Do you know what comes up in your federal background check? Even if you don’t have a criminal history, it’s worth knowing what information others have access to. You might have something on your report that isn’t accurate, and unless you investigate, you won’t know.

While it might not be a big deal if your date doesn’t like what’s on your report, that information can be a big deal to a prospective employer.

Background checks provide limited information

A background check usually includes a credit history check, but the type and depth of information an entity is allowed to access is restricted.

In the U.S., the background check process is governed by federal, state, and local laws. For example, employers can run a background check as a pre-employment requirement, but most states only allow employers to access information from the past seven to ten years. While some states allow employers to check a prospect’s criminal history before an interview, states like Oregon and Nebraska don’t.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires compliance with specific regulations to make sure the check is done fairly. For instance, an employer must get permission from applicants in writing to run a background check, and must inform applicants the information might be used in the final hiring decision. If an employer decides not to hire a candidate due to information found in a background check, they must notify the candidate in writing and include a copy of the report plus a copy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s summary of rights.

What exactly is a federal background check?

A federal criminal background check is most commonly conducted when a person applies for a position in law enforcement, in a school, or a federal agency. Many employers in non-government industries also require federal background checks.

Federal employment checks will provide the following limited information:

  • Former jobs including title, salary, and duties
  • Schools attended
  • Degrees earned
  • Driving records
  • Worker’s compensation claims
  • Bankruptcy

The following information is included in a federal criminal background check:

  • Arrests and convictions for criminal offenses. For example: fraud, kidnapping, robbery, and domestic violence.
  • If an FBI fingerprint check is performed, it will verify the identity of the applicant.

A credit report is usually run as well. In many industries, a person’s financial history is used to determine qualifications and security clearance. For instance, someone applying for a position that requires being responsible for millions of company dollars won’t get hired if they have $300,000 in overdue loans.

What can’t be included in a background check?

When a background check is performed by an outside company (a consumer reporting agency), then the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies. The FCRA does not allow the following information to be reported:

  • Bankruptcies more than ten years old
  • Civil suits, judgments, or arrest records older than seven years
  • Paid tax liens older than seven years
  • Accounts placed in collections older than seven years

The above limitations are removed for jobs with an annual salary of $75,000 or more.

Is there inaccurate information on your background report?

A report produced by The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) found background checks often mismatch people with others of a similar name. When that happens, someone else’s criminal record ends up in your report. Other concerns found include:

  • Sealed or expunged information is revealed. For instance, juvenile records that have been sealed sometimes come up.
  • A single charge sometimes gets listed multiple times so it appears to be multiple charges.
  • Misdemeanors are misclassified as felonies.

Do you have records that need to be expunged?

Say you were arrested on suspicion of a DUI a few years ago, went to trial, and were found not guilty. The arrest record will probably show up on a background check. Unfortunately, the fact that you were found not guilty may not show up. That missing information might lead an employer to disqualify you for a job, especially if the job requires a clean driving record.

You need to know what employers and other entities see when they run your background check.

How to dispute information

The FCRA requires all disputes to be filed in writing. Third-party screening companies are allowed 30 days to look into a dispute and decide if it’s valid. If they can’t verify the information, it must be corrected or removed.

Be aware that the source of inaccurate information may not be the agency that compiled the report. Correct the information at the root to prevent future inaccurate reporting. You may need to call the courts, credit providers, and other agencies to find out how to correct the data.

Inaccuracies are worth correcting. Your future employment might depend on those corrections.