Three simple tips to help protect and keep track of all your online log-in info.

By Real Simple
Updated December 17, 2010
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Pick up a refurbished machine.Computer makers, including Apple, offload these items for highly discounted prices—often about 25 percent off—on their websites, says Brian Barrett, a reporter for the technology blog Gizmodo.com. “Like new models, these products usually carry a warranty,” says Barrett. “And they go through strict quality control, too.”Don’t be brand loyal. Most machines are similar to one another in terms of quality, including brands that you might not be familiar with, such as Asus and Acer, which can sell for hundreds of dollars less than leading names, says Dylan Tweney, a senior editor at the tech website Wired.com.Skip the extended warranty (usually). If a desktop is going to break, it will probably do so within the manufacturer’s warranty period. A laptop, however, is more fragile and often requires repairs later in its life, so a warranty good for three more years can save you money down the line. But don’t buy it from a store or the manufacturer; get it from an independent provider, like Squaretrade.com. For example, you’ll pay $130 at a retailer, but only $50 online. And consider getting a warranty with accident coverage. You’ll pay 50 percent more for this protection, but you’ll be covered if you drop your machine.Don’t buy more memory than you need. The minimum amount of RAM that comes with most computers is enough to handle basic tasks, such as e-mailing photographs and watching a video, says Barrett. If you need to perform more advanced functions, such as video editing, find out how much more memory you will need (the software should say how much is required), then upgrade at a lower cost (typically $50 to $200) after you buy your computer.
Ian Dingman

Do I really need several different passwords?
Yes, you should have a unique password for every online account, even the retail ones, because scammers have been known to hack into those, too. To be extra safe, you should change your most important passwords—those for e-mail, financial institutions, and sites like PayPal—every 6 to 12 months.

How can I remember all my passwords?
Good news—you really have to commit only one to memory. Create a Google document at docs.google.com. (The password to this secure account is the one to remember.) In the file, list all your log-in details, including screen names. You’ll be able to access it from anywhere in the WWW (as in whole wide world).

What is the key to coming up with a secure password?
Length. Use 10 characters or more, says Mark Burnett, author of Perfect Passwords (Syngress, $26, amazon.com). “Best are passwords that consist of a few parts”—words, prefixes, spelled-out numbers. Good examples: bluebananas and skyisfalling. “They’re easy to remember, and when you’re prompted to switch your password, you can just swap out one chunk,” he says. With this method, foursaltypeanuts becomes foursaltycashews.