Why is My Background Check Taking So Long?

Last Updated:
April 7, 2023

Background checks are stressful, especially when they take much longer than they should! A normal background check should be over in a few days or weeks, if not faster. But in some cases, background checks can take many weeks or months to resolve, leaving you continuing to search for a job and wondering whether the interview you sat for was worth anything at all.

If you're not sure why your background check is taking so long, you've come to the right place. We'll break down the likely causes of background check delays and explore the average amount of time you should wait for a background check in detail.

How Long Do Background Checks Take?

Generally, background checks take anywhere between five business days to up to two weeks. Most take less than seven business days, though.

The majority of background checks examine candidate histories for things like criminal convictions, DUI convictions, speeding tickets, employment and educational history, etc. Provided that you give your employer accurate information, your background check will usually go smoothly.

Note that businesses and employers don’t usually perform background checks themselves. Instead, they outsource this labor to third-party, specialized background check agencies. The agencies take your information and do all the necessary research to verify your identity and that you have the credentials you say you have.

Factors That Can Affect Background Check Length

Background check length, while usually being less than a week, can be affected by a wide range of factors. These factors include:

  • Record location. If records are accessible (and more importantly, digitized), background checks usually go much more quickly
  • Information accuracy. If you provide accurate information to your prospective employer, and that employer provides information to the background check company, your background check will be completed more quickly, too
  • Comprehensiveness of the background check. Many jobs don’t require especially comprehensive background checks, like rideshare positions. However, some jobs, like government positions, require much more in-depth and thorough background checks, so these take longer as a matter of course
  • Credentials required for the position. If a position requires lots of credentials, like licenses or degrees, that’s more information that the background check agency has to investigate and verify. In contrast, many entry-level positions don’t require any certificates or licenses, so they are finished more rapidly in many cases

Some background checks can take several weeks or even a few months to complete. If you believe your background check has been delayed, it helps to ask your employer about the reason for the delay or to inquire at the background check agency’s website.

Why Might Your Background Check Take Longer Than Usual?

Your background check might take longer than usual for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a deeper look at some background check delay causes and factors one by one.

The Check Requires Physical County Records

In some cases, one element or another of your background check might require access to physical county court records. Every county has its own court system, but only some counties have updated their records to make them fully digitized. Digitized records are easy to access; physical ones require someone to be at the county clerk's office and physically retrieve those records, then relays the important information to the background check company.

Put simply, if your check requires physical county clerk records, expect it to take a little longer than usual. For instance, if the county’s offices are closed for a given day, the background check company has to reach out to that same county later to request the necessary information. This isn’t incredibly common these days, but it is more common with remote communities or smaller towns that may not have modernized their county records systems.

County Court Delays

Similarly, local county courts might be delayed for many different reasons. Some examples include:

  • Court outages. This happens when the courts are closed for federal holidays, there's a lack of staffing, etc.
  • Staffing issues. Again, if a county court or clerk’s office doesn’t have enough staff to run the place efficiently, it may be some time before they can provide a background check agency with the necessary records
  • Backlog challenges, which are more common during seasonal hiring spikes or major national events. As an example, COVID-19 delayed many background checks because lots of counties closed their courts. This resulted in a background check backlog that had to be worked through in the weeks and months following the worst of the pandemic

Essentially, anything that could delay a local county from retrieving important records could also delay your background check as a result. If the delay goes on for long enough, many third-party background check agencies will alert their clients or job candidates to the issue.

Third Party Verification is Needed

Sometimes, a background check depends on being able to verify information with knowledgeable third parties. As an example, if you have a college degree and your job requires that degree, the background check agency for your prospective employer will double-check that you got the degree from your claimed school.

But what happens if that school is closed or if it doesn't have enough staff to keep up with background check requests? In these cases and more, third-party verification can be delayed, resulting in a delay in your background check as well.

Third-party verification is needed for licensing, credentials, and other background check information. If a background check company has to contact a specific individual, delays can also vary widely. 

Slow Responses from Third Parties

By the same token, if the background check company needs information from a third-party agency or individual, you're somewhat dependent on the third party responding promptly. If the company or individual in person doesn't respond quickly, your background check's overall results will be delayed to some extent.

Good background check agencies know how to contact individuals or companies through many different communication channels. But some agencies are less industrious and don’t put as much effort forward, which could result in significant background check delays.

State Regulations

Many states have different regulations regarding background check processes and timelines. For example, some states don’t allow background check companies to request records for bankruptcies or criminal convictions of longer than seven years prior to the date of the background check. Other states allow criminal convictions to remain on candidate records and definitely.

Depending on the state in which your job will take place, and the state in which your background check company operates, state regulations can have a positive or negative effect on your background screening. Some states facilitate much faster screenings, while others often result in background check delays. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to circumvent these potential delays.

Incomplete Records

From time to time, a background check might encounter incomplete data records. Many background check companies pride themselves on providing comprehensive, accurate information for clients. But if records aren’t maintained properly, or if records don’t have enough information to verify their legitimacy, the background check company may need to look elsewhere for the same information.

Incomplete, inaccurate, or out-of-date information can delay the background screening process severely. This can include minor mistakes like accidental or incorrect spellings or inaccurately labeled information.

Unfortunately, incomplete records can be present at every step of the background check process, including requesting records from local county courts, requesting federal records, and even requesting records or information from your previous or current employer.

Additional Research is Needed

Many background check agencies are forced to undergo additional research to complete a background screening for a job candidate. That’s doubly true given the widespread rise of new information protection legislation and policies, particularly regarding digital records.

Research takes time, especially for jobs where security is a premium concern (such as federal or government jobs). The more research that is needed for a background check, the longer your check will take from start to finish.

Generally, background check agencies need additional information to match candidate records in cases where:

  • A job candidate has a very common name, or if there are multiple individuals with the same name or similar names in a local area
  • Public access to certain records, such as full date of birth or birth certificate, is limited by local courts or other systems

Candidate Mistakes

When you submit to a background check, you also state that the information you have provided to your employer is accurate to the best of your knowledge. But everyone makes mistakes. If you made one or more mistakes with your personal information, the background check company might need to contact you for additional information.

For example, you might accidentally put down the wrong Social Security number by substituting one digit for another. If this happens, the background check agency might be confused about who you really are or what your identity is. They may reach out to you so you can correct the inaccurate Social Security number or fix other issues.

That’s one reason why it’s important to make sure you only provide prospective employers with 100% accurate information. Any mistakes can delay your background check process and potentially cost you an excellent job opportunity.

Exceptions/Requests for Additional Information

Exceptions occur when background check agencies do not get additional information that they need to complete their screening processes. For instance, a background check agency may send you an email and a letter stating that it needs additional info to finish your background check. If you miss both the email and the letter, your background check will be put on hold for a time before being rejected entirely.

In the midst of a job hunt, be sure to check both your email and your physical inbox regularly. Any communications from a third-party screening agency should be answered promptly. The faster you respond to requests for additional information, the faster those companies can complete the background screening process.

Is a Background Check Delay a Bad Sign?

Not necessarily. It depends on the nature of the delay and why your background check is taking so long.

For example, if your background check is taking so long because the agency needs records from a remote county clerk's office, is nothing you can do to fix the issue, nor can you accelerate the process at all. It's not a sign that the employer doesn't want to hire you or that your background check has inaccurate information. It's just an annoyance that you have to deal with.

In contrast, a background check delay could be a bad sign for your employment prospects if it is related to inaccurate information. For example, if you receive a notice from the background check agency asking for clarification about your records, and you provide that information promptly, further delays might indicate that the background check agency has made a mistake.

Again, it’s a good idea to contact the agency and inquire as to the status of your background check if you are concerned. Or you can ask your employer to inquire with the agency themselves.

If your background check has erroneous information, which delays your results or causes you to lose a job offer, you have the right to file a dispute letter with the background check agency in question. In the dispute letter, you can point out the inaccurate information and request that it be corrected ASAP. Such agencies have to correct inaccurate information when they are made aware of it. Otherwise, they are violating your rights and could be liable for legal action, up to and including a lawsuit.


Your background check might be taking too long because it was delayed for a variety of reasons. The background check agency might have a backlog of cases, or your background check might be plagued with inaccurate or erroneous information.

In those cases, contacting knowledgeable legal representatives is a good idea. Fair Credit can ensure that your inaccurate information is fixed at the earliest opportunity and maximize your chances of acquiring employment. Contact us today to learn more.

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