Shoddy finances shouldn't prevent you from fulfilling your civic duty and enlisting in the military. After all, the enemy doesn't care about the state of your personal finances.
As a rule, a past bankruptcy filing won't disqualify you from joining the military. Recruiters for most branches of the Armed Forces care more about your criminal past, your physical fitness and your aptitude test scores. While multiple DUIs, violent felonies or financial crimes may prevent you from exercising your right to bear arms, a civil case like bankruptcy has no bearing on your ability to serve.
However, your bankruptcy filing may have an impact on your ability to advance within your chosen military branch. To get a highly-paid specialized job with the Air Force, Marines and Navy, you may need to obtain a basic security clearance. Likewise, many career-level rankings require such clearances. Unfortunately, your past bankruptcy filing may prevent you from securing even an entry-level clearance.
What's worse, your bankruptcy filing may remain on your credit report for five to 10 years. During this time, you'll be unable to apply for a security clearance and may have difficulty purchasing a home on or near your base. Although any "official" record of your filing will drop off of your credit report after the 10-year window has passed, your bankruptcy may still show up on thorough background checks conducted by future lenders, employers and government agencies.
As such, it may be to your advantage to explore other debt relief options before plunging into bankruptcy. If your credit remains solid and you have ample collateral or a cosigner, you may be able to qualify for a debt consolidation loan. This product can bundle your existing debts into a single low-interest loan that may save you thousands of dollars per year. Likewise, you could get in touch with a non-profit credit counseling service that specializes in negotiating lower interest rates with your creditors.
If you can't avoid filing for bankruptcy before enlisting in the military, do your best to portray your financial hardship in a positive light. You may be able to explain to your employers, commanding officers, and the folks responsible for issuing your security clearance that your filing was caused by circumstances beyond your control. These could include a ruinous divorce, crushing student loan debt, or a temporary medical problem that left you unable to work for an extended period of time.