You’re no doubt aware that we’re advised never to re-use passwords for our online accounts. That way, if someone discovers your Facebook password, they won’t also have access to your Amazon account or your online banking app. However, I find it impossible to remember unique passwords for every website, and if you hold more than a couple of online accounts, I suspect it’s a problem you also face.
Password security is difficult, but some tools make it simpler. That’s where password managers come in. I have over 400 passwords stored in mine, but I’ve never seen most of them: they’re automatically generated, stored, and filled into my browser as I need them.
A password manager is a piece of software that stores and organizes your passwords, allowing access only via a master password. Once you’ve logged in, it will allow you to manage, search, and use your data. For convenience, most password managers automatically populate login fields in your browser, so you don’t need to remember, type, or copy and paste your credentials each time.
Password managers usually contain additional features to make creating and managing login details easier. These include password generators and vaults or folders used to organize and even share your data. With growing lists of features, some are developing into broader tools to protect you online.
A password manager keeps your encrypted passwords in a database. When you enter the master password, the contents are decrypted, and you can search and use this database. Your password manager might also have additional security features, such as alerting you of weak or reused passwords, or if your password has been found in a data breach or used on a compromised website.
Most password managers are entirely cloud-based, which allows you to install the software on multiple devices and keep your passwords synchronized across them. However, Sticky Password provides a local-only option that works over WiFi, meaning your devices have to be connected to the same network to sync. This could be essential for those working on highly sensitive projects—for example, involving medical data. But unless you have this specific need, I’d choose cloud synchronization.
Using a password manager is safer than not using one, but that’s not to say all password managers are safe. I’d suggest going for one of the reputable password managers on this list.
A key safety feature is a zero-knowledge policy, which means service providers are unable to decrypt and view your passwords. Strong encryption algorithms such as AES or XChaCha20 are preferable. As an additional layer of security, look for multi-factor authentication, where you’re sent a code that you enter alongside your master password.
This is a must-have feature unless you only use one device. If you’re using your password manager to generate long, secure passwords with capitals, numerals, and special characters, typing them out each time you switch devices becomes frustrating. Having your passwords automatically synchronize solves this problem.
If I’m paying for a password manager, I want it to actively monitor the integrity of my passwords. This should include checking for weak and reused passwords, but also whether any accounts might have been compromised online. Look for products promoting “dark web monitoring” or “watchtower” features.
If you need to share passwords regularly, then this feature is worth considering. Some options, like LastPass, require the other person to have an account with the same password manager. 1Password, on the other hand, allows you to share passwords via a time-limited secure link that requires email verification.
The majority of password managers offer family accounts. If your family regularly shares a computer or you’re always asking each other for the Netflix or WiFi password, then one of these plans can save you money while also providing security for your entire family.
Most providers have a range of premium accounts with solo and family options available. A basic personal account can be as low as $1.25 per month, while Dashlane’s family plan costs $4.99 per month but provides six premium accounts under one subscription.
Unfortunately, most free plans restrict users to one device or lack synchronization between devices. This means most people will soon move to a premium account. You’re not likely to switch password managers regularly, so paying annually provides the best value for money.
I’d generally expect to pay $2-$3 per month for a good password manager, but you should be able to get a discount if you take advantage of one of the many offers available online.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the lists of features provided by password managers. Your first consideration should be the security of the product, followed by how easy it is for you to use. It’s then worth considering whether you need additional features and how these might fit in with your budget.
All the password managers on this list provide good protection for your passwords. The differences between them are the additional features available to secure your account and share your passwords. Even if you don’t enable it for other services, I’d recommend turning multi-factor authentication on for your password manager. If you need to share passwords with others, then make sure your password manager allows secure sharing. Dark web monitoring features also provide additional protection.
Once you get started with a password manager, you’d be surprised at how many different online accounts you have. This makes unlimited password storage a critical feature, and it’s provided by all the paid plans on this list. For free plans, I’d suggest RoboForm, NordPass, or Sticky Password, as each lets you store unlimited passwords.
I found the setup for all the password managers straightforward: create an account, install the app or browser extension, log in, and away you go. 1Password requires an additional step in the form of saving a PDF with a secret key, but this enhances your account’s security.
Password managers are intuitive to use, although some, like Dashlane, are more aesthetically pleasing than others. The mobile apps and browser extensions make generating and adding passwords easy. Many allow you to organize your logins in a password vault or folder.
Most password managers offer cross-platform compatibility, allowing you to use them on your desktop or laptop as well as your mobile device. All the password managers on this list support iOS and Android. Only some offer a dedicated desktop app, with others providing a web app accessible through the web browser or an extension that can be installed into it. If you predominantly use a password manager for online credentials, you won't notice much difference between these approaches.
Most fully-featured password managers fall into the $2-$3 per month range. More basic options, lacking additional features, tend to be cheaper at $1-$2 per month. Unless there’s a unique feature that stands out for you, I’d suggest looking at the mid-range options. Both RoboForm and NordPass have good free versions that cost $1.99 when you upgrade, allowing you to try before buying.
If you usually use one device, then there are free plans worth considering. Upgrading to a paid subscription is easy to do if you find you need to install the password manager on multiple devices. While there are other open-source and free password managers on the internet, they often lack the ease of use that those with premium plans can provide.
Most password managers will allow you to use multiple devices and sync between them seamlessly. Many also offer a limited amount of cloud storage, which can be useful for securely storing sensitive documents.
When choosing a premium password manager, you can expect to find password sharing and biometric login options. These feature-rich tools also alert you to potential security risks, such as weak or re-used passwords, and perform dark web monitoring to check if your personal information has been exposed in any data breaches.
If you’re a regular traveler, some services have features that might be relevant. Check out Dashlane’s VPN, or 1Password’s travel mode, which allows you to control what passwords are available when you cross borders.