That’s Outlook’s way of saying something’s wrong.
I kid you not. That’s all.
In fact, it’s a very common technique — many email programs keep asking you for your password even if you’ve specified it, specified it correctly, and specified that it should be remembered.
They just do a really, really bad job at telling you why they keep asking.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
The most common cause
By far the most common cause is excruciatingly simple: you entered your password incorrectly.
Don’t scoff, and don’t assume this couldn’t happen to you. From what I see, this is the single most common reason that your email program repeatedly asks for your password.
First, check the CAPS LOCK key on your keyboard. That’s often the cause — you think you’re typing in “AReallyGreatPassword”, when in fact you’re typing in “arEALLYgREATpASSWORD”, which is most certainly not the same thing.
Verify your password by logging in to your email service’s web interface. If that fails, you probably need to initiate a password recovery process to set a new password.
The bottom line is simple: most of the time, the problem is just getting the password wrong. Make sure it works elsewhere, and make sure you’re typing it in properly.
Two-factor authentication can cause it
One of the newer causes in recent years is the addition of two-factor authentication.
If you enable two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on your email account, it’s likely that your email program has no way to provide that second factor, or even to ask you for it.
Some recent email programs hand off the authentication to the email provider. For example, rather than storing your password itself, Thunderbird might have you interact directly with Google to authenticate your Gmail account. This approach supports two-factor authentication.
Unfortunately, older email programs can’t do that. Even specifying the right email address and password isn’t enough, since there’s no way to specify the required second factor. The result is that password box gets displayed over and over again.
Most email services that support two-factor authentication also support something called an “app password”. This is a password you let the service generate for you, and it is used when logging into a program or service that can’t support two-factor. You need to check with your email provider to see if it falls into this category.
An account hack can cause it
If you attempt to log in to your email account using the web interface, and you’re absolutely certain your email address and password have been entered correctly, but you still can’t log in, your password is not what you think it is. Either you’ve forgotten your actual password, or someone changed your password while you weren’t looking.
For people who have had their email account hacked, repeatedly asking for and rejecting your password is often the first symptom.
If you can’t log in to the web interface because it says your password is wrong, it’s not your mail program that’s at fault here; you have bigger problems.
Less common possibilities
When you check (or send) email, email programs such as Outlook connect to your mail server and present it with your account ID and password. If the mail server rejects the connection for any reason, many mail programs will present the password dialog with no additional explanation.
The program is essentially saying “I couldn’t log in; the password must be wrong” — even when it’s not.
The list of things that could be wrong is long and varied. Here are some things to check:
- The mail server itself could be having problems. This isn’t something you can fix. See if you can find online status from your email service provider. Typically, this just goes away after a while.
- In the email program’s configuration, the POP3 or IMAP server name your provided could be wrong.
- In the email program’s configuration, the SMTP server name you provided could be wrong.
- In the email program’s configuration, you could have provided the wrong user ID, or mistyped it.
- Your internet connection could be down or having problems.
- A firewall could be blocking your attempts to connect to your mail server. This is also common if you specify an incorrect password too many times.
- … and lots of other reasons.
And, of course, there’s always malware to consider as well.
But the important thing to realize is: this is not the email program’s failure to remember your password. Instead, it’s the email program’s inability to connect and authenticate with your email service provider.
And most of the time it’s because the password you’ve entered is wrong.