How Long Does a Background Check Take?

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Most adults have probably had at least one or two background checks. A background check is almost always required when buying a car, renting or buying a home, or applying for a job. These reports verify past education, employment, criminal, and credit history.

So, what is a background check? How long does a background check take?

What Is a Background Check?

A background check ensures that an individual is who they say they are. These reports get information on any criminal activity, credit reports, education history, employment history, medical history, and even the use of social media.

Prospective employers commonly use background checks to screen potential candidates. The main reason to utilize this tool is an attempt to prevent any sexual harassment or physical violence in the workplace. It also relieves the employer of certain legal liabilities.

Informal background checks, such as people searches, can also be conducted by anyone. With an advanced Google Search or a paid subscription to third-party companies, anyone can search someone else's name and basic information to learn a little more about the people around them.

Background checks are also routinely used for major purchases, loans, and rentals. These screenings usually check for any criminal record and credit history.

History of Background Checks

Background checks do not have a long history. In fact, they are not even 30 years old.

The first negligent hiring laws went into effect in the early 1900s. Over the next 60 years or so, various employers were held responsible for criminal acts committed by their employees, especially in public-facing positions. By the 1970s, employers were digging a little deeper into prospective employees to lessen the chances of liability.

This deeper look into candidates included the beginnings of employment and education verification.

Companies were desperate by the 1990s. They needed to have a professional service that could run background checks. Ensuring safety in the workplace was and continues to be of the utmost importance.

In 1998, the FBI launched the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This system conducts background checks for those interested in buying a firearm.

In 2003, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) was founded to create background checking services. Their main goal was for companies to remain objective and ethical while reporting.

Types and Lengths of Background Checks

There are several types of background checks for different purposes. The different types of background checks may vary in length. The most commonly used background checks include:

  • Employment
  • Criminal
  • Education
  • Credit History

The time background checks take can range from a few minutes to a few weeks, depending on the type and purpose of the report.

Employment Background Check

Employers will conduct background checks for several reasons. Unfortunately, employers cannot always count on an applicant to be honest about the job history on their resume. One reason an employer runs a background check is to verify that the applicant is honest about prior employment. This search will give them a clear idea of the candidate's work history.

Work history is a little more tricky than criminal history. Employment history doesn't typically go through an automatic system like the criminal background check. Finding and contacting previous employers and references to verify employment history may take a while. Applicants with a long work history could take weeks to complete.

Criminal Background Check

Another reason an employer will check any potential applicant's background is to decrease liability. Companies have been held accountable for the actions of employees in the past. In an effort to provide a safe working environment, employers will check for any violent or criminal behaviors.

Federal Firearm Licensees also conduct background checks for individuals interested in purchasing firearms. This check will ensure that the buyer does not have a criminal history or is ineligible otherwise to own it.

Criminal background checks for employment are usually complete within five business days. Generally, when applying for a government or federal level job, the report will not take any longer than other jobs. However, if the applicant needs specific security clearances, the background check goes deeper and could take up to two weeks.

Education Background Check

Employers may want to confirm the education listed on the resume. Applicants are more commonly listing education on their resumes as more people have access to higher education. Employers needed a way to verify attendance and completion of any degrees.

Education background checks are not automatic through third-party systems like credit and criminal history. To confirm education, employers usually request a sealed transcript or a copy of the diploma. Some employers call the institution attended by the applicant.

Education screening doesn't take any longer than submitting the required documents. It may take a little longer if the employer decides to call and verify with the institution.

Credit Background Check

There are several reasons to check credit history. Credit reports give information on the applicant's bank accounts, loans, and credit card balances. These credit history checks are processed to check credit for small purchases that require financing, like furniture or a car. They are also for those renting or buying a home. It will detail the candidate's payment history, credit, and debt amounts.

Credit background checks can return in as little as a few minutes. Credit reports can take up to a few days to return, depending on the circumstances.

Tenant Background Check

Landlords regularly run background checks on prospective tenants. Landlords are typically interested in criminal history, employment verification, and credit reports.

The time it takes to get the necessary information for a tenant application varies, depending on the information. Criminal checks take a few days to a few weeks. Recent pay stubs are usually used as a form of current employment verification. Credit history can return anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.

What Happens After a Background Check?

Applicants may or may not hear from the company specifically about a background check. The application process will continue to move forward automatically when a background check returns with no issues. The employer, or interested party, has to explain the reason if the applicant did not clear the background check.

There are a couple of reasons a background check could take longer than usual. One reason is inaccurate or inconsistent information. If this is the case, the applicant may need to clarify. Another reason is that the company running the report has some delay. When in doubt, check with the company or person running your background check.

Will It Show Up on the Background Check?

Background checks give a lot of information; however, not everything will show on a background check forever. Lesser offenses like misdemeanors and debt settlement may drop off a background check after seven years. Some of these regulations vary by state, so you should reach out to an attorney if you have any questions.

Most criminal charges will show up on a background check. Even when not convicted, the record can show for up to seven years. After seven years, it will drop off the report. Expunged or sealed records do not show up on the check.

Convictions will remain on a background check forever. The employment industry standard for background checks is seven years, so charges older than seven years may not show up unless the employer specifically looks deeper. Professions like childcare, medical positions, and financial services may look more carefully at any charges on a record.

Just because it shows up on a background check does not mean the employer will not hire the applicant. Charges older than seven years, and assuming it was an isolated incident, may be overlooked in the hiring decisions. It may not make sense to hold a small charge against a candidate from a long time ago.

Employers can also check credit history. Credit reports go back seven years. Bankruptcy may remain on the credit history report for up to ten years. Credit checks are not typically included in pre-employment checks, but some professions like financial services will check credit history.


How long does a background check take? Background checks can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks to be completed, depending on the inquiry. Credit checks can quickly run in a matter of minutes. Criminal history is usually complete within five business days. Employment and education verification can take companies longer to call and verify.

Background checks have only been around since 1998. Third-party companies have made various background checks widely accessible to the public over the last few decades.

Background checks are routine in the modern world. These reports are regularly used by salespeople, landlords, and employers. Background check information depends on the person or company running it. Criminal history, credit history, previous employment, and education verification are the most frequently requested.

These screenings can sometimes be stressful for the applicant and hiring personnel. This research can help an employer or approver know more about the candidate. These background checks can help mitigate liability and safety threats to companies.


Reference Legal Explanations

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  • " How Long Does a Background Check Take?". Legal Explanations. Accessed on June 14, 2024.

  • " How Long Does a Background Check Take?". Legal Explanations, Accessed 14 June, 2024

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