How Does Credit Effect Security Clearance ?

How does a person’s finances directly impact their ability to obtain and retain a security clearance with the U.S. government? We’ll discuss the role of credit scores, and provide some rough guidelines for determining what score you’ll need to retain your clearance (though as you’ll see, it’s often not that simple). Furthermore, we will give government employees specific advice on what to do if your personal finances are about to get you in trouble at work. .

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What the U.S. Government Has Publicized on This Matter

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is the agency that controls security clearances for all government bodies, with the exception of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (though the guidelines for that entity are very similar).

In 2008, the following information was made open source, in an attempt to increase government transparency. It came in the form of a memo to the heads of departments and agencies, chief human capital officers and agency security offices. It was called the security clearance decision-making guide. In the guide, you can find “Guideline F: Financial Considerations,” which discusses personal finances in relation to security. It’s incredibly interesting. The reason the OPM cares about your personal finances is because it believes:

Failure or inability to live within one’s means, satisfy debts, and meet financial obligations may indicate poor self-control, lack of judgment, or unwillingness to abide by rules and regulations, all of which can raise questions about an individual’s reliability, trustworthiness, and ability to protect classified information.

The document goes on to say that someone who has too much debt may be drawn to illegal activities or to taking bribes for money, thus it’s irresponsible for the government to employ such a person. On the other end of the spectrum, too much affluence can be a red flag. That is, if a person’s net worth is too great for their reported income

The U.S. military wants service members to be financially responsible. That doesn’t always translate to ‘stay out of debt’ or ‘save for retirement,’ but supervisors watch for signs of financial stress. It’s all too easy for a junior (officer or enlisted) to be suspended from handling classified material, and debt issues can contribute to that.

Warning Signs

If you are worried about your financial health and how it will impact your job, this is exactly how it can. Don’t let your personal financial situation show any of the following signs…

Inability or Unwillingness to Satisfy Debts

Having mismanaged debt is grounds for loss of a security clearance. This is applicable for both “good debt” and “bad debt.” That means that even debts that are typically thought of as “investments” (like student loans and mortgages) are taken into consideration. Of course, “bad debt” (credit cards, payday loans, etc.) is even more concerning to the OPM, especially if you have no realistic repayment plan.

Deceptive Financial Practices

You’ll also want to steer clear of the following: “Embezzlement, employee theft, check fraud, income tax evasion, expense account fraud, filing deceptive loan statements, and other intentional financial breaches of trust.”

Taxes

Failure to file taxes or committing tax fraud–that’s a big no-no for anyone. But you work for the government, remember?

Compulsive Gambling

Concealment of gambling losses, having family problems due to gambling, etc. can reflect poorly on your character and your perceived financial stability.

What about credit scores?

A credit score is a universal three-digit number we can all understand. So what credit score must you maintain in order to keep your security clearance? 600? 650? Are you at risk even at 700? It turns out that this question is not so simple.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, credit scores are not a factor in security clearance assessments. That’s because your credit score is based on a different set of criteria than what the OPM cares to use for its assessments of your financial security. So although a credit score is a decent indication of your financial health overall, it’s too broad of a brush for the U.S. government. Plus, there are many, many types of credit scoring systems available, so no single score ever tells the entire story.

So, while there is no perfect answer to this question, there is still likely a correlation between higher credit scores and retained security clearances. You may have heard the general rule of thumb is that scores above 750 get the best mortgage rates, and those below 650 are below average. Keep that in mind. Again, a score below 650 alone will not endanger your clearance, but it likely is a sign of some financial issues that you should address.

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