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SterlingNOW Review

Best Background Check Company for Self-Service

A Business News Daily Review

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

After much research and analysis, we recommend SterlingNOW as our 2019 pick for the best background check company for self-service. 

Small and midsize businesses have a lot to lose from one bad hire. To mitigate this risk, many business owners use employee background checks. However, some business owners, whether it's because of their hectic schedule, wanting to reduce costs, or their DIY, entrepreneurial spirit, seek out a background check agency that offers self-service.

Self-service background checks give business owners the freedom and flexibility to conduct background checks as frequently or infrequently as they need. Turnaround time is often quick, and employers can decipher the results without needing to contact the agency for help.

Many background check services claim to provide free, instant checks. However, be wary of these claims – some checks do not comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). All background checks used for pre-employment screening must be FCRA compliant, which ensures that the reports display the most up-to-date, accurate results. This helps business owners avoid potential lawsuits. 

Self-service companies, like SterlingNOW by Sterling, offer affordable, quick background checks to businesses of all sizes; however, small and midsize businesses that do fewer than 100 checks per year may benefit the most. SterlingNOW has an online demo to teach users about their products and services, and there's an online portal where business owners can easily request background checks and review the final reports.  

To understand how we selected our best picks, you can view our methodology, as well as a comprehensive list of background check services, on our best picks page.

SterlingNOW is ideal for conducting self-service background checks; it does not charge setup fees or require monthly minimums. It offers users three packages clients can choose from. And if you want more detail, you can request supplemental searches. If you need a customized plan, SterlingNOW will work with you to create a plan that fits your needs.

The Basic plan costs $29.95 per check and includes:

  • Social Security number trace
  • Multistate instant criminal check with verification
  • Department of Justice (DOJ) sex offender search
  • Single-county criminal search

The Preferred plan costs $59.95 per check and includes:

  • Social Security number trace
  • Multistate instant criminal check with verification
  • DOJ sex offender search
  • County criminal record search (which searches back over the last seven years)
  • Federal criminal district search
  • Office of Foreign Asset Control terrorist watchlist

The Pro plan costs $79.95 per check and includes:

  • Social Security number trace
  • Multistate instant criminal check with verification
  • DOJ sex offender search
  • Seven-year county criminal record search
  • Seven-year federal criminal district search
  • Locator select with verification
  • OFAC terrorist watchlist
  • Driver's record: $9.95
  • Employment verification: $19.95
  • Education verification: $19.95

Additional third-party fees may apply to select searches, like county searches. These fees are common within the background check industry and should be expected.

Editor's NoteLooking for information on background check services? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Conducting a check through SterlingNOW is extremely simple and straightforward. When you visit the Sterling homepage, you are presented with a couple of questions about your search. You'll indicate what you are looking for and how many background checks per year you need. If you state less than 100 per year, you will be directed to SterlingNOW, the self-service division for small businesses.

On the SterlingNOW page, a product demo explains the features of the service and how the process works. Since SterlingNOW doesn't charge setup fees, you can order background checks almost immediately. Simply select the screening plan you want; from there, you are directed to an account creation page. Here, you can follow the prompts, answering a few questions about your business, including its size, where you're located, how long you've been in business, as well as some personal information. Once you sign the user agreement and consent forms, you are ready to start ordering background checks.

To order a background check, select the package (and add-ons) that you want; the next step in the process is obtaining the candidate's info and consent. SterlingNOW gives you the option of providing the candidate info yourself, or you can have an email sent to the candidate, and they provide the info for the check. Having the option to have the candidate fill out the required info is beneficial, as it reduces the risk of error. Once you have provided the candidate's info, you complete the payment form, and your screening is on its way.

SterlingNOW's online dashboard is easy to navigate – you can view report results and pending orders, and order new checks. SterlingNOW's self-service platform provides quick results. Most reports are completed within one hour, and nearly every report is completed within one day. 

SterlingNOW provides clients with a dedicated account management team that specializes in small business background checks. You can reach a representative by phone and live chat. If you use the live chat option, initially your request is handled by SterlingBot, a chatbot. The questions you ask help the chatbot direct you to a representative who can assist you further.

We contacted SterlingNOW, posing as a small business owner to test its customer service. When we used the chatbot, we entered our question and were directed to a representative. In using the live chat feature, sometimes the responses from the representative were delayed, but despite the delays, the rep answered our questions without pushing to make a sale. Having helpful, accessible support agents is an essential feature for a self-service background check company, as business owners may have many questions throughout the process.

SterlingNOW has additional helpful resources, including FAQs, white papers, webinars and case studies, which are great for small business owners who want to learn more about pre-employment screening.

SterlingNOW's parent company, Sterling, is an accredited member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), the official accrediting agency of the background check industry. To become an accredited agency, a background check company must comply with a variety of standards set forth by the Background Screening Credentialing Council. The accreditation is good for five years, after which time a company must undergo a review and renewal process to retain its accreditation.

Sterling is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, but it does have an A+ rating.

SterlingNOW's a la carte services are slightly more expensive than prices charged by competing services for similar checks and screenings. However, the cost might be worth it given your ability to customize your background searches. We recommend that you speak with a representative about what screenings you need to conduct on potential employees and customized pricing. If you are only looking to use SterlingNOW's background check screening packages, these packages are on a par with the prices charged by other background check companies.

SterlingNOW does not post pricing for additional searches like drug testing and healthcare screenings. This can be problematic for businesses that want to quickly compare prices from multiple background check agencies without creating an account first. While this is only a minor inconvenience, a quick call to one of SterlingNOW's customer support representative can resolve your pricing questions and concerns.

Editor's NoteLooking for information on background check services? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.