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Why You Need a Password Manager (And Five to Try)

Writing down passwords on a notepad, or just using the same password for everything, may have served you well so far, but these are high-risk strategies that are going to leave you exposed sooner rather than later.

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If you’re not sure why password managers matter, imagine losing access to all your accounts. Or worse, access falling into the wrong hands. Your emails, your photos, your credit cards, your bank accounts, all of the logins that make up your digital life.

Writing down passwords on a notepad or, even worse, just using the same password for everything, may have served you well so far, but you’re playing with fire. And while built-in browser tools are getting better at managing (and suggesting) passwords themselves, a dedicated tool will almost always be a better bet. It’s built for the purpose, and it will work across all your devices and various browsers.

The job of all password managers is essentially the same. Chiefly, they remember the login credentials for your various accounts, but also autofill login forms and help you generate strong, unique passwords with ease. Access to this treasure trove of information is controlled by a master password, so you only need to remember one.

These apps are now available across all the various desktop and mobile platforms, offering support for two-factor authentication and various other protocols that add more layers of protection to guard against unauthorized entry to your key digital accounts. Many will also go the extra distance to help you manage credit card details, address information and anything else you need in a web browser but want to protect from prying eyes.

When it comes to making a choice of which app to settle down with, the good news is that almost all of them will treat you well. The main differences you’ll find when comparing password managers are the software interfaces, the pricing structures, and the various bonus features. The biggest decision is not so much which one to use but rather the choice to knuckle down and start taking your password security seriously before its too late.

Best Option for Apple Users: iCloud

icloud password manager

Built into iOS and macOS, Apple's iCloud-based keychain can function as a pretty solid password manager now that a new extension allows it to work in Google Chrome.

When it comes to a free way to manage passwords, the iCloud solution is one of the best options out there — if you use Apple devices primarily. With the changes to LastPass's free tier, iCloud is the rare option that allows for sharing across desktop and mobile devices at no cost.

The catch, however, is that iCloud is primarily a feature of Apple's devices. But the new Google Chrome extension at least means you are not stuck using Safari exclusively and can even access your passwords through Chrome on a Windows computer.

Price: Free

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Best Free Option: LastPass


LastPass is available on just about every device out there and compatible with all the popular apps and services. Once notable for having an incredible free tier, LastPass is now limiting that functionality which means that if you don't pay, you'll be forced to use it on mobile or desktop exclusively. Still, as far as free options go, it's about as good as it gets.

The apps (including the web interface) are clear and clean, it’s possible to store a huge amount of information privately, and everything works smoothly. The family option is a welcome one as well, letting you share files and folders with family members and manage everyone’s passwords and private data through a single account dashboard.

LastPass's limited free tier which forces you to choose mobile-only or desktop-only operation makes it much more likely you'll need to ante up for a premium version. But that cost does come with a broader range of extra features (for an extra price), including VPNs and additional identity theft protection. Overall, it’s a polished and reliable product.

Price: Free (mobile only or desktop only), $3/month for premium

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Best User Experience: 1Password


1Password often scores highly in ‘best of’ lists of password managers, and it’s not difficult to see why: It takes care of managing all your passwords and private information with a user-friendly, intuitive approach that takes away all the stress and friction from logging in.

The design and interface of the apps is just about the best we’ve come across, jumping between devices is easy, it offers biometric protection (logging in with a face or fingerprint) across the board, and even audits the strength of your existing passwords for you. Categories and tags make organizing your saved data simple too.

Perhaps the only downside to 1Password – which maybe isn’t a downside – is that there’s no free tier. There is a free 30-day trial, but you need to enter your card details right at the start. Apart from that, everything is really impressive.

Price: $3+/month

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Best Premium Extras: Dashlane


Dashlane is hard to beat as far as password managers go, with top-quality apps across every platform, thoughtful features everywhere (like the ability to import passwords from your browser), and a bunch of (paid-for) extras like a VPN tool and an inbox scanner.

Just about everything from the elegance of the Dashlane apps to the way it just works in the background while you go about your business is polished and pleasant to use. It’s notable for the number of extras you get besides the basics of managing passwords and secure data, extras which include monitoring the dark web for any mentions of your passwords.

Price: $3.33/month

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Honorable Mention: Bitwarden


Perhaps Bitwarden’s biggest selling point is that it’s open source—your passwords stay protected and you’re using code that’s publicly developed and publicly available, improving transparency and security. Almost all the key features are available for free.

It’s free to use across as many devices as you like, so the premium level is the cheapest out there, and it does a straightforward job of managing your passwords and other data. Bitwarden is audited by independent security experts, lets you securely share passwords with other people, and can generate new, strong passwords for you too.

But Bitwarden doesn’t have the same level of polish and user-friendliness as the other password managers we’ve mentioned here, though it’s by no means difficult to use. Extras like VPNs and data breach warnings aren’t included.

Price: Free, or $10/year

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