How to recover your Gmail account

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One of my customers contacted me this week with a problem – she couldn’t log in to her Gmail account.  She knew she was typing the right password, because she has used it for a long time.  She went through the procedure of asking Google for help, but wasn’t sure that would work either.

In the end, Google ended up resetting her password so that she was able to get back into her email account.  That’s only because she was able to remember a few details, such as when she originally opened the account, etc.  If you aren’t able to answer enough questions to satisfy Google that you are the account owner, they won’t allow you in.

What’s the best way to recover a Gmail account?

The best way to recover your Gmail account is to plan in advance.  Seriously, we are talking about 1-2 minutes of work that could save you from a big hassle at some point in the future.  Here’s what you need to do:

1. Log into your Gmail account at, then click on the “Settings” link in the upper right corner:


2. Click on “Accounts and Import”:


3. Click on the option “Google account settings”:


4. Click on “Recovering your password”:


(At this point, Google might ask you to enter your password again – they just want to be 100% sure that the actual account owner is making these changes.)

5. You now have 3 settings to change – Email, SMS (cell phone texting), and security question:


You can do any one of these, or you can do all three.  I recommend doing all of them.

Email: Enter an alternative email address where Google can send your password.  This can be the email of your spouse, a trusted friend, or just an alternative email account that you have access to.

SMS: By entering your cell phone number here, it allows Google to send you a code by text message to reset your password if necessary.

Security question: Pick a question that would be difficult for a stranger to guess, but one that you will always know.  I recommend NOT using a question like “what is your pet’s name?” because that is an answer that will change over time.  Pick something that is always the same, such as your favorite high school teacher’s name, or something similar.  You can even write your own question if you want, which can be as random as “What is your favorite number?” – then make the answer some 14 digit number that no one would ever guess.  Obviously, you need to know what that number is should you ever need to provide it!

Have you ever had trouble logging into your Gmail account?  How did you resolve it?  Post your comments below.

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Eileen Kleinkopf
January 17th, 2011

It was very helpful that I have an alternate gmail address. That way I was able to communicate with you and gmail.

Marge Teilhaber
January 17th, 2011

Thank you very much, Scott, for this and for all your extremely informative emails. I was already set up with two of them. I added my cell phone. Always good to dig deep into settings. Much appreciated!

Liza Johnson
January 17th, 2011

I just recently set up a new gmail account because I couldn’t get into my old one; so I’m going to go back in now to update using your suggestions. Thanks so much.