Moving money between banks in the United States needs a routing number and an account number. Each bank account has an address that’s made up of both numbers.

How are they different, and what can we do with these numbers? Let’s find out in this article.

What Is an Account Number?

An account number is a unique identifier for each bank account. Similar to a phone number, but the main difference is that you usually don’t get to pick your account number.

Every customer has an account number for each account they have at that bank. Each bank has its own system for account numbers.

Some assign a seemingly random number for each account the customer has. Others use a customer number with a hyphen for each account.

For example, a customer might have account 12345-1 for checking and 12345-2 for savings. The length of the account number also varies by bank.

What is a Routing Number?

The routing number is a nine-digit number that helps indicate which bank the money should go to.

Every bank has its own routing number. After the money is sent to the bank, the bank looks up its customer’s account number and puts the money in the right account.

Some banks have more than one routing number because those banks are big or merged with another bank. Some banks have different routing numbers for wire transfers and ACH transfers.

Routing numbers are officially called ABA routing numbers. The American Bankers Association created routing numbers in 1910 and manages them until today.

Where Can You Find the Account Number and Routing Number?

Both of these numbers are on the bottom of your checks. Be sure not to confuse them with the check number.

The numbers at the bottom of a check from left to right are:

  • routing number
  • account number
  • check number

The check number is usually also at the top of the check, so if you aren’t sure where the account number ends, you can:

  • Look to the top of the check to help you figure out what’s the check number.
  • Each check also has an individual check number, so you can also look at two checks to see which number changes and which ones stay the same.

You can also find your account and routing numbers in your online banking. Each bank puts them in different places. If you’re unsure where to find it, simply search online or contact your bank’s customer service to find out.

How Are These Numbers Used?

When setting up direct deposit or automatic payments, you might need your account number and bank’s routing number. If you order a checkbook from a company other than your bank, you’ll also need to provide both numbers.

The original purpose of routing and account numbers was to process paper checks. The banks can organize which check goes to which bank and then to which customer account.

Today, there are additional ways to use these numbers, including:

  • for transfers between banks
  • to receive direct deposits
  • to make automatic payments

It works because each type of transaction effectively replaces using a paper check to move money. In fact, many checks actually get converted to electronic payments instead of getting processed the traditional way.

How Many Digits Are in a Routing Number and Account Number?

Routing numbers are always nine digits because that’s the format the ABA approves.

As for account numbers, there is no standard format. Each bank or credit union chooses its own format, but the account number needs to be long enough for each account to have a unique number.

Do Debit and Credit Cards Have Routing Numbers?

A credit or debit card does not have a routing number like a checking account or savings account. They do have an account number, but it’s in a different format than a bank account number.

Interestingly, the credit card account number works similarly to the numbers on the bottom of your checks. The first part of a credit card number identifies the bank, and the second part identifies the customer.

Is It Safe to Give Out Your Routing Transit Number or Account Number?

Your account information is something you need to take seriously. If the wrong person has it, they may be able to withdraw money from your account.

However, providing your full account number and routing number to do things like paying your bills is generally safe. The same information is on your paper checks.

In addition, your financial institution has a legal obligation to reimburse you for unauthorized transactions. The exact procedure depends on if it is a member FDIC bank or a credit union that falls under other agencies.

Some people prefer to use their bank’s online bill pay instead of giving out their account information. This can also make it easier to change your bill payments if you change banks. It’s also usually cheaper than mailing personal checks.

Do You Need a Routing or Account Number to Use an ATM?

ATMs identify you by your debit card number. You don’t need to use a routing or account number at an ATM. If an ATM asks for one, call your bank to confirm before using it.

Can You Always Transfer Money Using an Account Number and Routing number?

Not all money transfers can be done by providing an account number and routing number. The ACH network that allows these transfers is a system for American banks. International transfers usually require another transfer method.

In addition, consumer bank accounts often limit you to only adding transfer accounts that are in your own name. You usually need to use another money transfer service to transfer money to other people.

The reason you can give businesses your account number and routing number is because they use commercial payment processors that don’t handle transactions between consumers.

For international money transfers, Remitly provides a good alternative to ACH transfers. Remitly is a digital money transfer service that enables customers to make person-to-person international money transfers with unparalleled peace of mind.

About Remitly

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