You’ve gotten it – the dreaded SOR. A Statement of Reasons (SOR) is a preliminary notice of security clearance denial. After you’ve gone through the entire background investigation and adjudication process, or if you already have a clearance and an issue is discovered or reported, a SOR tells you that your security clearance has been denied.

We’ve talked about whether you can “beat” a security clearance SOR before; the answer is yes. However, receiving a SOR should be taken seriously; your cleared career depends on it. You can address and successfully refute a Statement of Reasons, but it will require a swift and thorough response on your part. That’s where this week’s question from the ClearanceJobs Blog takes us. The original poster writes:

I was marked for failing to meet financial obligations and I addressed and described my plan to pay each individual debt, however, I’m currently unemployed and I have been mostly through the application through the TESI…I’ve been trying my very best to get employed despite there not being much of a good reason. I was told this clearance process would take 3-4 months and by now it’s been nearly 10 months and so I’ve been indecisive although I did work three months. I paid a major debt off and demonstrated a payment plan for all of my other debts except one where I instead, in detail, described my plan to pay the debt.

I had a total of four debts (one major debt paid off being rent related), two others are school loans with payment plans included and the last one is a medical debt in active dispute. Moreover, there’s unpaid tax for two years, however, I have paid a significant amount but didn’t provide documentation to prove it, I instead provided my plan to immediately continue making payments once I’m fully employed again. I live in a city, I held a temporary job for three months until about March and I’m participating in a staffing agency (I provided a letter from the staffing agency). Lastly, I disclosed that I should be employed by this month thanks to a job referral from my friend. I have tried my absolute best to mitigate, I strongly feel that my unemployment is out of my hands, but, I’m not sure if it qualifies as mitigating. At this point, I am ready to work minimum wage and reapply for Federal government work when my finances are under control, all I could do is try my best.

If I were in this candidate’s shoes, I’d remind them of two things:

1. Financial issues are consistently the #1 reason for clearances to be rejected.

In this way, the original poster is no different than most of the people who are rejected for security clearances. Relatively few people lose or are rejected for a clearance because their Russian girlfriend hacked their computer. Nothing shows poor judgment or opens clearance holders up to blackmail as often as financial problems. Remember, Aldrich Ames didn’t betray the CIA to the KGB for ideological reasons; he did it to pay his exorbitant debts and finance a lavish lifestyle.

For both clearance holders and clearance applicants facing issues of personal conduct or finances, any appeal must start with these two sentences: “I had a problem. Here’s what I’m doing to fix it.” If you cannot appeal a SOR with proof of debt counseling, pay stubs from part-time jobs – something that shows you are making payments, will clear your debt, and will not fall back into it again – your appeal is dead in the water. In this case, it seems the applicant has shown plans, but not enough action.

2. A real person is judging your trustworthiness and suitability for a security clearance.

Remember, for better or worse, your security clearance comes down to what another person thinks of you. Yes, the adjudicative criteria are laid out clearly; they can’t reject you just because they don’t like the cut of your jib.  But it’s still a human being and their judgment that ultimately stands between you and a security clearance.

With that said, consider what an adjudicator would think in your position. If you’re in dire financial straits and haven’t tried everything possible to generate income and make some payments, will the average adjudicator think this raises questions about your character and reliability? Particularly in a good economy, this will raise red flags to most adjudicators.

On the other hand, if an adjudicator sees that you are waiting tables, mowing lawns, and babysitting the neighbor’s kids to make ends meet, who wouldn’t be impressed by that? It shows personable responsibility, reliability, and good faith that you will pay down your debts and not be a security liability.

As one FSO suggested, this applicant might be better off accepting the SOR, taking any jobs possible to mitigate their debt, then re-applying in a year. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but I think most adjudicators would be pretty impressed to see a McDonald’s pay stub in an applicant’s file. It shows a high level of integrity, humility, and trustworthiness – character traits you need if you’re going to be trusted with America’s secrets.


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

If you have a tough security clearance question, you can post your questions or concerns on

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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.