How Far Back Does A Background Check Go?

Danielle Hubein
March 02, 2023
7 min read

In general, background checks include seven years of criminal and court records, but federal and state employment laws may also limit the lookback period. Some background checks go back even farther. Ultimately, the lookback period may depend on your location, the candidate’s location, and the type of background screening you’re performing.

The hiring process often includes several steps to ensure you’re bringing on the most qualified candidate onto your team. Reference checks and interviews are a good first step, but background checks provide you with additional important information about potential candidates to help you make the most informed hiring decision for your team and organization.

Depending on your industry and the positions you’re hiring for, you have numerous background check options to choose from, including a criminal background check, employment verification check, driving record check, and more. When tailoring your screening packages, you may also want to consider how far back do background checks go. Let’s dig deeper into how far back different types of background checks go and why.

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How far back does a background check go?

Most background screenings for employment look back seven years, but the type of search may cover a different length of time. For example, when conducting a criminal background check, convictions may be reported by the background check company indefinitely or may be restricted to seven years depending on where the candidate is located. For employment history, you can often verify information over the candidate’s lifetime, though many organizations limit the search to a certain number of employers, or number of years.

Below is more information on how far back background checks go:

Type of checkLength of time
Pre-employment background checksPre-employment background checks commonly used by employers typically cover 7 years of criminal records, but can go back further depending on federal and state laws and what type of search is requested.
Bankruptcy checksBankruptcies can go back as far as 10 years.
Credit history checksEmployment credit checks go back a minimum of 7 years. More history may be available depending on the candidate’s expected salary and specific state laws. Some state laws may further restrict the specific kinds of credit data that can be reported and for how long.
Criminal background checksConvictions may be reported indefinitely, or restricted to 7 years, depending on the state where the candidate lives or works.
Driving record checksMost driving records go back between 3 to 10 years, depending on the state.
Educational historyMay be verified throughout their lifetime, although it may be limited to a specific number of institutions.
Employment historyMay be verified throughout their lifetime, although it may be limited to a specific number of employers or years of history.
Professional license verificationMay be verified throughout their lifetime, although it may be limited to a specific number of licenses.

Federal regulations

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is designed to protect individuals’ private information, such as bill payment history, current debts, past loans, criminal records, and employment history. Selecting a background check that is FCRA-compliant helps to ensure that the check has been conducted and collected correctly and provides legally reportable results with regard to the lookback period. Employers are still responsible for ensuring how they order and use background checks is legally compliant and may need to consult with the appropriate counsel, such as their legal team, to determine their compliance requirements.

Under the FCRA, employers are restricted as to how far back specific background checks can go in a candidate’s or employee’s history. The FCRA prohibits consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which include third-party background check providers and the national credit bureaus, from reporting the following information in a consumer report or background check:

  • Bankruptcies older than 10 years from the date of the report
  • Civil suits, civil judgements, and records of arrest older than 7 years from the date of the report
  • Paid tax liens older than 7 years from the date of the report
  • Collections accounts (unpaid bills turned over to collections agencies) older than 7 years from the date of the report
  • Other adverse information (aside from criminal convictions) that is older than 7 years from the date of the report

Additionally, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests employers use the “nature-time-nature” test when assessing a candidate’s criminal history. This is done by considering the following factors:

  • The nature and seriousness of the conviction
  • How much time has passed since the conviction or sentence completion
  • The nature of the job

State regulations

Currently at least 9 states have enacted laws that impose additional restrictions when searching a candidate’s history.

CaliforniaCalifornia Labor Code § 432.7 prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s previous arrests that did not result in convictions, sealed or dismissed convictions, or any completed diversion programs.
GeorgiaEmployers are prohibited from disqualifying an individual for employment on the basis of a criminal record that was successfully discharged under the state’s First Offender Act. Exceptions exist for certain types of employment, including work with children or vulnerable populations and peace officer positions.

Hawaii Revised Statutes § 378-2.5 prohibits employers from inquiring into a person’s conviction records before giving the person a conditional offer of employment and prohibits employers from considering felony convictions older than 7 years and misdemeanor convictions older than 5 years. Employers may not consider convictions unless they are related to the duties of the employment position. 
KentuckyKentucky Revised Statute § 367.310 prohibits the reporting of non-convictions in background checks.
MassachusettsMassachusetts General Law 151B § 4(9) prohibits employers from asking a person about an arrest or charge that did not result in a conviction, a first-time conviction for certain misdemeanors, and any misdemeanor conviction that is older than 3 years. 
MichiganA series of “Clean Slate” bills passed in 2020 limit what information is available to employers reviewing candidate criminal history. For example, effective April 2023, certain non-violent convictions will be automatically set aside (expunged) from a person’s public criminal record if they have remained conviction-free for seven years. The automatic set-aside will apply to eligible felony convictions older than 10 years and misdemeanors older than 7 years.
New MexicoNew Mexico Statute § 56-3-6 prohibits the reporting of matters beyond the specified period, including suits and judgements longer than seven years from the date of entry and arrests and convictions older than 7 year.
New YorkUnder the NY Human Rights Law § 296.16, employers cannot ask a person about any arrest or charge which did not result in a conviction. 
WisconsinWisconsin Statute § 111.322 prohibits employers from discriminating against a person based on an arrest or conviction record. Wisconsin Statute § 111.335(3), however, allows employers to consider  conviction records substantially related to the job in question.

Additionally, over 180 states and local jurisdictions have adopted Ban the Box laws which require employers to consider an applicant’s qualifications first ​​or prohibit employers from asking about certain criminal information on a job application. These policies aim to provide applicants with a more fair chance at employment by removing questions regarding criminal history or convictions from job applications or delaying background checks until later in the application process.

Lookback periods by background check type

Criminal background checks

Felony criminal convictions may be reported by background check companies indefinitely on background checks for jobs of all kinds and salary levels. Exceptions to this include states that impose seven-year limits on reporting of criminal records or where other local restrictions apply. (See table below for additional details.)

Misdemeanor criminal records are typically reported for seven years at the state and county levels, but older misdemeanor records may be reported if readily accessible —for example, if the jurisdiction’s records are digitized and if local laws permit.

Juvenile records and other court-sealed documents typically do not appear in criminal background checks.

Employment background checks

Employment background checks are a collection of a potential job candidate’s background information and records that are obtained from both private and public sources. Depending on the hiring organization’s requirements, this may include running a series of screenings, including a criminal history check, credit check, driving record check, and employment or education verification.

The FCRA restricts how far back background check companies can report information about a candidate’s history to an employer. The following information generally may not be reported to employers:

  • Civil judgements older than seven years
  • Non-convictions older than seven years
  • Tax liens paid more than 7 years ago
  • Accounts placed in collection more than 7 years ago
  • Bankruptcy filings older than 10 years

In certain situations, where the salary is expected to be at least $75,000, background check companies may be able to report the above information beyond seven years to employers.

In some cases, employers may choose to conduct both a pre-employment background check and regular or ongoing post-hire screenings. You may want to consider what type of consent you collect, such as collecting evergreen consent allowing for background checks for the duration of the candidate’s employment.

Federal background checks

Federal background screenings involve searching the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database for any criminal records prosecuted in federal court. Federal background checks are subject to the same time limitations as employment background checks, which include the FCRA and any state-specific laws restricting the lookback period.

FBI background checks

How far back FBI background checks go will depend on whether the employer is searching on their own or using a CRA. Employers searching on their own may uncover criminal history from any point during the candidate’s adult life. When using a CRA, search results may be limited in accordance with the FCRA and other relevant state laws.

Fingerprint background checks

A fingerprint background check involves using a candidate’s fingerprints along with other personal information to locate historical information received by the FBI from states and municipalities. Although the information is similar to what’s searched in a criminal background check, reporting restrictions do not apply as FBI records are not affected by consumer protection laws, such as the FCRA.

The information reported from a fingerprint check will vary depending on a few factors, including:

  • The nature of the information requested
  • The database used by the screening company, which could include the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) or one of the hundreds of Automated Fingerprint Identification System databases available at the county, city, and state levels.
  • Your legal authority to receive and view criminal information. For example, not every employer is granted access to the FBI’s IAFIS database.

Level 2 background checks

Level 2 background checks are a type of screening used in the state of Florida for certain state agencies and industries when the position involves working with vulnerable populations, such as children, people with disabilities, or the elderly. A Level 2 check is  a fingerprint-based search of state and national criminal records, and in some cases, records maintained by local law enforcement. While the lookback period for a Level 2 screening is not limited, there are some restrictions. For example, drug abuse prevention or controlled offenses will only show up if they occurred within the last five years.

10-year vs. 7-year states

Unless otherwise restricted by state laws, criminal convictions may be reported indefinitely in background checks conducted through a CRA. However, there are 9 states that are considered 7-year background check states because they limit reporting of felony or misdemeanor convictions to seven years, unless an exception applies.

The states are as follows:

StateLength of time
CaliforniaReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions (including full pardons, arrests not leading to conviction, and other dismissed records) cannot be reported
KansasReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
MarylandReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
MassachusettsReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years
MontanaReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years
New HampshireReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
New MexicoReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions cannot be reported
New YorkReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $25,000 or more; pending arrests and charges may be reported; non-convictions cannot be reported
WashingtonReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years, unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more

The remaining 41 states, and Washington DC, are sometimes characterized as 10-year background check states, but the term is somewhat misleading, as criminal convictions in those states may be reported indefinitely – for 10 years and beyond. Although these may be 10-year background check states, the FCRA still applies.

There also may be additional considerations for lookback periods, such as:

  • Juvenile Records: Typically, most states have different requirements for juvenile records. Most states keep these records sealed which prevents them from being seen on background checks; however, depending on the severity of the crime committed, these records may be visible. Ultimately, whether or not employers can view juvenile records will depend on state legislation.
  • Court-sealed Documents: Court-sealed documents typically do not show background checks unless candidates are applying for a position as a police officer or peace officer. These records can only be accessed by court order.

FCRA and EEOC guidelines may apply to employers. Additionally, local Ban the Box laws have the potential to impact the timing or consideration of criminal records in the hiring process.

Get a background check with Checkr

How far back background screenings go depends on a number of variables, including federal and state regulations, the scope of a search, and more. To help navigate these complexities and enable compliance, employers may wish to partner with a qualified CRA, like Checkr. Checkr offers multiple background screening options for employers of all sizes. Our modern platform automatically filters out information that is not legally reportable, while our built-in compliance tools help you hire faster with less risk.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Compliance Manager, Danielle analyzes the ever-changing laws and regulations affecting background screening to ensure that Checkr and its customers stay compliant. She also writes content to educate employers about background checks, screening best practices, and fair hiring laws. 

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