Can I Join the Military If I File for Bankruptcy?

If you are planning to enlist in the armed forces, you should know that bankruptcy can affect your security clearance and your eligibility for certain positions.

By , J.D. · California Western School of Law

Depending on the branch of the military you wish to join and your particular circumstances, you may need to meet certain financial eligibility requirements before you can enlist in the armed forces. In most cases, a bankruptcy filing will not automatically prohibit you from joining the military. But it can affect your security clearance and the types of positions you are eligible for. Read on to learn more about whether you can join the military if you file for bankruptcy relief.

For more information on other bankruptcy filing considerations, see our topic area on Should I File for Bankruptcy?

Financial Eligibility Requirements for Joining the Military

If you have bad credit, accounts that are in collection, or a previous bankruptcy, you will typically have to meet certain financial eligibility requirements in order to join most branches of the military. In general, financial eligibility determinations focus on whether or not you can afford to pay your current obligations with your anticipated military salary.

In some cases, a bankruptcy can help you meet the military's financial requirements because it may eliminate many of your debts and show that you are taking a positive step towards financial responsibility. But each military branch has its own eligibility requirements. Whether filing for bankruptcy can hurt your chances of enlisting depends on which branch of the military you wish to join and your particular circumstances. The best course of action? Talk to a military recruiter to get more information prior to filing your case.

Bankruptcy May Affect Your Security Clearance

Even if filing for bankruptcy relief will not prevent you from joining the military, it can affect:

  • the positions you can qualify for, and
  • your ability to obtain a security clearance.

In general, decisions regarding security clearances are made on a case by case basis and can take into account multiple factors such as:

  • financial responsibility
  • personal conduct
  • history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • criminal conduct
  • ties with foreign individuals and countries, and
  • personality disorders.

As a financial consideration, whether a bankruptcy will prevent you from obtaining a security clearance can also depend on your reasons for filing. For example, filing for bankruptcy because of unforeseen circumstances (such as a medical emergency) may be looked upon more favorably than filing as a result of your own financial irresponsibility.

Talk to a Military Recruiter

As discussed, filing for bankruptcy relief may potentially have an impact on your ability to join the military, the positions you can obtain, and your security clearance. Because each branch of the military has unique eligibility requirements, whether or not a bankruptcy filing will negatively affect your potential military career depends on the branch you want to enlist in and your specific circumstances.

Before filing your case, talk to a military recruiter in your area to learn about whether filing for bankruptcy might affect your ability to enlist and the consequences it might have once you join.

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