The Best Background Check Companies of 2020

By Skye Schooley,
business.com staff
| Updated
Jun 29, 2020

Looking for the best background check service for pre-employment screening? Compare features and prices of the best background check services.
Best for Small Businesses
Pre-set and customized plans
Easy-to-use online portal
Online candidate consent tool
Best for Very Small Businesses
3 pre-set plans to choose from
Mobile-friendly portals
Reports available in 3-4 days
Best for Self-Service
3 screening packages available
Convenient online portal
Most reports available in one day
Looking for the best background check service for pre-employment screening? Compare features and prices of the best background check services.
Updated 06/29/20

 We updated this page to include FAQs about background check services.

Running a background check on a potential new hire allows you to verify their identity and history. Although every company can benefit from a pre-employment screening service, the specific features a business needs to check for will depend on the business type and industry. Background check companies can offer services like criminal history checks, health and drug screenings, Social Security number traces, credit reports, and identity, employment and education verification. When choosing an employee background screening service, consider factors like types of screenings available, cost and ease of use. To help you find a service that's right for you, we researched and analyzed a number of options to determine the background check companies we think are best for different types of businesses.

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How We Decided
Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.
135
Considered
9
Researched
3
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  GoodHire AccurateNow (by Accurate Background) SterlingNOW (by Sterling)
Type of service Full service Full service Self service

Industry specialties

Construction, healthcare, retail, staffing, technology, nonprofits Retail, healthcare, financial services, staffing, on-demand and gig economy, higher education, construction, manufacturing, transportation, nonprofits Energy and utilities, financial services, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, construction, retail, staffing, nonprofits
Cost per report (without add-ons) $29.99-$79.99 $29.95-$74.95 $29.95-$79.95
Setup fee $49.99 $25 $0
FCRA compliant & NAPBS accredited Yes Yes Yes

Our Reviews

GoodHire: Best Background Check Company for Small Businesses

Preset plans disclose the type of searches conducted, turnaround times and costs.
In addition to ordering checks, GoodHire's online portal can be used to access individual assessments, adverse action and automated adjudication tools.
New accounts are subject to a one-time setup fee of $49.99 for account verification.

GoodHire offers pre-employment screening services to businesses of all industries and sizes. It's background checks comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. With its easy-to-use online portal, transparent fees and customization features, GoodHire is our pick as the best background check company for small businesses. Although it serves businesses (and nonprofits) in a variety of industries, GoodHire is especially useful for companies based in the construction, healthcare, retail, staffing and technology industries that frequently run checks on potential new hires. 

Setting up a background check is extremely easy. Once your company is verified – a process that typically takes one day – you can order and review all background checks from the company's online portal. When you order a background check, GoodHire uses an e-consent tool that obtains the candidate's consent electronically. All final reports are saved in GoodHire's online portal. 

Businesses can run as many –  or as few – background checks as needed. GoodHire clearly displays the pricing and turnaround time for its services on its website. Furthermore, you can negotiate with GoodHire for custom rates and pricing, especially if your business conducts a high volume of screenings. 

Here's more about the three screening packages GoodHire offers. 

Basic Plan

  • Cost: $29.99 per check
  • Turnaround time: One business day
  • Includes: Social Security number trace (and associated counties), national criminal database search, sex offender list search 

Standard Plan

  • Cost: $54.99 per check
  • Turnaround time: One to three business days
  • Includes: Social Security number (and associated counties), national criminal database search, sex offender list search, domestic watch list search and a county criminal court search, which searches the past seven years of court records 

Premium Plan

  • Cost: $79.99 per check
  • Turnaround time: Two to four business days
  • Includes: Social Security number trace (and associated counties), national criminal database search, sex offender list search, domestic watch list search, county criminal court search (seven-year search history), education verification and employment verification 

GoodHire's Standard and Premium plans are subject to additional third-party fees, dependent upon county courts, employer verification and education verification. However, GoodHire won't charge you these fees without your permission. 

Regardless of which plan you choose, you can customize a background check with GoodHire's add-on capabilities, which include identity checks, advanced criminal and civil records searches, verifications, motor vehicle records checks, employment credit reports, international checks, drug screenings, healthcare sanctions and ongoing alerts. These capabilities make it easy to modify each background check to fit your exact business needs.

February 2020: GoodHire recently added a service that allows individuals to run education, employer and resume verifications on themselves, as well as personal background checks. This self-background check allows job seekers to see exactly what potential employers are viewing and correct any mistakes.

To learn more about GoodHire's pre-employment background screenings, you can view a demo on GoodHire's website. You can reach customer support by phone, email or online chat. When we contacted the company, posing as a small business owner, representatives responded promptly with thorough answers to our questions, even providing links to additional resources and information.

AccurateNow: Best Background Check Company for Very Small Businesses

There are no monthly fees or minimum checks required.
The candidate and recruiter portals are mobile-friendly and easy to navigate.
AccurateNow does not offer drug or healthcare screenings, but its parent company does.

As a division of Accurate Background, AccurateNow is an affordable, FCRA-compliant background check service with quick turnaround times. It is our pick as the best background check company for very small businesses. It offers pay-as-you-go plans; there are no minimums you need to meet or monthly fees to pay. This is especially ideal for very small businesses that need to conduct background checks without being locked into a commitment. 

Getting started with AccurateNow is quick and easy. You simply register your account, pay a one-time setup fee of $25 and sign an electronic agreement. You can begin ordering reports after you've been approved. You can access and order each background check through AccurateNow's mobile-friendly candidate and recruiter portals. With fast turnaround times, you can view reports in three to four days, depending on the package you select. 

AccurateNow offers three different background check packages – Basic, Standard and Premium. Each plan is charged on a per-report basis and is subject to additional fees like New York county statutory fees, statewide statutory fees, international searches and third-party verification fees. 

Basic Plan

  • Cost: $29.95 per report
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, address history check, current county criminal search, national criminal check with county verification and national sex offender registry search 

Standard Plan

  • Cost: $59.95 per report
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, address history check, current county criminal search, national criminal check with county verification, national sex offender registry search and global watch search 

Premium Plan

  • Cost: $74.95 per report
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, address history check, current county criminal search, national criminal check with county verification, national sex offender registry search, global watch search, one education verification and one employment verification 

AccurateNow offers custom packages and elective add-ons like education and employment verification, professional license verification, motor vehicle reports, and federal criminal searches for $9.95 each. Preadverse and adverse action letter distribution is available, too. AccurateNow's add-on searches may have restrictions (and additional third-party fees may apply), but as we found in our research, AccurateNow charges less for these services than what their competitors charge. 

AccurateNow doesn't offer a demo that explains how their service works, but you can reach customer support by phone and email. To test the customer service, we contacted AccurateNow posing as a small business owner interested in background check services. We asked representatives several questions, but we also wanted to assess their customer service. Overall, we were very pleased with their customer service. We received timely responses to our questions as well as further information about how to set up an account.

Sterling: Best Background Check Company for Self-Service

The online demo thoroughly explains how to use their service.
The agency closes 66% of criminal searches within one hour and 90% within one day.
SterlingNOW offers several add-on services, but it does not list pricing for all of these services on its website.

Sterling offers a variety of pre-employment screening options. The self-service division of the company, SterlingNOW, is especially convenient for small and midsize businesses that want to order quick, reliable background checks on their own terms. With its online portal, customizations and fast results, the agency is our pick as the best background check company for self-service. 

Businesses that benefit the most from SterlingNOW are those that need quick, self-service background checks, primarily those that need less than 100 checks per year. 

To run a report, you will need to submit info about your business, including the legal name of your company, to SterlingNOW. (Federal regulations require that your business is credentialed to request background screenings.) Once your account is set up, you can order the screenings you need. 

SterlingNOW offers three screening packages that are charged on a per-report basis. You may incur additional fees, like court processing fees, on a state-by-state basis. 

Basic Plan

  • Cost: $29.95 per check
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, multistate instant criminal check with verification, Department of Justice sex offender search and single-county criminal search 

Preferred Plan

  • Cost: $59.95 per check
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, multistate instant criminal check with verification, Department of Justice sex offender search and single-county criminal search, a county criminal record search (seven-year search history), federal criminal district search and a search of the Office of Foreign Asset Control terrorist watchlist 

Pro Plan

  • Cost: $79.95 per check
  • Includes: Social Security number trace, multistate instant criminal check with verification, Department of Justice sex offender search and single-county criminal search, county criminal record search (seven-year search history), federal criminal district search and OFAC terrorist watchlist, federal district criminal record search (seven-year search history) 

Businesses can add on extra services, like a driver's record check for $9.95 each, and education or employment verification for $19.95 each. Custom packages are available. 

Sterling offers advanced services, including credit reports, drug and health screenings, executive investigations, fingerprinting, global checks, motor vehicle records, social media searches and workforce monitoring. 

It also conducts extensive verifications like professional license and certification verifications, military employment verifications, and professional reference checks. The comprehensiveness of Sterling's capabilities makes it a convenient one-stop service for businesses seeking a pre-employment screening agency. 

March 2020: Sterling now offers specific services for franchise businesses. Franchisees can take advantage of comprehensive background checks with SterlingNOW for Franchises. This solution is designed to help protect your franchise investment by ensuring you hire the best business partners and employees. With SterlingNOW for Franchises, you can quickly and conveniently access self-service background checks or contact a support representative for guidance. 

April 2020: As a result of the novel coronavirus, many industries are shutting down, while others are ramping up their hiring processes. This shift has thrown a wrench into the pre-employment screening process. Due to court shutdowns, many background check providers are unable to access all of the information they need to deliver accurate, complete results. However, with Sterling's proprietary end-to-end automation and global partner network, it is able to fulfill screenings in over 90% of U.S. jurisdictions. The company released a statement offering to help other screening providers fulfill any background screenings they are unable to complete due to the current challenges. Sterling is also offering customers flexible, no-commitment contracts and HCM platform integration.

May 2020:  Sterling Volunteers is partnering with Visionlink, a community operating system that helps facilitate disaster response, to provide COVID-19 responders with access to one year of free basic background checks with monthly updates. This new capability is designed to reduce the time and cost spent on repeat screening for volunteers.

You can access a demo, FAQs, the Sterling blog, webinars and case studies on the company's website. You can reach customer support by phone or live chat. When we contacted Sterling's support team to ask questions about its services and test its customer support, its representatives were helpful and polite.

 

Pricing

The cost of conducting a background check varies greatly, depending on the provider you select and the screenings you want conducted. Some background check companies display pricing online; however, many do not, in which case, you'll need to contact the company for a price quote. 

Nearly every company we reviewed offers volume discounts. 

Some background check providers offer preset packages with specific screenings included (Social Security trace, criminal history searches), whereas others offer a la carte options so you can select the screenings you want conducted. 

Most of the services we evaluated offer multiple screening packages; there are different tiers to choose from, typically ranging from basic to premium. The specific price (and the services included in each plan) will vary based on the provider you choose. Based on our research, we've compiled an average of the types of checks typically included in basic, midtier and premium plans and the average costs for those plans. 

Buying Guide

Negotiating with Background Check Companies

There often isn't much room for negotiation with the price of a service's a la carte options, but there may be wiggle room in other areas. 

To ensure you get the best deal possible from a full-service firm, here are five areas where you might save some money: 

  • Setup fees: Request to have the setup fee waived. Some firms will do so to land your business.

  • Bulk discounts: If you conduct several background checks each year, see if the provider will give you a per-screening discount.

  • Commitment discounts: Ask the provider if they can lower the price of individual checks if you commit to conducting a certain number of screenings each year. 
  • A la carte pricing: For firms that only offer set packages, see if you can get a la carte pricing if the packages include screenings you don't want.

  • Price matching: Check if the service is willing to match a competitor's lower price. 

Ask the provider if you need to sign a contract. If so, review everything in detail. Make sure it includes all the details you agreed to and doesn't contain any additional charges.   

Also check whether the contract has any special clauses pertaining to canceling the service. Are you committed to a certain number of checks? What happens if you don't conduct them all? Can you walk away at any time? These are all questions you want answered before hiring an employee background check service.

Benefits of Using a Background Check Company

Conducting employee background checks as part of the hiring process has become commonplace for most employers today. If your business has never used a background check service, here are some compelling reasons why you might want to employ one. 

Surprise, Surprise … Most People Are Not Forthright on Job Applications

recent study by the background check company HireRight revealed that 84% of organizations screen job candidates for a criminal history, with 73% using background checks to verify past employment and/or references.   

Research shows that employers have good reason to screen potential new hires. The HireRight study reported that 84% of employers discovered a misrepresentation on a resume or job application, with 23% of employers reporting that their screenings uncovered misrepresentations regarding one's educational credentials.   

Companies Can Conduct a Range Of Screenings

Employers today have several options when it comes to what they can screen job candidates for. Other screenings and services that background check companies offer include:   

  • Sex-offender searches
  • Professional license verifications
  • Credit report checks
  • Civil records checks
  • Workers' compensation history searches
  • Healthcare sanction checks
  • Drug testing   

The best background check firms offer a comprehensive array of screening options to help you hire the best employees. When conducting screenings, many firms go beyond an online database search. For example, when conducting criminal background checks, they might follow up with county courthouses to inspect onsite records. 

Background Checks Can Lead To Higher Caliber Employees

In the end, most employers believe implementing some type of background check into their hiring process paid positive dividends. More than 50% of the businesses surveyed by HireRight said it led to better quality hires.

Background Check FAQs

What is a professional background check?

A professional background check is a type of screening that employers conduct on potential employees to verify their history and credentials. A pre-employment background check can include any number of screenings, depending on what information the employer wants to know. For example, an employer can use a background check to verify a candidate's identity, whether the candidate has a criminal record, their employment and education history, active professional licenses or certifications, their driving record and more. During a professional background check, an employer may require the candidate to undergo additional screening, such as drug testing.  

How long does an employment background check take?

The turnaround time varies depending on the information you are verifying and how comprehensive you want the results to be. The best background check companies can provide accurate, thorough results within one to five days of your request. Many companies also offer instant background check screening, but be wary, these results may not be as accurate or comprehensive. 

Is there a free background check service?

Technically, yes, but it may not serve your needs. Since many court records are available to the public, it is possible to obtain background information on someone for free. However, you get what you pay for; free background reports may be inaccurate. Further, employers are legally bound to follow certain practices, and using a free background check services could open your company up to liability. If you are looking for a service to run pre-employment background checks on potential employees, it is best to use a reputable company that complies with the current laws and regulations.

How to Choose a Background Check Company

When you're considering a background check company, first identify the type of data you need to gather on potential employees ‒ that factor alone affects the price and the agencies that can help you. For example, not all of the services we evaluated handle drug screenings. If this is a screening you need, several services will automatically be eliminated from your list. 

Accreditation and Compliance

Verify that the pre-employment screening company and its screenings comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA outlines how employee background checks must be conducted, including obtaining the job candidate's consent to conduct a background check, as well as an opportunity to review and rebut what was discovered. Some agencies do not adhere to FCRA laws. Businesses that use these services are opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit. 

You also want to verify that the background check company you're considering is an accredited member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). This accreditation is given to many of the top consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that abide by strict professional standards. 

Turnaround Time

The urgency of how soon you need the results of your screenings will factor into which agency you choose. Some sites allow you to search and view results instantly, while others may take between one and five days to give you the results. 

If you can wait a few days before making a hiring decision, you may receive more comprehensive screening results. 

Customization

It is important that you get the exact reports you need from a background check service. As you evaluate agencies, some only offer preset packages; other services offer specific packages but allow you to customize the plan for the screenings you need. 

If you know which screenings and tests you want done, ask the agency you're considering using if they will be flexible with their pricing and accommodate your request. One last consideration is that while some services offer a variety of screenings, e.g., drug screening tests, the results may take longer.

What to Expect in 2020

As technology and workplace trends are evolving, so is the state of background check services. There are a few trends we can expect to change in 2020, primarily regarding social media, independent contractors and continuous monitoring. Whether you are considering using a background check service or not, watch out for these industry changes. 

As an employer, you are likely looking for the most cost-effective way to validate your potential employees' history, so it may be tempting to forgo a costly background check and turn to social media profiles instead. However, you should be wary of this method, as it can open you up to lawsuits. Social media profiles can reveal protected information (such as race, religion and sexual orientation) and lead to hiring bias. To avoid this, more background check companies are offering legal social media checks as part of their screening services. This will protect you from accidentally viewing protected information. 

With gig-economy services like ridesharing and food delivery on the rise, the need for on-demand background checks has risen in tandem. Employers view these freelance workers as extensions of their brand, and therefore should screen them as they would employees. Since the hiring process for this type of worker tends to be quick, on-demand background check services are often the best option for employers. We can expect the need for on-demand background checks to rise in 2020.  

Another rising background check industry trend to watch in 2020 is continuous monitoring. This allows employers to receive updated background information on their workers after they are hired. This is especially beneficial in transportation industries, keeping companies up to date on their employees' driving records and licensure statuses. 

Skye Schooley: Staff
Skye Schooley,
business.com staff
See Skye's Profile
Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.

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