What is a Routing Number?

When you decide to set up direct deposit for your paycheck, or you set up an automatic payment plan for your cable bill or cell phone bill, you will probably be asked to provide information about your bank account. This information will probably include not just your name and contact information, but also your account number and something called a bank routing number, ABA number, or routing transit number. But what are bank routing numbers, and how can you find the bank routing number for your bank account?

What is a bank routing number?

A bank routing number is a 9-digit code that is used by banks in the United States to identify the institution from which a paper check originates. This code was adopted in the early 1900s, and its purpose of this code is to make it easier for banks to transfer these checks back to the originating bank. This, in turn, makes it easier for your bank to withdraw or deposit money in your account!

Essentially, bank routing numbers exist so that you can write a check instead of paying for everything with cash. If you think of a check as a letter, the bank routing number fills the role of both the address and the return address, depending on the situation. It tells the people who sort and deliver checks where the check (and the money) came from or where it should go.

When might I need to know my bank routing number?

Although the most obvious use for the routing number is writing paper checks, there are other situations in which you may need to provide bank routing numbers.
If you need to order new checks and choose to do so through a 3rd-party vendor (instead of ordering directly from your bank), you will be asked to provide your most recent check number, your account number, and your bank routing number.
If you decide to set up direct deposit, so that your salary is transferred directly into your account instead of given to you in the form of a paper check, you will almost always be asked for your bank routing number.
You may also be asked for the routing transit number if you decide to have your cable, trash, cell phone, or another bill withdrawn directly from your checking account.

Remember: “bank routing number” is only one name for this code. Other names for it are ABA number and routing transit number.

How do I find my bank routing number?

The easiest way to find your bank routing number is to open your checkbook. Your routing number is listed at the bottom of your check; it appears just to the right of your account number, and it is 9-digits long. Continue reading for a full description of a paper check’s typical layout.

The layout of a check:
Upper Left: Your name and contact information.
Upper Right: The date and your check’s ID number
Middle: A line labeled “Pay to the Order of”, where you designate the person or company that will receive your money. There is also a box where you write, in numerals, the amount of money that you are transferring, and below it is a line where you write, in words, the amount of money that you are transferring. Below that are lines for notes (to remind you why you wrote the check) and a signature line to show that you have approved the transfer of funds.
Bottom: The bottom of the check is where you will find your account number, listed to the left, and your bank routing number, which is just to the right of your account number. These numbers are separated by a space, and you should also be able to identify your routing transit number by the number of digits (a bank routing number has 9 digits).