What are Background Check Levels?

Writing note showing Background Check

Background checks are the most common way for a person or organization to prove the identity of another person. Almost everyone is subject to one at some point. The common reasons are if someone is applying for a job or a place to live. There are many different levels of background checks depending on the reason.

Level 1 Background Check

A Level 1 background check generally refers to a name-based background check. It is commonly used to check a person’s identity and employment history. While Florida is the one state that technically refers to a Level 1 by name in state law, a Level 1 usually refers to running a person’s name to see if it matches any criminal records.

Disqualifying Offenses

A Level 1 background check is a basic screening. In addition to employment verification, it might include a search of state and county criminal records, as well as the sex offender registry. Disqualifying offenses are usually not considered.

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The cost of a Level 1 background check falls into the same fee range as any other basic background check. It is a general screening, so the cost can vary widely depending on what service is chosen. Basic background checks run anywhere from around $10 to $30.


It is usually up to the person or organization requesting the background check to obtain it. Employers and landlords usually use a service. Most employers run a basic background check.

Level 2 Background Check

A Level 2 background check is conducted for someone applying for a position viewed as one of authority or trust. It’s a fingerprint-based check and there are many disqualifying offenses considered. A Level 2 runs the person’s identity via fingerprint through all criminal and court records, as well as FBI records. The reason for a Level 2 check is because a Level 1 could miss some criminal records if the person has used a fake name or social security number in the past.

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Disqualifying Offenses

Disqualifying offenses revealed in a Level 2 background check are a broad range of criminal activity. Those include arrests or convictions of crimes like murder, vehicular homicide, sexual abuse, felony assault and battery, and crimes involving a minor. Laws in some states allow a person to seek exemption from a disqualification in some cases.


The fee for a state criminal history check is $24 dollars per record check. It is performed by a name request or submitting a fingerprint card. A fingerprint scanning service typically charges around $22, or you can request a kit mailed to you for around $10 plus shipping. Employees submitted for Level 2 screening are required to be fingerprinted.


Many companies specialize in providing Level 2 background checks or fingerprint screenings. You can find these services by Googling “Level 2 background check.” Walk-in services are in any major city, or you can have a fingerprint screening kit sent to you by mail.

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Level 3 Background Check

A Level 3 background check includes a criminal record search and looks for credentials that are work related. It is used by employers and hiring managers to screen employees for professional and management positions. It can also be used by managers who are hiring from within their company.

A Level 3 background check looks to see if the degree and certifications claimed by an employee or job applicant are real and current. It will verify a person’s high school diploma, college degrees or trade school certificates, and school attendance dates. One reason employers pay for pre-employment background checks is because of the abundance of fake degrees and unaccredited schools that are cited by job applicants.

Disqualifying Offenses

A disqualifying offense found in a Level 3 background check would be that a person did not finish the degree that they listed on their resume. A person could also lie about their salary at a previous position or the amount of time spent there. A Level 3 background check would reveal any of these falsehoods and probably disqualify the applicant.


Level 3 background check services vary widely, ranging from $19.95 to more than $200 dollars, and mainly depend on the type of employee being screened. The deep searches involving executive-level employees are priced at the higher end.


Services for Level 3 background checks are primarily found online. There are many, including companies like GoodHire, HireRight, and eNanny Source.

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Level 4 Background Check

A Level 4 background check is a more in-depth version of a Level 3. A Level 4 typically applies to executive hires and people working in the financial services industry. It would verify all the education and professional credentials of a Level 3, but also look into records like bankruptcy cases or federal banking or financial violations. The search involves scanning records of the federal district courts, and will include cases like financial fraud, embezzlement, or tax evasion.

Disqualifying Offenses

Obviously, someone convicted on a tax evasion charge years ago, or who was accused of embezzling money in a previous position, might not be the CFO you’re looking for. A company has a lot to lose if they sign on a high-level executive without proper vetting. Such a mistake could amount to a fortune in legal fees and compensation, as well as overall bad publicity.


The cost for a Level 4 background check is the upper end of a Level 3. Proper vetting for a high-level executive through a Level 4 background check would likely cost a company around $200, depending on the position of the candidate that is being screened.


There are Level 4 background check services online. Typically, these services are provided by companies that also perform Level 3 screenings, and some are specifically geared for the executive level. It is estimated that more than 30% of job applicants embellish their resumes with false facts, so for companies getting ready to invest a lot of money in a new employee, it makes sense to pay for a proper background check.