How to Register a Stock Certificate

Stock certificates document the ownership of a security.

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A stock certificate is a physical document used to certify ownership of shares of stock. At one time, stock certificates were issued for all shares. However, electronic management is now the default registration process. The ability to register a stock certificate is still possible, even when the stock is purchased electronically.


You will need to enlist the services of a transfer agent in order to register your paper stock certificates.

Registering Stock Certificates

To get started registering your stock certificate, you'll need to get the name of the company transfer agent, which is an entity separate from the company issuing the stock charged with handling the management and maintenance of shareholder documents. Transfer agents are typically listed in a company's annual report. Companies often make annual reports available through their websites.

Call the transfer agent and confirm that paper certificates are an option. A paper certificate is only available if the company provides them. Not all companies provide them, in which case you have to forgo the physical certificate and accept electronic registration.

Transferring Stock Ownership

Contact the brokerage firm holding the stock and ask the broker to transfer the ownership of the stock to direct registration. Certificated shares purchased through an online process are generally held in street name registration. This means the brokerage firm holds the shares in the brokerage's name and tracks share ownership for the buyer.

To register a paper certificate, shares must be moved from street name registration into direct registration. Direct registration automatically lists shares with the appropriate transfer agent.

Call the transfer agent and request a paper stock certificate. Once the shares are placed in direct registration, the transfer agent has access to them and a certificate can be issued.

Reason for Certification

Proper registration of the certificate documents the authenticity of ownership and protects the investor if the certificate is lost, stolen or damaged. A stockholder cannot have both a digital registration and a paper certificate registration for the same shares of stock.

Make copies of the front and back of the paper certificate once you receive it. Keep the photocopies in a separate location from the original documents. Photocopies of certificated shares can help you document ownership if the originals are lost.

Protect original documents by placing them in a safe deposit box at your bank. Paper certificates are physical documents that state ownership and must be safeguarded like cash.

Cost of Registration

Brokerage firms may require additional fees to transfer shares to direct registration. It is important to check whether the transfer agent can create a paper certificate before paying the brokerage firm to move certificated shares into direct registration.

Paper Versus Electronic Registration

Stock held as paper certificates are not listed on your brokerage's website and your broker will cease to manage the stock.

Managing paper certificates is more difficult than managing electronic registration. Certificates delay the selling process, because the documents must be mailed to complete the sale.

Transfer agents manage shares in two formats: paper certificate and book-entry. Book-entry shares are shares managed electronically by the transfer agent. Unlike street name shares, book-entry shares name the purchaser as the shareholder.

Which Company Can Issue Shares?

Many people ask which company can issue shares based primarily on the assumption that only corporations listed on the stock exchange can have stockholders. This isn't true at all. In fact, a private company can issue shares. However, these shares aren't issued through a public offering.

So which company can issue shares? Any of them, including your own employer. A company only issues a share once, after which it can be transferred or sold from one stockholder to another. Companies can later buy shares back but those shares still remain listed as issued. In some small companies, the owners and employees may choose to keep the shares throughout the life of the business.