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Banking 101: How to Find Your Check Routing Number

Written by Sage Evans | Published on 2/18/2019

Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.

A routing number is a nine-digit number that is used as identification for banks and credit unions in the U.S. This digital address allows money to be processed and transferred from bank to bank. It also denotes the location where an account was opened. This number is also proof that the bank or credit union has an account with the Federal Reserve.

Routing numbers, also known as ABA numbers or routing transfer numbers, were created by the American Bankers Association (ABA) in 1910. Originally, this number helped identify and expedite check processing — now, it also helps process wire and Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers.

Where to find your routing number

Routing numbers are unique to each bank and no two banks will have the same number. Larger financial institutions may have multiple routing numbers, so you’ll want to ensure you get the correct number that is specific to the location where you opened your account.

You can find your routing number five different ways:

  • On your check: You’ll find the nine-digit number in the bottom left corner of a hard-copy check. Notice the quirky font? It’s called magnetic ink character recognition line (MICR), and it’s an electric ink that is used by banks to help process checks quickly.
  • Banking statement: Check your monthly statement to find your bank’s unique routing number.
  • Bank website: Log in to your online banking account, search, and find the number specific to your branch and location.
  • Bank phone customer service: Call the customer service number for your bank and ask a representative for your banks’ ABA number.
  • ABA Routing Number Lookup: Use the ABA’s tool to find the routing number for your bank or credit union. Keep in mind that users are limited to two lookups per day and a total of 10 lookups each month.

Understanding the different numbers on a check

In addition to the nine-digit number located on the bottom left corner of a check, there are two other identifying numbers: the account number and the check number.

  • Account number: The account number is the number located in the middle section at the bottom of a check. This is your unique identifier and is specific to your account only. Usually, eight or nine digits long, this number signifies your individual account.
  • Check number: The last number you’ll see on the bottom of a check is the check number, and it’s located in the far right corner. Check numbers can help you stay organized and keep track of the checks you right. You can find this three-to-four digit number in the bottom or top right corner of a check.

When do I need my routing number?

Routing numbers are used in many financial scenarios, so it’s smart to know how to access this number and how to use it. You’ll use this number to:

  • Pay bills automatically: You likely pay the same bills each month. Whether it’s your mortgage, car payment, or utilities, these expenses are recurring. To make your life easier, you can schedule your bills to be paid automatically and have the funds withdrawn from your account automatically. To set this up, you’ll need your bank’s routing number.
  • Process a check: If you want to deposit a check, whether in person or through your bank’s mobile app, you’ll need the routing number. Banks are able to process checks quickly because of this number.
  • Bank website: Log in to your online banking account, search, and find this number specific to your branch and location.
  • Transfer money: If you’ve ever transferred money from one bank to another, you’ve used a routing number. Routing numbers allow money to be transferred from one financial institution to another.
  • Direct deposit: Most employers pay their employees through direct deposit. Every payday, your paycheck is deposited straight to your account instead of receiving a hard-copy check. Direct deposit simplifies things and allows money to be deposited immediately, instead of having to wait for a check to be processed and cleared. In order for direct deposit to work, you’ll need to give the HR or accounting team your bank’s routing number.
  • File taxes: When filing taxes, you’ll need to list your routing number so you can receive your tax refund, if applicable.

Routing Number FAQs

Can my routing number change?

If a bank closes, merges, or is acquired by another financial institution, this number can change. If it changes, your bank should give you plenty of advance notice. When routing numbers change, you’ll need to update everything that had the previous number on it. This can include your direct deposit, automatic bill pay, tax refunds, and checks.

Are routing numbers always nine digits?

Routing numbers will always be nine digits. The numbers represent three things:

  • The first four numbers are the Federal Reserve Routing Symbol
  • The next four numbers are the ABA Institution Identifier
  • The last digit is the check digit
Do I need to keep my routing number a secret?

Because routing numbers identify the bank and not your personal account, you do not need to keep this number a secret. However, it’s smart to keep financial information private in most cases. Routing numbers are specific to banks or credit unions, but not individuals. For example, people who bank at a specific branch of Chase Bank will all have the same routing number.

Do I need to keep my account number a secret?

Unlike routing numbers, account numbers are unique to each individual, so they should be kept secret to protect your identity.Treat your account numbers like you’d treat your PIN or Social Security Number.

Will I need my routing number for a debit card purchase?

You will never need this if you are simply making a purchase with your debit card.Routing numbers are needed when money is being transferred from one bank to another. When you use your debit card, you are simply withdrawing funds from your account to pay for an item. Therefore, you do not need your routing number.

What are SWIFT and IBAN codes?

SWIFT, or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a code used for international transactions. Just like ABA codes or ACH numbers are used in the US for domestic transactions, SWIFT codes are the international version of routing numbers.

IBAN, or International Bank Account Numbers, like account numbers, mark your personal account when making an international transaction. IBAN codes are often your account number with a few additional numbers that have been formatted to work internationally.

  |     |   Comment #1
The routing number on your checks isn't necessarily the same as you would use for ACH transactions. For example, Connecticut customers of Bank of America use the following according to their website:

Electronic payment (for example: direct deposits, automatic payments and ACH transfers):011900254
Paper (for example: ordering checks):011900571
Wire Transfer:026009593

Illinois residents have an even more complex situation:

Illinois - South
Electronic payment (for example: direct deposits, automatic payments and ACH transfers):081904808
Paper (for example: ordering checks):081904808
Wire Transfer:026009593
Illinois - North
Electronic payment (for example: direct deposits, automatic payments and ACH transfers):071000505
Paper (for example: ordering checks):071000505
Wire Transfer:026009593
Illinois - Chicago Metro
Electronic payment (for example: direct deposits, automatic payments and ACH transfers):081904808
Paper (for example: ordering checks):071103619
Wire Transfer:026009593
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #9
Good point Cracker. I have several accounts that use a different routing number for ACH and wire transfers.
  |     |   Comment #2
Check number: The last number you’ll see on the bottom of a check is the check number, and it’s located in the far right corner. Check numbers can help you stay organized and keep track of the checks you right. You can find this three-to-four digit number in the bottom or top right corner of a check.

Copied word-for-word from the article. Checks you right? Maybe the author needs a course in Basic Writing (righting?) before posting a Basic Banking article. Does accuracy and good editing not really matter anymore? Standing by for the grumpy old man insults hurled my way (I’m only 38 so I just laugh anyway, bring it on)
  |     |   Comment #3
My account number has nine zeros before the last five numbers. Always have to triple check before hitting the send button. After buying all these CDs, I now have the routing & acct memorized. (But what did I have for lunch yesterday?)

nao, not a big deal. I see the same type of minor errors in major news articles every day. I'm glad DA is posting this Basic Banking series. Enjoy reading it.
  |     |   Comment #4
I do enjoy, and I do hope younger people get the financial sense they need, whether it’s here or somewhere else. There is a TON of information out there for anyone who wants to learn more. I see those same errors in the news too, just seems like it’s more common and more accepted now. In my previous work, a little “oops” could get somebody killed. Just hate to see the acceptance of complacency instead of constant striving to be better.
  |     |   Comment #11
wait till you read some of mine ... have fun
  |     |   Comment #5
Young and new to banking always call the banks / CU and ask for any info, including the routing number. Most banks / CUs have that number in FAQ section. Many people do not use checks but rely on credit / debit card or ACH and rarely wire transfers. Routing for ACH is not always the same as wire routing number. Big banks have regional ACH routing numbers, so never use any displayed if not sure in what region you belong, therefore a phone call can save your day.
  |     |   Comment #6
Since the beginning of paper checks, when paying by paper check the payer transmits on that a document quite a lot of personal information about himself to the payee. This information includes routing number, and checking account number.

I used to assume that was just one of the universal potential dangers of writing a check. In other words, in scenarios where a check is stolen from a mailbox (either payer's or payee's), lost in the mail, lost by a payee before cashing, or where a payee is unscrupulous, the payer might get shafted financially, or spend time and effort getting his money back.

When I signed up for BillPay at the main "hub" financial institution I use, I wasn't attempting to solve this problem. I simply wanted an efficient, free way to pay bills, which I got. But in doing a couple of initial "test case" bill pays, I realized that in cases where the BillPay needed to be a mailed paper check (for example, when the payee was not set up to handle an electronic transmission) the BillPay process was generating a paper check that had a different routing number and a different account number from the one on my checking account, and my "real" numbers appeared nowhere on that check. (In addition, it also had a generated check number.) This is a security plus, for the reasons mentioned above.

Also, I called their Customer Support and asked what would happen if someone attempted to use the "masking" routing number and account number actually present on the generated BillPay check, to try to siphon money from my checking account via ACH or some other way. They told me that this attempt would fail, due to certain safeguards built into their BillPay processing.

I don't know that every BillPay system works like this, using "masked" numbers. But for those that do, it seems like another reason to use BillPay in certain situations.
  |     |   Comment #7
Here's most likely how it works. They know the exact dollar amount and check number they issue for each paper check payment. If something comes in that doesn't match, they will flag it immediately and return it.
  |     |   Comment #8
You're most likely correct. In any case, due to this feature (at least, I consider it one), there are some situations where I've used my "hub" financial institution's BillPay to pay bills not just for the sake of efficiency, but also when I felt there was even a hint of an issue with the payee.
  |     |   Comment #13
I transferred money from an old PayPal account that I’ve been trying to get money out of freer it transferred 200 unknown account all I have are the last four digits it’s one of my old accounts but I’m not too sure where it belongs or where it went how do I locate it

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