How Long Does A Background Check Take? | Full Guide Inside

An employer reading through an employee's background check.

As employers increasingly rely on background checks to vet candidates, it’s important to understand what goes into these checks and how long they take. A lot of information is collected as part of even the most basic background check, including contacting educational institutions, reference checks, social media, aliases, credit bureaus, drug testing, and checking criminal records.

The amount of time it takes for a background check to be completed can vary depending on the type of check being performed and the amount of information that needs to be gathered. In this article, we’ll examine what goes into a background check and how long each step typically takes. We’ll also cover some possible reasons for delays in getting results. Knowing what to expect can help reduce anxiety for job applicants and potential employers alike.


How Long Does A Background Check Take?

The truth is, there’s no precise time for how long a background check takes. Sometimes, it can take 1-3 business days, while complete screenings run through 14 business days or more. Moreover, in an employment history context, the term “background check” involves multiple screenings that can’t be accessed in a single database.

Different sources and databases will need to be checked. The hiring process may include mundane things like:

  • Sorting the list of job applicants
  • Filling out the background check request form for each job candidate
  • Reviewing security clearance information on criminal checks and employment screening
  • Collating release forms
  • Vetting professional references

An employment background check often involves a criminal record check across the county, state, and federal levels. Depending on the state, the background check process may take longer. Basic checks are usually enough for most roles. However, certain roles that require handling sensitive types of information may need a more extensive search.


What Types Of Background Checks Are There?

There are different types of background checks that can be performed, depending on the needs of the employer or organization. Here are a few of the most common background checks available:


— Pre-Employment Background Check

Pre-employment background checks are a process by which an employer investigates the history of a potential employee. This typically includes verifying academic records, professional certifications, and references, as well as criminal and credit checks. Some employers may also check with previous employers. Depending on the position for which you are applying, an employer may also request a driving record or other specialized checks.

The time it takes to complete a pre-employment background check varies depending on the depth of the check and how many schools or employers need to be contacted. In most cases, a basic check can be completed within a few days. More extensive checks may take longer.

For example, if a company is hiring for a position that involves driving company vehicles, they may conduct a driving record check as part of the pre-employment background check. This would involve contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state where the applicant has held a driver’s license in the past seven years. The process of requesting and receiving the records from each state can take a week or longer.


— Criminal Background Check

A criminal background check is when someone looks into your criminal record. This can be done in different ways, depending on how many places someone wants to look. Usually, a state check is the most important one. This can take a few days or weeks to complete across county, state, and federal levels. Different states have different databases and ways of keeping records. So, the amount of time it takes for a criminal background check can vary from state to state. In some cases, an international check may be required. This can add even more time to the process.


— Federal Background Check

Federal background checks are a comprehensive way to check for any criminal activity that has been committed at the federal level. This type of check includes searching through the 94 Federal U.S. courts for violations of specific federal laws. In addition, sex offender registries, county criminal court records, and terrorist watch lists may be consulted as part of the check.

This type of check is typically done for people who will have access to sensitive or confidential information, such as those in executive-level roles or public sector employees. The process usually takes one to three working days to complete.


— Universal Background Checks

A universal background check is a gun background check that is required by law in 22 states. This check is run by the FBI and relies on the idea that all people who have purchased firearms are recorded in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Before a person can buy a firearm, the seller would place a call to the local firearm agency or FBI to ensure they are eligible to buy a firearm. In some cases, the agency may require more time. The law posits that the seller has to wait about three days, and if the FBI can’t give feedback after that time, he should sell the firearm.


Turnaround Times For Other Background Checks

An employer getting ready to submit an employee's background check.

There are several other types of background checks an employer may conduct. We will run through some of them and their turnaround times below:


— Credit History Check

A credit history check is a process used to verify the credit score of a potential employee. This check can take just a few hours, but if the employer is not registered as an end-user of credit reports, it may take up to four days to receive verification from the credit bureaus.


— Driving Record Check

A driving record check is a process used to verify the driving history of a potential employee. The check can take one to three days, depending on where the prospective employee’s license is registered. The driving record check includes DMV points, license status, accidents, and ticket records. Employers request this check as they are vicariously responsible for their employees’ insurance during commercial hours.


— Bankruptcy Check

Bankruptcy checks are conducted to determine if a person has been declared bankrupt. The turnaround time to conduct one is typically 1-2 working days. This type of background check usually includes information from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.


— Fingerprint Background Check

A fingerprint background check is a process used to verify the criminal history of a potential employee. The check is typically performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and can take up to three days to complete.

The FBI manages a database of fingerprints through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This system includes information on over 35 million American citizens. Employers request fingerprint background checks to determine if an employee has a criminal history.

Fingerprint background checks are not always required for employment. They are generally requested for people seeking jobs in government-owned institutions such as airports, schools, federal bureaus, hospitals, and fire departments. Private institutions like the elderly and nursing homes may also request fingerprint checks on job candidates from the FBI.

The turnaround time to complete a fingerprint background check averages three days. However, the check may take longer if the print quality is poor or if one has a criminal history. For people whose fingerprints are not in the FBI database, the agency will record their fingerprints to the IAFIS.


— Identity Check

An identity check is a process used to confirm that prospective employees are verifiable and connected to larger databases. For some employers, looking at a candidate’s driver’s license or identification card will suffice, while some employers trace candidates’ social security numbers. The average turnaround time for an identity check is three days.


Common Reasons For Background Check Delays

Despite the estimated timeframe for background screenings, there are some situations where delays may happen. This may frustrate you when waiting to hear back from a company. We will discuss some of these situations that you should anticipate below.


— Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a United States federal law that regulates the collection, use, and distribution of consumer information. One of the main purposes of the FCRA is to ensure that consumers are fully informed about any potential background checks that may be conducted on them. This includes informing candidates how long the background check process will take, what information will be accessed, and how it will be used.

One of the key provisions of the FCRA is the requirement for employers to get authorization from job candidates before conducting a background check. In many cases, this authorization is requested by sending a background check permit to the candidate. However, sometimes there can be delays in getting this signed permission back from the candidate. This can slow down the entire background check process.


— Weekends & Public Holidays

Background checks can take longer to complete when factoring in weekends and public holidays. This is because the background check process does not run during those times. This can cause delays for job candidates and employers alike. Knowing how these days can impact the background check process can help reduce any frustration that may occur.


— Closure & Third Party Delays

Sometimes, court closures and third-party company delays can create a backlog in the background check process. This is because those organizations are necessary for conducting certain parts of the check. For example, civil and federal background checks require access to court records, which may not be available if the courts are closed. Additionally, third-party companies may be overwhelmed or have other closures that can impact how quickly the background check is completed.


— Undigitized County Court Processes

Delays in getting a background check completed can often be caused by undigitized county court processes. This is because many county courts still rely on paper-based systems, which can slow down the entire background check process. Additionally, companies often have to work manually with a court runner or county Clerk of Courts to get the necessary information, which can add extra time to the process. In some cases, this can cause delays of up to 30 days.


— Multiple-Checks

Sometimes, when you want to do a background check, it can take a long time. That’s because, sometimes, different parts of the background check process can slow down how quickly everything gets done. For example, if the courts are closed or if a company needs to get information from paper records, that can slow things down. Another reason it might take a while is if there are multiple checks that need to be done. That’s because each extra check takes more time.


Getting The Results Of Your Background Check

When you undergo a background check, the FCRA requires that your employer inform you of what negative information was found and provide you with a copy of the background report, as well as a copy of the Summary Of Your Rights Under The FCRA. The process of getting the results of your background check can be lengthy, as it includes communication between the background check company and your prospective employer, as well as a security clearance information review. Sometimes, employers will wait to finish checking all job applicants’ backgrounds before getting back to them. However, if more than a week has passed and you haven’t heard from your recruiter, you should follow up.


The Bottom Line

A background check is a process by which an individual’s criminal and civil history is researched. Background checks are often required for certain jobs, as well as for other purposes such as gun ownership or adoption. The FCRA requires that employers get authorization from candidates before conducting a background check. There are several reasons why the background check process may take longer than expected. These can include court closures, third-party company delays, undigitized county court processes, and multiple checks. In most cases, job applicants should expect to hear back from their recruiter within one week of submitting their background check authorization form. However, if more than a week has passed and they haven’t heard anything, they should follow up.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Does a background check mean you’re getting hired?

No, undergoing a background check doesn’t mean you’re getting hired. It just means you’re being seriously considered for the role you applied for. A background check is usually conducted after the initial selection of prospective employees. Sometimes, companies have to pay for screening services to get the relevant information, which indicates that you are close to getting the job.

However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get hired. The whole point of a background check is to see if you are hirable, and if the company finds negative information during the check, you’ll be rejected. The same applies to job offers. So, if a company has offered you employment and requests your permission to conduct background checks, they may retract the offer if they find something damning. However, the Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates that you be told why you are being rejected.


What is the longest time it takes for a background check?

The length of time it takes to complete a background check depends on a number of factors, including how detailed the check is and how much information needs to be verified. Most checks can be completed relatively quickly, while more in-depth investigations may take several weeks or even months. In most cases, results should be available within two weeks from the date the check was ordered. However, there are some rare cases where delays can occur due to extenuating circumstances. For example, if the subject of the check lives in a remote area with limited access to records or if the records themselves are difficult to obtain. If you’re concerned about how long your background check is taking, it’s best to contact the company conducting the investigation for an update. They should be able to tell you how far along they are in the process and what still needs to be done.


What can you do if your background check comes back with a false positive for drugs?

If your background check comes back with a false positive for drugs, it’s important to take action immediately. First, you’ll need to get in touch with the company that conducted the background check and ask for a copy of the report. This will help you determine where the error occurred and how to correct it. You may also want to consider filing a dispute with the company that issued the report. If all else fails, you may need to contact a lawyer who can help you get the results corrected.


Will my credit score be affected by a background check?

It’s possible that a background check may affect your credit score, but this will depend on the company conducting the check. Some employers will request a copy of your credit report as part of the background check process. This is usually done to get an idea of how responsible you are with money and whether you have any financial vulnerabilities.

If your credit report is pulled, there may be a small dent in your credit score. This is because when someone requests a copy of your credit report, it’s considered a “hard inquiry,” and this can lower your score by a few points. However, if you have a good credit score to start with, the impact will be minimal. And if you have any errors on your credit report, clearing them up could actually improve your score.

So, if you’re concerned that a background check may adversely affect your credit score, contact the company conducting the investigation and ask how they plan to access your report. You should also be aware of how to dispute inaccurate information on your credit report so you can take corrective action as soon as possible.