The Best Background Check Services For 2021

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A quick scan of the background check landscape shows there are many vendors to choose from. To help you find the best background check service for 2021, we’ve compiled reviews from leading review publications to create this comprehensive resource. With this guide, you can easily compare the best background sites for your employment screening needs based on a collection of trusted, third-party reviews.

Most HR professionals look into a job candidate’s background history before making a decision to hire them. In fact, 94% of employers use employment background screening as part of their hiring process

And for good reason, background checks for employment can help you assess whether a candidate is honest, trustworthy, or may potentially pose a threat to others. Screening may also help protect company assets, mitigate risk, and avoid potential negligent hiring lawsuits.

Background checks are used to verify that a potential employee is who they claim to be, and provide an opportunity to use different searches and screenings to check the applicant’s criminal records, driving record, and civil court records, as well as confirm education credentials and employment history, among other things.

Background Check Meta Analysis for 2021

To provide complete transparency, let’s take a look at how we developed our analysis of the best background check services in 2021. First, we compiled recent background check reviews from eight leading publications. Then we listed all of the background check vendors that were analyzed by these review sources and added their scores across all eight reviews to the chart, essentially creating a comprehensive meta analysis. 

This 2021 meta analysis is more helpful for you because it aggregates all eight reviews of seven different vendors into one handy chart, so you can easily compare background check companies.

Here’s how we calculated and charted the scores. Companies that are named “Best” in the category, or are ranked #1, receive +10 points; companies that were ranked #2 or #3 receive +9 or +8 points, respectively, and so on. (Similar methodologies are used by statistical analysis sites, such as FiveThirtyEight and Metacritic.) Finally, we added the points for each vendor across all eight reviews for the Total Score in the right column.

Best Background Check Services Compared for 2021

The table shows review scores for 7 background check companies.

Background Check Considerations

Whether you’re hiring five new employees or several hundred, you’ll want to research background check vendors to ensure you select the one that best fits your specific hiring and screening needs. To start, consider your:

Hiring Volume: How many background checks will you run per month? If you only need one or two, find a provider that offers checks on an “as-needed” basis without a subscription fee. If you’re hiring hundreds of new employees per month, look for a provider that includes platform features specifically designed to help you scale.

Business Size & Number of Locations: Screening candidates in multiple locations can be tricky since you need to comply with local laws based on your and your candidates’ locations. Look for a provider with the ability to automatically take location into account and apply relevant laws. 

Size of Your HR Team: For small teams, find a provider that supports your background check process — from selecting the right packages, to providing up-to-date forms and responsive customer support. For larger teams, you’ll want to look for a provider that supports both centralized and decentralized teams; makes it easy to add multiple users; and offers account hierarchy — an easy way for you to manage your screening program across locations, departments, subsidiaries, and users.

Budget: Regardless of your organization’s size, you don’t want to pay for screenings or services you don’t use. Look for a provider that offers transparent pricing, and flexible billing and payment options.

Background Screening Policy: If you’re conducting employment background checks, you should have a screening policy. Choose a provider that can customize packages based on the positions you’re hiring for, and allows you to filter results according to your company’s screening policy.

In-house Compliance Team or Legal Counsel: Smaller organizations may not have the bandwidth to monitor the background check legal landscape. Be sure to find a provider that is compliance-minded, keeps you up-to-date on the laws, and helps you maintain compliance. For larger companies, select a provider that helps you maintain compliance at scale by automating workflows and processes, such as adjudication and adverse action.

New for 2021: G2 user satisfaction scores for background checks—find out how GoodHire ranks vs. Sterling, Checkr and HireRight.

Following are frequently asked questions when considering background checks for your organization.

How Much Do Background Checks Cost?

The cost of an employment background check depends on the provider and the types of screenings you want to include for review. A basic package that includes a national criminal background check can cost as little as $30 per person, and a more thorough check, including education and employment verification, can cost $80 or more. Many employment screening vendors, including GoodHire, offer discount pricing for bulk orders.

See GoodHire’s Background Check Packages and Pricing.

Are There Free Background Checks?

It is possible to conduct a “free” background check, but it’s time-consuming and fraught with potential for errors. The DIY approach to background checks requires you to know which public records you’re interested in looking into, such as federal, state, or county criminal court records, or civil court records, and then visit that jurisdiction’s courthouse either in person or online (if available) to request the person’s records, if one exists. 

To do this, you’ll need to know the candidate’s personal identifying information, including full name, date of birth, address, and Social Security number to ensure you get the correct record for the right person. Depending on the type of records you’re searching for, you’ll need to fill out record request forms and wait for a response. Since not all court records are digitized or available online, response times vary by jurisdiction.

While the DIY approach might save you a few pennies, it takes a significant amount of time and resources. Working with a background check provider will relieve pressure on those limited resources you need to run your business. Not only does it leave the hard work to the experts, but it also provides peace of mind that you’re selecting the best candidates based on informed decisions using reliable, accurate data. 

What Do Employers Need To Know About Compliance?

When you use a vendor to run a background check, you have to follow federal, state, and even local laws that regulate employment screening. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that sets out requirements for employment screeners like GoodHire. The FCRA also sets rules that the employers who use the reports must follow.

When running background checks to make employment decisions, the FCRA requires employers to comply with certain regulations to ensure that the background check process is done fairly. This includes notifying applicants and employees that background check results may be used in employment decisions, and obtaining written consent to conduct background checks. It also includes a requirement to send adverse action notices when background check reports lead to decisions against hiring, retaining, or promoting a candidate. 

Note that the FCRA only applies when an employer uses a third-party screener to perform a background check. If you choose to go to the county courthouse yourself, or investigate applicants through online public court databases, then the FCRA does not apply. 

In addition to the FCRA, employers must be aware of, and follow, local fair hiring policies, also commonly known as “ban-the-box” laws, that forbid employers from asking questions about an applicant’s criminal history on initial job application forms. 

An FCRA-compliant background check provider may be able to ease your compliance burden and provide resources to help you follow the law. GoodHire’s advanced platform automates many of these processes with built-in compliance features, such as digitized consent and localized, integrated adverse action that takes into account 180+ state, county, and local ban-the-box laws based on your and your candidates’ locations.

How Long Does A Background Check Take?

Depending on the type of information an employer needs, and the searches that will be run, a background check can be ready in as little as a few hours, or it can take up to 5 business days. 

For county criminal background checks, it could take between 3-5 days—especially in counties where the records aren’t digitized or that require the assistance of a court employee. 

Some background checks require manual searches, or cooperation from other organizations, such as professional license certifications, universities, and previous employers. These types of checks typically take between 2-3 days.

Since an employment background check can include work history, education, credit history, driving record, criminal record, and drug screening, the turnaround times vary for each screening type.

What Are The Different Types Of Background Checks?

There are several different types of background checks used for different situations, including employment, credit card and loan applications, tenant screening, and firearm purchases. Following are the 10 most common types of background checks:

  • Employment Background Checks
  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Universal Background Checks
  • OIG Background Checks
  • E-Verify Background Checks
  • Fingerprint Background Checks
  • International Background Checks
  • Credit Background Checks
  • Personal Background Checks
  • Professional Licenses Background Checks

What Should Employers Look For In A Background Check?

Employers use background checks to gather helpful information about a candidate’s background history in order to make informed decisions about a potential new hire. Looking into a candidate’s criminal history, employment and education history, credit history, driving record, and running pre-employment drug screening can help employers assess whether a candidate is honest, trustworthy, or may potentially pose a threat to others. Screening may also help protect company assets, mitigate risk, and avoid potential negligent hiring lawsuits. 

83% of employers say they run background checks to protect employees, customers and others.

Learn what employers look for in background checks

What Shows Up On A Background Check?

There are many different types of background checks that can be used for different situations, each of which uncovers somewhat different personal background information. Pre-employment background checks typically include criminal background checks, plus verification of information on past employment, education, and professional licenses.

Criminal records checks will reveal felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions, any pending criminal cases, and any history of incarceration as an adult. A criminal background check is often required in situations where an organization needs to know about major criminal activity, including violent or sex crimes, fraud, embezzlement, or felony convictions before making a decision regarding employment.

Depending on the nature of the job under consideration, employers may also search a candidate’s driving record, which confirms whether their driver’s license is valid or has been suspended, and identifies any driving-related violations. 

Credit background checks for employment are often used for positions where access to financial assets, transactions, and decisions are a primary responsibility and show a record of a person’s credit-to-debt ratio and past bankruptcies, providing insight into how someone has managed credit and bill payments in the past.  

Employers may also require applicants to submit to drug testing as part of the employment screening process, which determines if controlled substances are present in a person’s body. 

Can Individuals Perform Background Checks On Themselves?

It’s easy to run a background check on yourself, and using a credit reporting agency, like GoodHire, that also supplies background checks to employers will show you what employers will see when they run a background check. Running a personal background check is a great way to prepare for a job and gives you an important opportunity to confirm that your public records are accurate. 

What’s on your background check? GoodHire lets you see what employers see. Start Your Personal Background Check.

What To Look For In A Background Check Company

The right background check provider can help you speed, scale, streamline, and optimize your screening process. But not all background check solutions are equal — use this list as a starting point to identify a provider that can help you meet your screening needs.

  • Accreditation by the Professional Background Screeners Association (PBSA)
  • Provides FCRA-compliant reports for employment purposes
  • Easy-to-use for both employers and candidates
  • Offers a full suite of screening services
  • Provides fast turnaround times
  • Delivers accurate results based on reliable data 
  • Provides responsive customer support
  • Offers value and flexibility

When evaluating and choosing a background check vendor in 2021, it’s important to do your due diligence. Check the Better Business Bureau and industry organizations such as SHRM and the PBSA (formerly NAPBS) for recommendations and accreditation status, and read real user reviews on sites like Consumer Affairs, Capterra and G2 Crowd

GoodHire delivers the easiest end-to-end employment background check workflow in the industry and is easily configurable to fit the way your company recruits. Whether you’re a large company managing screening for multiple locations, or a small business needing to run a background check occasionally, we’ve got you covered.

Plus, GoodHire consistently earns 5-star reviews and high Net Promoter Scores (NPS ) from our customers, and ranks highly for user satisfaction by third-party review sites and customer surveys. 

Ready to be delighted with employment screening services that will exceed your expectations? GET STARTED.


The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.