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Does Bankruptcy Affect Security Clearance?

If you’re applying for a job that requires a security clearance, there’s a defined process that begins after a job offer has been tendered and the required paperwork has been completed.

First, there are different levels of clearance, all with their own paperwork and supplemental questionnaires about mental health.

Government security clearances are exceptionally thorough background checks performed during the hiring process for federal agencies.

  • Defense agencies such as DIA and DSS.
  • Federal law enforcement agencies such as FBI, BATF, and Homeland Security.
  • Intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA.
  • Diplomatic agencies such as the State Department and USAID.

A variety of factors affect your probability of being hired for the position, and you may be able to obtain a temporary clearance that will permit you to work in a limited way until the investigation is concluded and adjudicated. There are thirteen guidelines that comprise the scope and criteria of the investigation before a candidate is considered eligible.

  • Status of allegiance to the United States
  • Is the candidate under any foreign influence?
  • Does the candidate exhibit any foreign preference for another government over the United States?
  • Sexual behavior not including sexual orientation or preference.
  • Personal conduct includes the refusal to comply with security screenings or exhibiting a ‘lack of candor’ during the process. It also encompasses unreliability, questionable judgment and dishonesty.
  • Financial considerations include a history of not meeting financial obligations for a variety of reasons, unexplained affluence, debts from drugs/alcohol or gambling addictions, or a history of criminal activity such as fraud or embezzlement. Does bankruptcy affect security clearance? It can, and I’ll explain how.
  • Alcohol consumption is less about health than the old ‘loose lips sink ships’ adage. Alcohol disinhibits, so if you’re a bit of a talker with a couple of beers, this is a valid concern.
  • Drug involvement is illegal in most states, and even medical marijuana is considered an issue at the federal level. Drugs are disinhibiting and the candidate could face extortion.
  • Psychological conditions do not automatically disqualify candidates from a position of trust, but they need to be shown under control and have appropriate care.
  • Criminal conduct can cast doubt on trustworthiness and judgment, though there are behaviors that can mitigate the circumstances such as completing probation, parole, and other requirements.
  • Previous security violations when handling protected information.
  • Outside activities are not about hobbies but encompass employment, activities, and involvement with foreign companies, nationals, and organizations.
  • Misuse of information technology systems. No, this is not about Weird Uncle Bob’s FaceBook page, but about mishandling IT systems in such a way as to compromise their security.

All of these criteria are adjudicated along with the five following guidelines you see below.

  • What was the nature, extent, and seriousness of the issue?
  • Was reporting voluntary?
  • Was the candidate truthful and complete in answering questions?
  • Did the candidate seek professional help and follow that guidance?
  • Were positive changes in behavior present?

How Much Does Bankruptcy Affect Security Clearance?

Let’s look at the statute. Someone who is in debt might resort to illegal acts in order to pay off their debts. Engaging in those illegal acts might be espionage or acts that could put them at risk of extortion. When it comes to bankruptcy, three conditions could apply.

  • Not meeting financial obligations (think child support, paying restitution, or taxes)
  • Inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts (credit cards, medical bills, student loans)
  • Financial problems traced to gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, or other issues of security.

The debt issues also have mitigations as below.

  • The issue was not recent.
  • The issue was an isolated incident.
  • The issue was beyond your control – loss of employment, medical issues, loss of revenue to a business, death of a spouse, or divorce/separation.
  • Receiving or previously received counseling for behavior that precipitated the issue, with indications that the behavior is under control.
  • There was a good-faith effort to resolve your debts, payments were made to the creditors, or the debts were dismissed as improper, or were legally resolved in bankruptcy.

So you can see that bankruptcy can affect a security clearance, but that there are lots of other factors at issue. In fact, bankruptcy can be seen as a good-faith effort to settle your debts. Most bankruptcies are (especially now in the time of COVID disruptions) seen as far beyond the control of the individual.

If you are thinking of applying for a job that requires a security clearance, then it pays to get your finances in order. This financial cleaning might be getting a grip on student loans, or a bankruptcy that lets you breathe with the automatic stay.

Debt trips you up in every area of your life. Whether it’s consolidating student loans, negotiating medical debt, dealing with a special assessment from your HOA. Van Horn Law Group has been helping South Floridians with their debts since 2009! They have the experience to get you through with offices in West Palm BeachFort Lauderdale, and Miami.


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