With the numerous password manager options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. CNET has thoroughly tested dozens of password managers over the years and we've developed a pretty good idea of the types of things to look for in a quality service. Here are the most important things to consider when choosing a password manager:
You're putting a ton of trust in your password manager to keep your logins safe, so the security of the service should be your top concern. Look for a password manager that operates on a zero-knowledge basis and secures user vaults with industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption. Independent security audits can also help bolster trust in a password manager. And while you're researching password managers, it's important to consider the company behind the service. Has the company been involved in any security incidents that have potentially compromised user data? If so, it's best to look elsewhere.
Pricing for password managers can vary from provider to provider, so you'll want to pick a service that will fit your needs and budget. Most password managers have pricing plans for individuals, families and businesses. Pricing for family and business plans are more expensive than individual plans, but family and business plans cover multiple users, while individual plans are limited to a single user. Many password managers also offer free tiers, but they almost always come with limitations on features or device allowance. However, some services, like Bitwarden, allow for unlimited vault entries on unlimited devices on their free plan. Most password managers also offer either a free trial or a money-back guarantee, so you can try them risk-free.
One of the most important aspects of using a password manager is having it available on all of the devices you use. Before you purchase a subscription to a password manager, make sure it's compatible with all of the devices, operating systems and browsers you regularly use. The password manager should also automatically sync your passwords and other vault items across all of your devices. This helps ensure that you can access your passwords at any time from any of your devices.
Make sure your password manager has standard features like multifactor authentication, a password generator, secure sharing and automatic sync. Other useful features to look out for include secure file storage, login autofill, vault health reporting and data breach and dark web monitoring. Many password managers also allow you to store things like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, health data, PIN codes and secure notes in addition to storing your online login credentials.
Secure sharing capabilities
It's never a good idea to share passwords or other highly sensitive information via email or SMS, but most password managers include secure sharing features that allow you to safely share vault items with others. Some password managers allow secure sharing only with other users of the same service, while others allow secure sharing with anyone, regardless of whether they use a password manager. Secure sharing features are also typically customizable and allow you to set restrictions on how many times a shared vault item can be accessed or for how long. If you're planning on sharing certain passwords with family members, friends or colleagues, it's a good idea to check on the password manager's secure sharing capabilities to ensure they're useful for your needs.
Secure file storage
Some password managers offer secure file storage options that allow you to safely store documents like health records, bank statements, insurance paperwork and title documents. Some allow for 1GB of secure storage space, while others may offer up to 10GB. Depending on whether you need to store files and how much space you would need, it's a good idea to look into the secure file storage capabilities and allowances of the password manager you're considering.
Family plan allowance
If you want to share a password manager subscription with family or friends, it's a good move to opt for a password manager family plan. With a family plan, one subscription fee covers anywhere from five to 10 individual accounts, depending on the provider. A family plan is a convenient and cost-effective option for anyone who wants to easily and securely share vault items with trusted contacts.