Just like you have nine digits assigned to your identity, your bank account has nine digits to identify it and cement its association with you. This unique numerical string is known as your routing number.
While routing numbers are typically undiscussed outside of sending and receiving money to your bank account, they have quite the history and a plethora of interesting information.
If you are curious about your routing number, follow along to learn from where it came from, what it means, and find answers to many of the commonly asked questions concerning these infamous nine numbers.
What are Bank Routing Numbers?
A routing number is a transit number. It identifies where your account was opened so deposited funds with an intended destination of your bank account can make it safely to your account.
What are routing numbers used for?
Routing numbers are used to transfer money between accounts with the certainty of it arriving in the intended destination. You will commonly see routing number slots in the following transactions:
- Direct deposit
- Wire transfer
- Check processing
- Automatic bill payment
No Two Numbers are Created Equal
Every bank has a unique routing number, so a deposit associated with your account number can never land in the wrong hands as long as it includes your bank’s routing number. You are the only patron at your bank with your specific account number, meaning the combination of your bank plus routing number is completely unique as well.
Your Bank might have More than One Number
While no banks will ever have the same routing numbers, one bank might have multiple numbers. Banks often have separate routing numbers per type of transaction. Make sure you use the right routing number if you are transferring via wire, sending a check, etc.
History of Routing Numbers
In 1910, the ABA established routing numbers to ensure that banks paid patrons on behalf of responsible check-writers. If a check could not be fulfilled, the routing number could direct the to-be-paid patron or bank to the paying patron’s bank to realize payment.
Before computers, numbers like those in the routing series were necessary for keeping track of money, transactions, and responsible parties.
Routing numbers helped minimize the art of writing bad checks, a phenomenon of the 1960s known as “check float.” In those days, it was possible to write a check and have the money fulfilled by the receiver’s bank.
Communication was slow enough that it could be days before the check writer’s bank was notified of the check and the writer’s lack of funds. If the “check floater,” was quick, he or she was out the door, leaving the paying bank responsible for the loss. Thanks to routing numbers, this crime decreased significantly.
Now that the basic purpose and history of routing numbers is clear, let’s answer some of the commonly asked questions concerning the digits.
Frequently Asked Questions about Routing Numbers
Q: What does a routing number tell?
A: A routing number tells where the account holder’s account was opened. It directs funds to this specific branch of a bank.
Q: What is the difference between the routing and account number?
A: The account number is specific to a banker’s checking, savings, or business account. Each account has its own personal number. The routing number identifies where the account lives; which branch of which bank is responsible for making sure the funds are available and safe.
Q: Can I safely give out my account and routing info?
A: It’s not the safest way to secure money, but patrons are often prompted for this information in order to initiate a wire transfer, direct deposit, check cashing, or automatic payment. Basically, if a person wants to get paid, they have to fill out this information.
Giving out the combination of an account and routing number should be done only under professional and secure circumstances. Since the United States has relatively lax security in this area, it is easy for a person with a stranger’s account and routing combination to extract money from the corresponding account.
If work requires the frequent handing out of the number combination, it’s wise to establish a second account. One account can be used to receive money and another account can be used to hold the money. The receiving account can keep a low balance so its information can be shared without great vulnerability.
Remember, the routing number is safe to share and is often even public information. It is the account number that is best to remain secret, for its combination with the routing info gives direct access to a person’s bank account.
Q: Does the routing number have any other names:
A: Actually, it does. The routing number is sometimes called an ABA (American Bankers Association) number or a routing transit number. If prompted for either of these numbers when sending or receiving money, it is the routing number that is needed.
Q: Do checks and deposit slips have the same routing number?
A: Not all banks use the same numbers for both checks and deposit slips. It is necessary to check with the branch to find out if either requires a different routing number or if the same number can be used for both.
Q: Is a routing number necessary for a wire transfer?
A: Yes, a routing number is needed to fulfill a wire transfer. Most wire transfers require routing number, receiving bank’s name, address and phone number, and lastly, the recipient’s bank account number.
Q: Are all bank routing numbers the same length?
A: Yes, all routing numbers are nine digits long. Account number lengths vary according to the bank but are usually nine or ten digits long.
Q: Is a routing number required to transfer money?
A: If transferring money between banks, a routing number is necessary. Even if two exchangers share the same bank, the branch at which one account was established might be different than that of the other. In this case, again, the routing number is needed.
Where to Find Bank Routing Numbers
Routing numbers can be found in a few places.
The Routing Number on a Check
If you are looking at a personal check, look at the bottom of the check. There are three strands of numbers in printed ink. The routing number is the number all the way to the left (the check’s right).
Don’t have a check handy? Head to the bank’s website; they might have the routing number posted here. The routing number can be posted online safely because it is not associated with any personal bankers or transactions; it is simply associated with the bank’s geographic location.
A routing number can be found at the top of most bank statements.
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