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Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2019
When transferring money from one account to another, financial institutions typically need a routing number to settle the transaction. A routing number identifies the location of the bank’s branch where you opened your account. This number allows financial institutions — such as banks and credit unions — to trace where the money is coming from and where it is going, so as to not confuse one bank with another. Along with your bank account number, it is part of the information required for financial institutions to process direct deposits, checks, auto payments and wire transfers.
Routing number vs. account number
It is important to differentiate a routing number from an account number. An account number identifies your specific account. A routing number identifies the bank that’s responsible for money going in and out of your account.
Routing numbers were developed by the American Bankers Association (ABA) in 1910. Each number is unique to one financial institution. But one bank may have multiple routing numbers, determined by factors like the region where the account is opened.
4 ways to find a routing number
Find it on the check
A routing number consists of nine digits and three components. The first four digits represent the Federal Reserve routing symbol. The next four digits identify an ABA institution. And, the last component (the ninth number) is the “check digit.” This single number is important because it’s used to verify the authenticity of the routing number.
The routing number generally appears in the bottom left-hand corner of a check. It is the first set of numbers. The next set of numbers — just to the right of the routing number — is your account number. And the account number is generally followed by the number of that specific check. These three components are usually separated by symbols, spaces or a combination of both.
Log into online banking
If you don’t have checks, you can find your routing number by signing into online banking — where it usually is listed with your other account information — or by calling your bank branch.
Find it on the bank’s website
Banks often list their routing numbers on their websites. After all, a routing number is not a secret. Below are links to pages where you can find routing numbers of the eight largest commercial banks in the United States:
Bank of America
Look it up on the ABA website
You may look up a routing number on the ABA website by inputting a bank’s name and its location. On the same website, you also may look up this number for another type of financial institution.
Different types of routing numbers
Some banks may have different routing numbers for different types of transactions. For example, the routing number for direct deposits and automated clearing house (ACH) transfers may be different from the one used for wire transfers.
ACH transfers are electronic transfers between financial institutions conducted through a third-party clearinghouse. The banking system has utilized the ACH method for more than four decades.
Wire transfers are direct transfers between banks, which do not need to be cleared by a third party. Because wire transfers are direct bank-to-bank transactions, they are faster than ACH transfers. But typically, wire transfers are also more expensive than ACH transfers, which are usually free. Wire transfer fees vary by financial institution. An average fee for sending a wire transfer ranges from $20 to $35, and for receiving one the fee ranges from $10 to $20.
It’s critical to find the right routing number for the type transaction you intend to make. If you’re not sure which number to use, you should contact your bank for help.
A note on international money transfers
If you are expecting to receive a wire transfer from overseas, you need to provide the sender with a Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) code, which is used internationally to identify specific banks. It’s the international version of a routing number; and as with a routing number, you also may find the SWIFT code on your bank’s website or by calling your bank branch.