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Published: Jan 18, 2024 14 min read
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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 or discover (and fix) any inaccuracies.

This guide covers everything you need to know about how to do a background check on yourself. However, if you’d help running the searches on yourself, check out our list of the best background check services.

Read on to learn more about the process.

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Step-by-step process to run a background check on yourself

A background check is a screening of an individual’s legal, professional, academic and financial past.

Professional background check services use public and private databases to discover and confirm information about your past. However, you can also do it yourself by following this 6-step process.

1. Gather personal information

Be sure to gather your personal information before you start the self-initiated background check.

If you’re running a background check on yourself to know what a potential employer or landlord will find, it’s a good rule of thumb is to list all the pieces of information you would have to show them if they were to run a check.

This can include your Social Security number, employment and academic history (with dates of employment and school attendance), and your address history for the past seven to ten years. If you hold any professional licenses, be sure to have your license number on hand.

2. Search court records

The next step is to determine which databases you'll need to search. Most pre-employment or tenancy background checks will include a search for felony criminal records and, some, for misdemeanor records and civil litigation as well. These searches are usually conducted in the counties where you’ve lived over the last seven to ten years.

Many county courts have online portals that make it fairly easy to search for records. Federal courts also have online records that anyone can search. Note, however, that many courts charge a fee per search.

3. Check your credit report

Many background checks, especially if it’s for renting or employment in a financial field, will include a credit report check. This makes it essential that you know what’s in your credit report ahead of time so you can dispute any inaccuracies or ask for outdated information to be removed.

Legally, you have the right to check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus for free every 12 months. But pandemic-era policies now allow people to request one free credit report from each major bureau on a weekly basis. You can do so online by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com and inputting the requested information.

If you find errors or inaccuracies, you can contact the credit bureaus to fix these mistakes or hire a credit repair service to help you navigate the process.

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4. Review online presence

Googling your name is another important step when running a background check on yourself. This will show you what information is publicly available about you online.

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 see your social media accounts, so reviewing your public posts and comments is important.

5. Verify educational and employment history

You can verify your academic records and degrees by contacting the institutions you’ve attended and requesting your official academic records. Alternatively, you can use the National Student Clearinghouse online service, which currently charges $14.95 per confirmed verification of degree and dates of attendance. (This is the service that potential employers or landlords will probably use.)

For 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 subsidiary of credit bureau 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.

6. Check professional licenses and certifications

If a professional license is needed for your profession, a potential employer will most likely attempt to verify its status and see whether there’s any history of disciplinary actions on your record.

You can verify professional licenses or certifications through the government or professional agency that issued it. For example, the American Bar Association has records on all attorneys 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. For instance, 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 — and check whether there’s any history of sanctions under your name — by searching the agency's online database.

Benefits of doing a background check on yourself

There are a variety of reasons you may wish to conduct a 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 might raise red flags for a future employer, landlord or lender. If, for example, you’re unsure whether a misdemeanor charge or bankruptcy from many years ago still shows up on your record, this is a good way to find out.

It’s important to note that some cities and states have their own rules restricting when certain types of background searches can be conducted. For example, in New York City, the Fair Chance Act makes it illegal for most employers to check — or 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 check for potential errors

Credit bureaus and even courts may sometimes report 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.

To spot identity theft

Running background checks on yourself every so often can also be a strategy to protect yourself from identity theft. Sometimes the only way to discover if someone has been using your identity is to run one of these thorough checks.

If you’re worried about ID theft, you can also sign up for one of the best identity theft protection services available for ongoing credit monitoring.

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What does a background check report show?

Background check reports don’t all contain the same information. What a report shows depends on the purpose of the investigation and the company they use to do it.

For example, a potential 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.

Criminal records

Criminal background checks can show misdemeanors, felonies, pending charges, warrants and arrests. If you have a felony criminal conviction, it will generally remain on your record unless you have it sealed or expunged.

However, this varies from state to state. For example, a California law that went into effect in July 2023 provides automatic record-sealing for most convictions (outside of serious felonies) once a sentence is completed, whereas other states may require you to apply.

Employment history

Background checks showing employee history can include details about your job titles and dates of employment. A background check focused on your employment history may also include reference checks.

Education history

If someone looks up your education history, they can find details about the schools you’ve attended, the degrees you’ve earned and your enrollment and graduation dates.

Driving records

Some background checks include driving records. These reports can show your license status, any driving-related convictions you might have and whether your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has placed any restrictions on your driver’s license.

Credit history

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 these types of reports.

When someone runs a personal background check on you that involves credit, they have to get your signed consent, as dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Five background check services

There are a variety of online services that you can use to search public records. These services access public records and databases to put together a report that can include (among others):

  • Birthdate
  • Addresses
  • Some judgments
  • Social media profiles
  • Assets and property owned
  • Criminal history (if available online)

Note that many of these online services are meant strictly for looking up people you don’t plan on hiring or leasing to such as friends, family members or potential dates. This means they are not regulated by the FCRA and do not require the signed consent of the subjects of the investigation. This also means, however, that they won’t yield the same depth of information as a pre-employment or tenancy background check.

Here are five people search services you may wish to try.

Instant Checkmate

Instant Checkmate can help you find your address, email or contact information. However, it can’t be used for pre-employment or tenancy screenings because this service isn’t FCRA-compliant.

Instant Checkmate charges $28.09 per month for its People Search plan, which includes unlimited person and location reports. 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.

Spokeo

Spokeo’s people search service subscription costs $19.95 and lets you search public records by name, phone number, address or email. When you run a search, the results can include latest contact information, current and past addresses, age and relatives.

Spokeo also offers an upgrade that yields marriage and divorce records, bankruptcies and foreclosures for an additional $19.99 a month.

PeopleFinders

PeopleFinders shows free basic records tied to names, phone numbers and addresses while charging for the more expansive full reports.

Accessing the reports requires a membership. The basic membership costs $24.95 a month and reports on contact information, aliases and relatives. PeopleFinders premium membership, which costs $29.95 a month, provides more detailed reports that include property, business and criminal records.

BeenVerified

BeenVerified is a people search service that can help you find information on yourself such as name and aliases, addresses, emails, phone numbers and even usernames on social media profiles. However, the service, which includes 100 reports a month, is subscription-based.

You can choose between a one-month subscription for $29.99 and a three-month subscription for $58.48 (or $19.49 a month). BeenVerified also offers a seven-day trial for $1.

TruthFinder

TruthFinder is an online people search service that can help you find police records, civil judgments, contact information, social media accounts and even photos. Its monthly memberships range in price from about $4.99 to $30. All three provide unlimited reports that include names, addresses, relatives, photos, social media profiles and location history.

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How to do a background check on yourself FAQs

How to fix background check errors

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If you discover any inaccuracies while conducting a self background check, you may need to file a dispute. This can start with identifying the source that’s responsible for the error. For example, if there’s an error in your credit reports, you should contact the credit bureaus and provide supporting documents to dispute the error.

On the other hand, if the error lies in your background check report, you have the right to dispute it with the screening company. You may also need to file a written appeal, although the specific process can vary depending on the dispute policies of the organization in question.

How to get your credit report

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You have a right to request a free copy of your report from all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once a year. However, since the pandemic, you can access your report for free every week by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

How to search public records

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This will depend on the type of record you want and the jurisdiction in which they have been filed. For example, if you’re looking for birth, marriage, divorce or death certificates, you will typically find it in each state’s Department of Health records. If you’re looking for civil litigation or criminal records, then you should look up the websites for the county courts you’re interested in searching.

However, know that while many states have digitized their records, some still require manual, on-site searches or written requests for information.

Can you do a background check on yourself?

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Yes, you can absolutely run a background check on yourself by following the 6-step process outlined at the beginning of this article.

This is largely the same process that background check companies use to dig into your background information. However, these services know where to find the information, have access to private databases that the average consumer doesn’t and can conduct in-person records search if needed.
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