How to remember passwords -- and what to do if you can't

Keywords, user IDs, account numbers, passwords that must contain both letters and numbers: the list of important login information we are required to remember is overwhelming indeed. Remembering increasingly complex and often-changing password combinations can be extremely difficult -- and for some people, it seems next to impossible.

CreditCards.com spoke to memory experts Scott Hagwood, the first American Grandmaster of Memory who memorized 800 numbers in sequence, and Dr. Thomas Crook, author of The Memory Advantage, to find out how average users like you and me can remember our passwords and account numbers without writing them down.
Here are the seven tricks that they suggest :
  • Create associations: Find a way to link the number you're trying to remember with something familiar, like a birth date or the number of your favorite football player.
  • Break long numbers into smaller parts: A typical person can only remember seven individual numbers at one time. So instead of trying to remember each number separately, lump them together. Instead of remembering 1-4-9-2, remember it as 1492 (and now you can employ the first tip as well and associate it with the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue!).
  • Look for patterns: This is a little trickier, but assess whether the numbers in a password add up to a memorable number or if there is some sort of other pattern. For 1492, we have an odd number/even number pattern.
  • Learn actively: Say the numbers out loud at least three times. By employing your mouth and vocal muscles you will be able to remember the number better.
  • Repeat it: Once you think you've memorized the number, repeat it on a regular basis so you won't forget.
  • Visualize the shape of the numbers: Whether it's on your credit card, phone dial or a keypad, try to remember where the numbers are situated. Some may occur in an X-shaped pattern, for example.
  • Convert numbers to words or images. Have the "1" represent the letter "A" so the number combination spells something out. Using our 1492 example, it would spell ADIB. Not exactly a word that rolls off your tongue, but it can help.
These seven tricks are explained in more detail at CreditCards.com and are a good start for remembering important numbers and information, but with the increasing number of passwords that we need to remember you may want to look for a more high-tech solution.

A 2007 study showed that the average user has 6.5 web passwords that they use on a total of 25 password-protected accounts. Even in three short years, that number has likely increased as more users sign up for new social networking services, make more online purchases and do more banking online. "Nowadays, we have to keep probably 10 times as many passwords in our head as we did 10 years ago," Jeff Moss, who serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council told the New York Times in January.

With so many passwords and numbers to remember those of us who wouldn't even come close to being a "Grandmaster of Memory" need a more high-tech solution to securely store our passwords. Thankfully, there are several ways to securely store your passwords and account numbers without taping them to the underside of your desk.

KeePass, a free password manager, was selected as the best password manager in a competition at Lifehacker.

There are several other good password manager solutions that make it easy to remember the important passwords you use. Unless otherwise noted these tools work with both Windows and OSX.

  • Billeo: In addition to putting savings in your search results, Billeo will store passwords securely on your computer.
  • LastPass: This tool not only stores your passwords, it can keep them in sync across multiple machines and mobile devices, and it's a favorite of our sister site DownloadSquad.
  • 1Password: Another password management tool which syncs your data across multiple machines including the iPad. This tool will also let you store credit card numbers, account numbers and documents securely.
  • Account Manager for Firefox: Account manager will be coming to future versions of Firefox, but it is already available from Mozilla Labs for use.

Whatever you do, don't keep your passwords on your computer or in your email as a plain text document that can be read by anyone. All of these tools encrypt your passwords and account information to keep it away from prying eyes. Using a password manager is a great way to be more secure online and makes it easier to avoid using the same password for every website you visit.


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