How Long Does A Background Check Take?

The most common reason background checks are conducted is for employment purposes. However, there are various other reasons one might need to obtain a background check, like purchasing a firearm, applying to rent an apartment, or serving as a childcare worker or caretaker. Each type of background check is meant to surface different kinds of information about a person, including things like criminal history, incarceration records, court records, and education history.

Generally, the amount of information that is uncovered about a person in their background check will directly correllate with the level of responsibility they will hold in their role. For instance, if someone is applying to volunteer for a children’s organization, their background check might look into criminal history, credible references, and sex offenses to ensure the safety of the children the person will be working with. If someone is applying to rent an apartment, on the other hand, background checks will typically include things like credit history screenings and proof of employment checks.

In this article, we will discuss the types of background checks, as well as answer the common question how long does a background check take?

Types Of Background Checks

Each type of background check scans for different information, but there are several scans that overlap. For example, if a criminal background check is conducted, it will reveal sex offenses, as well as all other criminal offenses. But, there is a background check that is specifically conducted for sex offenses, as well, that does not check for all criminal history. Below, we’ve outlined the main types of background checks, what they are used for, and what the results include.

  • Employment Screening – Employment background checks scan for criminal history, credible references, social security number validation, and education history.
  • Gun Sales – Gun laws have evolved immensely in the United States. To legally purchase a firearm from a Federal Firearm Licensee, one must get a background check though the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This law was put in place when the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed.
  • Volunteering – Many organizations that onboard volunteers will require them to do a background check. This is because volunteers typically work in environments with vulnerable people and children. These checks will scan for criminal history, as well as credible references.
  • Criminal Background Check – Criminal Background checks uncover any criminal history, whether at the county, state, or federal level. They scan for arrests, felonies, misdomeanors, warrants, court records, sex offenses, and incarceration records.
  • Tenant Screening – If you plan to rent a property like a house, condo, or apartment, you will likely have to go through the tenant screening property. This background check scans for criminal and credit history, as well as credible references from previous property managers.
  • Motor Vehicle History – This screening will uncover information about a person’s driving record, like accident history and vehicular crimes.
  • Professional Reference Check – The reference check is typically a part of an employment check but can be used in other screenings for volunteering, etc. It consists of reaching out to previous employers or other professional references to gain a better understanding of a person’s character, temperament, work ethic, and skillset.
  • Credit Check – A credit check can be a part of a Tenant Screening or Employment Screening. It surfaces information about credit card history, past and present loans, mortages, etc.
  • Education History Check – If you are applying for a job that requires a degree, the employer may run an Education History Check where they reach out to the school you graduated from to confirm the degree is legitimate.

Background Check Timeframe

The turnaround for background checks can be influenced by several factors. Some types of background checks will take longer than others. The more involved background checks for things like gun sales and security clearance can take longer than tenant screenings because there are more steps and people involved in the process.

As a general rule of thumb, most kinds of background checks take one to three business days to come back, but it is not uncommon for them to take up to a week. For criminal background checks, the organization conducting the check will use a database to lookup information about the person, such as the National Criminal Database. As long as the database is up to date, the check shouldn’t take long at all.

However, there are several reasons why a background check can take longer than a week or be delayed. If you have pending background check that is taking longer than expected, do not assume the worst. The numbers above just averages, and background checks can easily be stalled at any point in the process. Common reasons for slow turnaround include:

  • Databases may not be updated
  • The third-party company conducting the check has an influx of requests and is taking longer than normal
  • Innacturate information (name, address, date of birth) was sent to the company conducting the scan
  • Difficulty getting ahold of references/sources

How Long Does A Background Check Take for Employment?

Employment background checks are the most common types of background checks. An employee background check generally takes a few business days; however, this number can vary. In some cases, employers who request the background check may recieve the results in as little as one business day, while other checks can take closer to a full week.

The reason employment background checks may take longer than some of the aforementioned checks is because they often require manual effort can be quite thorough. If you are in the running to be hired for a job, employers typically reach out to professional references and academic institutions to verify your experience and history. If the source of the information does not email back or return the phone call prompty, this will delay the background check process.

Employment background checks might also scan a candidate for activity on social media, drug use, motor vehicle history, and credit history. It is a good idea for employers to perform the most detailed checks to ensure potential employees are honest about their backgrounds, as well as safe to bring into the company.

Employers must obtain candidates’ permission before requesting a background check on them, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Hearing From Your Employer After A Background Check

But, if you are a candidate waiting to hear whether you have gotten a job offer or not, waiting for the results of a background check to come in can be a painfully slow process. As much as you may want to reach out to the employer to ask about the status of your screening, it is advisable to be patient and allow them the time and space they need to complete the check with the third-party provider.

Keep in mind, it is extremely common for employers to fill out the wrong information or turn in a background check request form that is not complete. This always adds time to the process because the third-party must contact the employer to correct the information before moving forward with the screening.

How Do Instant Background Checks Work?

We live in a day in age that is all about instant gratification – even when it comes to background checks. While not all background checks can be completed in minutes, there are databases out there that allow for nearly instant results, depending on the information in question. The most popular one is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that the FBI uses to check if a person is eligable to buy a gun. So, rather than waiting days for the results of a criminal background check to come back, the NICS E-Check feature is available at anytime to perform an instant background check.

This database was developed to improve the country’s gun safety, helping to prevent a firearm getting into the hands of someone who is banned from purchasing one. According to the NICS website, “Since launching in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been done, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.”

To learn more about background checks, here is a look at How to Order a Criminal Background Check on Yourself.

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