The last thing anyone wants is to find out their security clearance application has been denied. You can use a few best practices to give your application the best chance at approval, like looking over the adjudicative guidelines and being completely honest on your application. But even if you complete your SF-86 as completely and honestly as possible, there’s still a chance your security clearance might be denied.

top five reasons for security clearance denial

Reasons could range from the obvious, such as ongoing criminal activity, to the less obvious, such as an adjudicator determining that you’re susceptible to coercion. Here are the top five reasons for security clearance denial:

1. Financial considerations

Almost half of all denials are due to financial issues. These could range from high levels of debt, unpaid taxes, or even moving without informing a creditor of your new address.

2. Personal conduct

Lying on your application, not cooperating with the investigation, and patterns of dishonest behavior are examples of personal conduct issues that are the second most common reason for security clearance denial.

3. Foreign influence

Even applicants with a strong allegiance to the United States can still be subject to foreign influence through family members, or otherwise have a risk of exposure to situations where their loyalty to the United States could become precarious.

4. Drug use

While many states have legalized marijuana and the federal government has decriminalized it, all types of drug use are still a red flag on security clearance applications.

5. Criminal conduct

This may seem obvious, but criminal conduct is one of the most common reasons for security clearance denial. However, keep in mind that not all criminal conduct is equal and criminal conduct is not an automatic disqualifier.

Options After a Denial

Even if your security clearance application is denied, you still have options. Presidential Executive Order 12968 requires that denied applicants be provided with a written explanation of their denial and a chance to request a review. You can hire a security clearance lawyer to help navigate the appeal process, and you can even hire legal counsel before submitting your SF-86 to advise you through the process if you’re concerned about your application.

If the denial is upheld, applicants are barred from applying for security clearance for one year. A previous denial doesn’t mean you’re destined to be denied a future security clearance, though. Re-applying after a clearance denial can be complicated and require extra steps but is well worth the work if clearance is important for your job.


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Brynn Mahnke is a freelance writer specializing in researching, writing, and ghostwriting for clients in the career, finance, SaaS, and B2B/B2C niches. She focuses on writing case studies, whitepapers, ebooks, and articles showcasing the value her clients bring to their customers. When she isn't writing, you can find her running, cycling, or wrangling children. She can be reached through her website or at