Most published security clearance appeals are quite pithy. There’s something about legal language that doesn’t really require a lot of adjectives. So it’s always interesting when you come across a security clearance appeal case that’s heavy on nuance.

True or False: It’s Not the Amount of Debt that Matters, It’s the Reason

We frequently tout that financial issues are the top cause of security clearance denial. An expert in the process recently reminded me that’s not because the government deems financial issues the most important adjudicative guideline, or even the one most likely to result in issues. But financial issues cause more denials, because there are simply a lot of folks with a messy financial past, and who have not taken the time to mitigate it before applying for a security clearance.

That was the case for a security clearance applicant who had more than 25 delinquent debts – and outlined each of them in the finding of fact for a security clearance determination. The case outlined how consumer debt can pose a significant issue, not necessarily because the amount, but because of the volume of issues and how each of them point to issues of reliability and trustworthiness.

Under the ‘whole person’ conceptĀ  financial issues are considered in light of overall reliability and trustworthiness, In this case, the applicant had at least two instances where she alleged that she had bought items for other people, and then they’d failed to pay her back. The applicant also had a car confiscated due to illegal parking. The finding of fact was likely so long because the applicant individually stipulated the more than 2/3 of the delinquent accounts, which were related to medical debt. Unfortunately, the whole person gives, and the whole person takes away – and the whole person of this applicant clearly had an issue with taking on debts she couldn’t pay, irrespective of the reason.

True: It’s not the amount, it’s the reason.

The 25 unresolved debts the applicant had were one thing – and the three bankruptcies in her past were another. Bankruptcy can be considered a mitigating factor if it is a step an applicant takes to address delinquent debt and they follow through with agreements or payment plays. But multiple bankruptcies become a lot harder to resolve, particularly if they’re not related to a specific preceding incident.

Having financial issues in your past shouldn’t prevent you from applying or trying to pursue a national security career. But take steps to address severe financial issues before you apply. And certainly be ready to explain why you’ve made poor financial choices in the past. When bad history repeats itself, that’s a tough obstacle to overcome – regardless of the issue.


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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.