Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum

You can set your watch to it; year after year, financial concerns top the list of reasons for security clearance rejections. While few things are cut and dry, in general, high debt-to-income ratio or loans that have gone into default are common stumbling blocks. But even still, investigators have to consider all the details. One such predicament led one clearance seeker to write on the ClearanceJobs Blog:

I’ve just accepted a job offer to work for a DOE contractor and will soon be starting the process to get a security clearance. This will be my first time through the security clearance process. I have an item in my financial history that I can’t figure out how to handle. My wife brought a defaulted student loan debt into our marriage. I knew about the debt before we got married, but did not know the debt had fallen into delinquency.


Upon filing our first tax return as a married couple, we discovered the debt had been turned over to the IRS and our tax refund was seized (this is officially called a tax refund offset, I believe) to pay down the debt. After discussing the issue with my wife, we decided to let the IRS continue to seize our refunds each year until the debt was paid. In total, four refunds were seized in full or in part, with the debt being paid off in March 2017.


Do I need to disclose this information during the security clearance application process? The debt is solely in my wife’s name and was created before we married, which makes me think I can omit this (based upon my googling of this issue so far). However, my name is on the tax refunds that were seized to pay off the debt. I’m worried this might be discovered during a background check and I do not want to appear as though I was trying to hide it.


I’m leaning towards mentioning the issue in the application just to avoid any appearance of covering it up, but I also don’t want to create any unnecessary reason for deeper scrutiny. Any better informed opinions on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

A Spouse’s Debt Is Not Your Legal Responsibility…most of the time

The short answer in this particular case comes from William Henderson, retired investigator, President of Federal Clearance Assistance Service, and ClearanceJobs contributor.

“A person is usually not legally responsible for a spouse’s separate debts, even in a community property state, but state laws vary and every situation is unique.  In this case I don’t see a need to disclose it, but at the same time it I don’t see any potential negative effect if he listed it on his SF86.


More importantly, I don’t like to generalize, but I usually don’t advise people to disclose unfavorable information, unless they are asked a question that requires them to disclose it.  Disclosing such information on an SF86 might negatively affect their eligibility for an interim clearance and therefore cost them a job.  In most cases such information, even if it surfaces at a later stage of the investigation, would not result in clearance denial and would not raise a secondary issue of intentional omission.”

As you can see, it is sometimes a fine line between what information should or should not be reported, which situations could hurt your chances and which won’t. If you have a tough question about your clearance investigation, be sure to contact an attorney who specializes in security clearance matters. You can also post your questions on the forum at the ClearanceJobs Blog.

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Caroline's background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs.