Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Will Microsoft Close My Hotmail Account If I Don’t Sign In?

You could lose everything, forever

Hotmail: Don't Let Time Run Out!

You can lose your account, and everything in it, if you don't sign in often enough. Here's how often you need to, and other ways to protect yourself.
I’m about to go on a trip, and I want to make sure I don’t lose any of my online information. I keep a lot of important emails and contact information in my MSN Hotmail account. If I don’t log in for a while, how soon will Hotmail discard it? Does Hotmail “expire”?

Yes.

How quickly it expires has changed, but absolutely, if you don’t sign in for a long enough period of time, they’ll assume you’ve abandoned the account.

This is true for most online accounts, especially those that are free.

If that happens, in Hotmail’s case (or rather, Outlook.com’s case), you’ll lose your data, and someone else could possibly sign up with your expired email address.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

If you don’t sign in to your Microsoft account at least once every two years, the account is considered “inactive” and may be removed. This means anything in the account will be deleted, and your email address may be “recycled” and assigned to someone else. Protect yourself by checking your email at least once every two years, and make sure to back up the data stored in your account.

Two years

If you do not sign in to your Hotmail or other Microsoft account, (all now managed using Outlook.com) at least once every two years, the account is considered “inactive” and may be removed.

There are some exceptions. For example, if you’ve purchased something from Microsoft using the account, it will not be closed for inactivity. There’s a list spelled out in the Microsoft account activity policy. Apparently, if you qualify under one of the exceptions, your account will never be closed for inactivity. I wouldn’t count on this not changing in the future.

It’s also unclear if logging in to your PC using a Microsoft account qualifies as “activity”. It probably does — at least I would hope so — but for purposes of keeping your account active, I wouldn’t rely on it unless Microsoft clarifies.

Bottom line: sign in to Outlook.com at least once every two years, and you’ll be fine.1

Deleting inactive accounts

It’s important to know that if your account is closed due to inactivity, anything in the account will be deleted.

That means more than just email; it includes your contacts, any files you have stored in OneDrive, and any files in Microsoft Office Online.

Microsoft doesn’t provide any mechanism to recover the data if the account hits that two-year mark and is deleted.

Recycling email addresses

What surprises many people is that once your account is closed — presumably for any reason — your email address may be “recycled”, as Microsoft puts it.

That means that after two years of your not using the account, someone else may be allowed to get your email address. They won’t get your content; it’ll be a new, empty account to them. But they will have the email address that used to be yours.

This is all spelled out in painful detail here: Microsoft Services Agreement – the interesting portion being section 14.h:

The Outlook.com (or @msn, @hotmail, or @live) email address that you use to create your Microsoft account will be unique to you for as long as your Outlook.com inbox or Microsoft account is still active. In the event your Outlook.com inbox or Microsoft account is closed either by you or by Microsoft pursuant to these Terms, the email address or username may be recycled into our system and assigned to another user.

Given that it’s not possible to create a new @hotmail.com email address right now, the chances of it being recycled are slim, but clearly, if you let your @outlook.com email address expire, all bets are off.

Problems signing in?

If it’s been over two years since you’ve logged in, and the system tells you that your password is wrong or that your account doesn’t exist, your account has likely been deleted and your email address possibly recycled.

You can try to perform an account recovery, but after two years, the chances are slim.

Preventing all this

It’s probably obvious, but you can prevent all this simply by using the account more than once every other year. That’s apparently all it takes.

Check your email once in a while.

I’d also recommend something else.

Since accounts can be lost for so many reasons — inactivity being only one, and perhaps the least likely — please make sure that everything associated with the account is backed up somehow. Back up your email. Back up your contacts. Back up what’s stored in OneDrive, if you use it. Back up any Microsoft Office Online documents.

That way, even if your account is closed and your online data is discarded, you won’t lose anything important, other than perhaps the actual email address that was once yours.

But if you’ve not paid attention to it for two years, how important can it be, really?

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

Podcast audio

Play

Footnotes & References

1: This actually represents a fairly significant change. Prior policies had Microsoft taking actions at 30 and 90 days of inactivity.

10 comments on “Will Microsoft Close My Hotmail Account If I Don’t Sign In?”

  1. What about the Windows10 mail app on my computer? I use that to read my mail. I hardly ever sign into Outlook.com, but the mail app client does whenever there’s mail to deliver.

    The thing I’m having trouble with is the Windows10 calendar won’t sync to the outlook.com calendar. Every time Windows10 updates, I lose the appointments that I’ve put into the Windows10 calendar. The Windows 10 app tell me they can’t save my client calendar inputs. Help says I should stay signed into outlook.com all the time, but I don’t know if that is safe internet practice? Is there another way(?), Or is it safe enough to stay signed in all the time?

    Reply
    • The Windows 10 mail app signs in to your account to fetch email, so that would count as “activity”.

      I stay signed in all the time on computers I trust. (i.e. my desktop at home)

      Reply
      • There must be difference between signing into your computer with a password or a pin. I thought the result was the same. I sign into my computer with a pin and when I sign into outlook.com, I am prompted for my user name and password. It is easier for me to remember a four digit pin without LastPass help. After the password manager is turned on it is easy to give outlook.com what it needs.

        Reply
  2. I just got this email from Google about Gmail and they have a similar policy:

    Summary of the new policies (effective 1 June 2021):
    • If you’re inactive for two years (24 months) in Gmail, Drive or Photos, we may delete the content in the product(s) in which you’re inactive. Google One members who are within their storage quota and in good-standing will not be impacted by this new inactive policy.
    • If you exceed your storage limit for two years, we may delete your content across Gmail, Drive and Photos.

    Reply
  3. I use Gmail on my phone (forced to, as the phone won’t even start up without a google account).
    I have added my Hotmail and Yahoo accounts to it, and frequently visit them through Gmail.
    This is much better for me, as before when everything was PC (website) based, I would regularly get warnings that I didn’t visit often enough and my e-mail addresses needed ‘re-activating’.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.