Published November 19, 20205 min read
You’ll find Laura Biewer driving her Prius around Modesto, California, seven days a week as a mobile notary. A notary confirms the identity of a signer of a document, ensures they’re not pressured to sign and understands exactly what they’re signing. The most common documents that need notarization are power of attorney, consent letters for minors to travel without a parent, real estate transactions and estate planning documents.
A notary assignment could require notarizing as many as 24 signatures, and she completes as many as 50 notary assignments per month. Biewer earns between $6,000 to $7,000 monthly and makes six figures annually. “Some months are higher and some are lower. The first month of COVID-19, my revenue dropped $3,000 to $4,000.” We asked her how she budgets.
Most notaries can be found in brick-and-mortar locations where they’re needed most: employed at a company, real estate or law offices, or your local UPS. Being a mobile notary gives Biewer a leg up on competition: She can pick up a notary assignment and be on the road within minutes.
Notaries receive commissions through their regulating agencies like the Secretary of State. As a mobile notary, Biewer charges a flat rate per assignment including expected travel time and signatures needed. She stays as local as possible, but if an assignment took her 30 miles away, she’d charge $50 for travel plus the assignment cost. She charges $175 a real estate purchase, refinance or loan package, which can require as many as 20 signatures. Notarizing a trust can be as much as $200 for 16 signatures.
“I’ve also found five other ways to make money by being a notary,” she said. On top of completing 40 to 50 assignments per month, Biewer teaches notary law, leads state-mandated notary training for the National Notary Association, speaks at national and local notary conferences and is a private coach for other notaries.
The requirements to become a notary vary by state. Biewer said it can cost around $500 in upfront fees for a license in California, which requires notaries to take a six-hour training course, pass a live-proctored exam, be fingerprinted, have a headshot and get bonded. Notaries have to buy bonds to protect the public from lawsuits in case the documents they notarize lead to financial loss. Bonds cost between 1% to 15% of the bonded amount, depending on risk level. For example, a $10,000 low-risk bond at 1% will cost $100.
The catch? “Every four years you have to do it all over again.” A notary license expires after four years, and if you want to keep being one, you’ll have to renew it. To renew, you’ll have to pay for another training course, submit a new application, rescan fingerprints and retake the notary exam.
You’ll also need a set of basic tools like a journal, notary seal and stamp, and bags for certificates and documents.“Now you’re up to $700 dollars,” Biewer said. “If you specialize in loans, you’ll spend a couple hundred more for online loan training.”
If you’re mobile like Biewer, you’ll spend closer to $800 to $900 for on-the-road tools like a portable printer/scanner. The biggest expense: gas.
The only way to make a return on investment is getting assignments, and to get assignments you need visibility, she said. Biewer has two business websites and pays a fee to be on popular notary listings, like 123notary.com, notaryrotary.com, and notarycafe.com. “I make sure I’m visible and it takes a lot of work to have that internet presence,” Biewer said. “Plus, a website costs money.”
Here’s a breakdown of Biewer’s monthly spending budget:
Utilities: $1,200 per month
Property taxes: $350 per month Biewer and her husband have paid off their mortgage, but shell out $350 in California property taxes each month.
Food: $700 per month Biewer’s grocery list covers herself, her husband and their pets.
Insurance: $1,475 She pays to protect herself, her business, home and car, and shares insurance costs with her husband. As a notary, Biewer has errors and omission insurance covering her if a client claims she made a mistake at work and a liability policy. She also maintains and insures a physical office space, where she receives mail and sees clients who prefer not to meet at their homes.
Business expenses: $1,800 per month Biewer spends 44% of her annual revenue on business expenses, which she tracks using notaryassist.com, an accounting site for notaries. Her biggest expenses are marketing and outreach. “I’m a notary who reinvests in my business. I don’t make money and spend it,” she said. To run her business, she pays for gas, higher internet speeds, printer ink and toner, paper by the case, website platforms, promotions, quarterly tax filings, office rent, and additional security for a private email.
Discretionary expenses: $250 - $450+ per month Before Covid-19, Biewer and her family would get together and enjoy weekly dinners. She and her husband are frequent attendants at “rock shows — yes, the kind you step on. We’re collectors.” They also invest discretionary income. Her primary splurge? Rental properties. “I don’t spend my money on fancy vacations. I spend it on things that will make me more money,” she said.
One way Biewer saves money is separating her personal and business finances, including a checking and savings account for notary revenue. One of her biggest savings goals was putting her kids through college and graduate debt-free.
Her next goal is saving enough to work less. She saves about 25% of her notary income before paying off her expenses. “If you don’t start paying yourself first, you’re going to be lost.” She puts away about $8,500 per year for retirement across different individual retirement accounts.
“I just turned 60 and I’m at a turning point because I don’t want to work seven days a week forever,” she said. “I want to be in a financial position to say no.”
She’s achieving that goal by saving as much as possible for retirement and keeping her eyes on potential rental properties. “We put money away in our (individual retirement account) every year, invest in real estate and we look at what our future is going to be,” she said.
Get essential money news & money moves with the Easy Money newsletter.
Free in your inbox each Friday.