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So, you’ve recently applied for a new job or a new apartment and you hear those fateful words: “background check”. Should this be cause for concern? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It depends on what type of position you are applying for and what state you live in. Some information is restricted but there are many exceptions to the rule.

Consumer reports are a way for background check companies to review your credit history. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits the type and scope of this information. It is unlawful to check tax liens and collections after seven years. Consumer reports are also prohibited from including bankruptcies after ten years.

However, there is no time limit when it comes to your criminal background. Tenant screening for mortgages and rental properties usually conduct some form of criminal background check. The most common criminal background checks cover sex offender registries and individual fraud history. Yet, access to this information is dictated by which state you live in.

More and more states are limiting the amount of access companies and individuals have to your credit information. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), no more than fifty percent of companies check your credit report during the hiring phase. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, if you are applying for a cash handling job or a new residency, then the chances are high that you’ll undergo a credit check.

If a potential employer conducts a standard background check, that usually doesn’t include your social media accounts. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey in 2011 and found that only eighteen percent of companies check your Twitter and Facebook pages before considering an applicant for a job. The Stored Communications Act prohibits employers from using your password without permission to check up on social media activity. However, that doesn’t include anything found in the public domain. Most social media sites do have portions of your account that are open for public viewing. It’s best to closely monitor what the public can see and screen out any questionable photos or posts.

You don’t have to be fearful of background checks. When a potential employer or renter asks to review your background, by all means, you should agree. Acting squeamish about a background check will only raise red flags and influence a manager to look into your background further. It’s also important to educate yourself about state and federal laws which dictate what type of information is available. Facebook, twitter, and instagram help us connect with friends and family but they can also open a gaping window into your personal life. Another way to alleviate your fears is to closely monitor what the public can view when it comes to your social media accounts. Honesty is the best policy and you should always be forthright and truthful about the data you present. Nobody is perfect and if a single black mark on your history was enough to disqualify you from a job, nobody would be employed at all.