As a tech journalist, I've been covering—and personally using—password managers for almost a decade. I've advocated for them every opportunity I had, and even convinced some of my family members to start using them. It's safe to say, this is a category that I care a bit too much about.
So I spent a few days testing every viable password manager on the market, and here are the four best.
The 4 best password managers
1Password for most people
LastPass for people already using LastPass Free
Bitwarden for a free password manager
Dashlane for a full internet security tool
How do password managers work?
All someone needs to log in to most online accounts is a username (or email address) and password. Ideally, only you would know your password, but as data breach after data breach has shown, that can't be guaranteed. There's a very good reason to believe that if you use the same password for all your accounts, it's been leaked online somewhere. This is a big problem—and it's only getting bigger. 2021 set records for the amount of passwords and other sensitive data that was leaked by hackers.
If you can't trust that your carefully thought-up, long, complex password—because you do use a long, complex password, right?—is secret, the only way to stay secure online is to use a long, complex, and unique password for every single online account you have. And if you're anything like me, that's a lot of passwords.
Password managers take care of all that for you. All you have to do is remember a single master password, and it takes care of the rest. A good password manager will automatically generate super strong passwords, fill them in for you when you go to log in to your online accounts, and even allow you to use additional security features like two-factor authentication, without having to worry about downloading extra apps or having your cell phone nearby. In terms of online security, they can be life-changing.
What makes a great password manager?
There are dozens of password managers available. For this article, I considered almost 40 of them, and—to be blunt—a lot of them are bad. Either their security is lacking (or can't be verified), they're only available on a limited number of platforms, or they're just plain awful to use.
But because there are so many apps to choose from, we don't have to settle for bad—or even mediocre. I was able to set a really high bar and only include the apps that cleared it. To make this list, apps had to:
Be truly cross-platform. Your passwords should be accessible to you everywhere, whether you're using your computer or smartphone, or even a friend's computer. The minimum capability was that an app supported and securely synced all your passwords between at least one desktop and one mobile platform, but in practice, all the apps on this list support Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android, and have browser plugins for Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox, at the very least. And because of their encrypted sync services, your passwords are always available.
Generate secure passwords and 2FA codes—and autofill them. In other words, the apps had to be complete password managers that handled everything, not glorified spreadsheets. Once you enter your master password (or use a biometric unlock), you should be automatically logged in to your accounts with, at most, a click or a keyboard shortcut. Also, the apps had to make creating and saving new accounts simple and as automatic as possible.
Support additional security features, like security audits and data breach notifications. I was looking for apps that not only made it so you could use secure passwords, but also continuously protected you. This means apps that let you know if you're using a weak—or hacked—password, help you update and change bad passwords, and otherwise make securing your online life easier.
Be transparent about how passwords are encrypted and secured (and, ideally, third-party audited). Security by obscurity doesn't work. Instead, the best apps are very clear about what technologies they use to keep data safe. Some are open source, some are audited by third-party security companies, and some are just incredibly clear about how they work. But we're confident that all our picks offer incredible security—and will continue to do so.
Nice to use, reliable, and just plain good. Logging in to accounts is something you do every day, so you'll be forced to interact with your password manager a lot. If it's annoying to use, poorly designed, or just bad, it's going to get annoying fast. I have a really low threshold when it comes to bad app experiences, so the highest praise I can offer these picks is that I would happily use any one of them on a daily basis—there are very few apps I'll say that about.
Of course, all of my picks also offer lots of other features, from credit card autofilling and secure notes to sharing passwords with family and private document storage. These are all fully-featured apps. The criteria above were the minimum requirements to make this list, not an exhaustive list of features.
Each secure password manager on this list has both personal plans for regular users and business or enterprise plans for companies. I focused on the personal plans, but I'm confident that the business plans will offer the same level of ease of use and security if you're looking for a password manager for your business.
How we tested the password managers
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
I've been using and testing password management apps for 10 years. For this article, I started by making a list of all the apps that could possibly be considered fully-featured password managers and then checked to see if they met my minimum criteria listed above. Many apps failed out at this stage for any number of reasons.
Of the 10 or so apps that made the initial cut, over the course of three days, I tried each one on at least two devices and used them to generate passwords, log in to my accounts, and generally just manage my passwords. Of the almost 40 apps I started with, there were only four I felt were worthy of inclusion on this list. Here they are.
Best password manager for most people
1Password is one of the biggest names in password management, and I'd say it's the best option for most people looking for a password manager. It's easy to use, incredibly secure, and widely available, with all your passwords syncing across all your devices.
Although 1Password started out as a Mac exclusive 15 years ago, it's now available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and pretty much every browser. That Mac app polish still shows, though.
1Password is based around the idea of "vaults." Each vault contains your passwords, credit card details, and other autofill information like addresses, as well as up to 1GB of secure notes and documents. You can set up individual vaults for your personal and professional lives (I have one just for all the logins I create while writing these kinds of Zapier articles, for example), and, if you're on a Families or Team plan, securely share them with other people.
Where 1Password stands out most is how easy it is to use. Password managers have long been built by nerds, for nerds. Unfortunately, with the way online security is going, everyone needs to be able to use secure passwords—not just the most technical-minded. 1Password nails the basics and guides you through every step of setting up secure passwords.
Take Watchtower. It's the section of 1Password that assesses your ongoing password security. It tells you if any of your passwords are compromised in a hack, are weak, or are duplicates. It also tells you if there are any sites with two-factor authentication that you haven't enabled yet. All this info is presented clearly without any overdramatic warnings, so you can do something about it.
Right now, 1Password is in the middle of a big upgrade, so things are a little inconsistent between platforms. 1Password 7 is available for macOS, while 1Password 8, which overhauls the user interface, is available on Windows. Expect everything to be a bit more settled by the end of this year.
The biggest downside to 1Password is that there's no free option (unless you're a journalist or politician): it costs $36 per year for one account or $60 per year for up to five family accounts. I'd say online security is worth the fee, but it's understandable that not everyone agrees.
1Password pricing: $36/year for a Personal account; $60/year for Families with up to five accounts. Monthly plan available once you onboard.
Best password manager for existing LastPass Free users
LastPass is the other big name in password management, and it's an excellent 1Password alternative (although it doesn't really have native desktop apps). It's available for iOS and Android and (through browser extensions) for Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox, as well as macOS, Windows, and Linux. We actually have a full feature-by-feature rundown if you're interested in exploring the small differences between 1Password and LastPass. But there's one big reason LastPass doesn't top this list: customer support.
Up until last year, LastPass had the best free plan of any password manager, to the point that very few people needed to subscribe to its premium offerings. But that changed, and it wasn't handled especially well. With one month's notice, LastPass limited all free accounts to one device type. You could either access your passwords on your computers or on your mobile devices, but not both.
To me, this felt like LastPass was attempting to hold people's passwords for ransom in order to get them to upgrade. Passwords and login details are such an important part of online life that when you use a password manager, you should trust that you'll have ongoing access to them. LastPass undermined that.
Again, this isn't to say that LastPass isn't a great app. LastPass Premium has all the features I'd want, it's easy to use, and it's available everywhere. I happily used it in the past, so if you already use LastPass, there's no reason not to keep using it—and if you have LastPass Free, I'd happily recommend you upgrade to LastPass Premium. But for new users with no existing account, I feel 1Password is the safer option, purely because it has never limited or changed how people are able to access their passwords.
Also, I'm a sucker for a native desktop app.
LastPass pricing: Free for single device type; $36/year for Premium with unlimited devices; $48/year for Families plan with up to 6 users.
Best free password manager
Bitwarden is the best free password manager. It's the only app I tested that offered almost everything I wanted in a password manager as part of a free plan with no big caveats. It's a little less polished than 1Password, but it's no less effective at keeping your online accounts safe.
Bitwarden is open-source (so its security credentials are easy to verify) and available for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux. Its browser support is even better: there are extensions for Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, and even Tor Browser.
One quirk of Bitwarden is that, by default, it doesn't automatically suggest or fill in your login details when a page loads. You have to use the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+L (or Command+Shift+L on a Mac). If you want to change that, in the browser extension, click Settings > Options and then check Enable Auto-fill on Page Load and set Default Autofill Setting for Login Items to Auto-fill on Page Load.
Similarly, it's not quite as good as LastPass or 1Password for auto-detecting and saving new logins as you create them. Instead, the best process is to click the browser extension and then click Add a Login. Then fill in the login details, click the Generate Password icon, then click Save before filling all the information into the account creation form. (That way, you won't accidentally forget to save a password.)
In addition to offering a great free plan, Bitwarden's $10 per year Premium Account is well worth a look. It adds features like Vault Health Reports (which let you know about weak or leaked passwords), 1GB of encrypted file storage, and more advanced two-factor authentication options.
Bitwarden pricing: Free for all important features; Premium Account at $10/year for password health reports, encrypted file storage, and a few other nice-to-have features.
Best full internet security app that's also a password manager
Dashlane is as good and easy to use as 1Password and LastPass, but it costs a little more and has a few extra security features that aren't necessary for most people—though they're certainly nice to have.
Dashlane is available for iOS and Android. The desktop apps were recently discontinued, so access on Windows, macOS, and Linux is through the fully featured web app and Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox browser extensions.
It's a powerful password manager, but Dashlane also includes a VPN service, so you can browse privately, and it can automatically monitor the Dark Web for your various email addresses to let you know if any of your personal information has been compromised in a hacked database. (Mine was from nine separate hacks.)
I especially liked Dashlane's Password Health score. While it doesn't do anything different than 1Password's Watchtower, the way it presents the overall quality of your passwords as a percentage is incredibly clear. There's the added motivation to improve the score, which you can do by updating your passwords—which Dashlane also makes easy. For a limited number of sites, you can change your password with a single click. Just click Change Password, and Dashlane will handle the rest. (For most sites, though, the process is a little less automatic.)
So what do these extra features cost? Dashlane is the only app on this list that makes it easy to sign up for a monthly subscription right off the bat (1Password also does, though it's only available once you onboard). It starts at $6.49 per month ($78/year) for the Premium plan, although it's $60 per year if you pay up front. That's almost twice the price of 1Password Premium, although the difference is offset if you would otherwise pay for a VPN service as well.
Dashlane also offers a free account, but it's limited to one device and 50 passwords. It's nice if you want to explore Dashlane, but it's not really a usable password management option for most people.
Dashlane pricing: Free for a single device and 50 passwords; from $60/year for Premium.
Why can't I use the Google password manager or the Apple password manager?
A lot of people question the very need for a password manager, especially a standalone one. And yes, all major browsers can save your passwords for you and sync them between your different devices. (Apple's password manager, iCloud Keychain, is particularly good across Macs and iPhones.) Still, there are a few big downsides to managing your passwords this way.
They're not synced across different browsers. I use Safari and Chrome for work (as do a lot of people), and the Apple password manager and Google password manager don't play nice with each other.
Device support is inconsistent. For example, if you're fully invested in Apple's ecosystem, iCloud Keychain can work, but it still means you can't easily access your passwords from a friend's computer in an emergency.
Generating and maintaining secure passwords isn't a major priority for browser manufacturers. While they will suggest and save a good password, they don't offer all the password health checks of our top picks, nor do they make changing passwords as simple.
Identity theft and data leaks are too common and online accounts too valuable to just leave things up to your default browser. A good password manager is an investment in your security—and one I'd encourage you to make.
This article was originally published in October 2015 by Jesse Plautz.