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Bank accounts, including checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market accounts, can provide convenient and secure ways to manage your money. While you can swipe your debit card or write checks without thinking twice, it helps to know how banks track your accounts.
This is where routing numbers and account numbers come in. Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions use routing numbers to distinguish themselves from one another. They also use account numbers to identify individual customers and accounts.
Knowing your bank routing number and account number is important for things like scheduling electronic payments, setting up direct deposit or send and receive person-to-person payments. If you have at least one checking account or some other type of bank account, it’s helpful to know how to find this information when you need it.
What is a routing number?
A bank routing number is a nine-digit number that identifies the financial institution responsible for payment of a financial instrument. In other words, it is the number banks use to identify themselves. The American Bankers Association developed the ABA routing number system in 1910 as a means of distinguishing one bank from another.
The ABA routing number system covers federally and state chartered banks and financial institutions that process check transactions. It also extends to banks that engage in other activities, such as automated clearing houses, electronic funds transfers and online banking.
If your bank or credit union has an account with the Federal Reserve Bank, it has an ABA routing number. In fact, only financial institutions that meet this requirement and have a federal or state charter can apply for a routing number from the ABA.
The United States is the only country that uses routing numbers to identify banks when sending and receiving money. Foreign banks instead use something called IBAN, which is short for International Bank Account Number.
What is an account number?
An account number is a set of numbers used to identify a specific bank account, such as a checking account or money market account. Banks assign account numbers to each account you have.
So, for example, if you open a current account and a savings account at the same bank, you would have two different account numbers but only one routing number. If you have checking accounts at two different banks, each will have a unique account number and unique routing number.
Your account number tells the bank where to add money or deduct money whenever new credit or debit transactions are recorded. This is similar to how your social security number is used to identify you for loan and credit reporting purposes.
For this reason, it is important to protect your bank account numbers. Otherwise, someone might be able to use your information to access your accounts fraudulently.
How to find a bank routing number
There are a variety of scenarios where you may need to provide your bank routing number. For example, you may need a routing number for:
- Set up direct deposit with your employer
- Receive a direct deposit of a tax refund or stimulus check
- Send or receive a bank transfer
- Receive direct deposit for government benefits
- Pay your mortgage or other bills online
- Schedule an ACH electronic payment
- Link your bank accounts to a budgeting app
- Send or receive money to friends and family
To find your routing number, there are three possibilities.
How to find your routing number on a check
If your current account comes with paper checks, this is the first place you can find your bank routing number. So where is the routing number on a check?
When you look at the front of a check you will see a space at the bottom with a row of numbers. Specifically, you should see three groups of numbers, separated by a space or special character.
Looking at the bottom of the check, the first group of numbers (labeled “1” in the image above) is the bank routing number. Again, an easy way to tell if this is your bank routing number is to count the digits and confirm there are nine. If there are more or less than nine digits, chances are you’re looking at your checking account number (labeled “2” above).
How to find your routing number online
If you have a checking account without a check or are out of checks, finding your bank routing number can be as easy as visiting your bank’s website.
Banks and credit unions can publish their routing numbers online for the convenience of customers. Unlike a bank account number, a bank routing number is public information and does not need to be secure or protected.
You may be able to find this number directly on the main homepage of the bank’s website. But, if not, you may be able to log into your account online or via mobile banking to check the routing number.
How to find your bank routing number by contacting the bank
A third way to get your bank routing number when you don’t have checks or it’s not posted online is to simply contact the bank.
A teller should be able to provide your bank’s routing number over the phone, in person, or at the drive-thru window. This option is useful if you want to be able to read the routing number to them to verify that it is correct.
How to find your bank account number
If you enter your bank routing number for financial transactions, you will probably also need to provide your checking account number. Again, there are several ways to find this information if you don’t have it readily available.
How to find your bank account number on a check
As mentioned, there are three sets of numbers printed on the bottom of paper checks. The first is the check routing number used to identify your bank.
The second set of numbers should be your checking account number. This number can be anywhere from eight to 12 digits, depending on your bank or credit union.
Your current account number must be separate from the routing number. The last set of numbers on your check represents the check number (labeled “3” in the image above). These are usually fewer digits than the bank routing number or checking account number.
How to find your bank account number online
Obtaining your bank account number online can be tricky, as banks and credit unions may encrypt this information to protect against fraud or identity theft. For example, when you log into online or mobile banking, you may only see the last four digits of your account number displayed. Some banks, however, display the full bank account number online and in the mobile app.
Another possibility to obtain your bank account number online is to download a copy of your electronic or paper statement. Depending on the bank, your full account number may be included here, but again some banks may only provide the last four digits.
How to find your bank account number by contacting the bank
If you can’t see your bank account numbers online and you don’t have checks, you can request the number from the bank. Again, you can do this over the phone or in person.
Be prepared to provide proof of identity to verify your account holder status first. This may mean providing your social security or driver’s license number or answering one or more security questions.
How to Manage Routing Numbers vs. Account Numbers
It is important to know your bank routing number and account numbers if you need them for specific financial transactions. But like any other financial information, it’s important to protect your data.
Someone could, for example, use your bank routing number and checking account number to order fraudulent checks. Or they may be able to initiate a fraudulent withdrawal of ACH money from your account.
Here are some tips for managing routing numbers and account numbers securely:
- Avoid writing down account numbers. Similar to your social security number or debit card PIN, you’re better off memorizing your account numbers if possible.
- Destroy canceled checks. If you need to void a check for any reason, be sure to destroy it rather than throw it in the trash.
- Do not share account information. Giving your bank account numbers to people or entities you don’t know can be risky. If you are asked to share your account information, first verify that the request is from a trusted source.
- Be selective about the apps you use. personal finance apps can make managing your money easier. But they can also be targets for hackers and scammers who can use malware or phishing attacks to steal your information. So, before linking your bank accounts to any app, make sure it is legit.
Besides security, it is also important to make sure that you enter your routing number and account numbers correctly. Entering an incorrect routing number or account number may result in money being sent or received to the wrong account. Double-checking each set of numbers in situations where you need to share them for a financial transaction can help avoid banking headaches.