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Signing Agent FAQ: 5 things you need to know about background screenings

Notary Signing Agents need background checks

Updated 4-18-22. Most lenders and title companies require Notary Signing Agents to undergo background screenings on an annual basis in order to perform loan-signing assignments. Many Signing Agents have asked why this screening is required. This article answers some of your most common questions about background screenings.

1. Why do Notary Signing Agents need background checks?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal regulatory agency, requires lenders to follow strict standards when handling sensitive private consumer information — including borrower information on loan documents. These standards apply to bank employees, contractors and third-party vendors that work with lenders.

To meet CFPB standards, most banks and title companies ask Notary Signing Agents to provide proof they have passed a rigorous background screening. As independent agents, NSAs are trusted with loan documents that contain sensitive personal and financial information about borrowers. And unlike regular employees, they carry out their duties without direct supervision.

Because these duties are so important, lenders and title companies want to protect their customers by verifying that any Signing Agents who interact with customers and handle the customer’s private information are trustworthy and honest.

Special Note: During the pandemic, many court clerk's offices experienced staffing shortages and budget limitations. As a result, background checks in a few jurisdictions may take longer than expected. The NNA's vendor, Backgrounds Online, is working to resolve all these delays.

2. Aren’t all Notaries already background screened when they apply for their commissions?

No. This is a common misconception about background checks. In fact, fewer than one-fourth of all states perform any kind of background check on Notary commission applicants.

3. If my state requires Notary applicants to undergo a background check, why do I need another one?

There are a couple of reasons why lenders and title companies cannot accept the state-mandated background check for Notaries. 

First, state background checks for Notary commissions only screen for convictions that disqualify one from a Notary commission, usually just felonies. But lenders and title companies believe it is also important to check for serious misdemeanors and other infractions such as driving violations as part of their background screening requirements for Signing Agents.

Second, the Notary background screening results in states such as California are only available to state officials for review. States do not provide background reports on Notaries to financial industry companies.

Question 4: Why must I get a background check so often?

While title companies and third-party vendors are not regulated by the CFPB, their contracts obligate them to comply with the requirements lenders must meet. As a result, the lender or title company must be able to document that any NSA they use has passed a check that complies with CFPB consumer protection standards. That’s why many companies ask Signing Agents to obtain an updated screening every 12 months. Even states that run background checks for Notary applicants only do so once during each commission period.

If a Notary is convicted of a serious crime before then, lenders need to know in order to comply with federal regulations. In addition, a conviction does not automatically cause the Notary to lose their commission. That process can take months or longer.

5. Can the background screening provider share the results with anyone who asks for it?

No. Background screening results are only provided to the Signing Agent. Signing Agents can share them with whomever they choose, and businesses that receive them must follow strict rules regarding the security and sharing of the background screening information.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor at the National Notary Association.

20 Comments

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Ellen Welsh

23 May 2016

Why does this need to be repeated year after year after year? If a notary has passed a background check and achieved a life of stellar character and age, what would make anybody think that suddenly they would a change of behavior? Common sense might dictate that after a certain age this requirement ought to be waived.

National Notary Association

23 May 2016

Hello. Periodic screenings are important to ensure that no disqualifying convictions or violations have occurred. Doing so is common in the industry. Because many things can and do happen in one year, lenders feel it is critically important to protect their borrowers’ non-public private information by making sure all parties with access have up-to-date screenings.

John Axt

23 May 2016

This goes a bit further back than the CFPB, which is an outgrowth of the Dodd-Frannk Act. The concept of background checks goes back to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which mandates the protection of consumer data. The CFPB has been put together as the managing agency who takes all these consumer laws and enforces them.

Theresa K Boyce

23 May 2016

I think that the mortgage industry needs to focus more on the loan officers and some of their practices more so than the closing agent. Loan officers are not really held to any standard, and some of the things that they tell borrowers and who they are need to have a lot more scrutiny added. Are they required to do a background screening as they see all of the borrower's documents and know all of their information.

National Notary Association

23 May 2016

Hello. Notary Signing Agents present a special challenge for lenders because NSAs have control of borrowers’ personal information in a wholly unsupervised environment. Signing Agents do not work in a secured, limited-access workplace with oversight by supervisors, co-workers or cameras. The delivery, signing and return of loan documents is an especially vulnerable environment for borrowers’ private information.

JEROME ZEIGER

23 May 2016

All background checks cover the same areas and violations. Why are only certain checks acceptable? bReEV6

A. C. Dye

23 May 2016

Since we are covered by E & O insurance and bonded....seems a 2 year background check as we had before with NNA would suffice....this is an unnecessary annual expense...Seems the NNA should be able to speak on our behalf to increase it from one to two years.

National NotaryAssociation

23 May 2016

Hello. Just to clarify, Notary bonds and Notary E&O insurance cover only notarial acts. Neither covers misuse or theft of borrowers’ non-public private information.

Cindy Gardner

23 May 2016

It seems like overkill to have one every year, Just a yearly expense for us. I don't mind doing it, mine is very a boring read. I don't understand what difference it would make to do it each time we recommission. It is like pulling teeth to get paid a decent amount for a signing and we still haven't recovered from the '07 collapse.

Ralph Wedertz

23 May 2016

A lot can happen in a year and it's understandable that a BGC is required yearly. Many notaries complain about expenses, however, one cannot rationally expect to run a business at no cost. Notaries are running an independent contractor business and requirements change, and so do expenses

Shelley L. Reeve

25 May 2016

I have had a couple of signing agencies reject the NNA signing agent certificate that incorporates the background check, and require me to send the actual background check screening. I complied, but didn't like it. Why couldn't they accept the authority of the NNA? (I'm a California notary.)

National Notary Association

03 Jun 2016

Hello Shelley. We're sorry you had difficulty. While the NNA feels that proof of passage of a background screening should be sufficient, individual companies may set their own additional procedures to comply with CFPB standards.

Rhonda Anthony

30 May 2016

A misdemeanor is a lesser offense than felony, so the rationale to check a notary who has passed a background check on a less serious offense rather than more severe offenses for the purpose of gaining business appears to have everything to do with anything affecting the agents ability to to have mobility. I feel the purpose for the additional background screening should be specifically stated to be for the purpose of ensuring the agent has an ability to travel rather than mixing the intent to ensure the confidentiality and handling of client information, which are two extremely different areas.

MisterJ

06 Sep 2016

Yes, checking up on driving violations is obviously to make sure you can get around conveniently and don't have a suspended license. I suppose if an NSA had to take a bus everywhere, then there is a chance that somebody on the bus could beat him up and steal his documents before he could deliver them to the loan company. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the possibility of the NSA himself misusing customer information.

Laurie R. Kneeland

29 Mar 2019

How long does a background check take. I too my notary exam 2 months ago and passed and am now waiting for the background check to receive my commission. I have been a Notary for over 30 years and it has never taken this long.

National Notary Association

08 Apr 2019

Hello. If you need assistance regarding the CA state Notary commissioning background check, you can call 1-916-653-3595 for assistance. If you need assistance with a background check for your Notary Signing Agent certification through the NNA, please contact our Customer Care team at 1-800-876-6827.

Roxanne Rodriguez

19 Jul 2019

Can I be a notary if I was under first offenders probation and completed it it shows arrest but no conversations

National Notary Association

22 Jul 2019

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are applying for a Notary commission in?

Jakki D

08 Nov 2019

Are bgc from our local police department sufficient enough for the NNA? If no, please explain why.

National Notary Association

08 Nov 2019

Hello. As discussed in the article above, to meet CFPB standards, most banks and title companies ask Notary Signing Agents to provide proof they have passed a rigorous background screening that meets the lender’s standards. Many lenders and title companies require a screening that follows standards set by the Signing Professionals Workgroup, as found here (https://signingprofessionalsworkgroup.org/background-screening-standards/) You would need to contact specific lenders or title companies you wish to work with to ask whether they would accept the type of background screening you are describing.

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