It’s now 2015 and everyone resolving to improve their life in the new year. My New Year’s resolution is not to make any resolution I can’t keep. So here’s one you can add to your list: Check your credit and repair it if necessary. This is critical if you hold a federal government security clearance eligibility or have routine access to government facilities.
The Link Between Your Credit and Your Clearance
As part of a background investigation, a credit report is conducted and reviewed to determine an individual’s financial responsibility and whether he or she might be susceptible to pressure or coercion. The credit report obtained by investigators does not include an individual’s credit score, so it matters not that your score might be 720 or above (considered a good risk by companies offering credit). The investigators and adjudicators are looking at various factors: your total credit liability as it compares to your income; payment history; liens, garnishments, and judgments; bad debts and collection accounts; any history of bankruptcy; and how this information compares with information you entered on your electronic Questionnaire for Investigation Processing (eQIP).
Recent events prompted Congress to address the frequency at which the backgrounds of individuals with clearance access are reviewed. Normally, an individual with a Secret clearance eligibility would not be reviewed for 10 years after completion of the background investigation. However, technology is making it easier and cost-effective to conduct these checks more frequently and at random intervals, and national security demands more frequent reviews as well.
Your Credit Report
Your credit history is maintained by several credit reporting agencies (CRAs), most notably Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. The CRAs collect information from various companies, as well as public records. By law, you are entitled to obtain a copy of your credit report on a yearly basis at no cost to you. You can go to annualcreditreport.com and view or print your credit report from each of the CRAs cited above. The report you receive includes information on how to read the report and how to contest erroneous information contained in it. It is important for you to review the report to see what information is contained in it and how accurate the information is compared to your personal records. Reviewing the report can also reveal possible identity theft and what others might be doing to you and your credit. Your review could show that an ex-spouse or ex-boy/girlfriend is using your personal and salary information to open accounts. Excessive “inquiries” being made by various creditors could be an indicator that someone is using your personal information to obtain credit.
Repairing Your Credit
If you truly have delinquent debts, regardless of the reasons for it, you need to begin resolving them. There are many ways to do this, but a good starting point is to consult with a reputable credit counseling agency. In my opinion, the best one is Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS). CCCS is experienced in helping you address indebtedness, contacting creditors, negotiating payoff amounts and setting up reasonable repayment plans. If you are active duty military, your local Army Community Services (ACS) has an excellent Financial Readiness Program. Both CCCS and ACS are very realistic in discussing your situation and telling you whether or not they can help. If you are in too far over your head, then consult an attorney about the possibly of filing bankruptcy. Just keep in mind debts owed to government agencies (income taxes, student loans, etc.) are generally not covered in bankruptcy actions.
Federal and state (if applicable) income taxes will require filing by April 15th. It is imperative individuals with clearance eligibility or access comply with federal and applicable state laws regarding filing and paying income taxes, as well as any penalties and interest. Failure to satisfy income taxes can be a serious disqualifying situation when being considered for clearance eligibility or access. Such failure can also appear on a credit report as a tax lien. I recommend individuals in the upper-income brackets seriously consider consultation with or employing a tax attorney or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to prepare and file their tax returns. Many clearance and access applications are denied or revoked because an individual “forgot” to file tax returns or failed to list all income resulting in liens, penalties and interest. Delinquent debt owed to any government entity, including student loans, is of serious concern to Congress as they work to revise the investigation process and adjudication guidelines.
Your credit status is part of your overall reputation as viewed by the government when deciding whether you will be granted eligibility for a clearance or access to government facilities. Do not leave this part of your background to chance. Access your credit report and fix any problem areas. File and pay all appropriate income tax returns and keep current on your obligations to government agencies. With that said, go back to the elliptical you got for Christmas and the water diet that Aunt Jenny sent you. Good luck.