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You’ve seen the numbers on the bottom of your check and wonder what they’re for. They seem like some secret code – and they are.
In fact, the numbers are the only way your money gets to or comes from your account, both of which are extremely important. Keep reading to find out what a routing number is, how it works, and more.
What is a Routing Number?
Your routing number is the nine-digit number on the bottom of your check. It’s what any financial institution uses to route the money to or from your account. It’s also used for electronic funds transfers.
How to Find Your Bank Routing Number on a Check
Chances are you don’t know your bank’s routing number, and that’s okay. If you have a check handy, it’s easy to find. Just pull out your checkbook and look at an individual check.
Where Is My Routing Number on a Check?
On the bottom left-hand corner, you’ll see a series of 9 digits. The first 9 numbers make up your routing number.
They are followed by other numbers, which we’ll discuss below, but when you’re asked for your bank’s routing number, it’s just the first 9 numbers.
Fun Fact: The routing number is the same for everyone who banks at your bank. While you each have individual account numbers, the routing number is the same as it’s like the bank’s digital address.
Bonus Insight: Different Numbers on Checks
- Routing Number: The first 9 digits on the bottom of your check. This is the number most people ask for first when you set up direct deposit, automatic payments, or electronic transfers.
- Checking Account Number: The next set of numbers (there should be a space between the first 9 numbers and the next set) makes up your account number. The length varies but is usually 8 or 9 digits long. This number is NOT the same as anyone else. Protect this number carefully as it gives access to your bank account. If you have more than one account at the same bank, this number will differ for each account while the routing number stays the same.
- Check Number: The final number (the digits after the account number and space) is the check number. It’s usually three digits even if it’s a single-digit check. For example, check #1 will say 001, whereas check #100 will say 100.
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What Do Check Routing Number Digits Represent?
- First Four Digits: The first four numbers the federal reserve routing symbol. It’s what tells the federal reserve where the bank is located. Most banks’ routing numbers start with 01 – 12.
- 5th – 8th Digits: The next four digits are the bank’s individual identifiers. These are unique to a particular bank.
- Ninth Digit: The last digit is a ‘check digit’ sort of like a checks and balance system. It prevents errors when typing or writing a routing number.
How to Find a Routing Number Without a Check
If you don’t have a check handy, there are five simple ways to find a routing number without a check.
#1. Your Bank’s Website
Most banks have their routing number on their website. You may have to dig a little, though. Some banks, for example, have it on your account page but hidden. You have to enter your banking password again (even though you’re in the account) to reveal it, especially with your account number.
#2. Bank’s Mobile App
If your bank has mobile banking (most do), you can find your routing number in there too. Like websites, some banks keep it hidden until you enter your password. Look through the menu for things like ‘routing number’ or even’ customer service’ where you may find the information.
#3. Bank Statement
Your bank statement will likely only have the last four digits of your account number to protect your information, but the routing number is usually visible. Since the routing number is universal, banks don’t have to hide it like they do account numbers.
#4. Ask Bank Representative
If you’re having trouble, call your bank. They’ll give you the routing number as it’s usually public information.
#5. ABA Website
You can use the ABA lookup tool to find your bank’s routing number too. You just need the bank name and state (city and zip code are good too).
When Are Routing Numbers Used?
To you, a routing number maybe just a bunch of numbers at the bottom of your check, but they have many uses including:
- File Taxes: If you’re receiving a tax refund, you want that money directed to the right bank (and account). You’ll need your routing number and account number to get it to the right place.
- Setting Up Automatic Payments: Setting up automatic payments may save you money (some creditors give a slight discount) but it also prevents late payments and saves you time. You’ll need your routing number so the creditor can pull the money from the right bank account at the right bank.
- Wire Transfers: If you need to wire money from your bank to another, you’ll need your routing number to initiate the transaction. This is common in real estate transactions, but you may have other reasons to wire money too.
- Setting Up Direct Deposits: If you want instant access to your hard-earned funds, set up direct deposit with your employer. The money is often deposited before paper checks are released. It eliminates the need to go to the bank or even make a mobile deposit. Your employer will need your routing number and account number, so the money gets to the right place.
- Process a Check: When you deposit a check, you need it to go into your account, starting with your bank’s routing number. If you don’t use a preprinted deposit slip from your bank, you’ll need to write in the routing number to ensure it gets to the right place.
Related: Best Checking Accounts
Routing Number vs Account Number
Your bank’s routing number is the bank’s address – it doesn’t address your individual account. Your account number, on the other hand, is exclusive to your account. You’ll need both numbers to initiate any type of deposit or withdrawals.
What’s the Difference Between ABA and ACH Routing Numbers?
Banks use ABA routing numbers for paper checks and ACH routing numbers for electronic transfers. The numbers are the same for many banks, but it’s worth checking with your bank to make sure.
What’s the Difference Between ACH and Wire Transfers?
An ACH transfer is an electronic transfer usually set up with your creditor as an automatic payment. Once you set up the transfer, it will repeat (if you set it up that way) without any prompting from you.
A wire transfer is a one-time transfer that you must initiate with your bank. The bank must then create and send the wire transfer. There are usually fees involved with a wire transfer but not with ACH transfers.
What Are SWIFT and IBAN Codes?
A SWIFT code is the equivalent of a bank’s routing number but for international banks. An IBAN number is the individual account number for the international bank account. If you transfer money overseas, you’ll need both numbers.
Routing Number FAQs
Is a SWIFT Code the Same as a Routing Number?
While both numbers identify the bank, the SWIFT code is used only for international transactions. The routing number is used solely for domestic transactions.
What Is an ACH Routing Number?
The ACH routing number is the electronic routing number for automatic payments and direct deposits. In most cases, it’s the same as the regular routing number but always check with your bank.
Do I Need a Routing Number for International Transfers?
You need the bank’s SWIFT code which is the equivalent of the bank’s routing number.
Do I Need to Keep My Routing Number a Secret?
While you shouldn’t go around sharing your routing number with anyone, there are times it will get out.
Thieves typically can’t get access to your account with just the routing number, but it does lead them in the right direction, so keep it as safe as you can.
Are Routing Numbers Always 9-Digits?
Routing numbers are always 9 digits long. If you don’t have 9 digits, contact your bank because you missed a digit.
Do I Need to Keep My Bank Account Number a Secret?
Yes, always keep your account number secret. With your routing number and account number, thieves could wipe your account clean.
Can Routing Numbers Start With 0?
Yes, most routing numbers start with a 0 and you should always include it when you provide the routing number as it’s one of the 9 digits.
Will I Need My Routing Number for a Debit Card Purchase?
No, you only need your routing number when you’re transferring money from one bank to another. If you use your debit card, the card has all the bank’s information to transfer the funds.
Bottom Line: Understanding Routing Numbers
A bank’s routing number is an important part of processing your transactions. Whether you set up direct deposit, automatic payments, or just want to process a check, you’ll use the routing number.
Do your best to keep the number secret and always keep it separate from your account number to make it harder for hackers to access your accounts.