Background checks can impact your ability to take out a loan, get a new job and even find a place to live. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to learn how to do a background check on yourself. It could help you anticipate problems, discover (and fix) any inaccuracies, and save time and money.
This guide covers everything you need to know about how to do a background check on yourself instead of paying a service to do it for you. Read on to learn more.
Table of Contents
- Step-by-step process for running a self background check
- Why do I need to do a background check on myself?
- What does a background check report show?
- Can you do a background check on yourself?
- 5 applications that can assist you in doing your background checks
- Benefits of running your own background check
- Why is it important to verify my professional licenses?
- What to do if you find errors or discrepancies in your background check
- How to do a background check on yourself FAQs
Step-by-step process for running a self background check
The best background check sites use public and private databases to discover and confirm information about your past. However, you can do it yourself by following this 10-step process.
1. Gather personal information
You need personal information before you can query databases for a self-initiated background check. This can include your Social Security number, employment and academic history, and date of birth.
You may need other information as well, depending on your research goals. For example, you may need a professional license number for an employment history check or your address history for a rental application check.
2. Identify information sources
The next step is to determine which databases you'll need to search in order to return the information you want. For example, if you’re looking for criminal records, you likely want to search county, state and federal criminal databases. If you want to verify your academic records, you can directly contact the school(s) you attended or use the National Student Clearinghouse to look up degrees.
3. Public records search
Once you’ve identified the most relevant sources for your goals, you can input your personal information to search for your records. Every state has its own public records laws and databases, so you may need to search through multiple if you’ve lived in more than one place.
4. Online search
Reviewing search results is another important step when running a background check on yourself. Googling your name will show you what information is publicly available about you online.
5. Credit report check
Legally, Americans have the right to check their credit report for free once every 12 months with each of the three major credit bureaus. But pandemic-era policies that allow people to request one free credit report from each major bureau on a weekly basis are still in effect through the end of 2023. You can do so online by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com and inputting the requested information.
6. Educational background verification
You can verify your academic records and degrees online through the National Student Clearinghouse. This currently costs $14.95 per confirmed verification of degree and dates of attendance. Alternatively, you can contact the institutions you’ve attended directly to ask for your academic records.
7. Employment history verification
Credit reports from the three major credit bureaus may include employment information if you provided it on a previous credit application. For more detailed reports that can include salaries and even the number of hours you worked each week, you typically need to go through a dedicated provider, such as the Work Number, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Equifax.
You can also request a wage and income transcript from the IRS. This will include income data taken from your W-2s, 1099s and other tax forms going as far back as nine tax years.
8. Professional license and certification verification
You can verify a professional license or certification through the government or professional agency that issued it. For example, the American Bar Association has records on all attorneys that are licensed to practice in the U.S. State governments maintain similar databases for many other professions, from architects to dental hygienists to tattoo artists. The name of these offices may change from place to place. In California, these records are maintained by the Department of Consumer Affairs; in Vermont, it's the Office of Professional Regulation.
Once you've identified the corresponding agency in your state, you will likely be able to verify your license or certification by searching the agency's online database.
9. Review online presence
Your online presence may also include profiles, mentions and comments on popular social media sites. It's likely that anyone conducting a background check on you will also be scrutinizing your social media accounts, so reviewing your publicly available posts and comments should be part of your self background check.
10. Addressing inaccuracies or issues
If you discover any inaccuracies while conducting a self background check, you may need to file a dispute. This can start with a call to the company that’s responsible for the error. You may also need to file a written appeal, but it will vary based on the dispute policies of the organization in question.
Why do I need to do a background check on myself?
There are a variety of reasons you may wish to complete a free background check on yourself. Here are three of the most common ones.
To see what future employers, landlords or lenders can see
Conducting a background check on yourself can help you figure out if you have any specific information on your report that a future employer, landlord or lender might notice. If, for example, a person is unsure about whether a misdemeanor charge or bankruptcy from many years ago still shows up on a background check, conducting one of their own can answer this.
When you know about the information that will appear on your background check ahead of time, it’s easier to take action to resolve any issues before they can impact your ability to find new employment or secure new housing.
Note that there are things employers can’t ask for during a pre-employment background check, such as medical information or details about your genetics. However, an employer may ask you about medical information after you have already been offered the job.
Some cities and states have their own rules restricting when certain types of background checks can be conducted. For example, in New York City, the Fair Chance Act makes it illegal for most employers to check — and even ask about — an applicant's criminal record during the application process. Employers are only permitted to run a criminal history check after a job offer has been made, and even then there’s a strict process to follow.
To avoid delays or denials
Conducting self background checks can help you make more informed decisions that may save you time and money. For example, you can learn if there are any details in your background that may disqualify you from a loan opportunity or an employer’s job requirements.
To check for potential errors
Running background checks on yourself every so often can also be a strategy for protecting yourself from identity theft. Sometimes the only way to discover if someone has been using your identity is to run one of these intensive checks.
Credit bureaus may sometimes receive inaccurate information. Regularly reviewing your files will help you spot these types of errors faster so they have as little of an impact as possible on your life.
What does a background check report show?
Background check reports don’t all contain the same information. It depends on what the person who ordered the background check wants to know — and the company they use to do it.
For example, an employer may focus on your employment history and criminal record. A landlord may do the same, but they will also likely want to know about your rental history and could run a credit check, as well. With that in mind, here are some of the different types of information that may appear on a background check report.
Social Security number (SSN) trace
Many background checks include an SSN trace. This can reveal previous addresses, names and the history of the number, such as when it was issued and where.
Background checks focusing on criminal records can show misdemeanors, felonies, pending charges, warrants and arrests. If you’ve been convicted of a crime, it will generally remain on your record unless you have it sealed or expunged.
Arrests that didn’t result in convictions generally drop off of your report after seven years. However, this varies from state to state. For example, the state of California recently passed a law that provides automatic record-sealing for most convictions (outside of serious felonies) once a sentence is completed, whereas other states may require you to apply.
Background checks showing employee history can include details about your job titles, dates of employment and termination reasons. A background check focused on your employment history may also include informal calls to previous employers, often called a reference check.
If someone looks up your education history, they can find details about the schools you’ve attended, the degrees you’ve earned and your graduation dates.
Some background checks include your driving records. These reports can show your license status, any driving-related convictions you might have and whether the agency that oversees driving in your state has placed any restrictions on your license.
If a background report involves a credit check, it generally includes a modified credit report. Such a report can show current liens, payment history and inquiries for things like loans and credit cards. The report could also show any bankruptcies or accounts that are in collection. However, your actual credit score typically isn’t included in a background check.
When someone runs a personal background check on you that involves credit, they have to share that report with you if it’s used to take adverse action, as dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Specialized list searches
Some background checks may involve the search of specialized lists. For example, a company may look your name up in the National Sex Offender Registry before offering you a contract of employment. There are also adverse media checks that search through private lists and public reports to look for any negative news tied to your name.
Can you do a background check on yourself?
Yes, you can absolutely run a background check on yourself by following the 10-step process laid out at the beginning of this article. Simply compile the information you need, locate the databases that are relevant to your goals and then begin searching for your records.
This is largely the same process that background check companies use to dig into your background information, although they may have subscriptions with private search engines and reporting agencies as well as better access.
5 applications that can assist you in doing your background checks
There are a variety of online services that you can use to search public records faster, though these typically charge fees. If you’re willing to pay, here are five applications you may wish to try.
Checkmate is a pre-employment screening tool that also helps with reference checking. It’s designed for companies that have ongoing hiring needs, but casual searchers can purchase credits to run individual checks. You can try it out for free, which may be enough to get the information you need for your self background check goals.
Checkmate charges $28.09 per month for its People Search plan, which includes unlimited person and location reports and monitoring. But you have to pay for three months up front, so the total cost is $84.28. (You can also choose to pay $35.12 for a single month of access.) The company also offers a reverse phone lookup plan that costs $5.99 per month. [https://www.instantcheckmate.com/pricing/]
PublicRecordsNow is an online database that can help you find information related to names, addresses and phone numbers. It’s free to use for basic searches but charges a fee for full background reports.
The company charges $9.95 for the first month and $19.95 per month after that. You can also pay for more months up front to lock in a lower monthly rate.
PeopleFinders is owned by the same entity as PublicRecordsNow. Like PublicRecordsNow, this service shows free basic records tied to names, phone numbers and addresses while charging for the more expansive full reports.
Accessing the full reports requires purchasing a membership, which costs $9.95 for the first month and $24.95 for each month after that.
BeenVerified is a background check service that can help you find information tied to names, addresses, emails, phone numbers and even usernames on social media sites. However, it offers no free services. You need to pay a monthly fee to use it, and according to its website, you can purchase a seven-day trial for $1 or run 100 reports per month starting at about $27.
TruthFinder is an online background check service that can help you find police records, civil judgments, contact information, social media accounts and even photos. Its monthly plans range in price from about $5 to $30.
Benefits of running your own background check
Running a background check on yourself can show you what others see when they do the same. It’s something you may want to do before agreeing to a pre-employment background screening or applying for a mortgage.
Running your own background check also gives you the chance to find and fix errors before they can derail an important application. That could make a difference when trying to land your dream job or residence.
Why is it important to verify my professional licenses?
There are many professions that require licenses for practice, including teaching, law and medicine. If you’re employed in a role that requires a license, verifying that your professional license is active can help you avoid potential lawsuits and penalties.
What to do if you find errors or discrepancies in your background check
If you find errors in your background check, you can dispute the inaccurate records. The specific process for disputes can vary based on the organization that oversees the records, but you can often begin the process by alerting it to the mistake.