Feeling Nickeled-and-Dimed? Breaking Down Extra Background Check Fees
Employment background screening has many variables, and as a result, screening costs can vary by search type and screening provider. When budgeting for background screening, you want value for your investment without feeling like you’re being overcharged or hit with a mass of hidden fees.
By asking some key questions and working with a trusted screening partner, you can position your organization to benefit from the best of both worlds: quality screening results at a price that doesn’t leave you feeling nickeled-and-dimed.
What Are the Possible Background Check Fees?
When examining the cost of background screening, it can be helpful to think of costs in two groups. First, there’s the price your screening provider charges to obtain and report on individual background data. This price is usually agreed upon upfront and doesn’t fluctuate.
The second cost is in the form of variable fees, also called pass-through fees, charged by courts and data providers. When you work with a reputable screening company, these fees are not marked up and are passed directly to your organization. Pass-through fees should always be clearly laid out to you in detail, so you can avoid billing surprises down the road.
Pass-through fees can include the following:
- County court fees
- Statewide criminal data warehouses
- Motor-vehicle record search fees
- Access fees levied by third-party registries
- Employment verification databases such as The Work Number
- Industry-related fees
It’s important to note that variable or pass-through fees are not the same thing that some background check companies label “data entry and processing fees.” Such ambiguous-sounding charges are often a sign your screening provider is not reputable and may indeed be nickel-and-diming you.
Also, because fees are highly variable from county to county (some counties charge no access fees at all) and from database to database, your screening provider should charge you only when an access fee is incurred, rather than charging you a blanket extra fee for every search.
Why Some Background Checks Fees Are Necessary
Background checks are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to include only the most accurate and up-to-date sources of information. To meet this requirement, your background screening company must often use multiple data sources to complete a quality background check, including those which generate a search fee.
Despite information available to the public through public records and over the internet, a thorough background check can’t rely on one data source, or only data sources that don’t carry a fee. There is no single “master database” housing all criminal history data, and background checks must rely on data from federal and county courts, sex offender registries, and other criminal databases. Depending on the source, your screening company will incur fees in order to obtain and verify data from those sources.
For the sake of transparency, a reputable screening company only passes on a court or third-party fee to you when necessary, instead of unnecessarily inflating the price of every background check. When done this way, you can see exactly what you’re paying for and avoid feeling like you’re being overcharged for services.
How to Avoid Feeling Nickeled-and-Dimed
According to a 2020 survey by the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), employers named the cost of screening as a top concern. To manage your costs and avoid spending more than is necessary to achieve accurate and complete background checks, take the following steps.
Consider background check fees in the right context.
It’s important to see background check fees as an essential component of a high-quality screening program. Each pass-through fee represents the effort your background screening provider takes to deliver accurate background check results. Although a court fee or a database fee may add a few dollars to the cost of a background check, it is a minimal expense compared to the cost of a bad hire, which can run into the thousands of dollars in the form of lawsuits, reputational loss, and risks to workplace safety.
Seek transparency in background check pricing.
Some background check companies offer a low package price upfront, but then add on a bunch of hidden fees later. For example, you might have to pay extra for more than three verification attempts. Those background check companies may also charge extra fees for clarifying vague background check results. If so, your organization is probably being overcharged.
To understand the reasons for each expense, you should ask about specific charges, including any hidden fees. Ask to see a list of extra fees levied by third parties and courts, and work with your provider to determine which are necessary for your program and which you should avoid.
Budget for background check fees in advance.
To get a quality and accurate background check, there are times when obtaining information from additional sources is unavoidable. For example, if a social security number (SSN) trace reveals new address information for a candidate, your screening company may need to conduct a criminal search in an additional county, which will incur a fee. Or if screeners get a “hit” for criminal activity in a candidate’s background, they will need to perform a court search to verify the data, which can also generate a fee.
An experienced background screening company can help you anticipate instances where you are likely to incur court and third-party fees. To get more clarity about when and why you will incur those fees, work with your background screening partner to set a budget for screening, which includes a list of which fees will be necessary to deliver the most complete background checks possible.
Conduct regular reviews of your background screening program.
To feel informed and empowered rather than taken advantage of, it’s essential to work with a background screening partner who offers transparent pricing and makes an effort to help you understand pass-through fees. Through scheduled quarterly reviews of your screening program, your screening provider can educate you about new product and service enhancements, and offer ideas for managing your screening costs over time. By identifying which kinds of screening products and services are right for your organization, you can understand related costs upfront and make sure they’re not a surprise later.
Build a Cost-Effective Background Screening Program
Managing the variable costs associated with background screening is essential to maintaining an efficient hiring process. Understandably, you want quality background screening for a reasonable price, and you don’t want to feel as if each background check will incur unnecessary fees from third parties. By working with a trusted background screening provider who understands your goals and can offer ideas to help you control associated costs, you don’t need to feel nickeled-and-dimed or surprised by extra background check fees.
A great way to stay on top of background screening costs is to conduct regular audits of your program. Conducting an audit helps you to assess the overall efficiency of your screening workflows, potential compliance risks, as well as any screening activities you may be able to add, change, or eliminate to reduce costs. To learn more about how to get started with an audit, read our Guide to Auditing and Improving Your Background Screening Program.