What is a Routing Number for a Bank Account?

What is a routing number: employees working together

Whether you’ve sent money to a loved one overseas or paid a bill online in the U.S., you may have been asked to provide the routing number of your bank or financial institution. In a world of online banking and electronic payment platforms, you might look up a routing number more often than before.

So, just what is a routing number and what kinds of banking transactions do you need it for? This guide will help you understand what this set of numbers is all about, along with how to look up a routing number on your bank statement or checkbook.

What is a routing number?

Whenever someone asks for your U.S. bank account information, one of the first things they’ll request from you is a bank routing number. If you’ve ever written a check in the United States, then you’ve seen this series of digits, even if you didn’t notice it. That’s because you can find the number on the bottom of paper checks.

Also known as routing transit numbers, or RTNs, these digits are a bank’s identification code. In 1910, the American Bankers Association (ABA) created these identifiers to make sure the withdrawal and deposit of funds went to the correct bank. That’s where the longer name “ABA routing number” comes from.

Routing numbers have a role to play in certain types of transactions, such as electronic transfers and direct deposits, but they aren’t required for debit or credit card transactions.

If a bank doesn’t have a routing number, then you may want to think twice about doing business with them. In addition to being necessary for some types of transactions, a routing number also serves as a registration number with the Federal Reserve Bank.

How do I find my bank’s routing number?

What is a routing number: woman happily using her phone

If you’re performing a financial transaction that calls for a routing number, there are different ways to look it up. These three methods are the easiest:

  • Look up the routing number on your personal checks: The first set of digits at the bottom of the check is the routing transit number. It should be a nine-digit number in the bottom left-hand corner of the check.
  • Call your bank: Unlike account numbers, routing numbers aren’t confidential or secret. Everyone who has an account at that bank has the same routing number, so your bank should be able to provide this information over the phone.
  • Look it up online: There are search databases that can provide this information, but check your bank’s website to be on the safe side.

Whether you’re sending money online or setting up your paycheck for direct deposit, entering this number accurately is important to ensure the funds get to the destination. For direct deposits, your employer may ask you to provide a voided check with your routing number on it instead of having you enter it manually.

You might also use routing numbers for electronic funds transfers, automated clearing house transfers (ACH transfers), wiring money, and a variety of mobile banking needs.

Keep in mind that these digits can vary depending on your accounts and methods of sending money. For instance, banks and credit unions may use different numbers for their checking and savings accounts. Financial institutions may also have separate identifiers for traditional electronic transfers and wire transfers.

Routing number vs. account number

It’s important to remember that your checking account number and routing number are not the same thing. Although they’re both featured on the bottom of your checks along with your check number, they serve entirely different purposes.

Simply put, routing numbers help institutions identify your bank, and account numbers help your bank identify your individual checking or savings account.

Every bank has its own routing number, and large banks may have several routing numbers for different branches or locations. That’s why you may find distinct routing numbers on your bank website listed by state.

For a multinational bank like Chase or Wells Fargo, Kentucky won’t share a routing number with New York or Connecticut, for example.

Check routing number vs. electronic routing number

These days, most banks use the same set of routing numbers for paper checks and for electronic transactions, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s still possible that your bank might use a separate set of numbers for paper checks and for ACH transfers.

If you aren’t sure, it’s best to call your bank and ask them. That way, you don’t end up using the wrong number for your transaction.

Routing numbers in other countries

When sending or receiving money from other countries, the usual routing information won’t be enough.

Many U.S. banks use SWIFT codes to process incoming payments from international banks. While these codes are similar to routing numbers in many ways, mixing them up can cause failed transfers.

Also, while routing numbers are widely recognized in the U.S., other nations may call these numbers something else.

Although they serve the same purpose, you might hear routing numbers referred to by these terms in other countries:

You might even see these terms used alongside each other in the same transaction. For example, sending money from the European Union may require an IBAN, but you’ll also need your domestic bank’s routing number.

When and how are routing numbers used?

Illustration of a person sending money to another phone

We’ve already mentioned a few situations in which you might need a routing number, but this only scratches the surface of their use in financial transactions. You may also need your routing number in each of the following situations:

  • Signing up for digital wallets and connecting them to your checking account
  • Sending wire transfers to friends or family abroad
  • Signing up for automatic withdrawal to pay bills
  • Making payments online or over the phone
  • Setting up direct deposit for tax returns or stimulus checks
  • Online money transfer apps—although, debit cards or credit cards are often all you need to get started
  • Transferring money between separate accounts (e.g., savings and checking)
  • Setting up direct deposit to prepaid debit or credit cards

You may also need to have your routing number handy if you need to order checks or receive a loan payment from a lender.

Remember, since your routing number isn’t private, you don’t have to keep it secret the way you would do for bank account number, Social Security number, and other sensitive personal information.

Do I Need My Bank Routing Number to Use Remitly?

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Remitly helps you send money overseas with peace of mind. Remitly customers in the U.S. only need to enter their routing number if they’re sending from a bank account. For even faster transfers, you can use a debit card or credit card—no routing number required—or another payment method.

Our reliable and easy-to-use mobile app is trusted by over 5 million people around the world.