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 ClearanceJobsBlog.com – 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.
Financial reasons are consistently the number one hiccup for security clearance holders and seekers. Intense levels of debt can reflect poor decision-making or could leave a cleared professional vulnerable to blackmail. So it makes perfect sense that background investigators will do their due diligence and research your financial health.
Last week we discussed whether a spouse’s defaulted student loans would affect your security clearance. That brings up a more general question: Do background investigators conduct credit checks on you and your spouse? Well, like so much else in the world of security clearances, it depends.
Though the precise credit bureau or methods are not explicit (for security reasons), it is a pretty sure bet that an applicant’s credit will be checked. That is why applicants sign a credit release to allow investigators to research their credit history. And now as the government is working to depend more heavily on electronic continuous investigation, you can count on the government continually monitoring your credit if you hold a clearance – even if you’ve had it frozen.
What about My Spouse’s Credit Report?
Credit reports are held only by individuals – not a couple. Each report is linked to a person’s social security number. But don’t let this fool you into thinking your spouse or cohabitant’s finances don’t matter. They do. So will they run a credit check on your significant other? Maybe. But probably not.
“The 2012 Federal Investigative Standards (FIS) are “For Official Use Only—FOUO,” so I can’t say exactly what’s being done. However, Credit Bureau Reports (CBRs) were not obtained on an applicant’s spouse or cohabitant prior to implementation of the 2012 FIS, which occurred between 2014 and 2016. Since then I’ve seen dozens of my clients’ OPM investigative reports, and I’ve never seen a CBR on a spouse/cohabitant. That doesn’t mean the government can’t or won’t do it, but I am pretty sure it’s not part of any standard background investigation.
There’s also the issue of whether a “Fair Credit Reporting Disclosure and Authorization” (credit release) would have to be obtained from the spouse/cohabitant. The applicant credit release is a relatively new thing. Applicant CBRs were obtained for years without it. If the government is reluctant to get a CBR on an applicant without a credit release, I doubt they’d get one on a spouse/cohabitant without a release.”
So without a release, it’s very unlikely that investigators will run an official credit check on your spouse. However, remember that debt or purchases on shared accounts or in shared property states will affect your credit as much as it does theirs.
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.