The Time Frame for a Background Check

by Wanda Thibodeaux; Updated September 26, 2017
Most investigators have to access your fingerprints and other identification information for a background check.

Background checks are a procedure in which a person requests information about your past, specifically in regards to whether you have engaged in criminal activity. Employers frequently use background checks to make hiring determinations. It is helpful to have a guide for how long a background check will take so that the hiring process can proceed smoothly and an employee can start work when the employer needs him to do so.

Basic Guide

A simple, uncomplicated background check can be returned in one to three business days. Depending on how much information is required, however, background checks may take up to a month and a half. If significant problems arise during the check, the check may take even longer.

Level and Amount of Information Requested

Most background checks are requested from employers, and employers typically just want the basics of your criminal history, if there is one. Employment background checks thus don't require the investigator to dig as deeply into your records. These and similar checks subsequently tend to come back faster, usually within three days. If you are requesting a complete criminal records check, however, it usually takes at least a week to get the results. If you are requesting a background check for something that needs an extremely high level of trust — for example, a federal government position — the check can take up to a month, because investigators gather more data about the person named in the report.

Time

Background checks can vary in terms of how far back they go. For instance, most employers go back seven years. A background check for a federal job, however, could include all the years a person worked in similar jobs. If you are determined to find out a great deal of information, the check can extend as far back as desired, provided you find an investigator willing to do that amount of work. The longer the period covered in the background check is, the longer it will take to hear back due to the increase in information involved.

Identity Confusion

One issue that sometimes results in an extension of the time it takes to hear back on a background check is identity confusion. This occasionally happens when one or more individuals make an error during the processing of the check, such as hitting “8” instead of “7” on the keyboard while entering a Social Security number in a computerized system. Mistakes sometimes happen if you request information about a person who has a name that is similar or the same as someone else's. Some problems also result because of fraud and identity theft; if these appear on a background report in any area, it can take several months to clear up the issues with different agencies so that the background check is accurate.

Bottom Line

In general, how long it takes to get your background check results depends on the amount and level of information you request, the accuracy of the data provided and used and the ability to complete the check without human error. All these factors basically mean there is no set standard for how long a background check should take, as every case has to be viewed individually. Usually, if a background check takes longer than average, it is because the investigator is waiting to hear back from others, not because the investigator is doing poor work.

About the Author

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.

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