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How Long Will My Fingerprints Stay on File? Unraveling the Mystery


In the digital age, where information is easily accessible and stored indefinitely, the question of how long one’s fingerprints stay on file becomes increasingly relevant. This blog post aims to shed light on this intriguing topic, exploring the varying factors that influence the duration of fingerprint retention and dispelling common misconceptions.

Understanding State and Agency Variations

To answer the question accurately, “How Long Will My Fingerprints Stay on File?” it is crucial to acknowledge that the duration of fingerprint retention is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Each state and agency can set its own regulations. As shared in the article, there are significant variations from state to state, making it difficult to provide a straightforward answer.

The Role of the FBI

One thing is sure: if the FBI processes your fingerprints, the chances are that they will remain on file indefinitely. As the leading federal agency responsible for criminal investigations, the FBI maintains one of the largest fingerprint databases worldwide. Once they possess your prints, they are unlikely to be erased. It’s essential to recognize that the FBI’s retention policy serves investigative and security purposes, ensuring a comprehensive database for law enforcement agencies.

Expiration Fallacy

Contrary to popular belief, fingerprints do not have an expiration date. Once captured and stored, they maintain their relevance. This is especially true when it comes to the FBI database. If the FBI possesses your fingerprints, they likely persist until the end of time. But we’re not the FBI, and what happens today may not be the same thing done tomorrow. 

Anomalies and Special Cases

While the general principle leans towards permanent retention, there are exceptions to this rule. For noncriminal purposes, such as obtaining a professional license or working in select fields, states might delete fingerprints from their systems after a specific period, usually around 5 to 10 years. However, it remains imperative to check state-specific laws, as they can differ.

Individual State Laws and Background Checks

When determining the duration of fingerprint retention, the nature of your interaction with the law plays a significant role. If you were arrested, even if the case was subsequently dropped or expunged, your fingerprints are often retained indefinitely. This applies to state databases, where the duration of retention may vary. It is advisable to stay informed by consulting state agencies for the most accurate information.

Transferring Fingerprints Across Agencies

Another aspect to consider is the transferability of fingerprints between different agencies. In most cases, utilizing the same set of fingerprints across various entities is frowned upon and not even permissible. The general practice entails capturing fresh fingerprints for each new job or license application. The reasoning behind this lies in maintaining integrity, avoiding issues with record keeping, and ensuring thorough background checks.

Keeping Out of Trouble

To ensure compliance and avoid complications, it is recommended to inform individuals seeking to reuse their fingerprints for different purposes that it is not permitted. Suggesting that fresh fingerprints be taken mitigates the risk of mistakes, ensures accuracy, and safeguards against potential legal repercussions.

The Ever-Present Digital Footprint

In the age of technology, it is essential to grasp the lasting impact of our digital footprints. While fingerprints stored on physical devices may be deleted, they may exist indefinitely once transferred to the digital realm. Additionally, given the ever-evolving nature of legislation, it is vital to remain vigilant, as laws governing fingerprint retention are subject to change.


The lifespan of fingerprints on file is complex, with various factors contributing to the retention period. While the FBI’s database typically retains fingerprints indefinitely, state laws and agency practices can introduce some variation.

Understanding the nuances and constantly staying updated is crucial, allowing individuals to navigate the complex landscape of fingerprint retention with confidence and knowledge.

For those interested in learning more about fingerprints, starting your own fingerprinting business, or becoming a National Live Scan Association® member, we invite you to take the next step. Joining the NLSA will provide valuable resources, training programs, and support to navigate the world of fingerprints and background checks.

To join the NLSA and learn more about our membership benefits and programs, visit our website at NationalLiveScan.org. You can also subscribe to our informative magazine at LiveScanMagazine.com to stay updated on the latest industry trends and news.

If you have any questions or need assistance, please get in touch with us at (888) 498-4234. Our dedicated team is ready to help you on your fingerprinting journey. Start making a difference and becoming a part of the NLSA community today.


FAQ Section

1. How long do fingerprints stay on file?

Answer: The duration of fingerprints on file varies from state to state. It also depends on the specific agency or organization requesting the background check. It is best to double-check with the requesting agency for clarification.

2. Will my fingerprints expire?

Answer: No, fingerprints do not expire. Suppose the FBI obtains your fingerprints. In that case, they are unlikely to be deleted as the FBI maintains the largest fingerprint database in the world.

3. Can I use the same fingerprints for a different job or license?  

Answer: In most cases, the answer is no. It is typically required to provide new fingerprints for each employment or license application. Reusing fingerprints may result in invalid TCN numbers and can cause complications.

4. How long will my fingerprints stay in the system if I am arrested or found guilty?  

Answer: If you were charged, your fingerprints may remain in the system indefinitely, especially with the FBI. However, the retention duration may vary depending on the state or agency responsible. Expungement of a case does not always guarantee the deletion of fingerprints.

5. Can I use my previous background check fingerprints for a new job?  

Answer: In most cases, you cannot use the same fingerprints for a new job or license. Obtaining a new set of fingerprints is recommended to avoid any complications. The standard practice is to delete fingerprints from the system after 30 days.

6. Will my fingerprints be deleted if my case is dismissed and expunged?  

Answer: In most cases, even if your case was dismissed and expunged, your fingerprints may remain in the system, particularly with the FBI. Some states may delete fingerprints for noncriminal purposes after a certain period. Still, it varies depending on the specific purpose and state laws.

7. How long do immigration fingerprints stay on file?  

Answer: Immigration fingerprints are typically retained for an extended period, as they are crucial for immigration processes and security. It is advisable to assume that immigration agencies will keep your fingerprints indefinitely, as they are not subject to the same deletion practices as other entities.