What’s a Routing Number?


It brings order to the banking world, sits on our checks, and helps us send cash across the country, but what exactly is a routing number?

I didn’t know 100% of the answer either, so this post will hopefully help everyone out.

A routing transit number (RTN) is a 9 digit number used by American banks to sort checks and bring organization to the hundreds of thousands of checks and electronic transfers floating around the banking world.

Since 1911 the American Bankers Association (ABA) has issued routing numbers to banks and today there are almost 27,000 routing numbers in use in the United States. Sometimes the number is also referred to as the ABA routing number.

The code is specific to a bank’s general location, but this can vary by the size of the bank. For example, ING Direct has 1 routing number for all accounts. On the other side, my checking account is through Harris Bank and they group Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana accounts into 1 routing number.

The place we often see routing numbers is on checks. If you look in the bottom left-hand corner of a check, you’ll see the routing number between this symbol |: . This number will be the same on every one of your checks and just says where the check originated from and where it may need to end up for record keeping.

We could get a lot more specific about what the certain numbers mean in your routing number, but they simply exist to accurately link your check back to your home bank.

How to Locate Your Routing Number

Not all of our accounts have checks, so how do you find your routing number if you don’t own tangible checks? No worries because the number is not secretive it’s easy to locate.

It’s probably the easiest to find it on your bank’s website by Googling “(name of bank)’s routing number”. You may have to do a little searching, but it’s always been available on a bank site when I needed it.

If you can’t find it there, RoutingNumbers.org has a database which will allow you to easily locate your number if needed.

When Will You Need Your Routing Number?

Not very often. I’ve needed it less than 5 times in my life and it was only to send money and link accounts with my ING Direct savings and checking accounts.

If you ever need to send or receive money electronically through a bank you’ll need a routing number, along with your bank account number. When you link to an outside account with ING Direct, you need the other bank’s routing and account number.

It seems insignificant, but it’s pretty amazing how much power that 9 digit number holds.

Photo: FM Bank Tulsa


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