A background check is a detailed report containing various records and information collected from public and private databases about a person. Background checks are commonly conducted by employers on job candidates, landlords on prospective renters, lenders on loan applicants, and even individuals looking to date someone new.
Background checks can reveal a wide range of personal details and history, including a person’s employment, education, criminal record, credit history, and more. However, exactly what shows up on someone’s background check can vary depending on the type of check being performed as well as local, state and federal laws.
Types of Background Checks
There are a few main types of background checks:
- Criminal Background Checks – Checks for any criminal history like arrests, convictions, incarcerations, probation, etc.
- Employment Background Checks – Verifies past employment history and qualifications.
- Credit Background Checks – Reports credit history and score.
- Driving Background Checks – Checks DMV records for license validity, suspensions, tickets, etc.
- Education Background Checks – Verifies degrees earned and schools attended.
Each type of check focuses on collecting different categories of public records and databases. Some checks like criminal or driving checks may only go back 7-10 years, while others like employment verification may go back further. The scope also depends on federal, state and local laws.
What is Included in a Criminal Background Check
A criminal background check typically contains the following information from federal, state and local databases:
- Convictions – Felonies and misdemeanors. May include severity/degree of crimes.
- Arrests – Arrest records though charges may have been dropped/dismissed.
- Warrants – Outstanding warrants for arrest.
- Incarcerations – Jail/prison stays. May show facilities and dates.
- Parole/Probation – Any current or past probation or parole status.
- Sex Offender Registry – Registration as a sex offender.
- Federal Criminal Records – Offenses tried in federal court.
However, what turns up varies based on state laws. For example, certain states do not allow arrests without conviction or juvenile records past age 18 to be included. The lookback period also varies but is typically 7-10 years.
What Does Not Show Up on a Criminal Background Check
There are a few categories of records that are not included in a criminal background report:
- Dismissed Charges – Charges dropped without conviction.
- Plea Deals -Crimes pleaded down to lesser offenses.
- Pardoned Offenses – Crimes excused by a governor.
- Juvenile Records – Varies by state but sealed when adulthood reached.
- Case Outcomes – Details like prison release are sometimes excluded.
- Marital, Family, or Civil Court Records – Not criminal cases.
- Financial Histories – Included only in credit checks.
What is Checked in an Employment Background Check
Employment background checks are used to verify a candidate’s work history, qualifications and character. They typically include:
- Past Employers – Company names, positions, dates of employment, income and performance.
- Education – Degrees earned, schools attended, fields of study and graduation dates.
- Licenses and Certifications – Professional license verification through issuing source.
- Motor Vehicle Records – Driver’s license validity and history from state DMV.
- Social Media Screening – Review of concerning online content.
- References – Personal and professional references may be contacted.
- Credit History – A credit check may be conducted in some cases.
- Drug Screening – A drug test may be required.
What is Not Included in an Employment Background Check
There are some records employers cannot check or use to make hiring decisions under federal law:
- Arrests not Leading to Conviction
- Expunged or Sealed Convictions
- Juvenile Records
- Dismissed Charges
- Marital or Family Court Records
- Medical Histories
- Financial Bankruptcies More Than 10 Years Old
- Gender or Sexual Orientation
- Physical or Mental Disabilities
- Genetic Information
What is Included in a Credit Background Check
A credit background check collects the following information from an applicant’s credit report:
- Credit Scores – The numerical FICO or VantageScore grade given to credit report.
- Payment History – Pattern of paying bills and debts on time or late.
- Credit Utilization – Percentages of available credit used.
- Length of Credit History – How long credit accounts have been established.
- Credit Inquiries – All creditors ordering applicant’s credit reports.
- Public Records – Bankruptcies, foreclosures, tax liens, judgments.
- Collections – Any unpaid debts in collections.
- Recent Credit Applications – Attempts to get new credit accounts.
What Won’t Appear in a Credit Background Check
Certain information cannot legally be collected or used to make lending or housing decisions:
- Race, Color, Religion, National Origin
- Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity
- Medical History
- Personal Bankruptcies Over 10 Years Old
- Arrests Not Leading to Conviction
- Salary History
- Political Affiliation
What Shows Up on a Driving Background Check
A driving background check provides the following motor vehicle records:
- License Status – Valid, expired, suspended or revoked.
- License Restrictions – Types of vehicles licensed to drive.
- Traffic Violations – Speeding tickets, DUIs, reckless driving, etc.
- At-Fault Accidents
- Failure to Appear in Court
- Failure to Comply with Traffic Laws
- Failure to Maintain Insurance
- Failure to Pay Child Support
What is Not Included in a Driving Background Check
DMV driving records do not include:
- Credit information
- Criminal history
- Medical information
- Personal financial data
- Information unrelated to driving history
What Appears in an Education Background Check
Education background checks verify academic credentials by collecting records from schools and colleges attended including:
- Degrees Earned – Degree titles, majors, graduation dates.
- Schools Attended – Universities, colleges, high schools.
- GPA and Transcripts
- Honors and Awards
What Won’t Appear in an Education Background Check
Educational background checks do not contain:
- Credit reports
- Criminal records
- Driving histories
- Professional records
- Medical records
- Financial information
- Personal life details beyond academics
Types of Records NOT Found in Background Checks
There are a variety of records protected from background checks by federal and state laws:
- Medical histories – Medical conditions, treatments, procedures, etc. Protected by HIPAA.
- Mental health counseling – Psychiatric or psychological care. Protected by HIPAA.
- Disabilities – Physical, mental, or learning disabilities. Protected by Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Family court records – Divorces, child custody, etc. Sealed by states.
- Juvenile records – Sealed when adulthood reached based on state laws.
- Spousal details – Information about a spouse. Marital status can be reported.
- Personal finances – Assets, investments, taxes, expenses. Private unless related to job.
- Military service details – Discharge status and awards may appear but health and personnel records are confidential.
Essentially any details unrelated to one’s ability to perform a job, pay bills or sign a lease are off limits to reporting agencies and background check providers.
Rights Related to Background Checks
Applicants do have certain rights when it comes to background checks performed on them:
- Must be notified and provide consent before a background check is performed.
- Potential adverse action based on results must be disclosed.
- A copy of the background check report must be provided.
- Ability to dispute and correct inaccurate or incomplete information.
- Ability to appeal before adverse action is made final.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), applicants also have a right to expect background checks be lawful, accurate, unbiased and respectful of their privacy.
Background checks can reveal a lot of personal history, but they also have limitations. Different types of checks like employment, criminal, credit or driving checks contain different types of records. However, protected private information unrelated to assessing candidates will not appear. Being informed on what can and cannot show up on a background check is important for minimizing unwelcome surprises or unfair treatment.