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How Far Back Can a Reference Check Go?

As an employer, you should know the ins and outs of candidate background checks and how far back they can extend so that you can make informed, responsible decisions. When all is said and done, it’s about hiring the right people and reducing risk to your current team members, clients, visitors, and your company reputation.

In general, background checks cover seven years of criminal and court records, but they can go further back, depending on compliance law and what exactly is being searched. It pays to take a closer look at this seven-year industry standard, as well as the dictates set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

What FCRA Allows

You’re probably familiar with FCRA, the federal law that helps ensure the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in consumers’ credit bureau files. In order for you to remain FCRA compliant as you conduct background checks, applicants must complete and sign a release form before the process can begin. You are also required to provide applicants with A Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA.

FCRA sets specific guidelines around how far back a background check can search in a candidate’s history. Consumer reporting agencies may not report any of the following information:

  • Title 11 or bankruptcies older than 10 years.
  • Civil suits, civil judgments, or arrest records older than seven years.
  • Paid tax liens older than seven years.
  • Collections older than seven years.
  • Adverse information outside of criminal convictions older than seven years.

What State Laws Dictate

In addition to federal regulations, you need to know, understand and stay current on laws that apply in states where your candidates live and work as they apply to background checks. For instance, several states have ban the box laws, which may prohibit you from asking questions about a person’s criminal history on your job application.

In some states, reporting restrictions apply only if a candidate fails to meet a certain salary threshold. These states and their income exceptions include:

  • California: $125,000
  • Colorado and Texas: $75,000
  • Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York: $25,000
  • Washington: $20,000


To stay compliant with federal, state, regional, and local guidelines and keep your organization and its people safe and risk-free – you need unparalleled expertise in all aspects of the laws that apply to background checks. Don’t settle for just any background screening service. Instead, turn to the experienced professionals at Chane Solutions. Read our related posts or contact us today to learn more.

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