Great Savings 44 – Change Your Passwords



Passwords protect our way of life.

What’s the key to making a really great password? Find out.


When was the last time you changed important passwords? Do you rely on one or two passwords for all the websites you visit? Do you know what makes a secure password and what doesn’t? Do you use a password with a close relative’s name or birthday in it? If it’s been awhile since you last thought about passwords, or if you answered yes to any of the above questions, nothing short of your financial future could be at stake.


A pile of cash.

If your passwords aren’t strong enough, your money makes an easy target for determined thieves.

The reason we use passwords is to protect critical personal or financial data. When we fail to do that, we leave ourselves open to thieves wanting to access personal information or steal our money. Passwords also protect our accounts from being hacked and used against us. That can literally cost thousands and may require we spend countless frustrating hours trying to rectify the situation. This makes a good password—that is, one difficult to break—an essential tool for personal financial protection.


Another Great Savings Tip from


In spite of all the warnings, far too many people rely on a simple password, or they use the same password at multiple sites to protect themselves. For example, they use a spouse’s name or a birthday. The trouble comes when someone tries hacking into your account. Your spouse’s name, kid’s names and birthdays (or other important dates like the day you got married) are a matter of public record. A determined identity thief knows this, which means it’s a good idea to avoid using significant names or dates for passwords. Are you using a simple name just so you can remember it? It’s not going to keep you safe from prying eyes.


This password is much too short.

All passwords should be at least 8 characters. More is better.

Too Short

Excuses for using a password that is too short often go like this: (1) It’s just easier to remember a short password, or (2) I’ve always used it and I don’t want to change it. However, a good password should be 8 characters long at a minimum. In fact, the longer the password is the harder it is to break. You may love your dog, Spot, but using his name as your password puts you at risk because it’s too short. This is one case where using more is always better than using less.


Put numbers between letters for the strongest passwords.

Stronger passwords include both letters and numbers. Are you using both?



Don’t use only a name or set of letters when you go to build a strong password. Instead, mix both numbers and letters. For example, if you want to use the letters in your dog’s name, add in numbers to make the password more difficult to guess. To help you remember them, you might think about the year you got your dog or maybe the year you got your first dog. Not too many people will know that. Thus, instead of “Spot” use, Spot1997, or better yet mix the order perhaps inserting a number after every letter—as in S1p9o9t7.


The strongest passwords are case-sensitive.

Some sites offer case-sensitive passwords. That means the characters must be upper or lower case, depending on how you entered your password when you created it.

Mixed Cases


Some passwords are case-sensitive, meaning they have to be typed in using either lower or upper case letters (whichever way they were first entered when the password was created). Thus, if the password is Afghanistan you’d have to type a capital A and use small letters for the rest of the word every time you enter it. A mixed cased password is stronger than those where either upper or lower case letters are allowed. If it’s an option take advantage of it.


Add special characters for the strongest passwords.

Add symbols or “special characters” to make your passwords really strong.

Special Characters


These are the symbols you’ll find on your keyboard above the numbers. For example, * & $ # ! @. The strongest passwords include at least one or more special characters. Thus, if we continue on with our example above, we could use *Spot&1997 or some combination thereof.


Changing Passwords


Even strong passwords should be changed every few months for maximum security. If nothing else, at least change them annually. If you don’t know where to change your password on a particular website, look for tabs or buttons for “My Account”, “Security Settings”, or check the site-map which is often accessible from the bottom of the page.


This is one tough password.

To create the strongest possible passwords mix it up. Here we used symbols, case-sensitive letters and numbers.

Putting It All Together


To review, strong passwords are created every few months, are at least 8 characters in length, case-sensitive, include both letters and numbers, and include at least one or more special characters. However, for the strongest passwords use a random group of letters, numbers and characters, or mix up the order of the numbers and letters you use in a way that will make the most sense for remembering them.



I Forgot My Password


One of the biggest reasons most people fail to change a password or continue to hang on to a simple one longer than they should is they have a difficult time remembering a new one. That can be especially difficult if you need a different password for multiple sites.


One easy trick (providing length isn’t an issue) is to add an abbreviation onto an already strong password that will distinguish it. For example, say you’ve come up with a great new password like ^DogMeat9*. For each of your accounts, add an abbreviation so it’s unique. For example, if you bank at U.S. Bank you could use ^DogMeat9*USB. And for Facebook you could use ^DogMeat9*FB. Even if someone guesses you do this, they won’t know where you put the abbreviation—^DogMeat9*FB could just as easily be FB^DogMeat9*, ^DogFBMeat9*, etc.


Another trick is to create a password protected file on your laptop or PC to store all your passwords using a program like Microsoft Excel. Excel and other spreadsheet programs allow you to create custom worksheets. For this purpose, you need an option to password protect the file, and you’ll want to keep a list of items such as your User ID, your password, the last time you changed the password, any special pin number for the account, answers to secret questions, etc.


Here’s the key for staying secure: Use an extremely strong password to protect your worksheet. Then you only have to remember the password that opens it. If you’re worried your kids or spouse won’t be able to get into your accounts if you become incapacitated or deceased, then print a copy of the file and keep it in your safe deposit box. That also protects you should someone steal your computer or it gets damaged in a flood or fire.


Password Vaults


Have you set your browser to a secure setting?

Though it’s a bit difficult to see in this image, this shows the browser password management options in Firefox. To find it yourself, go to Options, look again for options and then click the security tab.

These days most browsers automatically store passwords for you if you want them to. However, if you fail to use a master password to keep these under lock and key then anyone who uses or has access to your computer can easily find them. All they need to do is dig deep enough into the browsers settings or options menu and have the browser display them. Thus, allowing your browser to store your passwords may be convenient, but it’s potentially risky. This is especially true if you carry your laptop or other online devices with you: There’s more risk of loss or theft or of someone viewing or stealing your passwords outright. In addition, not every browser offers the use of a master password. For example, while you can set a master password in Firefox you can’t in Google Chrome.


A program or “app” you use to keep passwords secure is often referred to as a “password vault”. A password vault is controlled by a master password and just like the Excel worksheet idea we mentioned above allows an individual to store all their passwords in one secure place. In some cases, this information is stored in the cloud (i.e. on an encrypted server) so you can use it for multiple devices. Many password vault apps also randomly generate new passwords so you can rest assured you’re always using the strongest password possible.


To find an app, go to the Google Web Chrome Store and type password vault, password keeper or password manager in the search bar. If you use Apple products browse the I-Tunes store or Google “iTunes app store + password manager” without quotes. To get the best app, review its features and check customer comments. Generally, it’s also a good idea to stick to those apps that have the most downloads (i.e. are most popular). That indicates the company has been around longer and has greater user experience, which is often relevant for working out bugs.


Action Item: Review all your passwords. Are they secure? Have you changed them in the last few months? If not, then update them using the recommendations above or by finding an app to handle the job for you.


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