Routing Number vs Account Number: Key Differences

Routing and account numbers play a vital role in the banking industry. Serving as the backbone for a variety of financial transactions including wire transfers, direct deposits, and bill payments, they reveal where funds are coming from and going.

These banking numbers facilitate the smooth processing of countless daily transactions. Without this system, banks would face significant challenges in handling transactions efficiently. In essence, routing and account numbers enable secure and accurate financial transfers, making them indispensable in our daily financial activities.

In this digital age, Afriex emerges as the leading money transfer app for seamless and rapid transactions across Africa. Leveraging the established banking infrastructure of routing and account numbers, Afriex enhances the convenience and safety of sending money within or outside the continent. Our intuitive platform simplifies the process, making it quicker and more reliable than traditional methods.

What Is a Routing Number?

The routing number, a nine-digit number sequence, plays an essential role in the American financial system. It identifies the specific financial institution involved in a transaction.

Also known as ABA (American Bankers Association) routing number, routing transit number, and check or bank routing number, this system serves multiple purposes. It facilitates Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments, electronic funds transfers (EFTs), and ensures that checks reach their intended destination.

The ABA number system is unique to the U.S., while countries outside the American borders rely on the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) system for overseas transfers. For more details on how IBAN number works, check out our recent post that unveils the mechanics of international banking.

How to Find Your Routing Number?

There are several ways of locating your routing transit number, depending on where you are searching for it.

The routing number on a check is the nine-digit number on the bottom left corner, serving as a unique identifier for your bank.

Alternatively, logging into your bank's online portal provides easy access to your bank account information, including the routing number. Given that different transactions might require distinct routing numbers, it is imperative to choose the correct one. For instance, direct deposits and wire transfers, each serving a specific purpose, may have different routing numbers.

Another option is to check this list of bank routing numbers or the Federal Reserve's official site that offers a routing number directory.

What Is an Account Number?

An account number is a unique 9-to-12-digit number that identifies each specific bank account, from checking to savings.

Banks issue different account numbers for every account you own, guiding where to process deposits or withdrawals. Since this number allows access to your funds, safeguarding it is essential.

How to Find Your Account Number?

Similarly to your US bank routing number, finding your account number can be done in various ways.

Firstly, the account number is the middle set of numbers at the bottom of your checks.

On online banking platforms, finding the full account number might be tricky due to security measures. Banks often encrypt this data by displaying just the last four digits. Yet, downloading an electronic bank statement or checking the physical ones might reveal the full account number.

If none of these options worked, you can also contact your bank's customer service. You will need to verify your identity over the phone or in person to get this information.

Where Are the Routing and Account Numbers Located on A Check?

In general, you'll find three sets of numbers at the bottom of checks, each serving a different purpose. The first set is your check's routing number, next comes your account number, and the third set of digits is the check number. This last one usually has fewer digits than either the routing or account number and helps you keep track of your check transactions.

These numbers are part of your check's MICR line, printed with magnetic ink. This "micker" technology allows banks to quickly process checks while enhancing security against fraud. Also, it confirms the check's legitimacy through a secure reading process. Don’t forget to always look for the MICR number on a check, to ensure the safety of your transactions.

Here's a picture showing where each of the three numbers is found on the check's MICR code. While these numbers typically follow this order, be aware they can appear differently on some checks.

 Routing and account numbers on bottom of check.

What Is the Difference Between Account Number vs Routing Number?

As mentioned previously, routing and account numbers serve distinct roles for banking transactions. A routing number, consisting of nine digits, facilitates the transfer of funds between financial institutions. In contrast, an account number, which can range from nine to 12 digits, ensures money is correctly added or withdrawn from your account.

The routing number identifies the specific bank or credit union, while the account number is unique to your specific bank account within a financial institution. While a single bank can have one routing number for all its branches, each account opened at a certain bank will have a different account number for unique identification. For domestic transactions in the United States, both numbers are typically required to successfully complete the transfer.

However, international transfers to Africa may require alternative methods, for seamless and secure transactions. With money transfer apps like Afriex, you can easily send money to Nigeria, Kenya or Ghana from the USA or other countries, while ensuring the safety of your funds.

When to Provide a Routing Number and Account Number

Here are the most common situations where routing and account numbers are necessary:

  • Enrolling in payroll services (for setting up direct deposit with your employer);
  • Ordering new checks;
  • Setting up direct deposit (for receiving your salary or wages);
  • Tax refunds or stimulus checks;
  • Online purchases;
  • Government benefits (for direct deposit of social security);
  • Online bill and mortgage payments;
  • ACH electronic transfers;
  • Wire transfers (for sending or receiving money, in domestic or international transfers);
  • Setting up mobile banking apps;
  • Transfers among peers and family.

How to Safeguard Your Bank Account Details

Protecting your routing and account numbers is essential, as they are highly sensitive information required for many financial transactions. Without proper security, malicious individuals could potentially use your bank account details for unauthorised activities, such as creating fake checks or initiating unauthorised ACH withdrawals from your account.

To keep your banking information safe, avoid writing down your account information. Memorise it, just like your Social Security number or debit card PIN. Also, with checks that you want to void, make sure to destroy them, rather than toss them away. 

Another way of preventing fraudulent activities is by not sharing your account details with unknown parties. Always verify the source before divulging any information. Moreover, be cautious with the apps you link to your bank accounts. Ensure they're trustworthy to avoid potential phishing or malware attacks.

Always double-check your account and routing numbers when conducting transactions. Incorrect information can lead to misdirected funds that might be tricky to recover, or financial penalties.

Person checking mobile payment security.


Is ABA the same as routing number?
Yes, the ABA number is often referred to simply as the routing number.

Do credit cards have routing numbers?
No, credit cards do not have routing numbers. Routing numbers are specific to bank accounts and are used for bank-to-bank transactions. Credit cards use a different system for money transfers.

Which routing number do you use for a direct deposit?
For direct deposits, you should use the routing number – ACH routing number – specifically designated by your bank for electronic transactions. While some banks have a single routing number for all transactions, others may have different numbers for electronic and wire transfers. Always verify with your bank which routing number to use for direct deposits to ensure your funds are correctly processed​​.

How many digits are in the bank account number?
A bank account number typically contains between nine and 12 digits.

Can routing numbers change over time?
Yes, routing numbers can change over time. This might happen due to reasons such as a bank merger, acquisition, or reorganisation. In such cases, customers are usually notified in advance about the change in their routing number to ensure a smooth transition for any scheduled payments or deposits​​.

Is it safe to share a routing number and account number?
While the routing number is public information, your account number is private and should be shared cautiously to prevent unauthorised access and potential fraud.

Is a bank routing number the same for all accounts?
No, a bank routing number is not always the same for all accounts within the same bank. While a routing number is specific to a financial institution, some banks have different routing numbers for different types of transactions or geographic regions. Large banks may have multiple routing numbers across different states. However, within a specific type of transaction or region, the routing number will generally be the same for all customers​​.

Why do I have two routing numbers?
You might have two routing numbers because some banks use different routing numbers for different types of transactions.

Bottom line

Routing and account numbers not only facilitate everyday banking tasks but also pave the way for international commerce and e-commerce, showcasing their role in the evolving digital economy. By understanding and correctly managing these numbers, you safeguard your financial health and contribute to the smooth operation of the banking system.

Whether you're sending money to family, friends, or business partners in Africa from the USA or Europe, Afriex provides a trusted solution that adapts to the existing financial system, ensuring efficient and secure transactions.

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