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How Far Back Do Most Companies Go Back On Background Checks?

It’s common for applicants to feel nervous about background checks. If your past includes criminal behavior, questions about how far back companies go on a background check are common. If that’s not the case and you have a traffic violation or bankruptcy, this question may be a concern. You may be wondering if any of these issues will damage your likelihood of landing a job.

Under most circumstances, potential employers weigh their decision on several factors. First, most employers are conducting background checks that are relevant to the job at hand. For example, if you’re not going to be driving a company vehicle, there’s no need to worry about a traffic violation you had three years ago.

However, if you’re applying for a position where you’ll be handling money or the company’s finances, and you have a bankruptcy or a significant amount of debt, that will raise a red flag with the employer. In the case of bankruptcy, they’re going to look at the date.

However, as far as the debt, they may want an explanation. It’s good to err on the side of caution and prepare to answer any questions related to debt that an employer might bring up.


How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

The answer isn’t black and white. Nationally, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), there’s no limit to how many years an employer can go back when searching during a background check for a conviction. So, if your verdict was twenty-five years ago, they can access this information.

However, the rules for these screenings vary by location because states have different laws. Every state has laws regulating how background check companies can compile reports. Under most circumstances, many locales won’t allow a background check companies to share criminal history information that’s older than seven years.

However, some states allow a background check companies to share information that’s up to 10 years old. That includes a conviction, felony, or misdemeanor. All states have, at the minimum, one of these limitations. So, at some point, criminal convictions should stop showing up on a background screening.


States with the seven-year limit:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Washington

There are some exceptions to the seven-year limit, though. For example, if you’re looking at a job with a salary that’s over $125,000 in California, the employer can check your background for up to ten years. If you’re looking at job prospects in Colorado and Texas with a salary of over $75,000, then the employer doesn’t face the seven-year limit. There’s a $25,000 income exception in the states of Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York. Washington’s income exception is $20,000.

If you weren’t found guilty of a crime, some states would forbid these records from appearing in a background check. These states include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York

There are also states which follow rigorous background check reporting laws. For example, they will indicate both guilty, non-guilty, and felony verdicts for an unlimited number of years.

Those living in the states mentioned above may find it challenging finding a job if you have a felony, even if it’s up to ten to twenty years old. If you find this is your experience, it may be more favorable for you to move to a state where reporting laws are less strict and more lenient.


The Convictions Still Exist

Just because the conviction no longer shows up on the screening, that doesn’t mean it no longer exists. There’s a significant difference between this record no longer showing up and not being accessible anymore. Just because it’s older than ten years, that doesn’t mean potential employers won’t be able to locate it again.

The main reason is that the conviction is still a part of your record. That means, there’s potential for someone to find it somewhere. Employers may locate it on the Internet, a court record, or a newspaper article. Therefore, you must always be honest during any questioning about your past.


Does Your Conviction Appear?

Are you wondering if your conviction is going to appear in a background check? If so, you can search for yourself. That way, you can determine if your criminal record is old enough to pass beyond your locale’s seven or ten-year reporting restriction.

If you see your conviction, you may consider expungement. Remember, there are other convictions besides felonies that you cannot erase. However, some crimes are eligible:

  • If you don’t have any repeat offenses.
  • There’s a certain amount of time that elapses since the crime.


Why Do Employers Order Background Checks?

If your application is for a position in the healthcare, financial, or insurance industry, then the law requires background checks. However, any business can opt to conduct a screening if they choose. When they order a criminal background check, they’ll see your:

  • Full name, date of birth, age
  • Maiden names, aliases, nicknames
  • Current address, phone number, and former addresses within the past seven to ten years
  • Convictions of all felonies, misdemeanors, and sex crimes
  • Court records and arrests (Decrees, docket numbers, judgments, and orders)
  • Civil and Federal tax liens
  • Civil and Federal judgments
  • Federal and State bankruptcies
  • Incarceration records
  • Warrants


About Pending Charges

Don’t forget that, even if you have pending charges, those will also show up on your background check. Again, there’s an exception. The state of Arkansas, for example, won’t show misdemeanor charges. However, the state will still reveal pending charges.

Keep in mind, too, that pending charges show up for particular counties. So, if employers are running a background check for one county and not the entire state, your awaiting conviction won’t show up if it’s in a different county. However, this scenario is rare.


Always Be Honest Regarding Your Past

Even though this may seem scary, and you believe these situations may ruin your chances of landing a job, honesty is always the best option. Plan for what to expect ahead of time. That way, you’re mentally aware of what to expect when questions come up regarding your past.

Avoid trying to justify your actions. Instead, be honest and admit your mistakes. Discuss the changes you’re making in your life and how you’re making improvements. That way, you’re showing your potential employer that you’re honest and trustworthy.


What Are Level 1 and Level 2 Background Checks?

Under most circumstances, those with a felony understand the difference between level 1 and 2 background checks. These are terms that pertain only to the state of Florida. No other locale uses them. So, according to Florida, they are as follows:

  • Level 1: refers to checks occurring by name in the state only in addition to an employment history check.
  • Level 2: a state and national fingerprint check happen. These checks occur when applicants are seeking positions of trust and responsibility.

Therefore, if you’re a felon in the state of Florida, you’ll most likely undergo a Level 1 background check.


Do Felonies Show Up Elsewhere?

If you’re living in one state and convicted a felony in another, there’s a chance it will show up in your background check. Any employer throughout the United States can pull full criminal records for every state. They can access the following information:

  • They can use your current address to find criminal records in their current locale.
  • If other addresses come up in a search, they can continue searching for criminal records in those locations.
  • Employers can conduct a Federal Criminal Records check, which will disclose crimes committed on federal property or any other federal crime.
  • Most companies will also search for sex offenders, homeland security, and nationwide searches to ensure candidates aren’t on these lists.


Ban the Box

Because it’s a concern for many with a felony conviction, mainly when the question arises regarding how far back employers are looking when conducting a background check, the Ban the Box initiative came to fruition. It essentially asks employers to remove the box that asks potential candidates if they’ve ever had a felony conviction. That way, every applicant has a fair shot at presenting their skills and qualifications and landing an interview before background checks occur.

When those who have convictions on their record are applying for a job, they aren’t perceived immediately as criminals. Instead, potential employers view them as equals and won’t reject them on the spot. Thirty states are implementing this initiative since its inception.


Final Thoughts

No matter if you’re applying for a job as a bank teller or childcare provider, you may be wondering what will show up on your background check and how far back your potential employer will go. Prepare yourself by understanding the laws for each state, as well as how the Fair Credit Reporting Act handles them.