How Far Back Does a Background Check Go? (2018 Version) 8 Jun 2018


The best practice for any employer is to run a pre-employment screening, or background check, before hiring a new employee. Most people only care about getting a big green checkmark that tells them it’s OK to make a hire, while others want the most complete information possible. If you’re worried about getting the most complete information possible, then you might be wondering how far back an employment check goes.

For example, as a business owner you may wonder, if an applicant committed a crime 11 years ago, will it show up on their report? Or will I never see it?

This question is hard to answer. Laws vary from state to state and they’re constantly changing. But, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. In this post, we’ll look at how far back a background check really goes.

How far back does a credit report go?

There are strict rules regarding credit and finances that pre-employment screening companies need to follow. These are dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and will affect what information will be visible in the background reports you receive. This means that even if your state allows full credit checks, these will still be limited by the FCRA.

What are some limits that the FCRA places on background reports?

  • Bankruptcies can’t be reported after 10 years.
  • Tax liens can’t be reported 7 years after payment.
  • Accounts in collection can’t be reported after 7 years.
  • Civil suits and civil judgments can’t be reported after 7 years.

Does FCRA apply in Minnesota?

Yes, FCRA is applied to pre-employment screenings in Minnesota. This means that credit report results within the state will have the same limitations mentioned above. Additionally, Minnesota passed a law that requires employers to disclose the fact that a pre-employment screening will be completed. The application should also include a checkbox that allows the applicant to request their own copy of the report.

How far back does a criminal background check go?

Criminal background checks are a whole different story. Criminal background checks aren’t limited by a federal act. This means that you could potentially see convictions that happened 50 years ago. While this is beneficial to you as a business owner, it can also create biases against otherwise good candidates.

How can this happen? Imagine that a background report reveals that an older applicant committed a crime when they were 18. This is the only red flag on their background report and since committing the crime they’ve proven themselves to be a reliable employee and well-adjusted person. Will you let this single red flag stop you from hiring them?

This decision is yours alone. But, you shouldn’t immediately dismiss the application based on this offense. Instead, you should follow fair hiring rules and regulations and determine whether or not this conviction will affect their eligibility for the role.

Depending on the level of responsibility or the type of conviction you might decide to overlook the conviction and hire them anyway. By thinking carefully through this decision, you’ll benefit from a broader pool of talent than those at other companies.

Are there any limitations on criminal background checks?

While there are no federal limitations, 12 states (at the time of writing this article) have passed their own laws to limit how far back a background check can go. These laws go into effect depending on the salary of the position being applied for and limit the criminal background check for convictions to 7 years.

States that limit criminal background checks by salary:

  • Up to $20,000: Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington.
  • Up to $25,000: New York.
  • Up to $75,000: Colorado and Texas.
  • No salary cap: California, Montana, Nevada (credit only), and New Mexico (in certain cases).

However, once these salary limitations are exceeded, then the 7-year limit is no longer applicable and you’ll be able to view a full background report.

Do I Need to Ask Permission to Run Reports?

Remember, an employer must get the applicant’s permission to run a background check for employment purposes. FCRA requires that employers provide a notification and explanation to applicants. Once they consent, only then can the employer run the report. Make sure you learn which important steps you must take when running a legal background check so you get all the information you need while following regulations.

Need a Reliable Background Check?

If you’re thinking of hiring a new employee and wondering what information will appear on the background check, then reach out to a member of our team. They’ll be able to help you decide exactly which checks are right for your company, industry, location, and the job opening you’re advertising. This will give you peace of mind and keep you compliant. Contact us today to learn more.