Businesses large and small need to make wise hiring decisions. Whether you're looking to employ an administrative assistant, hire a nanny, or vet a potential tenant, running a background check can give you some added peace of mind and potentially help protect you legally. While there are many options to choose from, the services offered, and terms used for their services, vary greatly. This can feel overwhelming. When do you run background checks? Can you just run your own search? Which reports do you need? How do you comply with regulations? We've researched several full-service background screening companies and have become familiar with the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to help you decide what might work best for your business or household.

Running a background check on a potential hire or renter can help you protect your business, other employees, and your clients. When you conduct a background screening you improve your chances of finding falsified or missing information. According to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, 37% of employers who made a bad hire said it was because the "employee lied about his or her qualifications." Background screening also can improve your regulatory compliance and workplace safety, and it can reduce the chances of you facing a negligent hiring claim.

While background checks can help you make wise hiring decisions, it's important to be aware of applicable regulations. Although it's not against federal law to run a background check prior to making a job offer, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how these checks must be conducted. What's more, some states also place restrictions on background screening, so it's important to know your state and local laws as well. Keeping in mind federal laws that protect applicants from discrimination is also good standard procedure. You can learn more on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

While you are ultimately responsible for understanding the regulations that impact your business, there are many background screening services that demonstrate compliance with these regulations and even take steps to be accredited with the industry association to ensure they adhere to high standards. These companies provide a range of services that cover both broad and specific screening needs; some even feature industry specialization. Pricing and customization vary, and while some offer packages and add-ons, which are easy to review right on their websites, others choose to customize their report offerings specific to each client's needs.

Most businesses will need some combination of the fairly standard reports available through full-service companies, which can include (although naming conventions vary):

  • Social Security number trace/validation

  • County(ies) criminal history search

  • National criminal database search

  • Sex offender list search  

  • OFAC global terrorist search

  • Address history

  • Employment history verification

  • Federal criminal search

  • National alias search

Add-on reports can span a wide spectrum, including:

  • Driving record

  • Employment verification

  • Drug screening

  • Professional license verification

  • International searches

  • In-person county court record retrieval

  • Credit check

  • Reference interviews

Often the types of background reports you'll need depend on your industry. For example, an ad agency may not need to verify a potential employee's motor vehicle records, while a taxi service probably will. And rental history will likely be of greater interest to a landlord reviewing a potential tenant's background than to someone hiring a housekeeper.

Background screening companies may also offer reports specific to one or several industries, such as:

  • Finance, banking and insurance

  • Medical

  • Real estate

  • Household

  • Transportation

  • Staffing and recruiting

While some of these reports gather data via online database searches, others require phone calls or even visiting court houses and other government offices. Hence, the need to understand the type of information you need and thoroughness of the vendor you select.

Editor's Note: Looking for Employee Background Checks for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

There are many factors to consider when selecting a background check service. Here are the criteria we used in making our choices, and we recommend you do the same:

  • Price: Pricing varies across companies and depending upon the types and quantities of reports you need. While the DIY service we looked at cost under $20, the full-service companies ranged anywhere from $24.99 to well over $100 per applicant review. Many companies offer three levels of pre-configured packages. Some have a one-time registration fee. For large quantities of background checks there are often discounts available, but that generally requires a conversation with a customer service representative.

  • DIY vs. full-service options: While it may be tempting to conduct your own background checks via online searches to save money, your access to records will be limited and there's a high risk of finding only partial or even incorrect information on your applicant. (See the DIY section below for tips.)

  • Compliance: The FCRA governs how background checks must be conducted. DIY approaches often do not comply with regulations, which require, among other things, that job candidates consent to background checks in writing and that they may review results. When reviewing any company, it's a good idea to verify that its process is FCRA compliant. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces FCRA compliance, provides additional information on its website.

  • Breadth of offerings: While background screening companies may run many of their searches through online databases, those that are full-service often include live-person services such as reference checks and county court visits. These services can add to the validity and accuracy of your background check.

  • Technology: Another aspect  to consider in your selection is the level of technology integration. Some offer online platforms that make it easy for candidates to provide information and for you to see real-time reports while also integrating with many HR platforms.

  • Customer support: Many companies offer a wide range of customer support. Some offer phone support Monday through Friday. Some offer 24/7 email support. Others have phone, email and online chat options. Some assign an account manager to each customer. As you assess your need for support and your work schedule, look for a company whose availability matches your support need.

  • Quality of the business: There are several ways to assess the quality of the service provided by a business. Look at customer reviews as well as reviews in business publications. See if the company has any accreditations, such as from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), or from an industry association that seeks to hold members to a high standard. In the case of background screening services, the industry association is the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS).

Best Background Check Service for Small Business: GoodHire

GoodHire gets our vote for Best Background Check Service for Small Business 2018. Accredited by BBB with an A+ rating, FCRA compliant and NAPBS accredited, GoodHire offers three packages as well as add-on report options; all of which fall within the price ranges of competitors. Their website is easy to navigate and understand. This is particularly helpful to those who are new to background screenings.

Recognizing that the background check is part of a potential employee's first impressions of your company, GoodHire touts their automated, easy-to-follow screening process that integrates with many HR platforms and delivers accurate reports.

Read our full GoodHire review.

Pros: GoodHire's packages are straightforward, turn-around times are stated and the pricing is readily available (while many other companies require you contact them for this information). Their tools and customer service are designed to support both the job candidate and the client.

Cons: GoodHire does not offer any industry specialization.

Best Background Check Service for Landlords: Justifacts

With 36 years of experience in background screening, Justifacts is our pick for Best Background Check Service for Landlords 2018. Justifacts is accredited by the NAPBS and their in-house compliance department achieved NAPBS Advanced FCRA Certification.

Justifacts services are available across industries, so many of the reports landlords and property managers need to run on potential tenants are already part of Justifacts' process. However, they also offer reports that are specific to landlord and property managers screening needs, such as a tenant credit check and previous landlord reference checks.   

Pros: Justifacts' real estate services evolved from their work with existing clients in other industries and are supported by the tools and structures Justifacts has put in place for all customers. For example, reports are accessed via their recently updated web portal rather than received via email. Additionally, each client is assigned an account manager.

Cons: Because Justifacts offers services across industries, you won't find the customizations specific for landlords offered by some background services companies that solely focus on landlords (e.g., a tool for tenant scoring or resources to guide landlords through the process).

Best Background Check Service for Households: eNannySource

eNannySource gets our recognition as the Best Background Check Service for Households 2018. eNannySource offers background checks designed specifically for nannies and caregivers, which can also be used to screen any household employee. What sets the company apart from others providing this service, according to Lorin Biederman, eNannySource Operations Manager, is that "we personally review each order that comes through. We do not solely rely on database results."

eNannySource offers three levels of pre-configured packages and uses Backgroundchecks.com as their main vendor for background screening. Backgroundchecks.com is both FCRA compliant and a founding member of the NAPBS. It is not accredited by NAPBS, however, as some screening services are.

Read our full eNannySource review.

Pros: Their customer support is available via phone and email. We tested both and received a call back within the same business day and email response was even quicker. Their email customer support service is available 24/7 and, according to Biederman, they encourage communication via email so that the correspondence is documented.

Cons: Background screening is only one part of the nanny resource services eNannySource offers, which may be why they don't have some of the tools, such as as a web portal, that some other vendors offer. Instead, reports are provided as pdfs via email.

Best Background Check Service for Finance Businesses: Justifacts

Justifacts also receives our recognition as the Best Background Check Service for Finance Businesses. What set Justifacts apart in our review is a demonstrated commitment to compliance and technology tools to assist customers. With 36 years of experience in background screening, Justifacts is NAPBS accredited and their in-house compliance department achieved NAPBS Advanced FCRA Certification. In May they launched an updated web portal where clients cannot only view reports in real time but can also access Justifacts' new Individual Assessment Tool that helps clients with Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) compliance.

Justifacts services are available across industries, so many of the reports financial companies need to run on potential employees are already part of the Justifacts process. However, they also offer reports that are specific to financial screening needs, such as National Criminal Record Search (includes OFAC, OCC, FDIC & others), FINRA Broker Check and SEC Enforcement Actions & Litigation Releases.

Pros: Justifacts does not offer pre-configured packages as they work with each client to determine the specific reports they need.  According to Aaron Cotter, Sales Manager, with this personal approach they were able to make adjustments to their processes to meet the unique needs of banking customers and save them money.

Cons: Because Justifacts does not offer pre-configured packages of their services, you cannot find a cost-estimate for the reports you need on their website. Therefore, you can't do a quick online cost comparison versus their competition, but instead you'll have to contact the company to discuss your specific needs.

Best Free & DIY Background Check Strategies

To save money, you may consider a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to running a background check. While this is fine for some situations, such as checking out a potential mate you met online or learning about a long-lost relative, you must use caution if you are pre-screening a potential employee or tenant because the FCRA regulates background checks for these purposes. In most cases, free DIY online services are not FCRA compliant but can be used to run other types of background checks.

There are many ways to gather information on people in our digital age. But, keep in mind, the information you find can be misleading, incomplete and even, at times, incorrect. Search engines, public records, and social media are just a few sources you can search for free.

Read our "Best Free & DIY Background Check Strategies" to learn how to access free information from a multitude of sources.

Methodology

With the breadth and depth of background screening services available, we utilized an expansive review of search terms, social trending and web research to narrow our list. We then researched further to determine if there were additional qualifiers specific to companies that focused on a particular industry, such as household, finance and landlord. Once we narrowed our list for review, we looked at each company's website for ease of use and quality of information. For any missing information we contacted the company. In this process, we not only filled in information gaps, but also assessed their speed and thoroughness of response.

During this process, for each company we reviewed, we ascertained and compared their:

  • FCRA compliance

  • Online customer reviews/complaints

  • Publication reviews

  • Report turnaround time estimates

  • Pricing

  • Packages

  • Customization

  • Accreditations

  • Availability of information about services on site (and ease of understanding)

  • Customer service options and responsiveness

Other Background Screening Services

In addition to those we selected in our Best Of categories, here are other companies we reviewed:

BackgroundReport.com

BackgroundReport.com is an online, DIY background check website that is FCRA compliant and involves the subject in the process.

AccurateNow

AccurateNow is a division of Accurate Background and offers automated background check services for small and medium-sized businesses.

Employment Screening Services, Inc.

Employment Screening Services, Inc. based in Spokane, WA, provides background checks and drug testing. It is NAPBS accredited and offers specialized industry reports for healthcare, finance and DOT.

HireRight

HireRight provides background screening services to businesses of all sizes around the globe. Their HireRight Express service offers three levels of pre-configured screening packages.

EasyBackgrounds

EasyBackgrounds offers background check services for several industries, including staffing & recruiting, finance, healthcare, and transportation.

Verified Credentials

Verified Credentials has been in business for more than 30 years and offers background screening for personal and business needs.

InfoMart

InfoMart is a founding and accredited member of NAPBS offering background screening services around the globe across many industries.

MyRental

MyRental is a tenant screening service from CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions. One of its reports is an applicant risk assessment called Tenant Score.  

RentPrep

RentPrep is a community-driven tenant screening service providing background checks, credit checks and screening resources.

Editor's Note: Looking for Employee Background Checks for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

Editor's Note: Looking for Employee Background Checks for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

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