We used to frequently write that although financial issues are the top reason for security clearance denial and revocation, student loans are among the kinds of ‘safe’ debt that are generally seen favorably by security clearance adjudicators. That was before the era of six-figure student loan debt and an increasing number of individuals defaulting on payments. It’s not necessarily the amount of debt which is the issue, but the failure to pay it. Making minimum payments is fine. But if you stop paying your debts entirely, that’s another story.

True or False: If it’s Your Spouse who fails to pay a bill, you don’t need to worry about it

A recent Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) case highlights the prevalence of student loan debt and how it is an increasing issue for many applicants. In this case, the applicant had $117,200 in student loans. The applicant contended that his second wife had been paying on the loans – until she died. It was clear the debts belonged to the applicant – whether they were joint or individual, the bill was coming due to the clearance applicant – and he hadn’t been paying up.

Want to win your DOHA Appeal? Find an Error

The DOHA appeal noted several errors of fact in the original ruling. One was a scrivener’s error around the amount (DOHA noted more than $127,000 in debt). The second error was the court’s indication that the applicant had divorced his second spouse, who he claimed was responsible for paying the debt – when the reality was she had died.

Using those two factual errors as the basis, the DOHA appeal was remanded back for reconsideration. It doesn’t mean the applicant was granted his security clearance, but it does mean he got a second shot at having the facts of the case considered by the court. The applicant’s attorney emphasized that the death of a spouse versus divorce of a spouse was significant to applying the whole person concept to the applicant.

False: Spousal Debt Is Still Your Debt

A re-application of the whole person concept here might land in the applicant’s favor – or it might not. DOHA has not necessarily looked favorably on defaulted debt. The steps taken to address it prior to applying for security clearance eligibility are key. If you note the debt and try to set up a payment plan before applying, your chances are much better. Ideally, the government wants to see ongoing, continued efforts to address the issue – having a few months of making payments under your belt is better than just saying you’ll start paying now…or later. And the blame the former spouse defense – whether it’s death or divorce at play – is rarely an effective strategy. The way the government considers it – if you can’t keep track of your joint debt, you may have similar issues not keeping track of the classified information you’ve been entrusted to protect.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer