There are many reasons you may want to know someone’s criminal history, whether professional or personal. Criminal background checks provide peace of mind, offer insight into a person's history, and identify red flags.
A 2021 survey found that 94% of US companies conduct background checks when hiring. But beyond that, there's a growing demand for formal and informal checks. For example, a 2023 Thriving Center of Psychology survey found that 38% looked up their dates online, and 18% performed complete background checks.
And what about the cost? Depending on the information you need, you can choose either a paid or free background check. Keep reading and learn more about different kinds of criminal background checks and their price.
» Are you dating online? Here's why you should run a background check on your latest match.
Types of Criminal Background Checks
Fingerprint Background Checks
By submitting your fingerprints to the FBI, you can get an Identity History Summary for $18, revealing any previous arrests, charges, and case details. You usually can't request this check for someone else without their permission.
National Crime Information Center Search
The FBI is home to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which holds millions of arrest and conviction records. Only law enforcement can access the NCIC, though authorized entities like regulated industry employers can request a search.
Employment Background Checks
Employers typically run a social security trace report and manually search relevant court databases online. They can also request FBI records when authorized.
Sex Offender Registry Checks
Anyone can freely search federal, state, or local sex offender databases for individuals convicted of sex crimes. Employers and online daters often use this check.
Criminal Background Checks Price Comparison
County-Level Criminal Background Check
- Online county court records: Free
- In-person courthouse visits: $0.10 to $0.50 per page
- Some states: Up to $2 for the first page and $0.25 per subsequent page
For informal checks, you can start with county-level searches. Online county court records are often easily accessible and free for name searches. You can visit a courthouse in places that don't keep electronic records, where you'll pay about 10 to 50 cents per page. Some states charge more upfront and a smaller fee per subsequent page, up to $2 for the first and around 25 cents for the rest.
To do county-level checks, you'll have to determine the subject's location history to find courts in the jurisdiction. If you can't track them or the subject has lived in various places, I recommend a paid background check service like BeenVerified that allows you to search multiple jurisdictions simultaneously.
State-Level Criminal Background Check
- Government websites: $95 (varies per state)
- Background check service: $29.16/month
Access to someone else's criminal history summary from state agencies varies by location. For instance, the Department of Justice won't provide certified copies for informal checks in California. California residents usually can’t access court information online, so you'll have to visit a courthouse.
In New York, anyone can request another person's statewide criminal convictions summary, excluding sealed or expunged records. You can request this online from the New York State Office of Court Administration for $95.
To search state criminal records, contact the relevant agency and ask about the release policy, procedure, and cost. For challenging states or searches across multiple states, I would consider online services like Check People, where pricing begins at $29.16 monthly.
Federal-Level Criminal Background Check
- Informal federal checks: $0.10 per page
- Background check service: $35.12/month
The general public doesn't typically have access to FBI databases. However, you can request your personal federal history, and so can authorized employers.
For informal federal checks, I would consider using the online service PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). This service excludes local cases but does let you search federal ones by name at 10 cents per page. And if your searches don't go over $30 in a given quarter, the fees will be waived. This is an excellent option for journalists like myself, but anyone can sign up for an account.
However, if you want a general search across multiple jurisdictions, I recommend using a paid online service like Instant Checkmate, starting at $35.12 monthly.
» Find out what you need to do when a background check is run on you.
While there are free options out there, finding the correct information without having specific details to narrow down the search can feel exhausting. In my opinion, if you're new to online criminal record checks, consider using paid services that allow you to search through unified records. You may find that the time you've saved will be worth the cost.
» These tips will help you identify any red flags on a background check.