Although I love the ability to make a positive impact in the lives of my clients, practicing law is a brutal occupation with a high rate of burnout. Every so often, I find myself daydreaming about what it would be like to win the lottery and swap out the daily grind for – as the Zac Brown Band described it years ago – a life of “toes in the water, ass in the sand.”

Of course, I’m a statistical realist, so I recognize that my weekly gas station Quick Picks aren’t likely ever to get me there. The ritual just keeps the dream alive.

On the other hand, someone has to win – and with somewhere between 4 and 5 million security clearance holders floating around out there at last count, there is a reasonable possibility that it could be one of you.

financial windfalls of many kinds could affect your clearance

Yes, I recognize that most security clearance holders who really hit it big would probably do precisely what I dream about myself: close up shop and retire. But if you don’t win quite enough to pull that off – or if you come into money some other way like inheritance, casino winnings, etc. that leaves you wealthy but not retirement-ready – you’ve got a few things to consider.

First, the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances list “unexplained affluence” as one of the disqualifying criteria under Guideline “F”. This is somewhat counter-intuitive because Guideline F otherwise deals exclusively with unpaid delinquent debts, debts due to gambling or substance abuse, and other scenarios where people don’t have enough money.

The reality, however, is that having too much money and not having enough money are two sides of the same coin from a personnel security perspective. If you don’t have enough, you might be more susceptible to bribery or committing criminal offenses to obtain funds. If you have too much and can’t explain its source, the government thinks that you already committed the nefarious conduct and the money is the result.

Here’s how to keep your clearance – and your extra cash – safe

This issue is entirely avoidable for security clearance holders who obtain appropriate documentation of their income source, provide that to security officials, and demonstrate that they have paid taxes on the income. Remember: the government never busted Al Capone for murder, gun-running, or any of the other crimes he was suspected of committing. They got him on tax evasion!

Next, take care to ensure that there are no strings attached to your newfound wealth that could be problematic from a security standpoint. For example, if the source of your inheritance is a foreign bank account, be sure to quickly remedy any potential foreign influence concerns by repatriating that money to a U.S. account. The same thing goes for inheritance or winnings of overseas property: usually the cleanest and safest thing to do from a security clearance perspective is to sell it.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap the catches so many who come into newfound wealth: lifestyle creep. Statistically-speaking, an overwhelming number of lottery winners and others in similar circumstances blow through their money in a matter of months to years because they fail to properly manage it. Consider hiring an accountant and/or a reputable investment advisor early to avoid making bad decisions with the money – like lending it to people who have no intention of paying it back. Without smart decision-making and careful consideration, what started as a blessing could just wind-up a curse.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at