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Routing Number vs. SWIFT Code: What Are the Differences?

Routing Number vs SWIFT Code
Walecia Konrad
Walecia KonradUpdated May 31, 2023
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Routing numbers and SWIFT codes are a series of numbers (or numbers and letters) used when transferring money between banks, either domestically or internationally.  They essentially serve as the fingerprints of a financial institution and help ensure that money gets pulled out of and placed into the right account during a banking transaction. The SWIFT code is used for international transfers, while the routing number is mainly used for domestic transactions.Here’s a closer look at how these codes work, their similarities and differences, and where to find them.

What Are SWIFT Codes?

A swift code is eight to 11 characters, made up of numbers and letters, and serves as the digital address of a financial institution or bank. The name comes from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which assigns these codes to banks and financial institutions worldwide. The society is a member-owned cooperative, headquartered in Belgium, made up of thousands of banks and hundreds of companies. It is not a bank itself but rather provides the system for international transfers of payments, securities, and Treasuries.SWIFT codes help identify specific banks or branches involved in international transactions and ensure the correct routing of funds across borders. These codes are also sometimes referred to as BIC numbers, which stands for Business Identifier Codes.

What Are Routing Numbers?

Routing numbers are nine-digit codes used in the United States for domestic bank transfers. Similar to the international SWIFT system, these numbers identify the financial institution responsible for processing the transaction, such as a bank or credit union. Routing numbers help direct funds within the domestic banking system, ensuring accurate transfers between accounts within the U.S.Routing numbers have been around since 1910, when the American Bankers Association began assigning each financial institution a unique nine-digit code. They are also called the ABA (for American Bankers Association) routing number or the routing transit number (RTN).Small banks generally only have one routing number, while large multinational banks can have several different ones, typically based on the state in which you hold the account. You need to know your bank account’s routing number for a variety of transactions, including:

What is the SWIFT code format?

A SWIFT code can range from eight to 11 characters that are divided into 4 categories: 
  • Four-letter bank code This identifies the financial institution and is usually a shortened version of the bank name. CHAS, for example, would denote Chase Bank, such as US. 
  • Two-letter country code This represents the country where the bank is located. 
  • Two-letter location code These two characters will indicate where the bank’s head office is located.
  • Three-letter branch code The last three characters will indicate the specific branch of the bank.

What is the Routing Number Format?

The nine-number ABA routing code uses the following format:
  • First four characters This is the routing code the Federal Reserve uses to direct each transfer correctly through their system.
  • Next four to eight characters This is the ABA institution or bank code. It identifies the financial institution associated with the payment. 
  • Last character This is the check digit. This single number is important because it is used to verify the authenticity of the routing number.
Recommended: ACH Credits vs Debits: How Are They Different? 

How Do SWIFT Codes and Routing Numbers Work?

SWIFT Codes and routing numbers both facilitate payments. Here’s a closer look at how each system works.


The SWIFT network facilitates the sending and receiving of payment instructions between banks and financial institutions located all over the world. The network is used by more than 11,000 banks and financial institutions in 212 countries. This includes banks, clearing houses, brokerages, and asset management companies. The codes tell the SWIFT system where the transfer is coming from, where it's going, and how it's going to get there.If you are sending a payment to a bank account outside the U.S., or if you are receiving a payment from an international payor, it is likely a SWIFT code will be used.

Routing Numbers

Routing numbers tell where a financial institution is located in the U.S. They are designed to make money transactions within the U.S. quicker and more efficient. Because each bank has one specific number assigned to it, there is little risk of miscommunication, even if those banks have similar names. Routing numbers are only used for domestic payments and are a way to ensure funds are sent and received by the correct financial institution.Both checking accounts and savings accounts have routing numbers. You need this number when funds are being directly transferred to or from that account, such as when you’re setting up direct deposit or autopay. However, you do not need this number for debit card or credit card purchases.Recommended: Routing vs Account Number: Key Differences 

Differences Between a SWIFT Code and Routing Number

Here’s a look at the key differences between SWIFT codes and routing numbers:
  • Scope SWIFT codes are used for international transfers, while routing numbers are used for domestic transfers within the U.S.
  • Structure SWIFT codes have a variable length and include bank, country, and branch information. Routing numbers have a fixed length of nine digits and consist of Federal Reserve, institution, and branch identifiers.
  • Geographic coverage SWIFT codes are used globally and cover financial institutions in various countries. Routing numbers are specific to the U.S. and are used for transactions within the domestic banking system.

Where Are SWIFT Codes and Routing Numbers Used?

SWIFT codes are primarily used for international wire transfers and global financial transactions. Routing numbers, on the other hand, are used for domestic transactions within the U.S., such as direct deposits, electronic transfers, and bill payments.Recommended: Making Direct Deposits Into a Savings Account 

How to Find a Swift Code or Routing Number

Typically, you can find your bank’s SWIFT code on your bank account statement (either paper or online). You can also usually find it by visiting your bank’s official website (often in the “FAQ” or “international wires” section). If you have trouble finding it, you can simply contact your bank and ask. You can find your bank’s routing number on the bottom of your checks. It appears in the bottom left corner. It’s the first set of nine numbers and begins with a 0, 1, 2, or 3. The second set of numbers is your account number, and the third set is the check number. If you don’t have any checks, you can usually find a bank’s routing number by logging into your account and going to “account information” or “account summary.” Since a bank’s routing number is public information, you can also find it by doing an internet search of your bank’s name and the phrase “routing number.”

The Takeaway

Understanding the differences between SWIFT codes and routing numbers is important for making secure and seamless domestic and international financial transactions. While SWIFT codes facilitate global transfers, routing numbers ensure safe and smooth domestic transfers within the United States. Whether you need to use a SWIFT code or an ABA routing number will depend on the nature of the transaction and the location of the banks involved. If you are unsure about which code to use for a specific transaction, it's a good idea to reach out to your bank and ask for guidance.

3 Money Tips

  1. Checking accounts are ideal for everyday transactions but earn little or no interest. Savings accounts are better for storing and growing your money — they earn higher interest but often restrict how many withdrawals you can make per month.
  2. An emergency fund is a key financial safety net. Aim to have three- to six-months worth of living expenses tucked away in a separate account that earns interest, but allows you to access the money if needed (such as a high-yield savings account). In some situations, it may be appropriate to have up to 12 months of living expenses saved.
  3. To get into the savings habit, consider having 10% of your paycheck directly deposited into your savings account. Or, set up a small automatic recurring transfer from your checking account into your savings account on the same day each month.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Does a SWIFT code have the same number of digits as a routing number?
Is the SWIFT code the same for all accounts?
Can I receive money through SWIFT codes?
Which should I use, SWIFT code or routing number?
Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

About the Author

Walecia Konrad

Walecia Konrad

Walecia Konrad is an award-winning financial journalist with 25 years of experience in print and digital media. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and specializes in the topics of health care, personal finance, and employer-sponsored benefits. Konrad's work has been seen on CBS MoneyWatch, The New York Times, Money, SmartMoney, BusinessWeek, and Forbes. She has been the recipient of both a Pearl Award for Best Web Publication of the Year and a National Magazine Award for Personal Service.
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