How Do Check Numbers Work?

At the bottom of your personal checks, you’ll notice a series of numbers. Each set of numbers represents important information. Read on to find out how check numbers work and when you may need them.

How Do Check Numbers Work?: A Visual Guide

No matter the color or design of your personal check, it will share certain features. So, even if your check doesn’t match those shown in the image below, the information still applies.

how do check numbers work a visual diagram

Meaning of Check Numbers

There are three sets of unique numbers at the bottom of each check. Here’s a closer look at the meaning of each:

Routing Number

The first set of numbers on the bottom of your check represents your bank’s routing number, also known as the transit number.

This is your bank’s nine-digit bank identification number, representing the financial institution that holds your account, not the account itself. Anyone with an account at the same bank branch will have this routing number on their checks.

This number allows a bank to send and receive money from other financial institutions. Think of it as an address.

There are many scenarios in which you’ll need your routing number. Some of the most common include but are not limited to:

  • Processing a check.
  • Setting up recurring online bill payments (i.e., cell phone payments and online subscriptions).
  • Setting up direct deposit with your employer.
  • Sending and/or receiving wire transfers.

Account Number

The second, or middle, set of numbers on the bottom of your check represents your personal bank account number. When you write a check and the receiving party deposits it into their bank account, the funds will be pulled from this account.

This number is unique to your account and your account only, so it’s crucial to keep it safe to avoid fraudulent bank activity.

Check Number

How do check numbers work? It’s all about their location.

Each check has its own unique identification number, which appears on the bottom alongside the routing and account numbers and in the top-right corner.

When you open a new checking account, the first check in your book will typically start with 0001 and increase by one digit with each check following (i.e., 0002, 0003, etc.). When you finish your checkbook and order another, it’s a good idea to start with the number where the previous checkbook left off.

The purpose of the check number is to identify the individual check used. For example, suppose you misplace a check and need to put a stop payment on it. In that case, you can notify your financial institution using the specific check number associated with the payment you need to cancel.

What Happens to Check Numbers If I Get a New Bank Account?

If you change your bank account, you’ll need to get new checks associated with your new account number. It’s important to shred or void all remaining checks with the old bank account number.

You’ll also need to add your new banking details to your recurring bill accounts, like subscriptions and credit cards. You’ll find the relevant account and routing information right on your new checks.

Keep in mind that your credit card and debit card numbers are not the same as your routing number and account number.

What If I Have a Joint Bank Account?

If you have a joint bank account with your spouse or another person, both of your names will appear on the checks, therefore granting you both the authority to make payments with them. One account holder can write checks without the approval of the other account holder.

If you don’t want your transactions or check-writing access to be shared, consider opening a new personal checking account. Or, you may choose to open a savings account jointly but keep your checking account(s) separate.

Can I Verify My Check Numbers Online?

If you don’t have access to your checkbook, you can still verify your routing number and account number by signing in to your bank account online.

The location of these identification numbers varies by the financial institution, but you can usually locate them by either searching “routing number” or “account number” in the search engine or by expanding your account details.

You can also verify these same numbers on your bank statements, whether paper or electronic.