How Far Back Does a Background Check Go

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Updated · Sep 29, 2023

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April Grace Asgapo
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April Grace Asgapo


April Grace Asgapo
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
April Grace Asgapo

April is a proficient content writer with a knack for research and communication. With a keen eye fo... | See full bio

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How far a background check goes depends on the category of information being inquired for. For example, criminal background checks can go from seven years to an indefinite time, bankruptcies as far as ten years, and so on.

Since 87% of employers run background checks as a pre-employment requirement, it is important to know how far the lookback periods go to set expectations and clear up possible inaccuracies.

This article will tackle the specifics of the lookback periods for certain background check categories and the corresponding regulations for several states.

Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways 

  • Generally, background checks go as far back as seven years. The actual lookback period depends on the type and purpose of the background check.
  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides rules on how far employers can examine an applicant's private information on the federal level.
  • States can create laws that go beyond the scope of the FCRA with provisions that are not preempted by federal law.

The Lookback Period of Background Checks

Background checks typically include seven years' worth of court and criminal records. However, federal and state employment laws may constrain the lookback period.

The lookback period may be influenced by the candidate's and the searcher's locations. Also, the kind of background check and how much history can be lawfully searched and used are factors.

 the length of each type of background check go:

Here's the length of each type of background check go:

Pre-employment background checks

Typically go back seven years. They can extend further, depending on the government regulations and the specific type of searchasked for.

Bankruptcy checks

This could date back up to ten years.

Credit history checks

It could cover a minimum of 7 years. More history might be accessible depending on the candidate's expected salary and the state's rules. 

Some states may prohibit employment decisions based on some type of credit data or prohibit credit information for background checks altogether.

Criminal background checks

Depending on the state where the candidate resides or works, convictions may be reported indefinitely or for only seven years.

Misdemeanors and minor infractions

Misdemeanors may be reported indefinitely or for a limited period of 3, 5, or 7 years.

Driving record checks

While some states may store records for three years, others store DMV records going back five, seven, or ten years.

Educational history

It can be verified throughout the candidate’s lifetime. However, some background check providers may have a seven-year history limit.

Employment history

May cover an indefinite time, but certain background check providers may only look back seven years.

Professional license verification

May cover an indefinite time, but certain background check providers may limit to collecting seven years of history.

Tenant background check

Landlords may look back from seven to ten years.

As a federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) encompasses all states regarding background checks. States may pass FCRA-like laws as long as they go beyond the federal law’s scope.

More about the FCRA in the following section.

Helpful Articles: Check out Techjury’s article on what a background check consists of and learn the specific information gathered for each category of inquiry.

FCRA Background Check

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was created to protect people's private information in pre-employment and other types of background checks. This law covers the following:

  • Employment history;
  • Credit history;
  • Criminal records; and
  • Payment history for bills.

🎉 Fun Fact:

You have the right to one free credit report check every 12 months. Reviewing your credit report won't negatively affect your credit score.

Under the FCRA, an employer must secure written consent before conducting an applicant's background check. They should also allow the candidate to respond to any discoveries preventing them from being employed or promoted.

Regarding lookback periods, the FCRA prohibits consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), like the national credit bureaus and third-party background check providers, from disclosing the following:

  • Bankruptcies that occurred more than ten years ago as of the report's date;
  • Civil suits and judgments, and records that date back more than seven years from the report's date;
  • Paid tax liens more than seven years old as of the report's date;
  • Unpaid bills that are turned over to collections accounts more than seven years old;
  • Any other unfavorable information that is more than seven years old, except criminal convictions.

✅ Pro Tip:

Choose a screening provider that has received accreditation from the Professional Background Screening Association to ensure compliance with the FCRA – one such provider is First Advantage. Read through Techjury’s First Advantage review to learn more about this accredited credit reporting agency.

On the other hand, it permits background check providers to disclose the following:

  • Arrests for up to seven years, even when no charges are filed, and
  • Court proceedings that resulted in a not-guilty verdict for up to seven years.

These "non-convictions" may include:

  • Charges being dropped before trial;
  • Not guilty trial results; or
  • When an individual qualifies for dismissal of charges after completing the diversionary program.

Some states, however, remove the 7-year restriction when someone applies for a specific wage amount. For instance, background checks are only permitted for seven years in Kansas and Maryland unless the expected income is $20,000 yearly.

Let’s take a look at how long background checks go in different states. 

Lookback Periods for Different States

Employers can check a candidate's criminal history as far back as they want. Older offenses, however, may not always carry the same weight as recent ones.

However, different states have their own rules. Here's a list of states that have enacted laws with additional restrictions:




California Labor Code §432.7 forbids employers from inquiring about an applicant's prior arrests that did not result in convictions, sealed or dismissed convictions, or any finished diversion programs.

Generally, only seven years are allowed for criminal convictions to be published. 

The following are the exceptions:

  • Employers may look back ten years for employment with salaries over $125,000.
  • Arrests that do not result in conviction or fully granted pardons cannot be reported.
  • Marijuana misdemeanors may only be reported for two years from the disposition date. It is against the law for employers to look for or consider this information when making hiring decisions.
  • Transportation networks permit consumer reporting agencies to include convictions that occurred more than seven years ago when creating reports. Criminal cases still in court cannot be reported.


The First Offender Act states that employers are not allowed to reject a candidate for a job based on a criminal record that has been properly deleted.

There are exceptions for specific occupations, such as the following:

  • Working with children or vulnerable groups; and
  • Peace officer positions.


Hawaii Revised Statutes §378-2.5 forbids employers from checking a candidate's criminal history before making a conditional job offer. Employers are also prohibited from taking felony convictions over seven years old and misdemeanor convictions over five years old.

Employers should only consider convictions if they directly relate to the job requirements.


Employers cannot consider a criminal record older than seven years. An exception is when the position will pay $20,000 or more per year.


Employers cannot consider criminal histories older than seven years. An exception to this is when a job pays $20,000 or more annually.


Background checks cannot include non-convictions, according to Kentucky Revised Statute §367.310. Can only report convictions without time restriction.


Massachusettes General Law 151B §4(9) forbids employers from inquiring about the following:

  • an arrest or charge that did not result in a conviction;
  • a first-time conviction for a specific crime; or
  • any misdemeanor conviction of more than three years.


Only seven years are allowed for criminal convictions to be published. Unless the salary equals or exceeds $20,000, the restriction is seven years for felonies and three years for misdemeanors.

New Hampshire

Employers cannot consider any criminal record older than seven years. It does not apply when the yearly compensation of the employment in question is $20,000 or more.


"Clean Slate" bills adopted in 2020 restrict the data employers can access when searching a candidate's criminal background.

  • If a person has gone seven years without a conviction, some non-violent convictions will be set aside from their public criminal record.
  • Qualified felonies older than ten years and misdemeanors older than seven will be automatically set aside.

New Mexico

New Mexico Statute §56-3-6 makes reporting things older than the specific time unlawful. 

This includes:

  • Lawsuits of more than seven years from the date of entry and arrest; and
  • Convictions of more than seven years.

However, the seven-year limit is not applicable when the salary is $20,000 or more.

New York

Employers are not permitted to inquire about an arrest or charge that did not result in a conviction under New York Human Rights Law §296.16. Employers cannot consider a criminal record older than seven years unless the salary is $75,000 or more yearly.


Employers cannot consider a criminal record older than seven years unless the position's salary is $20,000 or more annually.


Under Wisconsin Statute §111.322, employers are not permitted to treat a person differently because of their arrest or conviction history. 

However, §111.335(3) allows employers to consider criminal records closely linked to employment.


Employers cannot consider any criminal record older than seven years unless the yearly compensation is $20,000 or more.


Except in cases where the income is $75,000 or more, the limit is seven years.

To sum up, US states can be divided into “seven-year” or “ten-year states.” All of the states mentioned above belong to the “seven-year states” except for Georgia, Colorado, and Kentucky.

The rest of the states belong to the “ten-year states,” though this term can be misleading as the lookback period for these territories can go indefinitely.

Wrapping Up

States have different laws on how far back they can do a background check. It includes elements like the kind of background check, concerning job position, and compensation.

To maximize an applicant's chances of success, candidates must be honest about their background information and provide accurate information.


How long are most background checks?

A background check should typically take two to five business days. Each person's background is unique, and circumstances can extend this duration.

What are the red flags in a background check?

Employers should look for potential red flags, including criminal convictions related to the work, fraudulent employment or education history, discrepancies in personal information, or negative professional preferences.

Does a background check show search history?

Although terms like "big data" and "the internet of things" could give you the impression that everything you do online can be tracked, background checks do not reveal your search history on search engines.


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