Security Clearances and COVID-19 – Adjustments, Cautions and Advice

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Current as of June 10, 2020

These have been challenging times in many ways for individuals and families. Many are facing financial hardship because of lost wages or changes in their living situation. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, you may have the added stress of worrying about your security status.

A history of financial problems is a common reason to deny or revoke a person’s security clearance. But financial difficulty due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic should not affect your security status. The U.S. government has deemed COVID-19 to be beyond anyone’s control. Any financial fallout from the pandemic is considered a mitigating factor in determining security status. Still, it’s important to be upfront about any financial problems you are having, take steps to resolve them and know the resources available to assist you.

How financial stability affects security clearance

The Department of Defense Consolidation Adjudications Facility weighs a number of factors when evaluating a person’s eligibility to access classified information. Among these is a person’s financial history. Without background information, CAF may regard financial problems as an indication of poor self-control, a lack of judgement or a disregard for rules and regulations. All of these raise a person’s security risk.

Financial red flags include unexplained wealth, excessive gambling, and illegal activity, such as embezzling or expense account fraud. CAF will also look for:

  • Unpaid debts resulting in collections

  • Liens

  • Failure to file state or federal taxes

  • Living beyond one’s own means

CAF will look at the circumstances surrounding these issues to determine whether they are true indicators of security risk. And while it will consider COVID-19 a mitigating factor, it will not automatically excuse bad debt or other financial issues that predate the pandemic.

Steps to Improve Financial Health and Protect Clearances

It’s important to be upfront about any financial difficulties you’re facing, even if they are a direct result of the pandemic. CAF will look for evidence that you have acted responsibly and taken steps to resolve the problem.  

If you have fallen behind on your bills, do the following as soon as possible:

  • Inform your security management office of your financial hardships.

  • Contact your creditors and come up with a plan to repay your debts.

  • Document all information.

  • Maintain open and honest communication with your supervisors.

In reviewing your situation, CAF will look at whether you:

  • Reported the information voluntarily

  • Responded truthfully and completely to questions

  • Sought assistance and followed professional guidance, where appropriate

  • Resolved or are likely to resolve the security concern

  • Demonstrated positive changes in behavior

CAF may request more information while reviewing your status. It will grant 30-day extensions for your response during the pandemic. Responses must be received within 30 days after the pandemic ends.

Finding help for financial problems

Taking control of your finances doesn’t mean going it alone. Help is available through the following resources:

  • Military relief societies. Each branch of the armed forces has its own emergency financial relief organization. These may provide interest-free loans, grants or a combination of loans and grants.

  • H.E.R.O.E.S Care. This program works with mental health providers, employment assistance programs and national organizations that provide emergency financial aid to get military families the help they need directly in the communities where they live.

  • Operation Homefront. This organization helps military families during difficult financial times. It provides food assistance, auto and home repair and more.

  • American Red Cross. The Red Cross provides confidential referrals to local, state and national resources through their network of chapters across the United States. 

  • Personal financial managers. You have access to personal financial counseling services on your installation. Set up a no-cost appointment at your nearest Family Center.

  • Military OneSource financial counseling. A financial counselor can refer you to services and programs that meet your specific needs. Your financial counselor can also coach you on setting up a payment plan with creditors and more. This service is free for service members and their families. 

These are challenging times and CAF wants to work with you. Be sure to let your security management office know about financial difficulty you may be experiencing and take the proper steps to resolve your issues. Remember, help is available to regain control of your finances and protect your security status.

To learn more about COVID-19, Military OneSource maintains a special website section with information for service members and military families. Military OneSource is committed to providing up-to-date information and answers regarding the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on our military community.

Security Clearances and COVID-19 – Adjustments, Cautions and Advice

Learn whether financial difficulties due to COVID-19 might affect your security status and how to address them.

Benefits for Members of the National Guard and Reserves

National Guard Salutes

Being a member of the National Guard or reserves has rewards that can’t be measured – the pride of service, for example, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to keep your country safe.

There are other benefits as well. Through programs like Military OneSource, the Department of Defense offers resources, services and tools to help individuals and families navigate civilian and military life. These benefits are designed to be accessible to those who don’t live near an installation. Learn what’s available so you don’t miss out.

Personalized support for your well-being

Service members and their families are resilient. But they also shoulder a heavy load at times. Military OneSource offers free counseling and consultations to help your family stay strong through the challenges of military life.

  • Non-medical counseling can keep issues from growing into bigger problems. Military OneSource non-medical counselors understand military life and how to support families like yours. A non-medical counselor can help you cope with loss, ease conflict at home or work, manage anger or stress, adjust to changes like returning from deployment, and much more. Sessions are available in person, by phone, secure video or online chat.
  • Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultations are all about improving connections with the people in your life – your partner, your child, your blended family. Each track focuses on a specific relationship or situation and helps you set goals and strengthen your communication skills. Sessions are available by phone or video.
  • Health and wellness coaching can help boost your efforts to eat well and get fit, manage stress or cope with a life change. Your coach will help you set goals and create a plan to meet them.

Learn more or schedule a session with a non-medical counselor, consultant or coach by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.

Virtual tools to bring out the best in you

Access free resilience tools and online apps anywhere, anytime. These tools offer convenience and portability for meeting wellness goals, managing stress, strengthening your relationships and building resilience.

  • Recommended Wellness Apps were developed by the Department of Defense and its partners specifically for military members and their families. You’ll find apps for parents and children as well as those designed to help service members become more mission-ready.
  • Love Every Day is a fun, interactive way to strengthen your relationship with your partner.
  • MoodHacker lets you track, understand and improve how you’re feeling.
  • CoachHub connects you with a professional coaching expert to help motivate you as you work toward your health and wellness goals.

Support for your family’s education and career goals

As a guardsman or reservist, your family is eligible for resources to help them succeed in school – and in some cases, to help pay for it. Military spouses have access to a suite of benefits and services to help them advance in their careers as well.

  • The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program provides education and career guidance, resources and online tools to military spouses. Services include free career coaching, online assessments, resume help, mock interviews, a scholarship finder and more.
  • My Career Advancement Account Scholarship Program provides military spouses with up to $4,000 financial assistance for licenses, certifications or an associate’s degree. MyCAA is open to spouses of active-duty service members as well as National Guard and reserve members on Title 10 military orders. Spouses of service members in pay grades E-1 through E-5, W-1 through W-2 and O-1 through O-2 who have successfully completed high school and have the ability to request tuition assistance while their military sponsor is on Title 10 military orders are eligible.
  • The Military Spouse Employment Partnership connects military spouses with employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses. The online MSEP job search lists openings at these companies and organizations. You can also take advantage of the Job Search Navigator to have customized job leads delivered to your inbox.
  • The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve program offers up to 36 months of education and training benefits to eligible National Guard members and reservists.
  • Support for pre-K-12 education for families with children includes information and resources to help you build a strong foundation of learning for your child.
  • The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library is packed with ebooks, audiobooks, reference books and databases for all ages. The MWR Digital Library also includes online tutoring through Tutor.com.

Expert assistance for navigating life

Sometimes it helps to talk to an expert. Military OneSource offers specialized assistance with a wide range of individualized consultations for many aspects of military life.

  • Financial counseling can help you tackle debt, build savings and more. Military OneSource financial counselors are available in person, by phone and by video.
  • MilTax services includes tax prep and e-filing software, as well as personalized support.
  • Specialty consultations are available for a range of needs for military families, including adoption, education, elder care, special needs and wounded warriors. Specially trained consultants will answer your questions and concerns, provide information and connect you to appropriate resources.
  • New MilParent specialty consultations offer personalized support for parents who are expecting a baby, or have children up to age 5. Consultants can help with common concerns, such as toilet training and sleep issues, as well as those specific to military families, such as preparing your young child for a parent’s deployment. Unlimited sessions are available by phone or video chat.
  • Document translation and language interpretation services are available in more than 150 languages. Certain official documents can be translated, such as leases, marriage licenses, adoption paperwork, birth certificates and school transcripts. Interpretation services are available by phone for service members and their families who need help speaking in English.

No matter where you live or what your activation status is, Military OneSource is available 24/7 for you and your family. Call 800-342-9647 to connect with a consultant. If you are outside the continental United States, find international calling options here.

Staying Financially Fit With Financial Assistance, Counseling and Resources

hands taking notes and holding phone

Your military member is trained to stay focused on the mission at hand. But personal worries can make that hard to do. Financial hardship is one common stressor that is on the rise.

If your service member has seen a drop in family income due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, is struggling with managing a paycheck for the first time, or is facing money troubles for other reasons, help is available. Free resources such as financial counseling and emergency financial assistance are available to service members and their immediate family.

Emergency relief for service members

When money is already tight, a job loss, costly car repair or other unexpected expense can increase debt quickly. Service members who are having trouble paying rent or utilities may qualify for short-term help.

Each branch of the service has an emergency relief organization. Depending on the circumstances, these organizations provide interest-free loans, grants or a combination of both:

Financial counseling can help now and for the future

Free financial counseling is available virtually through Military OneSource, and in person through installation programs. Financial counselors are experts in money management and familiar with the issues that service members face. A financial counselor can help your service member:

  • Come up with a plan to pay back debt.
  • Take steps to resolve credit problems through referrals to appropriate military and civilian resources.
  • Create a budget and control spending.
  • Save for short- and long-term goals, such as buying a car or home, or saving for college.

Learn more about free financial management counseling options on Military OneSource.

Your service member can schedule one-on-one financial counseling through:

Free financial education builds knowledge

Military OneSource and installations offer free financial management classes, seminars, online tools and more. Your service member can check the installation’s Financial Readiness Management Programs to see what’s available. There are virtual options, too, including:

  • Money Matter courses. These 45-minute courses were developed by financial experts who understand military life. Topics cover car-buying strategies, consumer credit, developing a spending plan, investing in your future and moving in the military.
  • Consumer, business and financial publications are free for your service member through the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library. Publications include Consumer Reports, Business Plan Builder, Entrepreneurship, Morningstar Investment Research Center and Weiss Financial Ratings.

Financial protections for service members

Your service member makes many sacrifices to serve our country. Financial hardships due to active duty or unethical lenders should not be among them. That’s why the federal government has added a layer of financial protection specifically for military members.

  • The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides service members with financial and legal protections for financial hardships brought on by the demands of active duty. These range from interest rate reductions to eviction protection.
  • The Military Lending Act protects service members and their families from predatory lenders who charge high interest rates and fees.

Help your service member stay mission ready and financially fit with the help of these free resources. Your service member can find more financial tools, information and resources, including military pay charts and calculators on Military OneSource’s Personal Finances in the Military page.

Staying Financially Fit With Financial Assistance, Counseling and Resources

Your service member doesn’t have to face financial hardship alone. Free information, resources and counseling are available.

Four Steps to Buying a Car as a Service Member

Cars sit in a lot for purchase.

Buying a car is a major purchase. There’s a lot to know – from sticker prices to auto loans to warranties. Avoid getting ripped off or buying more car than you need. Do your homework ahead of time, get advice from someone you trust in your command, stay clear of scammers who often set up shop right off the installation and follow these steps.

1. Consider how a car fits into your military life

Think about how owning a car fits into your military life. That brand-new car with all the bells and whistles may look good, but remember the moment you drive off the dealer’s lot, it will depreciate in value. New cars lose value faster than used cars, as this blog post explains.

Your answers to these questions can help you figure out the type of car that best meets your needs.

  • Will you be using the car for fun, errands, to get back and forth to work, or to visit family?
  • What will you do with your car while you are deployed?
  • Would you be comfortable putting your vehicle into storage when you PCS to a place where you can’t take the car?
  • If you can take your car to your next assignment, what type of vehicle would be good for your new location?
  • Could you get by with ride-sharing or even a bike?

Free Financial Help Available

Whether you’re buying a car, a home or balancing your budget, Military OneSource offers free financial counseling to help you make smart money choices.

2. Figure out your budget

The next step in car shopping is to calculate what you can afford to spend. Use online car buying resources and Consumer Reports available through the Military OneSource MWR Digital Library to find out pricing and the reliability of vehicles you’re considering. Then use Military OneSource’s Member Connect Support Services’ car payment calculator to figure out ahead of time a monthly car payment you can afford and that also makes sense given your current and future financial situation.

Also consider extra monthly and annual expenses that go with owning a car – such as state vehicle property taxes, registration, insurance and maintenance – when figuring out your budget. It is also important to understand the gas mileage for your potential new vehicle and factor that into your monthly expenses.

Calculate your spending power on your base pay. Don’t include any extra allowances or pay that you might be receiving right now. You don’t want to build your budget around that special pay, because your car payment will still be around after that special pay ends.

Consider contacting a Military OneSource financial counselor or visiting a personal financial manager at your military installation to ask questions and get information on figuring out a budget, financing options and the car-buying process itself.

3. Focus on the financing

Many car buyers use an auto loan to pay for some of the costs of the vehicle. A loan can be a great tool to help you buy a car, but be smart in your borrowing. Making a few wrong decisions in the finance office could end up costing you. Understand the total cost of your purchase, how much you are financing and how much interest you will pay over the life of the loan.

The Military Lending Act offers protections to service members, including limiting the amount a creditor may charge. But military members still need to be extra careful because they are often sold overpriced vehicles with overpriced financing. Check out your installation’s website to see if it posts off-limits establishments to help you stay clear of local predatory lenders or car dealers.

These factors play into your loan terms and what you’ll pay:

  • Your credit score: Prepare now by checking your credit report. You may find errors to address or you may want to take steps to improve a low score. Military OneSource free financial counselors or your personal financial manager at your installation’s Military and Family Support Center can help with suggestions.
  • Interest rates: Learn a bit about current market rates for auto loans. Keep in mind that your rate will be based, in part, on your credit history, so a first-time buyer may not be eligible for the best possible rates. Check with your bank or credit union to see what they can offer to you.
  • Down payment: Larger down payments mean lower monthly costs and/or shorter loan terms, which puts more money in your pocket in the long run.
  • Focus on the total cost: Your monthly payment is an important part of the equation, but the most important part is the actual cost of the car. A creative financing person can always manipulate a loan to get the monthly payment down to a certain number, usually by giving you a longer loan.
  • Length of the loan: Longer loans mean more money paid in interest, as this infographic shows. More importantly, longer loans also mean a longer time that the balance on the loan will be higher than the value of the car, which is also called negative equity, being “upside-down,” or being “underwater.”
  • Location restrictions: Will your lender permit you to take the vehicle out of the state or country if you get overseas orders? To ship a vehicle, you’ll need written permission from the lienholder. Make sure your loan doesn’t prohibit you from moving the car across the country or world.

Planning for the financial aspects first ensures that you’ll end up with a car you can afford. It’s essential that you don’t get overextended, because money troubles may derail your military career.

4. Car shopping

Once you know what you can afford, research vehicles online to determine which ones best meet your needs as well as your budget. With information in hand, visit several sellers and test drive several different vehicles before you make a final choice. Remember, a used car is a good – and less costly – choice in most situations. A new car can quickly lose its flash and value.

Consider taking a level-headed friend with you or ask someone in your command to help you with this big purchase. It’s a lot easier to say “no” when you’re not alone. Give yourself plenty of time to make your car-purchasing decision. Don’t feel pressured by your situation or the car seller to make a snap decision that you might regret later.

Once you’ve found the right car, there are just a few more things to finalize. Remember: understanding all the costs involved in owning a car and avoiding dealer add-ons can help you buy a vehicle that keeps you in your budget.

Finish the paperwork: You’ll likely spend some time with the seller finishing the paperwork for your car purchase. If you’re buying through a dealership, be aware that they may try to sell you add-ons like extended warranties. Don’t buy anything that you hadn’t already factored into your budget. Consider taking the loan and sales contract to your legal services office for a review. Don’t sign a contract unless you are absolutely sure that you understand all the terms.

Register your car in your state of legal residence: It may be easier to register your new car where you buy it, but there are good reasons to register it in your state of legal residence. Most states will permit active-duty military to register their cars by mail.

Get the right insurance: Get your new car covered by insurance immediately. Consider comparison shopping between a few insurance companies to see if one has better rates for the same coverage. Be sure that your insurance company understands that the car is registered in your state of legal residence but generally needs to be insured where it is kept. Check with your insurer to make sure you have the right coverage.

Buying the right car for your needs and your budget can help make car ownership a positive experience. Doing your homework and shopping smart is the best way to make the right choice for your military lifestyle.

Savings Plans, Student Loans and Scholarships for Military Teens

Teen girl being awarded scholarship

With the many available scholarships, grants and other options for financial aid, paying for college doesn’t have to be intimidating. There are plenty of resources to help you as you begin planning for your future.

As you think about how to pay for school, be sure to maximize financial aid, grants and scholarships first, then look into educational loans to cover the rest. You can also get a head start on saving with a 529 savings plan.

What’s a 529 Plan?

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan that can make it easier to save money for college. You can check out the Securities and Exchange Commission for more details, but here are the basic facts:

  • There are two kinds of plans. 529s are either college savings plans, which can be used for college expenses at any college, or prepaid tuition plans, which lock in future tuition at in-state public colleges at the present price. Talk to a financial professional to find out which is best for you.
  • Your parents will call the shots. You’ll be the beneficiary of the plan, but your parents or guardians will be the ones to decide when withdrawals can be made.
  • The earnings won’t be taxed. This is one of the biggest perks of a 529 plan — it isn’t taxed as long as any withdrawals are made for college expenses. If the money is used for something other than college, like on a new car, tax penalties could apply. Make sure you read the fine print and know the details of your plan.
  • You can get a plan in any state. 529 plans vary by state, but you aren’t stuck with the plan from the state where you currently live. If you like another state’s plan, you can get that one instead.
  • Anyone can contribute. Make sure you tell other important adults in your life —grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like — about your 529. Next time they’re wondering what to get you for your birthday or graduation, they can make a contribution.

How can I apply for scholarships and financial aid?

  • Fill out a FAFSA. The Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, should be the first step in your financial aid journey. You can either get an application from your guidance counselor or download it online — just don’t wait until the last minute. The earlier you can fill out the application, the sooner you’ll know what type and amount of aid you can expect.
  • Consider your qualifications. There are thousands of scholarships out there — it’s just a matter of finding the right ones for you. First, see what local scholarships are available in your area, and from your potential college choices. Second, check for scholarships based on your individual strengths, credentials, talents and accomplishments.
  • Military scholarships. Having a parent or guardian who is a service member may qualify you for certain scholarships. Talk to them, or contact your installation education center for more information.

What do I need to know about student loans?

After you’ve exhausted all financial aid or scholarship options and saved as much money as you can, it may be time to look into student loans. Consider these factors before accepting student loans:

  • Remember, you have to pay them back. Loans are not “free money” and you can end up paying back much more than you originally take out, depending on the interest rate.
  • Pay attention to the terms. Make sure you understand the terms of any loans you accept. In addition to the interest rate, you should also pay attention to the repayment schedule and find out about the “grace period,” or how soon you have to pay it back after graduation.
  • Go for federal loans first. You can apply for loans through the government or private institutions, but federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and a more generous grace period.
  • Check for military-offered loans. Talk to your parents and research whether you’re eligible for any interest-free loans through the military. You can also read about the various scholarships, grants and loans for military students.

Where should I start?

  • Talk to your guidance counselor. Take advantage of your counselor’s wealth of experience and make an appointment to discuss your individual options.
  • Sit down with your parents or guardians. If you haven’t already, find time to sit down and talk candidly about your plans and your family’s financial situation. You’ll need to know all of your options before you begin formulating a college savings plan. Getting everything down on paper can help keep everyone on the same page.
  • Connect with a no-cost personal financial counselor. A financial counselor can give your family more information on your options. Learn more about how to arrange for no-cost financial counseling through Military OneSource.
  • Contact the education consultants at Military OneSource for help with college admissions and financial aid applications.
  • Do your research. Lots of schools and organizations put their scholarship opportunities online, so a preliminary internet search is a great way to get your feet wet and see what’s out there.

There are many ways to finance your college education; it’s just a matter of seeking out the options that work best for you. Military OneSource has your back to connect you with the best support for the next step in your education — and before you know it, you’ll be walking across the graduation stage with a diploma in your hand.

Managing Your Money as a New Service Member

Man in a military uniform shows a stack of twenty dollar bills.

You’re learning a lot of new skills in the military, and money management should be one of them. As a service member, you may earn more, get special duty pay or have new expenses. It’s your money. Make the most of it by creating a financial plan. Staying on top of your finances is important for your security clearance, your career and your future.

Do a budget for yourself

Pay Raise for 2020

Military personnel are receiving a 3.1% increase in their basic pay in 2020. This raise is for both active-duty and reserve service members.

Good financial management starts with writing a budget. Seek advice from one of the military’s no-cost personal financial counselors. If you have a family, get their input and set priorities. This will give family members a clear view of income and expenses.

Before you write a budget, you need to know your income. Check out the Department of Defense’s active-duty basic pay tables or log into myPay to see what you have to work with.

Save money every day

Make sure to track your spending and save where you can. Your weekly trips to the coffee shop can add up quickly. Here are a few ways to save money immediately:

  • Elect to save with the Thrift Savings Plan. Stash some money away in this defined contribution plan. How much you receive when you retire depends on how much you put into your account during your working years, so it’s a good idea to funnel as much as you can into this plan.
  • Eat out less frequently. Invite friends over for a potluck dinner instead of a more expensive meal out. Cook for yourself instead of eating takeout.
  • Avoid impulse buys. Force yourself to wait a week and see if you can live without the item you want or if you can find it cheaper somewhere else.
  • Take advantage of military discounts. Get discounts on insurance, travel, dining out, sporting events and recreation to name just a few.
  • Don’t pay full price. Shop at outlets or during sales. Take advantage of online discounts. Get the best prices and tax-free shopping at your local exchange and commissary.
  • Use the library for free books, music, magazines and videos. You can also find many of these same items for no cost at centers for single service members on your installation.
  • Use the on-base gym and Morale Welfare and Recreation facilities at no cost. It’s cheaper than joining a health club, and the workout is just as good.
  • Check the local or installation newspaper for free activities. Your installation Morale, Welfare and Recreation clubs may offer specials as well.

Look at the big picture

It’s also important to take a long view when creating your budget, making decisions about using credit and preparing for financial emergencies. The goal is to save enough money to ensure a bright financial future. Here are some tips for saving money over the long haul:

  • Make sure you’re getting free checking. If you are paying bank fees, find a bank with a better offer. If you’re on an installation, consult the installation bank and credit union.
  • Use your bank card only at no-fee ATM machines. Or open an account with a bank that pays other banks’ fees for using their ATMs. Many stores also give you the option of getting $20, $40 or another amount in cash back with debit card purchases.
  • Get rid of any credit cards with annual fees. Avoid interest charges by paying off balances each month. Never get caught by late fees.
  • Raise the deductible on your car insurance and lower your monthly payment. Just make sure you’ve saved enough money to cover the higher deductible.
  • Shop for the best deals on cell phone service, car insurance and other services. Be careful of long-term contracts that may leave you stuck if you move or deploy.
  • Turn off lights and lower heat or air conditioning settings when you’re not home. Check your windows and doors for drafts and put some insulation around areas where you feel cold or warm air.

Pay off your debt

Use that extra money you saved with the tips above to pay off your debt:

  • Acknowledge that you have debt issues. Commit to fixing them.
  • Stop spending. Take your credit cards, store cards and gas cards out of your wallet and put them in a secure location at home or cut them up.
  • Make a spending plan. Stick to it to avoid incurring additional debt.
  • Pay down your debts month by month and pay them off one by one. Make a list of the debt payments you owe each month, including the annual interest rate on each card. Then prioritize according to interest rate. Over time, you’ll get your debts paid off.