A fingerprint background check is a standard screenings for employment, purchasing firearms, volunteering, among other things; but how long does a fingerprint background check take to complete?
Generally, a fingerprint background check takes up to 5 days after the fingerprints are submitted electronically. However, if the fingerprints are submitted via mail, it may take up to 2 months. It’s important to note that these timeframes do not include the time it takes to get the fingerprints done, which can vary from a few days to several weeks depending on the chosen provider.
Fortunately, there is a way to expedite the process and avoid common delays, both of which will be discussed below. We will explore the timeline for each step, explain how to obtain a copy of the background check report, and provide guidance on how to prepare for the screening.
Timeline For Each Step In Completing a Fingerprint Background Check Done
Understanding the process for getting a fingerprint background check completed helps alleviate any anxiety over the process, and provides the subject with a timeframe so they will know when to expect a decision on their application or interview.
The sections below break down the process step-by-step to give readers a better understanding of each level of the process.
Getting Fingerprints Done: How Long Does Fingerprinting Take? (1 Day – Several Weeks)
The first step in any fingerprint background check is getting the subject’s prints taken for processing, but there are multiple ways a person can get this done. Fingerprints can usually be taken at a local police department or sheriff’s office, through a third-party vendor approved by the FBI or the agency requesting the fingerprints, or the local post office.
The amount of time it takes to get fingerprints taken depends on where the person is going for the service. Some law enforcement agencies will do fingerprints at any time on a walk-in basis, others only do them on certain days, and other agencies may require an appointment.
Hiring managers may take a person’s fingerprints when filling out the paperwork for a background check. FBI channelers or third-party vendors require an appointment.
It’s also important to make sure the agency taking fingerprints is the right one for the reason a person needs prints taken. For example, FBI channelers cannot take fingerprints for employment or licensing, just for personal rap sheets.2
Other commercial agencies, such as IdentoGO provide digital fingerprinting services by appointment in a number of locations throughout the country, and appointments can be made quickly and easily online.3
The time it takes for fingerprints to be submitted is directly related to where the prints are taken since some fingerprinting services submit them via mail, while others submit them electronically.
Electronic fingerprints can be delivered in minutes, but mailed fingerprint cards can take several days to reach the FBI, with additional time allotted for proper routing of mail internally.
The average time to reach the FBI via mail is 3 to 5 business days.4
Fingerprints taken by a state agency can also be submitted electronically or via mail. Since state agencies or businesses deal with bulk background checks, they may not submit the fingerprints on the same day they are taken or turned in to the hiring manager.
Check with the agency that is taking the prints or requesting them to see what the timeline is for sending prints to the FBI.
Waiting for Fingerprints To Clear (Several Hours – 14 Weeks)
A key piece of understanding how long a fingerprint background check takes is knowing the processing time at the state or federal level. There are a lot of factors that go into this step, and this is where the biggest delays can occur.
Processing times usually take a few hours to days depending on the type of screening being conducted.
The processing time once the prints are in the hands of the FBI depends on several factors including the number or requests received, functionality of the equipment, and the type of background check being performed. How the fingerprints are submitted also plays a key role in how long it takes to process the request.
For example, personal rap sheet requests can take anywhere from 12 to 14 weeks to process when the individual sends in the request themselves; however, if the person uses an FBI channeler, the same rap sheet can be returned within a week.5
State mandated fingerprint background checks for employment or licensure can return results in as little as one to three days, or the results could take weeks depending on some of the factors mentioned above.
One way the FBI has decreased processing time of fingerprints for things such as jobs working with children, adoptions, or applications for a visa was to partner with the United States Postal Service (USPS). USPS provides on-site digital fingerprinting at a number of locations throughout the country and has reduced the old process time of up to 14 weeks to now processing fingerprints in days.6
Receiving the report is also dependent upon who requested the records, how the fingerprints were submitted and whether a hard-copy of the results was requested or a digital report. If the individual or agency requested the records electronically, the report is immediately available after processing.
Hard-copies are mailed to the recipient and can take three to five days to arrive.
Clearing Up Any Notices or Inaccuracies
Once the report is available, it is vital to check it to make sure there is not something on the background screening that is inaccurate or missing. If inaccurate information is on a report, the individual has the right to request a record correction which can delay the final fingerprint report.
Wrong information can lead to a failed background check after job offer processes have been initiated, which can cost time and money to the applicant and the agency.
Record corrections can be made through local, state or federal channels to get the matter cleared, but this can be a huge delay.
Reasons Why Fingerprint Background Check Turnaround Times Vary Depending on the Purpose
As stated above there are various reasons why fingerprint background checks can take less or more time to complete depending on the situation. The reasons for various background check turnaround times are outlined in the table below:
|Reason For Fingerprint Screening
||How It Impacts Turnaround Time
||The FBI does not prioritize personal requests for background checks; therefore, these are not processed as quickly as others. Average turnaround time is three to five days for online requests and two to four weeks for mailed in requests.2
|Employment Related Screening (Including Licensure)
||Fingerprint background checks for employment purposes start with the local or state agency or business requesting the records. Factors that impact this reason for fingerprints include whether the company submits prints on a certain day of the week, the method of taking prints, and how prints are submitted.
Employment background checks typically take three to five business days but can take longer.
||Firearms checks completed by Federal Firearms Licensees are typically returned within minutes of the FFL calling or submitting the application electronically, and these checks do not require fingerprinting unless state laws mandate it as part of the permit process.7
||Prints taken at the USPS can be processed within days for adoption purposes.
|FBI Channeler Fingerprint Reports
||For personal rap sheets through FBI approved channelers, the turnaround time is three to five days.
|State Fingerprint Reports
||State fingerprint screenings vary depending on the state and the volume of reports requested each day. Each state sets its own policies and procedures including turnaround times.
More extensive screenings can also lead to a longer time between submission of fingerprints and the final report. For example, a level 3 background check is a deeper dive into a person’s background, so the overall processing time for fingerprints can take longer.
A level 4 background check can also take much longer to produce a comprehensive report even if fingerprinting is done early in the process, leading to a delay in the entire process.
Waiting for the results can be frustrating and stressful for individuals, but there are some things that can be done to expedite or speed up a fingerprint background check.
How To Expedite a Fingerprint Background Check
How long does a fingerprint background check take is one part of the question; the other is, can this be sped up? Essentially, there are many ways a person can get an expedited FBI background check, including the items listed below:
- Take advantage of electronic fingerprinting services offered through the USPS.
- Use an FBI approved channeler to take and submit fingerprints electronically.
- Make sure the channelers do in-house fingerprinting to further expedite the matter.
- Check the channeler turnaround times since these can differ from channeler to channeler, and know that the turnaround times listed are averages and are subject to other factors that can slow down results.
- Make sure all the requirements for a fingerprint background check for licensing or employment are followed to avoid delays or the need to re-do prints.
- Ensure the identifying information on the fingerprint card is accurate.
- Be open and honest about why a background check is needed. If a person misrepresents why the report is needed, it could delay the results.
In an effort to expedite an FBI fingerprint background check, it is important that common mistakes that can lead to delays are avoided.
Common Reasons & Mistakes That Cause Delays
Delays can occur for a number of reasons and cost time and money since it also pushes back start dates for new hires or requires going through the fingerprinting process again. Common delays and mistake that lead to the delays for fingerprint background checks include:
- Identifying information listed on the fingerprint card or input into the digital print system is incomplete or incorrect.
- The prints are smudged or unclear.
- The prints are submitted incorrectly or to the wrong division or agency.
- The fingerprint card is outdated.
- The fingerprint card has been damaged or compromised in some way.
For example the Arizona Board of Nursing provides instructions on how to get fingerprints taken and what can cause delays. Included in the information are items that can cause delays such as using ink in colors other than black, folding or bending the fingerprint cards, or stapling the fingerprint card to something among other issues.8
Source: The Arizona State Board of Nursing9
The FBI provides a checklist for individuals requesting their own rap sheet to make sure there are no delays in processing these requests. Items mentioned that could cause delays include items such as failure to provide contact information, incomplete applications, incomplete fingerprint cards, and information on application and fingerprint cards that do not match.10
Understanding the process is only part of the equation when it comes to answering: how long does a fingerprint background check take? It’s vital that the individual or agency know how to request a fingerprint background check as well.
How Do I Obtain a Copy of My Fingerprint Background Check Report?
The steps to getting a fingerprint background check completed also varies depending on who is requesting the information and the purpose for the request.
Individuals can reach out to the FBI directly to get a copy of their rap sheet, but this information is limited to just what is accessible to the FBI, meaning items that are not entered into the national database will not show up.
Agencies or employers that require a background check including fingerprints have a different process for obtaining this screening.
To get a copy of a personal rap sheet, the following steps must be completed:
- Open the FBI website. The top result for this search is the FBI rap sheet page.
- Complete the online request for personal records using the link on the page labeled submit your request online.
- Download the official fingerprint card and have prints taken at a law enforcement agency, channeler or the USPS.
- Take the card to the nearest approved channeler or mail it in if prints are not taken at the USPS.
- Pay the $18 fee for the record. Fingerprint checks usually are not a free criminal background check. Users can submit payment using the credit card payment form provided by the FBI or pay online at the FBI website.
- The person requesting the record will receive the report in a sealed envelope in two to four weeks.
When mailing in the fingerprint card, or mailing the fingerprint card along with the application for the record, use the address listed below:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Criminal Justice Information System Division
1000 Custer Hollow Rd
Clarksburg W. Virginia 26306
Getting your own personal report can help in preparing for a fingerprint screening. One thing to look for is juvenile records and someone might ask: can a juvenile record be used against you?
Some juvenile charges can appear on a fingerprint background check (usually for violent felonies such as sexual assault or armed robbery), so if someone has a juvenile criminal history, it is a good idea to get a personal check to see if the juvenile records show up.
When requesting an FBI fingerprint background check for employment or licensure purposes do the following:
- Open a search engine on the computer such as Yahoo or Google.
- Type “[state name] [license type or job title] fingerprint background check.”
- Find the official state agency that performs official, commercial use background checks and click the link for that site.
- Follow the directions listed on the site to complete the fingerprint background check process.
For example, when someone is applying for licensure as a nurse in California, they would do the following for a California background check:
- Open Google or another search engine.
- Type “California nursing license fingerprint background check” in the search bar.
- The website for the California Board of Registered Nursing should appear at or near the top of the search results.
- Read and follow the directions for LiveScan fingerprints (for individuals living in California at the time of the application) or manual fingerprinting (for individuals currently living outside the state).
The LiveScan fingerprint check in California can be started online by requesting an appointment after completing the electronic fingerprint request form. Manual fingerprinting can also be requested from the Board of Registered Nursing website using the fingerprint request form.
Additionally, businesses can use different levels of screenings for employees based on level of responsibility. For example, a Home Depot background check may or may not include fingerprinting depending on the position applied for.
Once the form is submitted, either a LiveScan appointment will be set or the manual fingerprint card will be mailed.14
Source: The California Board of Registered Nursing15
Each agency will set its own policies and procedures for doing employment or licensure fingerprint checks, so it is important to read the information carefully to avoid errors or delays.
Additionally, each state has its own laws regarding official fingerprint checks that must be followed, meaning a Tennessee background check may include steps not found in an Indiana background check.
Source: The California Board of Registered Nursing16
The more a person learns about the process, the better prepared they can be for the fingerprint background check.
How To Prepare for a Fingerprint Background Check & Information Needed
Most background checks span a minimum of seven years, but some can go back as far as 10 or more depending on the position applied for and the requirements set by law and the agency policies.
When candidates undergo level 1 background checks, they are typically not fingerprinted since this is a name-based background screening, and are usually not nation-wide reports.
A level 2 background check does include fingerprinting and a national screening, and candidates are informed at the beginning they will have to submit prints or schedule fingerprinting through an approved vendor.
Fingerprint checks can seem intimidating, but these are designed to provide more accurate results than name-based checks. Agencies that require fingerprint based screenings, or anyone who will be undergoing a fingerprint-based background check, can read the FBI tips for successful fingerprinting.
There are some things the subject can do to prepare for a fingerprint-based background check, including:
- Run a personal background check to see what shows up on their record. This way they can review the information that appears and prepare for any questions or concerns that may be raised during the hiring phase for a job.
- Make sure the fingerprint card and application match regarding subject information. Also, make sure that the information includes any aliases or maiden name data.
- Review the local, state and federal laws regarding background checks.
- Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to any appointment for fingerprint services in case paperwork must be completed at the site.
- Provide the required information and documentation (such as a valid government issued identification) to the facility taking fingerprints.
- Let the individual take the prints lead the process so the prints will be correct.
- The subject should not try to roll their own fingers and thumbs when prints are taken. Not relaxing one’s hands and fingers can cause prints to be too light or dark, have smudges or not be clear enough to read properly.
- Do not wear lotions or creams on hands when getting fingerprints; however, it is important to use these in the days leading up to the appointment to keep skin at its peak. These products can cause the prints to smear, or can prevent digital scanners from reading prints properly.
- Try to avoid activities that may compromise the quality of fingerprints. For example, prolonged exposure to water can cause the fingers to wrinkle which can impact the prints.17
When applying for a job or licensure or just when a person wants to know what shows up on their FBI criminal history report, it’s important to know how long does a fingerprint background check take so they can prepare and plan accordingly, as outlined in this free guide.
Frequently Asked Questions