What is the routing number on a check and how does it work?

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Everyday banking tasks like direct deposit, bill payments, check processing, wire transfers, and the use of mobile payment services like Venmo require an account number and routing number. Let’s take a closer look at what a routing number is and how it works.

What is the routing number on a check?

A routing number is a nine-digit number assigned to a bank or credit union. Think of it as your bank’s numerical address that allows it to send and receive money from other financial institutions. Also known as a “routing transit number” or ABA (American Bankers Association) number, your routing number identifies the specific U.S. bank you do business with.

Rather than reading a check to find out your bank’s name and potentially confusing it with a bank of a similar name, routing numbers help bank staff and the machines that now process checks to know exactly where money is supposed to go. That way, checks intended for Bank of America and American Bank never go to the wrong place by mistake.

One bank may have many routing numbers, depending on things like the location of the account or the task it’s being used for, but no two banks will ever have the same routing number.

Routing numbers are used for lots of everyday tasks, including:

  • Direct deposit
  • Automatic bill payments
  • Check processing
  • Wire transfers
  • Payment services like Venmo or PayPal

Find a routing number on a check

If you have one of your checks handy, you can find the routing number very quickly. It’ll appear on the bottom left-hand corner of your check. It’s the first set of nine numbers that you’ll see and begins with a 0, 1, 2, or 3.

A check

Find a routing number without a check

Need to pay your electric bill by phone, but don’t have access to a check with your routing number? No problem. Here are a few other ways you can find a routing number without a check so you can complete your transaction.

1. Go online

Your bank’s website or app may post its routing numbers online. Sign on to your online bank account and go to “account information” or “account summary.”  The routing number should be clearly listed. You can also visit your bank’s website or Google its name plus the phrase “routing number.”

2. Call the bank

Call your bank to speak to a customer service representative. You can count on them to give you the routing number or confirm the one you found online.

How does a routing number work?

Developed by the ABA, each routing number is publicly known and unique to one financial institution. However, one bank or credit union may have multiple routing numbers that are specific to different locations and various tasks that are being completed. This is often the case with larger institutions.

Essentially, a routing number is a bank ID that works with an account number to identify your account and make sure your money ends up in the right place. By knowing what it is and where to find it, you’ll be able to complete a variety of banking transactions with ease.

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Written by
Anna Baluch
Contributing writer
Anna Baluch is a personal finance freelance writer from Cleveland who enjoys writing about debt, mortgages, student loans, personal loans and auto financing.
Edited by
Senior wealth editor