What is a bank routing number and where can I find it?

woman taking photo of check with mobile phoneImage: woman taking photo of check with mobile phone

In a Nutshell

A bank routing number may be necessary to set up direct deposit and some bank payments, order checks or even receive your tax refund. Here’s how it works and where you can find it.
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Banks rely on two numbers to help you move money correctly between your account and others’ accounts. One is your bank account number, and the other is the bank’s routing number.

Let’s look at what a routing number is, why it matters and where you can find your bank’s routing number.

What is a bank routing number?

A routing number is a nine-digit number that’s unique to a bank or credit union. The number was developed by the American Bankers Association in 1910 to identify specific financial institutions. While routing numbers were initially designed to process checks, they’re now used for online banking, bill payments, direct deposit and more.

Routing numbers, sometimes called ABA routing numbers, are issued only to financial institutions that are eligible to have an account at the Federal Reserve Bank and are federally or state chartered. When a new financial institution needs one, it applies with Accuity, a global financial intelligence firm.

In some cases, a bank can have more than one routing number, particularly if it operates in more than one region or area of business. Because the routing number is specific to the bank, it’ll be the same for both your checking and savings account — though the account numbers themselves will be different.

Routing numbers don’t change often, but in mergers, consolidations and acquisitions, the surviving bank may consolidate or retire routing numbers.

What’s the difference between ABA and ACH routing numbers?

There are two different types of routing numbers you may come across on your account: an ABA routing number and an ACH routing number.

An ABA routing number is the one that identifies the financial institution, effectively functioning as the bank’s address for financial transactions. In contrast, an ACH routing number identifies the automated clearinghouse that processes an electronic funds transfer (also called an ACH transfer).

Sometimes the two numbers are the same, but that’s not always the case. Wire transfers may also require a separate routing number, so if you’re transferring money to someone else, make sure you use the correct one.

How do bank routing numbers work?

When a bank is processing a money transfer, the routing number identifies the bank or credit union of the recipient. This is why it’s necessary to include both your routing number and personal account number when setting up direct deposit — the routing number identifies the institution, and the account number identifies your specific account.

If you’re writing a check, your bank’s or credit union’s routing number is listed on the check, which tells the recipient’s financial institution where to request the money once the check has been deposited or cashed.

A similar example would be addressing a letter to someone who lives in an apartment building. You’ll need the address of the building and the apartment number to make sure your letter gets to the right person.

How can I find my bank’s routing number?

There are a few different places you can find the ABA routing number for your bank or credit union. Depending on the situation and what you have available, here are your options.

Finding your routing number on a check

Each check you have that’s tied to your account has the routing number listed in the bottom left corner. The nine digits in the lower left corner of your check are the bank routing number. To the right of the routing number, the second set of numbers is typically your account number and the right-most set of digits is usually the check number.

Finding your routing number online

Your bank or credit union will likely have its routing number or numbers listed on its website. Search for a frequently asked questions page to see if it’s listed there. You may also be able to find your routing number by logging into your online account and looking it up in your account info.

Alternatively, you can do a quick internet search of your financial institution to find the right page. For example, if you search “Bank of America routing number,” the first result is a routing number FAQ page, where you can find your routing number based on where you live.

Find your routing number on your bank statement

Your routing number may or may not be listed on your monthly statement, along with your account number. If it’s not, though, not all is lost. If your bank has multiple routing numbers, you may be able to use your account number listed on your statement to identify the correct routing number.

Find your routing number via ABA lookup

The ABA lookup tool allows you to search for routing numbers by financial institution. You can submit up to two requests per day and up to 10 per month.

You’ll start by accepting the terms of the service, then you’ll enter the name and state of the financial institution — you can also add the city and ZIP code, but those are optional. Note that you can also use the lookup tool to find a financial institution based on its routing number.

When might I need my bank routing number?

You might need to know your routing number in a number of situations. For example, you might need your routing number when you’re setting up direct deposit with your employer or for government benefits.

You may also need the number to receive ACH transactions and other types of electronic transfers, set up bill pay or send digital checks. You may also need your routing number to order paper checks for your account, especially if you’re ordering through a third-party service instead of your bank or credit union.

Do I need a routing number to transfer money overseas?

The United States is the only country that uses ABA routing numbers. International transactions require different numbers. So if you’re planning to send money to someone who lives abroad via international wire transfers, you’ll likely need to get the recipient’s international bank account number (IBAN) and bank identifier code (BIC), which is also sometimes called a SWIFT code.

Contact the recipient to have them get this information from their financial institution so you can complete the transaction.

What’s next?

Unlike your bank account number, your financial institution’s routing number is available for anyone to see. That said, it’s still a good idea to be cautious about who you share your banking information with. And it’s crucial to protect your account number as you would your Social Security number or any other sensitive information.

When you’re submitting your direct deposit form or using your routing number to set up another type of transfer or bill payment, make sure to double-check the numbers so the transactions go smoothly and correctly. Part of that process is to make sure that you’re using the right routing number. Again, many smaller financial institutions will have just one, but larger ones may have multiple, and you’ll want to make sure you’re using the correct one.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Credit Karma, you can find his wo… Read more.