Routing vs. account number: Understanding the difference

A young woman relaxes on the sofa with her digital tablet at home.Image: A young woman relaxes on the sofa with her digital tablet at home.

In a Nutshell

Whether you’re setting up a direct deposit or electronic payments for a monthly bill, you’ll need to know your bank routing and account numbers. These two numbers serve different functions, but both are essential for your transactions to be completed correctly.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

When you open a bank account, your account will be assigned both an account number and a routing number. Both are needed to complete most banking transactions.

The numbers work together to communicate important information about your account and transaction, including the bank that holds your account.

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between routing and account numbers, here’s what you need to know.

What’s the difference between a routing number vs. account number?

Most banking transactions — such as setting up a direct deposit or making a wire or ACH transfer — require your bank’s routing number and your account number.

Your routing number is specific to your financial institution, while your account number is specific to your bank account. Together, these numbers indicate where money is coming from or where it’s going.

What is a routing number?

The routing number — also known as the ABA number — identifies which financial institution is responsible for paying or receiving payments for checks and electronic transactions.

For most consumer and business transactions, the nine-digit routing number will start with digits between 01 and 12. The numeral 00 is reserved for government transactions. The digits at the beginning of the routing number refer to the Federal Reserve district where the financial institution is located. As of 2020, the following districts apply:

  • 01: Boston
  • 02: New York
  • 03: Philadelphia
  • 04: Cleveland
  • 05: Richmond
  • 06: Atlanta
  • 07: Chicago
  • 08: St. Louis
  • 09: Minneapolis
  • 10: Kansas City
  • 11: Dallas
  • 12: San Francisco

Banks might have multiple routing numbers. In fact, banks can have up to 10 routing numbers. To get one, the bank must apply to the ABA Routing Number Administrative Board.

What is an account number?

Your bank account number is unique to you, like your fingerprints. It’s what banks use to identify you in their systems. It works alongside the routing number whenever you do banking transactions, telling the bank where money should be withdrawn from or deposited.

Account numbers can be up to 17 digits in length, though each financial institution has its own methodology for deciding length and what the digits mean.

How routing and account numbers differ

While routing numbers and account numbers are important for banking transactions, they differ from one another in the following ways:

  • Uniqueness — While your account number is assigned only to you, the financial institution will have the same routing numbers for all its customers.
  • Regionality — The first digits of your routing number indicate your bank’s region. By contrast, the digits in your account number don’t reflect your location — your account number is created through a methodology your bank created.
  • Length — Routing numbers are always nine digits in length. Account numbers can vary in length, with some being as long as 17 digits.

How they work together

Your routing number indicates what financial institution is responsible for the payment, and the account number shows who owns the account.

If you write a check to pay your rent and your landlord cashes it, your landlord’s bank will use that information to identify which financial institution and account to request payment from.  

Or if you enroll in direct deposit at work, your employer’s payroll department uses routing and account numbers to identify where to deposit your paycheck each pay period.

Where can I find my bank routing number?

Here are three different ways to find your bank routing number.

  • Look at your checks. If you have a checking account, look at your paper checks and you’ll see a series of numbers printed across the bottom. The routing number is printed on the bottom of your checks. It’s the first set of numbers on the left side of the check.
  • Contact your bank. If you don’t have access to paper checks, you can contact your bank to get your routing number.
  • Log into your account online. If you have online banking, you can log into your account to view your routing number. It’s typically found under account services.

Where can I find my bank account number?

You can find your account number with the following methods:

  • Check online. You can view your bank account information when you sign into your online account.
  • Review your checks. Your account number is the middle set of numbers on the bottom of your check. It’s the number that appears on your check between the routing number and the check number.
  • Look at your bank statement. Your bank will typically send you monthly bank statements outlining your account activity. The statement will also include your account number and information on how to contact customer service.

Next steps: What can I do if I mess up my routing or account number in a transaction?

Because your routing and account numbers are so important, treat them carefully. While a bank’s routing number is publicly available information, your account number is not — and you should take steps to preserve your privacy when using that number. Writing the wrong routing or account number can cause your transaction to be delayed, denied or even posted to a wrong account.

If you made a mistake with your routing or account number, the bank may catch the problem and reject the transaction. But in some cases the bank may miss it, and the money can be deposited into the wrong account. If that happens, contact your financial institution to try to fix the problem.

About the author: Kat Tretina is a personal finance writer with a master’s degree in communication studies from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Obsessed with her many side hustles, she focuses on helping people pay down their … Read more.