The type of background check will influence the timeline. Employers typically have no limit to how far back they can or will go when checking education or employment history. For an education verification check, an employer may seek to check the validity of a college degree earned 40 years ago. Someone’s educational history is just one fact about that person, not a potential piece of adverse information in the same way a bankruptcy case, civil judgment, or criminal record might be.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits the adverse information a background check company or credit bureau can report to an employer. Under the FCRA, background check companies cannot include bankruptcy cases in their reports if the reports are older than 10 years. Other pieces of adverse information—such as tax liens that have been paid off, details about accounts placed into collection, civil suits and judgments, and arrest records—cannot be reported if they are more than seven years old. Because of these requirements, the most common answer to, “How far back do background checks go?” tends to be, “Seven years.”
The FCRA does not have any rules about how long criminal convictions can keep being reported. Based on the FCRA alone, misdemeanors and felonies can be reported on background checks for as long as they are on record. The FCRA is not the only entity passing regulations on this subject: many states have their own laws about how long adverse information can appear on background check reports. These laws frequently prohibit background check companies from reporting any criminal information (including conviction) that is more than seven years old at the time of the check.
Due to these rules, a safe assumption is a background check will go back seven years. In some cases, a background check may include older information—such as a bankruptcy case close to passing the decade mark. For the most part, background check reports tend to be comprised of information from the past seven years.