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How many years back does a background search go?

Quick Summary:

  1. The general time frame for a background search in the USA is 7 years.
  2. Some states might allow a background search that goes back up to 10 years.
  3. Exceptions are applied to background searches for high paying jobs.
  4. Some states limit reporting on criminal history to 7 years, but in most cases all past criminal violations can be reported on.
  5. There are no regulations on how far back you can look into employment or education history.

Full answer:

Generally speaking, a background search is allowed to look at records for the last seven years. However, there are several factors that may change the permitted time frame, such as the state the background search is being run in, and for what reason.

In regard to credit background search, the rules set out by the Federal Government in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) state that:

  • Tax liens (e.g. failure to pay taxes) cannot be reported seven years after payment.
  • Accounts in collection can’t be reported after seven years.
  • Bankruptcies will not be reported after 10 years.
  • Civil suits and judgments can’t be reported after seven years.

Exceptions to these rules apply to background searches being run on potential employees for high paying jobs. What exactly constitutes a high paying job varies from state to state. For example in California, an employer is allowed to look at credit reports going back as far 10 years for a potential applicant who is being offered a salary of at least $125,000.00. As a guideline, the restrictions lift for salaries over $75,000 per year.

Criminal history is not covered by the FCRA, so charges from any time in the reporting state will be included in a background search. A criminal record search can include dismissed cases, though generally does not include arrests or civil citations like speeding tickets. Again there are exceptions in different states, as a few do limit reporting on convictions to seven years from the date of disposition, end of parole, or release from prison, dependent on the salary.  These states include California, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Washington.

Other items that might be included in a background search, like employment history or education records, are not restricted by time, so it is up to the searcher to determine what information is included. These are usually only looked at for a job related background search, so it is up to employer if they want to look at only the last few positions held, or go all the way back to high school education records.

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