Banking

Routing Number Vs. Account Number: What You Need To Know – Forbes Advisor

· An account number is a set of digits used to identify a bank account, such as a checking or money market account. Banks assign account numbers 
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You may swipe your debit card or make deposits without thinking twice, but it’s helpful to know how banks and credit unions keep track of your spending and saving. That’s where routing and account numbers come into play.

If you have any type of bank account, it’s worth knowing about these numbers—and where to find them.

What Is a Routing Number?

A routing number is a nine-digit number that identifies a financial institution. This number may be called an ABA number, ABA routing number, bank ABA number or transit ABA number. The American Bankers Association developed the ABA routing number system in 1910 as a way to tell one bank from another.

The ABA routing number system covers federally and state-chartered banks and financial institutions that process check transactions. It extends to banks that participate in other activities, such as Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments, electronic funds transfers and online banking.

If your bank or credit union maintains an account with the Federal Reserve Bank, it has an ABA routing number. Only financial institutions that meet this requirement and have a federal or state charter can apply for a routing number with the ABA.

The U.S. is the only country that uses ABA routing numbers to identify banks when sending and receiving money. Foreign banks use IBAN, which is short for International Bank Account Number.

How to Find the Routing Number

There are a variety of scenarios when you may need to provide your bank ABA number. You may need a routing number to:

  • Set up direct deposit with your employer
  • Receive a direct deposit of a tax refund or stimulus check
  • Send or receive a wire transfer
  • Receive direct deposit of government benefits
  • Pay your mortgage or other bills online
  • Schedule an electronic ACH payment
  • Link your bank accounts to a budgeting app
  • Send or receive money in transactions with friends and family

There are three ways to find your routing number: on a check, online or by contacting your financial institution.

Which Number Is the Routing Number on a Check?

If your checking account comes with paper checks, they’re the first place to search for your routing number.

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When you look at the front of a check, you’ll see a row of numbers at the bottom. Specifically, you should see three groups of numbers, separated by spaces or special characters. Looking at the bottom of the check, the first group of numbers (labeled “1” in the image below) is the bank routing number. 9ee122fb a35f 499c 956d 7f5b304ec3a3 check writing 1rout acct ck20no 071820pm An easy way to tell if it’s your bank routing number is to count the digits and confirm there are nine. If there are more or fewer than nine digits, odds are you’re looking at your checking account number (labeled “2” above).

How to Find Your Routing Number Online

Finding your routing number may be as simple as visiting your financial institution’s website.

Banks and credit unions often publish their ABA numbers online. Unlike a bank account number, a bank routing number is public information and doesn’t need to be secured or protected.

You may be able to find this number right on the homepage of the bank’s website. If not, log in to your account online or mobile banking app to find the routing number.

Here’s another way to find a bank routing number online: use the ABA routing number lookup tool.

The American Bankers Association’s free tool lets you search for any bank’s routing number by entering the financial institution’s name, city, state and ZIP code.

How to Find Your Bank Routing Number by Contacting the Bank

Still can’t find your routing number? Contact the bank or credit union.

A teller should be able to provide your bank’s transit ABA routing number over the phone, in person or at the drive-through window.

What Is an Account Number?

An account number is a set of digits used to identify a bank account, such as a checking or money market account. Banks assign account numbers to each account you own.

For example, if you open a checking and savings account at the same bank, you’d have two different account numbers and one ABA routing number. If you have checking accounts at two different banks, each account would have a unique account number and each bank would have a unique routing number.

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Your account number tells the bank where to add or deduct money when transactions are posted. For that reason, keeping your bank account numbers secure is important. Otherwise, someone might be able to use your information to access your accounts fraudulently.

How to Find the Account Number

As with your routing number, you can find your account number on a check, online or by contacting the financial institution.

How to Find Your Bank Account Number on a Check

As mentioned, three sets of numbers are printed at the bottom of paper checks. The first is the check routing number used to identify your bank.

Your account number is the second set of numbers (labeled “2” in the image above). Depending on your bank or credit union, this number may range from eight to 12 digits.

The account number should be distinct from the ABA routing number.

A check’s last set of digits represents the check number (labeled “3” in the image above). This is typically fewer digits than the bank routing or checking account number.

How to Find Your Bank Account Number Online

Getting your bank account number online can be tricky—banks and credit unions may encrypt this information to protect against fraud or identity theft. When you log in to online or mobile banking, you may only see the last four digits of your account number displayed. However, some banks and credit unions show the full bank account number online and in the mobile app.

Another possible way to find your bank account number online is by downloading a copy of your electronic or paper statement. Depending on the bank, your full account number may or may not be included there—some banks may only provide the last four digits.

How to Find Your Bank Account Number by Contacting the Bank

Ask the bank or credit union for the number if you can’t view your bank account number online and don’t have checks. You can do this by phone or in person.

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Be prepared to provide proof of identity to verify your status as the account owner first. This may mean supplying your Social Security or driver’s license number or answering one or more security questions.

Routing Number vs. Account Number

A routing number is used to identify a specific bank or credit union. An account number identifies a bank account within a financial institution. Together, these two numbers ensure that money is added to or deducted from the right account.

Example: When You Might Use Your Routing Number and Account Number

Let’s say that you owe the IRS $5,000 in taxes and plan to pay using your checking account. Knowing your routing and account numbers will come in handy.

You’ll need to provide personal information, including your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and the tax year. And you’ll be prompted to provide the following information:

  • Payment amount
  • Payment date
  • Bank ABA routing number
  • Bank account number
  • Type of account

You won’t be able to make a payment with your account until you enter your information and confirm the account number. The IRS will require you to verify your account number to ensure you’re paying with the correct account. Mixing up your routing number with the account number or leaving out numerals could result in your payment not being processed.

How to Manage Routing Numbers and Account Numbers

Knowing your ABA routing and account numbers is important if you need them for financial transactions. But as with any other financial information, keeping your details safe is important.

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 ACH withdrawal from your account.

Here are a few tips for managing bank ABA numbers and account numbers securely:

  • Avoid writing down account numbers. Similar to your Social Security number or debit card PIN, you’re better off committing your account numbers to memory if possible.
  • Destroy voided checks. If you have to void a check for any reason, be sure to destroy it rather than just tossing it in the trash.
  • Don’t share account information. Giving your bank account numbers to individuals or entities you don’t know can be risky. If you’re asked to share your account information, verify that the request comes from a trusted source.
  • Be selective about the apps you use. Personal finance apps can make managing your money easier. But they can be targets for hackers and scammers who may use malware or phishing attacks to steal your information. Before linking your bank accounts to an app, make sure it’s legitimate.

It’s important to ensure you correctly enter your bank ABA and account numbers. Entering an incorrect routing or account number could result in money being sent to or received by the wrong account. Double-checking each set of numbers in situations where you’re required to share them for a financial transaction can help avoid banking headaches.

Bottom Line

Your financial institution’s ABA routing number is an important piece of information, as is your bank account number. Knowing how to find your ABA routing number and your account number matters for managing your daily finances.

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