A routing number is a number that identifies your bank in the banking system, and your account number is issued by your bank to uniquely identify your account within the bank. Using them both, you can send or receive money in your bank account or print checks if your account supports that. Be cautious about who learns your bank account numbers because they can be used for fraudulent transactions.
Understanding Routing and Account Numbers
A routing number is used within the United States banking system to identify a bank. Some larger banks with multiple branches may have multiple routing numbers. They are also sometimes referred to as ABA numbers, coming from the American Bankers Association – an industry group that developed them.
Your account number is issued by your bank, whether you have a checking account, a savings account or another type of bank account. It's generally unique to each account, so nobody will have the same account number as you within your bank, and each of your accounts will have a unique number. It is possible for accounts at different banks to have the same account numbers, just as it is possible for people to have the same street name and number in different cities.
Keep in mind that if you have a debit card associated with your account, the number on the debit card is unrelated to your account number or routing number, and they can't be used interchangeably.
Using Your Bank Account Numbers
You can often use your routing and account numbers to pay for things online or to send money to other people through various digital payment services. You can also use them to sign up for direct deposit through many employers or through other institutions that pay out money like the Social Security Administration. Inquire with any organization that pays you if you can fill out a physical or online form to sign up for direct deposit.
If you are going to send money with an account and routing number, make sure that you provide that information to an institution that you trust, such as another bank, your credible employer or a well-known financial services company. It is easy for someone to forge a document authorizing a transfer or even forge a check using your routing and account numbers and steal money from your account. You should safeguard these numbers the way you would safeguard your debit card and checkbook.
Pay With Your Account and Routing Number
Some merchants will also let you pay with account and routing number information when you check out online. Depending on what other options you have, this may be more or less useful and advantageous than paying with a debit or credit card. Keep in mind any fees you may have to pay for any payment method and any rewards you may be eligible for, such as credit card points, when deciding how to pay.
If you pay from a bank account, you should make sure that you have enough money in your account to fund your purchase. Otherwise, you may be charged additional fees and penalties by the bank or the merchant.
Additionally, some money transfer services, such as Venmo or PayPal, may allow you to send or receive money using either a debit card or a routing and account number. Often, it's faster to receive money in your account through the debit card network, but there may be a fee for doing so.
In-Person Deposits and Withdrawals
Your routing and account numbers are also often printed on deposit and withdrawal slips that you can use to deposit or withdraw money from your bank account in person at a bank branch. They're also printed on any checks issued with your account. If you are printing checks yourself or having checks printed, provide these numbers so that they can be properly written on your checks.
If you're making a deposit or withdrawal from your bank account at a teller window and don't have a preprinted slip, you will typically fill out a withdrawal or deposit slip at the bank with your account number. Your routing number normally won't be needed since you won't be transferring funds between banks.
Finding Your Bank Numbers
If you have a checkbook or deposit slips corresponding to your account, your routing number and account number are typically printed on these. Usually the routing number will come first from the left, followed by the account number and, often, a check number or deposit slip number. You can find diagrams online to help you read these numbers off a check if you're unfamiliar with how they're printed.
You can also access your account number and routing number through an online banking portal or app. They may also be found in materials you received when you first signed up for your account.
If you can't find your routing number or account number or aren't sure you have them right, contact your bank or drop by a branch to inquire. Make sure to bring identification or have information handy so that you can verify you are who you claim to be.
Handling Fraud on Your Account
If you suspect fraud on your account, whether it's related to your account number being compromised or any other potential cause, contact your bank immediately. Withdrawing money from someone else's bank account without their permission is a crime. Your liability is generally more limited if you report fraud as soon as you see it.
If your account number has been compromised, the bank may be able to put special safeguards on your account to reduce the risk of additional fraud or may simply issue you a new account number. Keep careful documentation of any correspondence with your bank, police or other organizations regarding any fraud on your account.
Other Ways to Move Funds
You can withdraw money from your account in other ways, too. If you have a debit card, you can use this to make purchases without disclosing your account information. Debit cards are often used in places where bank account numbers aren't accepted, like many brick-and-mortar stores. Credit cards don't directly take money from your bank account, but you can also make purchases with a credit card and then pay them off by transferring money from your account using the routing and account number. If you don't pay your card off in full each business cycle, you will generally pay interest.
Some debit and credit cards offer rewards points and other features, like purchase protection or extended warranties, that can make them more advantageous than paying directly from your bank account or paying cash. Check what cards you have and are eligible for to optimize your purchasing habits.
If your account includes ATM access, you can use an ATM to make withdrawals from your account. If you're using an ATM that isn't associated with your bank, you may owe fees to your bank, the institution that runs the ATM or both. Some banks will refund your fees if you use out-of-network ATMs. Check your bank's policies to understand the cheapest and easiest ways for you to access your money.
- ABA: ABA Routing Number
- US Bank: Find Your U.S. Bank Checking Account Routing Number
- PayPal: How Do I Transfer Money to My Bank Account?
- Investopedia: How Safe Is Venmo and Is It Free?
- Wells Fargo: How to Report Fraud
- The Balance: How to Set Up Direct Deposit
- Clark: Protecting Your Money | 7 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe, Even From Your Own Bank
- North Shore Bank: Deposit & Withdrawal Slips
- Investopedia: Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards: What's the Difference?