How Far Back Does a Background Check Go? [A 2-Minute Guide]

close Eve-Carrie

Updated · May 11, 2023

Online Education Specialist | Joined October 2021

Eve is a lover of everything technology. Figuring out how software works and creating content to she... | See full bio

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We know that background checks are crucial for hiring, but what’s their scope timeline-wise? 

In other words, how far back does a background check go

That’s what we’re here to tell you. We’ll also explain the types and levels of background checks and how you can do one yourself.


What Is A Background Check?

A background check is a process that allows an employer to review the history of a potential employee. It goes beyond the character a possible worker displays during the interview. That means furnishing you with more details that may not be obvious (we’ll get to that in a few).


A company can verify candidates via free online sources. The danger in that method is that it may miss critical information that courts don’t post online.

Another option would be to contact a screening website. Although these background checks come at a cost, they’re often more thorough. They include additional data, such as:

  • Court documents (i.e., criminal records)
  • Credit history reports
  • Education and employment verification
  • Military records (for government background investigations)
  • Driving records 

A background check can be done with the use of a phone number through a reverse phone lookup. There are also free background check sites that you can use if you don't want to spend too much. Popular background check websites can also help with finding someone's social media accounts or addresses using their name or phone number.

How Far Back Does A Background Check Go?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which regulates the practice, limits background checks to seven years. 

But, it’s not always that way.

Here’s why:

If you intend to do an employment background check, how far you can go can sometimes be dependent on your state. Therefore, it’s paramount to familiarize yourself with the federal requirements in your area regarding this. 

For example, some limits are:

  • California - 7 years
  • Colorado - 7 years 
  • DC - 10 years
  • New York - 7 years
  • Maryland - 7 years
  • New Hampshire - 7 years
  • Texas - 7 years

Types of Background Checks

There are many kinds of screening, like:

Pre-employment Checks

Those show if an applicant is suitable for the post. It helps employers protect their business from potential liability resulting from negligent hiring practices. 

For one, it reveals whether they have previous convictions that may threaten the safety of coworkers. That can be through their drug tests or criminal-related data.

There’s more:

It contains previous employment and educational history to show if they have the right qualifications. With this type of screening, employers can only go back seven years. However, you can look further back if you have an applicant’s written consent.

Credit History Checks

Credit background checks are especially vital for positions that involve handling money. They provide insight into how they manage their financial affairs.

This background screening is also beneficial when accessing a person’s creditworthiness when qualifying them for loans, mortgages, or insurance services. 

It shows information like court judgments, auctions, or bankruptcy filings.

By the way, they only show relevant negative credit information. For this reason, they should not affect the person's rating nor reduce their chances of being approved for loans or mortgages if the score is positive.

Credit checks typically go back 7.5-10 years.

MVR Checks

An MVR, aka Driving Record Check, shows an individual's driving history. You can use this background check to consider applicants for transportation jobs.

Their goal is to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities caused by negligence on the driver's part.

The screening verifies that they have no criminal or traffic violations on their records before offering them work. It shows accidents by name, address, state, city, date range, offense date range, etc.

That’s not all:

Car insurance companies use MVR screening. If individuals do not have a clean record, their premiums will be higher than for those with clean records.

An MVR background check goes as far back as when you first got your driver's license. 

E-verify Background Check

E-verify background checks are best for employers looking to verify US citizenship. They can also help you determine if foreign workers have the proper papers to work in the country.

The U.S. Federal government provides them through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

They compare information in an employee's Form I-9 and Employment Eligibility Verification against what’s available in the organizations’ databases.

Still, state law does not allow e-verify checks going back further than seven days.

Identity Verification

This mode of background screening seeks to uncover identity theft. It validates ownership of identification documents like: 

  • school cards 
  • driver's licenses 
  • passports 
  • social security numbers.

The best way is to use their Social Security Number to do a reverse index search. That will bring up the person’s name, address, phone number, and previous employment information. 

Levels of Background Checks

There are several levels of verifications that you can do, and here they are:

Statewide Background Check (Level 1)

Level 1 screening follows Florida’s chapter 435.03 statutes. It’s the most basic and only uses someone’s name to search records. It’s suitable for jobs that don’t need top-notch responsibility and trust.

It includes:

  • felonies 
  • misdemeanors 
  • sexual crimes 
  • drug offenses 
  • outstanding warrants 
  • parole violations 
  • current status in your state. 

By the way, all but two states (Hawaii and Illinois) participate in this. 

Nation-wide Criminal Background Check (Level 2)

This one also follows the state of Florida’s background check laws definition. It goes to a deeper level nationally, using fingerprints to mine for information.

It’s, therefore, best for sensitive jobs that involve dealing with:

  • Kids
  • Elderly
  • Disabled
  • Finances

It displays things like:

  • education& employment history 
  • sexual misconduct
  • abuse 
  • neglect & exploitation 
  • murder
  • solicitation 
  • theft.  

Field-Specific (Level 3)

The State of Florida doesn’t define this one. It’s much more thorough than level 1&2. You can check the criminal history of managerial job applicants that may need licensing, for instance, healthcare. 

It also verifies credentials to ensure you don’t hire someone with fake papers. 

 How To Do Your Background Check

There are steps to doing a background check on someone. Here’s how to do a background check the right way:

  1. Determine the type of check that’ll give you the details you need.
  2. Decide on the resource you’ll use to get the information.
  3. Ensure that you follow applicable federal or state laws.
  4. Sometimes there may be inaccuracies; be sure to double-check the result. So, consider using more than one search method.
  5. Don't query too many questions about someone's personal life that are not job-related
  6. Never do a background check on someone without written consent.

Wrap up

So, how far does a background check go?

Here’s the thing - there’s a limit. Most states allow a search of up to seven years back, which should be ample time to show if someone has turned over a new leaf. It is, however, paramount to follow the background checks’ best practices above. Otherwise, you risk severe penalties.


Do background checks go back more than ten years?

Yes, it’s possible to have a background check that goes back ten years depending on your state, for instance, if in DC.

In addition, if you’re looking for a job with the FBI, it also goes back over ten years. It may search all the way to your 18th birthday!

Does your criminal record clear after seven years?

A criminal record in the United States stays on record for various periods depending on your state, the crime you committed, and whether it's a misdemeanor or felony. 

For example, if you’re doing a background check and screening in Florida, note that misdemeanors last five years.

Additionally, most felonies here last seven years except for murder, which remains on record for life. In North Carolina, nonviolent misdemeanors stay on record for five years.

Then there’s Alabama, where you can petition the court to exempt you from any crimes committed when you were under 18 years old. 

Will a background check show all my jobs?

Yes, a background check will report any involvement on a job as long as it’s on your record. This way, employers can quickly run through your work history to determine whether you have the proper experience to fill the position.

If you are wondering how far does a background check go regarding job histories, well, that’ll depend on how long you’ve been working. Luckily, it’ll not show reasons for leaving a previous post. 




Eve is a lover of everything technology. Figuring out how software works and creating content to shed more light on the value it offers users is her favorite past time. When not evaluating apps or programs, she's busy trying out new healthy recipes, doing yoga, meditating, or taking nature walks with her little one.

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