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How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

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For those familiar with background checks (something felons know all too well), it can seem as though the results go back to the beginning of time, well at least the time in a felon’s lifetime. 

It can feel like everything he or she has ever done or thought about doing shows up when that dreaded check is run. It’s like no detail is overlooked when applying for a job. Even things a felon has not done may seem as though they will be discovered. 

This blog post will take a look at how far back a background check goes.

  • Federal Regulations
  • Time Limits
  • Reporting Felony Convictions
  • Can You Run a Background Check on Yourself?
  • Recommended Action


Federal Regulations

Background checks provide employers with information regarding potential employees’ arrest records and criminal convictions along with other essential information. An employer can conduct a background check internally or through an external agency to ensure the accuracy and privacy of information obtained in a credit or background check.  

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a law designed to protect consumer rights. The FCRA requires employers to obtain employees’ written permission before asking a consumer reporting agency to conduct a background check.

Time Limits

The FCRA sets time limits on reporting of certain information. The FCRA sets national standards on times for any checks performed by outside reporting agencies. This time limit does not apply when employers conduct their own in-house check.

Here is a rough guideline for reporting of information for a background check based on credit, criminal, and educational information:

  • Bankruptcy – Ten years
  • Most credit history, including collection accounts – Seven years
  • Tax liens are not allowed to be reported from more than seven years after it has been paid.
  • Negative information such as civil judgments and civil suits will not be reported after seven years.
  • Felonies – Lifetime unless expunged
  • Misdemeanors – Lifetime or seven years based on the state where was committed
  • Education – Lifetime

Time limits on background checks are subject to regulation by the federal government. Employers and employees should know their rights. 

Reporting Felony Convictions

The FCRA allows criminal convictions to be reported at any time with no restrictions. Some states still follow the seven-year rule.

There is no time limit in reporting a felony conviction. A felony arrest can only be reported for seven years. The following states restrict reporting information on any case seven years from the date of the position, and parole, release from prison:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada 
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Washington

Non-convictions are reportable for seven years. Convictions can be reported without any time limitation. The so-called “seven-year rule” came from the fact that arrests can only be reported for seven years.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows felony arrests to be reported on background checks for seven years after release from prison. Felony convictions can be reported as far back as the employer chooses to go. That, of course, includes a ten-year span.

There are several states that do not allow the use of any case older than seven years whether there was a conviction or not.  

Many employers check only five to seven years history when hiring applicants. Occasionally, for positions of greater significance, an employer might choose to go back further that seven years. For positions with a salary of $75,000 or more the seven-year rule does not apply. 

The exception for reporting a conviction is when felons have had their records expunged or sealed at the time of the background check. These records would not appear on a background check after seven years.  

Can You Run a Background Check on Yourself?

Yes, you can run a background check on yourself. Not only can you run a background check on yourself, it is strongly recommended to do so. As a felon, you need to know what a background check will show to a potential employer. 

The different kinds of individual background check that felons can run on themselves include:

  • Court records  
  • Credit report
  • Driving records 
  • Educational report 

Felons can prepare themselves with the information required to be successful in applying for a job. This can be accomplished instantly by using the right source to run a background check on themselves. 

Don’t hesitate to consult an attorney as part of the process. Take action and don’t risk a chance on the results.  

Recommended Action

Resources are available to get the information you need, and it can be done quickly. Be smart about it and go into any situation prepared with the information that can make a critical difference in being successful. 

Remember, it is important for felons to be honest in disclosing any conviction. Revealing felony convictions provides felons the chance to explain their situation and describe the circumstances of their crime. 

It is not about the mistakes you make but in how you recover from them that makes all the difference.

So what do you think about this blog post about how far back a background check goes? Have you or someone you know had a background check run? What was that like, how far back did it go, and what were the results? Please tell us in the comments below.

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