

jean gerald lafleur

13 Mar 2022

i will provide good service to all of my clients with respect


06 Mar 2023

How frequent is the occurrence of challenging a notarial signing in court? I am in Texas and notarize for the company I work for and a few friends. Nothing untoward ever.


06 Mar 2023

NNA Certified & Background Screened, NSA from Queens, New York. From the onset of my notary certification, I have incorporated the journal entries before each and every signing. Forming good Notary habits from today will become a part of my daily routine. I will provide Excellent services to all my potential clients with dignity and respect.


06 Mar 2023

Talking to the title company for payment if the signing service isn't paying is fair game. The title company effectively is the general contractor and they hired the subcontractor the signing company and they have a responsibility for their actions.

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