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How Long Do Background Checks Take?

The short answer … it depends.

There are, of course, many different types of background checks. And while each type has somewhat of a “typical” turnaround time, they are all contingent on:

  • the amount of information included,
  • various source limitations, and
  • a patchwork of legal requirements.

Some background check reports can be back in a matter of minutes, where others can take up to a week (or even longer, if it involves international searches or a greater search scope). Generally speaking, and under ideal conditions, most reports are returned within 24 to 72 hours.

Employers need to get people to work, organizations need to screen volunteers, and landlords need to rent space as quickly as possible. And to do so, they need accurate information returned quickly. However, there are some unavoidable delays that impact the entire background screening process and consequently, turnaround time.

What Causes Delays?

Understanding what causes delays helps set the right expectations for all parties from the start. Some of the most common causes for delays include:

  • Candidate Authorization. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires candidates to authorize a background check before one can begin. If a candidate does not sign the required forms immediately, there is a delay before the background check process even starts.
  • Court Record Access. While many courts have online portals that share civil and criminal case information, others do not. In those instances, a representative must physically go to the courthouse to obtain the information needed. Additionally, some jurisdictions limit the amount of information available, requiring alternate methods of identity verification. These processes can slow down civil reports, as well as criminal reports.
  • Court Closures. Whether it is from a global pandemic, staffing shortages, natural disasters, or weather events, court closures increase backlogs, which increase turnaround times.
  • International Background Checks. Non-US courts, government bodies, employers, and educational institutions often have their own stipulations that require additional time.
  • Difficulty Verifying Employment and Education Information. At times, businesses or schools may be closed or former employers and school administrators do not respond to requests timely. Additionally, with more people working remotely now than ever before, it is often difficult to reach the individuals needed to verify the employment or education information.
  • Drug and Occupational Health Testing Providers Closed. Similar to courts, if these locations are closed for any reason, the candidate will be delayed getting his or her drug or occupational health tests done, causing delayed turnaround times.
How Can You Speed Up Employment Background Checks?

Many of these factors are outside of your control, as much as they are outside a background screening company’s control. However, there are certain things that can be done to help the process move along more quickly.

  • Give candidates a time limit for authorization and explain that delays on their part will impact their potential employment start date.
  • Encourage candidates to provide any required information as quickly as possible.
  • Communicate any delays with candidates – be transparent to keep their expectations aligned with the process.
  • Start the pre-employment background check process as soon as possible.
  • Encourage candidates to call the lab prior to going for a drug test or other occupational health services to ensure availability.

Hire Image strives to be your trusted background screening resource. If you have any questions about your own background screening processes, please reach out at


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