Best free password managers: Better online security doesn’t have to cost a thing

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Best free password managers: Better online security doesn’t have to cost a thing

You need a password manager. Data breaches are now commonplace, and that flood of stolen data has made cracking passwords even easier—and not just the “password12345” variety, but also those that use strategies like variations on a single password or substituting numbers for letters. Even if you’re using unique, random passwords, storing them in a document or spreadsheet leaves you vulnerable to prying eyes.

While paid password managers offer nice extras, even a free password manager protects you from the risks of using weak passwords (or worse, using the same one everywhere). You just have to remember one password to access a single, secure place where all your other passwords are stored.

Free password managers come in different flavors and styles, too, so you should be able to find one that fits your lifestyle. Down the road, you can always upgrade to a paid service as your needs grow.

Not sure what features you’ll need? Generally, you want a service that offers password generation, autoform filling, two-factor authentication, and allows you to move between different devices -and- device types. For more info, you can read our explanation of what you need to know about password managers.

Best free password manager for most people: Bitwarden

Bitwarden homepage PCWorld
  • Website: https://bitwarden.com/
  • Devices: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, browser extensions, web, command line
  • Open source: Yes
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): Yes

Like several other services, Bitwarden offers a free tier and a paid tier—but its free tier packs in so many features that most individuals won’t need more. You can access the service across an unlimited amount of devices and a multitude of device types, enable basic TOTP two-factor authentication, and fill your vault with as many passwords as you’d like. The free personal plan also allows privacy-minded users to avoid the company’s cloud hosting and instead self-host.

Rivals dole out far less to their free users, and it’s particularly rare for them to grant unrestricted movement between multiple device types. (Dashlane even begins charging as soon as you want to leave the confines of a single device.) Most competitors are also not open-source like Bitwarden, which prevents their communities from being able to hunt for hidden backdoors or security holes.

The one thing that the free personal plan doesn’t offer is password sharing—but you can partially get around that by signing up for a free enterprise plan instead. It includes two seats with unlimited password sharing between them, thus allowing both individuals to safely access passwords for shared accounts. The trade-off, however, is that free enterprise plans do not allow self-hosting.

Bitwarden enterprise pricing page PCWorld

Bitwarden’s generous lineup of features for its free service makes it our top pick. Choose the free enterprise plan to enable password sharing with one other account.

Bitwarden’s other advantage is that should your needs expand down the road, the transition to a paid plan won’t cost much. A premium personal plan is just $10 per year (compared to $36+ per year for rivals), and a family plan is $40 per year for up to six users (compared to $48+ per year for rivals). And moving up to a paid tier does come with concrete benefits: support for more sophisticated forms of two-factor authentication, evaluations of your passwords’ health (e.g., strength, public exposure, etc), encrypted file storage, and emergency access for trusted individuals.

Finally, if you decide to move elsewhere one day, Bitwarden allows you to export your passwords—with the option to do so as an encrypted file. But with such a generous and thorough set of features, you’ll likely not want to go elsewhere.

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