WASHINGTON -- As of July 27, the Department of Defense will continuously monitor individuals' security eligibility through the new Continuous Evaluation Program. This new policy mandates that individuals who hold a security clearance will be continuously evaluated to determine if they meet the requirements to maintain that clearance. The security clearance renewal due every six to 10 years is still in effect.

Since the start of this new policy, 1.1 million clearances have been enrolled and over 38,000 cases have been flagged. Most individuals who are associated with the Armed Forces, whether they are military, civilian or contractors, know the process for acquiring a security clearance involves a vigorous background investigation.

One aspect of the Continuous Evaluation, or CE, process is monitoring credit reports, financial records and public documents. No longer can you wait out the years in between renewals, making a few mistakes here or there with your finances. You must stay on top of your game 24/7, and keeping your finances in check is key.

At Financial Readiness, part of the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, we assist service members and civilian employees in working through any financial issue that may cause their security clearances to be denied. All too often we see a roller coaster of financial instability and hardship. Generally, the financial well-being appears around the time a security clearance renewal is due, but then takes a downward turn to instability during the off years. This could be due to complacency -- letting down your guard and not monitoring your finances like you should.

The best way to ensure your financial well-being is to have a healthy debt-to-income ratio, or DTI. To calculate your debt to income ratio, visit www.calculator.net/debt-ratio-calculator.html. Having a higher DTI ratio is one of the causes of financial instability.

Another cause of financial instability is due to individuals not checking their credit reports to ensure they are not victims of identity theft or to simply check for inaccurate information. With all of the data breaches in the past few years, now is the time to be concerned about protecting your identity from thieves. Here are a few things you can do to protect your credit.

Start by pulling your credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com. Each credit bureau allows you to pull your credit report for free once a year. Do not pull all three reports at one time, but scatter them throughout the year. Once the report has been pulled, review it for inaccuracies and initiate disputes on any inaccurate information. If you need assistance, do not hesitate to contact Financial Readiness at Fort Leonard Wood at (573) 596-0212 for assistance with pulling, analyzing, filing disputes and cases of fraud.

Lastly, to help keep thieves out of your credit file, there are two things you can do to protect yourself. First, stop all prescreened offers from coming to you via mail. These are the many balance transfers or life insurance offers you receive in the mail, also known as junk mail.

Simply go to www.optoutprescreen.com to either opt out via internet for 5 years or in writing for a lifetime. This will stop unwanted mail and unwanted individuals from looking into your credit profile so they can offer you something you can easily research online.

Second, consider putting a freeze on your credit file. You may lift the freeze for short periods of time to extend credit for things like a home or automobile.

If you are an active-duty service member, you may place an "Active Duty" alert on your profile that requires a creditor to contact you first before following through with opening lines of credit in your name. The credit freeze is permanent until you lift it and an Active Duty alert is only good for one year; however, you can renew it every year.

Keep in mind, when it comes time to renewing your security clearance, you will want to unfreeze your credit file for a minimum of 30 days. If you forget, your security manager may contact you to remind you to lift it.

(Editor's note: Barrett and Fink are Personal Financial specialists at Army Community Service at Fort Leonard Wood.)