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How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go

Many people wonder, how far back do background checks go?

This is a common concern, especially for job seekers. Most employers require this check before hiring. It is often a part of the assessment of a potential hire.

The broad answer is that it depends. It can depend on the hiring policies of the company. It can also depend on the state regulations on credit reporting.

The type of background check may also have an impact. Let’s begin by delving into the different types of background checks.

Types of Background Checks

There are many different types of background checks employers, landlords and even creditors will apply. Those looking to adopt or foster a child are also subjected to these checks. Here are the main categories and what shows up on a background check of each type.

1 Criminal Background Checks

This is a probe into the criminal past of a person. These records will at minimum include convictions. Some states even allow arrest records and prosecutions without guilty verdicts to be reported on.

how far back do background checks

To gain access to a person’s criminal record, certain databases have to be accessed. These include:

  • County records – This goes into county court databases looking for criminal convictions. It also notes reportable non-convictions. This search will typically go seven years back.
  • State records – This check looks at state police department records. It also looks for criminal convictions and reportable non-convictions. This check goes back seven years. It is done in every state the person is confirmed to have resided for a set duration.
  • Federal records – This covers federal cases related to the person. It covers the entire country and territories. The scope of this search is also usually seven years.

Generally, criminal background checks will go back seven years. However, in some instances, an employer may want a more extended probe. This is common for senior positions or those that pay beyond a certain limit. Jobs that require higher security clearance may also call for deeper inquiry.

This can result in a search that covers a longer period. It will however be limited to what reporting laws apply. Extended checks also tend to be costlier than standard checks.

Criminal background checks are also often done in conjunction with fingerprint checks. This is mandatory for most government-run institutions. Many professional bodies that issue licenses will also often have this available.

Fingerprint checks are needed to verify identity, confirm criminal history, and possible military service.

2 Work History and Education

There is no limit when it comes to confirming work history. It depends on the employer how far back they will go to make verifications. Also, what kind of package the verifying company has offered the employer if left to a third party.

This check is guided by the resume provided by the applicant. The person will have indicated where they worked, in what position, and for how long.

The results of this check can vary. They could confirm all the details. They could also indicate discrepancies in such details as job title and duration.

The check could also produce no results. This is not uncommon for older records if the company has shut down or reorganized.

Education checks will look at verifying a person’s academic record. It is again guided by the resume and copies of any certificates provided by the person. There is normally less room for mistakes here as schools tend to keep their records for longer.

The purpose of these checks is to ensure the person is suitably qualified for the job. It confirms they received the right training at an appropriate institution. It also verifies they have the work experience to fit the role they are being considered for.

3 OIG Background Checks

This is a professional standard check done through the Office of Inspector General (OIG). It applies to individuals and enterprises that work in healthcare.

The goal is to ensure a candidate is not on their sanctions list. Those on this list will have engaged in healthcare-related crimes. Related felony crimes like patient abuse or dealing prescription medications can also apply.

It is done during pre-employment screening. It can also be regularly reviewed to ensure the person has not been later added.

Other professional license background checks will ensure a person’s license is valid. Different industries and professions have different governing bodies.

The screening company will need to identify the relevant body to run this check. Most states will have a stale licensing board for each applicable industry.

4 Drug Screening

This check is often made part of a conditional offer of employment. This means the person will have passed the initial stages of interviews. All that would be left is to pass a background check and drug test.

Not all jobs will require this pre-employment screening. But many that involve handling dangerous equipment, access to drugs, or major responsibilities will. For instance, when considering do hospitals run background checks, you will find this a part of the process.

how far back do a background checks guide

This check can also be done in response to a workplace incident. The employer or insurers may want to be sure the people involved were not intoxicated. There are also random screenings done in workplaces that are at risk of having employees taking drugs.

There are different ways these tests can be carried out. Each test provides results that go back varied periods.

Urine Tests

This test is carried out on a urine sample with the results often depend on the type of drug being detected. The standard five-panel test checks on:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Opiates
  • THC
  • PCP

Cocaine can last just two to three days in the system. THC found in marijuana may however be detectable even a week after. It is hard to predict how quickly a drug will be eliminated. Many factors can impact this metabolism.

Urine tests are the most commonly used by employers. However, if the results are adulterated, the person may have to have the test repeated. And it may not be the same kind of test.

Hair Testing

This involves examining a strand of hair. This test can provide results that go back as much as three months. This test is used to determine if there has been prolonged drug use. each section can provide a timeline as to when and what drugs were used.

Saliva Test

An oral swab is taken to run a quick check on the presence of drugs or alcohol. This test can verify if drugs have been taken within the last one or two days.

The results are quick, the test cheap, and difficult to tamper with. It has become increasingly popular for pre-employment screening and roadside drug tests by police.

5 DMV Check

Jobs that involve driving will often include a DMV check. This is done through the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The name of the relevant state department may vary based on location.

The report establishes if the person has a safe driving history. So if you are wondering does DMV run background checks, it does. It requires credit reporting agencies or employers to provide signed consent from the person being probed.

Incidents employers are interested in will include:

  • Driver’s license status
  • Traffic accident history
  • DUI reports
  • Traffic law violations
  • Penalties for offenses
  • Driving record points

For those with commercial driving licenses, the employer will also want to know the classification. Different classes have different weight limits on vehicles. They can also vary in terms of the number of passengers and type of cargo permitted.

6 Credit Background Checks

This check looks at a person’s credit to debt ratio. It attempts to verify a person’s financial standing. Those with high debt and poor repayment can be a risk in financial positions. Employers will want to have someone handling finances to be fiscally responsible.

Landlords are also interested in this check. It tells them how reliable a tenant will be in meeting their rent obligations. They will want someone with good credit and no reports of defaulting.

how far back do the background checks

Some states do however prohibit the use of credit reports in the background checking process. This includes New York, New Orleans, and Chicago.

Amongst the records looked at are:

  • Bankruptcy filings
  • Civil judgments
  • Tax liens
  • Unpaid bills in collections
  • Payment history
  • Credit inquiries

Bankruptcy checks can go back as far as ten years. Most states will however only undertake a seven-year check unless the salary level is higher than $75,000.

Credit history checks can go back as far as seven years. Some states allow for an extended check for jobs with specified higher salaries.

Civil judgments have a limit of seven years. Paid tax liens older than seven years should not appear. The same applies to collections that are more than seven years.

Keep in mind that these checks will require employee permission. This means the employer or landlord will need the person to sign a consent form allowing this probe.

Fair Credit Reporting laws also require the person to be sent a copy of the report. This applies where the results of this check may have impacted the decision not to hire them.

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

As said, the standard criminal background check will only go back seven years. However, there is no set limit in federal law on how far back convictions can be dug up.

Even the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does not set a limit on this. However, if it was only a felony arrest, the FCRA does set a limit of seven years.

how far back do background checks go 7years

States will vary when it comes to criminal convictions, particularly felonies and misdemeanors. Some have set a seven or ten-year limit. Others do allow felonies to be reported on indefinitely.

Nine states specify a limit of seven years on reports of criminal convictions. These are:

  • California
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Washington

Note that in some of these states, the limit can be exceeded.  Especially for jobs with salary levels that are higher.

California also has a limit of seven years. This can however be extended to ten years for jobs earning a salary higher than $125,000. The same applies in Texas and Colorado for jobs earning higher than $75,000.

Some states have no reporting limit on felony convictions. They will also report on not guilty verdict cases. These include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island

Hawaii also has a seven-year reporting limit, but only on felonies. Misdemeanors are reportable for up to five years.

Some states also do not allow reporting on not guilty verdict cases. These include Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Alaska, Indiana, New York, and Michigan.

These limits can easily change. Interested parties should keep checking on what the prevailing laws are in their state.

Contending with A Bad Background Check Result

For those with criminal convictions and bad credit, there is a good chance all will be revealed. Trying to maintain a clean record is best. Singular offenses that are older can be ignored by many employers.

More so if you have established a steady work history since. Ideally, long stints with good reasons when changing jobs. Good references from former employers can also help.

Whatever testimonials you use should be from upstanding members of the community. They can attest to your character change and reliability.

Ensuring your resume is accurate is also vital. Check that every date, job title, and other information are true. Discrepancies can seem like an attempt to deceive.

Attach copies of all relevant licenses and certificates. compare them with your resume to ensure the details are accurate. Also, ensure they are still valid. If anything needs renewing, do so before the employer checks.

Finally, be prepared for your interview. Dress appropriately and be punctual. Speak politely yet confidently.

Making a good impression is vital. Find someone experienced to practice your interview skills and gain some confidence.

Also, run a background check on yourself. This will help determine what potential employers will discover. It can also aid in ensuring you provide full disclosure to avoid seeming dishonest. You can then prepare how to explain yourself.


Employers should work with credit reporting agencies that can help determine how far their checks should go. They can advise on the applicable laws. They should also indicate costing as extended checks tend to be costlier. These agencies can also assist in organizing candidate consent so employers remain in compliance with the law.

Knowing what laws are applicable in your state can help you better prepare for whatever outcome. Remember several factors can affect this including how old your conviction was and the salary level of the job.

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1 thought on “How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?”

  1. The Navy and Marine Corps put weight on the subject’s criminal history, whether convicted as a juvenile or an adult. These felony convictions are also major disqualifiers.

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