How Far Back Can a Background Check Go?

March 15, 2018
Robert Sanders
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Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes


  • There are two types of background checks, Consumer Reports and Investigative Reports
  • 7 and 10 years are typically the length of time you can go in the past for background check
  • According to the FCRA, non-conviction criminal information can only be reported up to 7 years

There’s a perception that background checks come from a magical database in the sky – that they contain anything and everything you should know about your applicants. But did you know that this isn’t actually the case? Not only can they contain information that you want to know about your applicants, they also contain information that you shouldn’t see – incorrect data, wrong identity, expunged information, and most importantly information that’s too far in the past. So how far exactly can you go back for a background check? 5 years? 20?


First Things First What is a Background Check?   

In order to understand the limitations of a background check, we first need to define what a background check even is. To do that we first need to go over the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) Background Check Requirements for Employers. The FCRA is the primary federal law that regulates employment background checks. The FCRA applies to all employment background checks that are conducted by a third party. But is there only one type of background check? Not exactly, there’s actually two:

  1. Consumer Report: Criminal, Driving, Credit
  2. Investigative Consumer Report: Employment Verifications, Education Verifications, References

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The two different types of background checks listed above each gather information from different sources and are used for different purposes. Consumer reports cover driving record, credit checks and criminal records. Criminal records originate from the different court systems in the United States (i.e. municipal, county, or federal). Driving record information will come from state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Credit information used in a credit report comes from many different types of institutions linked to a consumer’s finances.

The next type of background checks are Investigative Consumer Reports, which covers references, education verifications and employment verifications. Employment and education verifications are used when verifying past employment and past education while references are used for the action of mentioning or promoting an employee’s past work. So now that we understand the different types of background checks, let’s get to the question at hand…”How far can a background check go?”


How Far Can You Go Back?    

So how far can you go back for a background check? The standard practice for how far a background check can look into the past is 7 years, although this can usually be extended to 10 years, sometimes longer. But 7 and 10 years are generally agreed upon amongst the screening industry regarding the scope of a background check for employment.

There is no language in the FCRA that prohibits the reporting of convictions beyond the 7 or 10 year threshold. There is, however, language that prohibits the reporting of non-conviction information beyond 7 years.


So Why Is That The Standard?

Based on the FCRA, it allows non – conviction criminal information to be reported for up to 7 years. According to the FCRA the law goes as follows:


 “Except as authorized under subsection (b) of this section, no consumer reporting agency may make any consumer report containing any of the following items of information: (5) records of arrest, indictment, or from date of disposition, release, or parole, antedate the report by more than seven (7) years. The seven year reporting period starts when the adverse information is first filed or entered into the record.


So what exactly does that mean? Well take the following for example:


“Jane Doe has a misdemeanor drug charge from 2010 that later was dismissed in 2014. The lower court decided that the drug charge could be reported for seven years from the date of the drug charge (2010). Therefore the 7 year clock ends in 2017.”


Because of this rule, set by the FCRA, it has made the standard 7 years. Some states have their own specific rules, but all states must comply with Federal law.


Closing Thoughts 

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Topics: Background Checks

Robert Sanders

Written by Robert Sanders

Robert is our Marketing Executive. He is innovative, a creative thinker, and very good at digging into a problem to find the right answer for every topic. Robert speaks on various topics and brings about a lot of interesting points in different areas of business development and human resources. Robert loves to push the envelope and bring awareness to different issues and is also the voice of our podcast "The Water Cooler Podcast" .