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 FAQsCan 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
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.