How Far Back Does A Background Check Go?

  • Blog
  • How Far Back Does A Background Check Go?
15 May, 2024
Daniel Cohen
8 min
229
title in front of laptop on desktop with photos

Find out how far into your personal history a background check company can go. And what to do if it exceeds the limits.

Federal and state laws say how far back a background check company can dig into your personal history. Different types of background checks - criminal, employment, FBI, and fingerprint - have different limits. The first step in standing up for your rights is knowing what background check companies can and can’t do. The next step is getting help.

As one of the country's leading attorneys for consumer protection firms, Consumer Attorneys represents people whose rights, careers, privacy, livelihoods, and overall well-being have been damaged by the disregard and violations of companies of all kinds. Background check companies are among these companies. With far too great a frequency, a background check company will provide a potential employer, landlord, lender, property management company, or ride-share gig with an inaccurate background check report. Or the background check company will ignore the rules and protocols to which they must adhere and outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Whether it’s an oversight or a willful violation, the consumer suffers when background check companies do not do what they should.

That is not ok with us. 

While background checks are essential tools employers, landlords, and others use to assess a person’s suitability for a job, apartment, home, or loan, there are rules. Knowing the rules is one of the first steps in standing up for your rights and holding any company that violates the rules accountable for the damage that violation does to you. The span of your personal history on which a background check can report is one aspect of background checks that is both clearly defined and frequently violated. What, where, and when a background check examines can significantly impact your life and your opportunities. This article investigates how far back different background checks go and the laws that regulate them.

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

The extent to which a background check can dig into your past depends on the type of check and the laws governing it. Below is a table outlining common types of background checks and their typical time frames.

Type of Background CheckTime Frame
Criminal Background Checks7-10 years (can vary by state)
Employment Background Checks7 years
Credit Background Checks7 years
Federal Background ChecksUp to entire adult lifetime
FBI Background ChecksUp to and including your entire adult lifetime
Fingerprint Background ChecksVaries, potentially lifetime

Regulations and Restrictions of Background Checks

The employer does not determine the depth and scope of background checks. Federal and state laws designed to protect your privacy and prevent discrimination determine how far back a background check can search. 

Fair Credit Reporting Act Rules

The FCRA is a federal law that sets the standards for how background check companies run background checks. 

  • Time Limits. Most background checks can report convictions indefinitely but are limited to seven years for arrests that do not result in a conviction and other negative information.
  • Consumer Rights. You have the right to know if information in your background check has been used against you. 
  • Disputes. You have the right to identify inaccurate, incomplete, or outright false information in your background check and the background check company must investigate it and correct it. 
  • Accuracy.  The background check company must take reasonable measures to ensure that the background checks and their resulting reports are accurate. What amounts to reasonable measures is always evolving. Background check companies want to rely on digital methods and Artificial Intelligence because it is cheaper and faster. But it is also susceptible to inaccuracy. 
  • Written Permission. Per the FCRA, background check companies must have your written permission to run a report on you.

State Regulations

Different states have additional rules about how far back a background check can go. This is another area of law constantly evolving as new data privacy and cybersecurity threats and measures happen frequently. Below is a table highlighting some state-specific regulations as of May 2024. 

StateBackground Check Requirements
AlabamaSeven years unless the salary is $75,000 or more
AlaskaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
ArizonaSeven years
ArkansasSeven years unless the salary is $20,000 or more
CaliforniaSeven years for convictions, arrests not leading to convictions are not reportable
ColoradoSeven years for convictions, arrests not leading to convictions are not reportable
ConnecticutNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
DelawareNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
FloridaSeven years for screening; certain positions, like those working with children or the elderly, can have deeper checks
GeorgiaSeven years unless the salary is $75,000 or more
HawaiiTen years for felony convictions, five years for misdemeanors
IdahoNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
IllinoisSeven years unless the salary is $75,000 or more
IndianaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
IowaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
KansasNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
KentuckyNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
LouisianaTen years
MaineSix years
MarylandSeven years for convictions
MassachusettsSeven years for misdemeanor convictions, felonies can be reported indefinitely
MichiganNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
MinnesotaSeven years unless the salary is $20,000 or more
MississippiSeven years unless the salary is $75,000 or more
MissouriNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
MontanaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
NebraskaSeven years
NevadaSeven years
New HampshireNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
New JerseySeven years
New MexicoSeven years
New YorkSeven years for convictions, arrests not leading to convictions are not reportable
North CarolinaSeven years for criminal checks
North DakotaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
OhioNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
OklahomaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
OregonSeven years
PennsylvaniaSeven years
Rhode IslandSeven years
South CarolinaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
South DakotaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
TennesseeNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
TexasSeven years for arrests; no limit for convictions
UtahNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
VermontNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
VirginiaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
Washington10 years unless the salary is $20,000 or more
West VirginiaNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
WisconsinNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
WyomingNo specific state limitations beyond FCRA
Washington D.C.Ten years for positions paying less than $75,000, no limit for positions paying $75,000 or more

How Far Back Do Criminal Background Checks Go?

Criminal background checks typically go back 7 to 10 years, but this can vary based on state laws and the type of job. For instance:

  • In states like California, criminal background checks go back seven years.
  • However, some states allow a deeper look into your past if the job pays a higher salary (usually over $75,000).
  • Some government jobs or jobs with access to sensitive information may allow - even require - background checks further. 

The background check time frame for criminal records is crucial because it affects many people's chances of employment after a conviction or arrest. An experienced background check lawyer will be able to provide information tailored to your specific circumstances. 

How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go?

How far back does a background check go for a job? Employment background checks typically look back seven years into a candidate’s work history, education, and criminal records. This limit is set to prevent discrimination against individuals who have long since moved past old offenses and have demonstrated rehabilitation.

How Far Back Do Federal Background Checks Go?

Federal background checks, used for government positions and jobs requiring security clearance, can look back into the entire adult lifetime of an applicant. These checks are thorough and can include reviewing all public records, employment history, and more.

The federal background check time frame for these checks can cover an entire lifetime, depending on the level of security clearance required.

How Far Back Do FBI Background Checks Go?

How far back does an FBI background check go? It can cover the entire adult lifetime.

An FBI background check delves deep into your history, covering your entire lifetime. This check includes reviewing criminal records, employment history, and even residences. The FBI background check timeline is comprehensive because it aims to paint a complete picture of an individual’s background.

How Far Back Do Fingerprint Background Checks Go?

Fingerprint background checks use biometric data to find records across national and state databases. These checks can be extensive.

How Far Back Do Level 2 Background Checks Go?

Level 2 checks are a form of fingerprint checks used primarily in Florida and other states for positions of responsibility, such as those involving children, the elderly, and the disabled. These checks can look back into the entire history of an individual, depending on what databases are accessed.

How far back does a fingerprint background check go? Typically, these checks can access records from the individual's entire life, especially for criminal records.

Share

Frequently Asked Questions

image
About the author
Daniel Cohen
See more post

Daniel Cohen is the Founder of Consumer Attorneys. Daniel manages the firm’s branding, marketing, client intake and business development efforts. Since 2017, he is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. Mr. Cohen is a nationally-recognized practitioner of consumer protection law. He has a wealth of proven legal experience in the US in: collective claims, representing visually impaired people who believe their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated in both the physical and digital environments, corporate governance and dispute resolution. Read more

Contact Us

Attorney Advertising, Prior Results Do Not Guarantee A Similar Outcome. This website is for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice. Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.

© 2024 Consumer Attorneys PLC. All Rights Reserved.