What is a routing number?

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what is a routing number

If you’ve ever taken a look at a personal check, you might have noticed that there are multiple numbers printed on the bottom left-hand corner. We rarely glance at them and often ignore them. 

But what are the numbers on the bottom of a check? One of those numbers is what’s called a routing number.

What is a routing number and why is it important?

When a transaction occurs, a nine-digit routing number is used by one financial institution to identify which financial institution is responsible for the payment or credit is given. The number is made up of other representational numbers and is based on the location where your account was opened.

The first four digits on the routing number Identify the Federal Reserve routing symbol, the next four are the number used by the American Bankers Association (ABA) to identify your specific bank, and the last digit is the check digit. 

The routing number was established in 1910 by the American Bankers Association (ABA), and it only took one year for the entire banking industry to be using it on a daily basis. 

When do I need my routing number?

You will often need to provide your routing number any time you intend to allow a third party to move money directly to or from your bank account. You won’t need it when you withdraw money from your own bank since you are not transferring funds between banks.

You will most likely need your routing number when you set up processes like direct deposit, automatic loan, credit card payments, wire transfers, reordering checks, tax payments, and bill payments.

In today’s world of technology, it is also extremely common to use your routing number when setting up services used for online payments like Venmo, Cashapp, PayPal, and other apps.

How do I find my routing number?

There are several ways to find your routing number. Thanks to technology it is now easier than ever to locate your routing number in under 60 seconds.

Your checks

The check routing number is the first of three numbers found on the bottom left-hand corner of a check. In the US, checks use a special Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) font called E-13B so that they are recognized by the OCR/magnetic ink reader systems used by banks in North America.

Bank statements

Many financial institutions that offer online banking also allow you to obtain the routing number directly from within their application. You’ll like to be able to choose an option to see your full account numbers for specific accounts that you have open, and the bank should delineate between a routing vs account number. 

In order to view your bank statements, you will first need to log in to your app and find the spot within the application where your electronic bank statements are stored. Once you locate it, you will be able to view it directly within the app or download the statement as a PDF.

Contact your bank

You can give your bank a call, or visit your local branch to find out the routing number. Contacting your local branch will be the best way to find the number. 

If you’ve moved since opening your account, be sure to contact the branch at which you originally opened the account.

Online

Since routing numbers are public information and based on the location of which you opened the account, it’s easy to find the number online. You can perform a simple search that includes your bank name as well as the city and/or state. 

Many banks will have the specific routing number for your location publicly posted on their website. Make sure that you include both the bank and location in your search.

The American Bankers Association

The ABA’s website provides an online directory of routing numbers for all local banks and financial institutions. You can use this directory for an easy routing number lookup. 

In order to use the directory, you must first agree to the terms of service. After that, all that is needed to use the directory is the name of the financial institution as well as the state. If there are too many results, you may get an error, so it’s best to include the zip code as well. 

Why do I have two routing numbers?

No bank routing numbers are ever the same, however, there are two types of routing numbers, and sometimes banks in the US are both of them. 

In addition to the ABA routing number, there is also the nine-digit Automated Clearing House (ACH) routing number. Some banks use the ACH number specifically for electronic transfers like wire transfers. If you’re receiving a domestic wire transfer, you may need to check which routing number to use directly with your bank.

One other less common reason some people may find two routing numbers being used is if two banks have merged or an acquisition of a bank has been made. In some instances, it may be possible for people to continue using the old routing number that they previously had. 

Can I change my routing number and keep my checking account number? 

It’s not possible to change your routing number and keep your checking account number because in order to change your routing number you would have to close your current account and open a new one.

Two reasons for this are both security and privacy. You should only really do this if you are concerned about the security of your bank account.

FAQ

Is your bank ID the same as your routing number?

The term bank ID is a generic term that has a different meaning in various contexts. In essence, a routing number is the bank ID number, but a bank ID can also refer to a Bank Identification Number (BIN) which is the first six digits of your credit or debit card.

How do I find my routing number without a check?

You can find your routing number with your bank, on a check associated with that account,t or by performing a search for your routing number online searched by the financial institution as well as the state in which you opened your account. 

Is a routing number the same for everyone?

Routing numbers vary depending on your financial institution and the location where you originally opened your account.

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