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Password Management Gone Wild!

March 31, 2011 · 19 comments

in Personal Finance

This is a guest post  written by by Denise, the author of the website The Single Saver.   Denise is a single woman herself who grew up in a small family. A reformed spend-a-holic, she now enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to live a frugal yet very comfortable lifestyle. When not saving money, she is usually spending it on food for her two greyhounds and two cats.

Recently, I participated in a blog swap with other members of the Yakezie network.  We all wrote about our biggest financial pet peeves. My topic was parents who do not properly educate their kids about finances.

But I have another pet peeve.  This one applies directly to financial institutions.  What is it?  Password requirements!

The hoops I jump through….

I remember the good old days when you could set up an online account simply by choosing a unique ID and a password of your choice.  No more!  Now you have to jump through hoops with alpha-numeric passwords of all lengths and restrictions.  Here are a few examples of what I go through to access various financial accounts online:

Bank #1 – I enter my ID and password.  This password must include letters and a number.  Then a ‘secret code’ is emailed to me, so I must log into my email to retrieve the code before returning to the bank’s site.  I then have to enter the secret code and my password (again) in order to gain access to my accounts.

Bank #2 –  I enter my ID and password.  The password must be at least 8 characters long and contain letters and numbers.  Then I have to answer a “secret question.”  Sometimes I get my secret question wrong because it is subjective (e.g. “What is your favorite color?  That changes depending on my mood!).  If I answer the question wrong, my account gets locked and I have to call customer service to get it unblocked.

Bank #3 – This is by far the easiest of all my accounts to access – I simply enter my ID and password and I am allowed to see my accounts!  I am waiting for this bank to change their policies to make it harder to access accounts online.

401K Account – I have to enter my ID, which is my social security number, and my password.  With my password, I also have to approve a picture and phrase that has been assigned to my account (e.g., it could be a picture of a shoe and a phrase that says “keep walking”).  Somehow, approving this picture and phrase proves I am me and not a hacker.

Online Paycheck Account – First I have to enter my employee number.  Then I have to enter my pin.  The pin must be 10 digits long, it must be all numbers, AND it has to be changed every three months.  Try remembering that one!   They have also added an image that has to be approved, too.  Of course, the image isn’t the same as my 401K account uses so I have to now remember two images in addition to all my user names and passwords.

Investment Account – This one is another easy one where I only have to enter my ID and password.  The password has to be letters and numbers and at least 8 characters long.  But just to make sure my life wasn’t too easy in this regard, they told me my ‘standard’ ID was too short for their specifications so I had to choose a longer user name.

Insurance Account – My standard ID works here.  Yeah!  However, my standard password is considered “too weak” and they have made me choose another password that is nearly impossible to remember.

I won’t even mention the accounts for paying online bills for my cell phone, electric, gas, etc.

My solution…

What is my solution for managing all this chaos?  I have all my IDs and passwords written down on a piece of paper.  I have written in a loose code in an effort to thwart hackers, but in all actuality a teenager could probably figure out my code.

I understand that these financial institutions may be trying to make my accounts safer.  However, by setting up such strict requirements for IDs and passwords needed to access their sites, hence giving me no other option than to write everything down, they are compromising my security.  I wish they would just let me pick the ID and password of my choice with no restrictions and allow me to take my chances with the hackers!

Does anyone else find these policies and restrictions as annoying as I do?

For daily money-saving tips for singles and small families, check out The Single Saver.

From Kris:  I lost access to an account I have recently because I got the security question wrong.  (I must have typed the answer in wrong ages ago, and it won’t accept my real answer.)  I will say it is frustrating because now I have to be on hold for 20 minutes hoping to talk to someone that can actually fix my problem.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

BeatingTheIndex March 31, 2011 at 7:33 am

That’s a lot of bank accounts. I like to centralize all my banking with one institution which pretty much reduces the password problem. I, like you, have some pwds written down in code but in my case, I am pretty sure almost no one will be able to decipher them!


lucy October 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Hello….how much money are we talking hon…ever hear of the FDIC….


sherie March 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

I can identify with your frustration completely as I do everything online! I can’t remember the dozens of accounts that all have different username and password requirements so I kep a running list which actually makes my accounts more vulnerable. The funny part is, the banks are always updating and changing their systems and on more than one occasion, I’ve been able to access other people’s accounts through a glitch in their system, yet I can’t get into my own half the time.


Denise @ The Single Saver March 31, 2011 at 10:21 am

BeatingTheIndex, I would LOVE to have all my accounts in one location. Unfortunately, it just worked out that I was able to get a much better mortgage deal with one bank, and my car loan was with another. I do like having a backup account just in case anything weird happens with my first account though, so I don’t mind having the multiple banking options.

Sherie, so glad to know that I am not the only one who keeps a running list of accounts and passwords. I truly believe all this ‘password protection’ does nothing to protect us from a determined hacker, anyway.

Thanks for commenting!


krantcents March 31, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I share your frustration! The one that got to me is Facebook! I don’t remember if I forgot my password or just entered it wrong once. I had to recognize pictures of “my friends”. Since I use Facebook to promote my blog as well as communicate with friends, it is almost impossible to recognize all “my friends”. I got lucky on the third try and recognized enough people to have them restore my account. The real problem is there is no customer service to call.


retirebyforty March 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm

All my passwords are pretty similar and I saved them in a spreadsheet… Yeah, not very secure. In the spread sheet I don’t write down the whole password though. It’s usually show something like this.


where the **** are something I have to remember and are all the same in every password.


Lola March 31, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I have something similar to RB40’s system, with the passwords and user ID’s on my home PC. However, I have the user ID’s in a spreadsheet in one file folder (that has a “disguised” name) and the PW’s in another spreadsheet in a different folder (again, with a name that doesn’t sound like it would have PW’s in it!). I have to enter a password to access my PC, so that’s the one PW I HAVE to remember. Then it’s not too much of a pain to open up a couple of windows and match the User ID and PW from the two files to log in.

The key is to immediately enter the PW and User ID into the 2 files after setting them up (and save them!).


Jenny March 31, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Yeah, I hate this too. The newest one is my credit card account changed to require their password to have a special character in it, one of the shift-numbers or a punctuation. I never remember that one.

One thing that helps is if you (or even better if the site puts this on the login page) write down the requirements of the password. I don’t remember what password variation I used on a site, until I see that it must have one number and one special character, then I remember what I used.

Also for your 401k account, the picture and phrase are not to ensure (to the bank) that you are not a hacker. It is so that you know the site is the real thing and not a ‘phishing’ site. A fake site would not know that you have a picture of a shoe, so if you do not see it, don’t put your password in.


MoneyIsTheRoot March 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Haha good post! I honestly have three different passwords for everything: The simplest one, one if I need to include a #, and another if I need to include a # and special character. I have twice as many passwords at work than I do in my personal life…combined I must have over 50! Some change every 3 -6 months too.


Brenda March 31, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Why don’t they post their requirements underneath? Who remembers if this site is 8 digits or 10? Numbers and letters? At least one capital? Give us a break!


Dr Dean April 1, 2011 at 9:02 am

Yes, I have mine written down too. They are on little sticky notes all over my desk.

But I don’t have to write in code-since no one can read my handwriting…

Maybe they will come up with something better soon or we will all be walking around with a cipher pad…


The Biz of Life April 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

I use LastPass because I can’t keep track of them all anymore.


Robert @ The College Investor April 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I have everything written down on a piece of paper as well, and I “hide” the paper in a file drawer. On this paper, I also include all the random accounts, like Mileage Plus accounts, etc., which makes it really easy to find.

While it is not super-secure, if someone was to get into my file cabinet, they would have access to all my information anyway!


MyLok September 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

Try some password management solutions. then you can create some passwords of crazy length and don’t worry about remembering it.


lucy October 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

They annoy me so much that after writing them all down in a small book; I then realized the ‘ black book is back’…so much for security.

Then once I answered the wrong question; it was emotional and who the hell remembers months later when one isn’t so emotional..or at least that emotion. I once even wrote a swear word at bofa!!! they took it.

In any event, I have finally cancelled all. I shop as a guest on my shopping sites and if it doesn’t have a guest site I don’t use it. I have closed out the banking etc and it is all back on paper in my little ol unused mailbox.

No convenience in this mess!

Someone of these youngsters must come up with some sort of consolidation process….

Who else is with me? I think we’ve got to shut down in order to get any improvement here.

Sort of like if O gets reelected, all Capitalists will have to strike….then see where you get my tax revenues to share….I’ve got my hand out already.


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