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Routing Number vs Account Number: What Are the Differences?

Routing Number vs Account Number: What Are the Differences?
Chris Alexis
Chris AlexisUpdated February 24, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
If you have a bank account, that account has both a routing number and an account number. What’s the difference? Your account number identifies your checking or savings account, while the routing number identifies your bank or credit union. Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse these numbers, since both are used in most banking transactions — everything from setting up a direct deposit to paying bills online. Read on to learn the differences between routing numbers vs. account numbers, where to find them, and which number to use when.

What Is a Routing Number?

A routing number is a nine-digit code that serves as an address for your bank or credit union. These numbers are assigned by the American Bankers Association (ABA) to avoid any confusion between banks that have similar names. As a result, they are often referred to as ABA routing numbers. Together with your account number, routing numbers ensure that money gets deposited or withdrawn from the right account during electronic transactions, such as funds transfers, direct deposits, digital checks, and bill payments. Many banks and credit unions only have one routing number. Large national banks, however, may have a different routing number for each state, or even more than one routing number for some states.In the past, routing numbers were used with paper checks, while Automated Clearing House (ACH) numbers were used for electronic transactions between financial institutions. These days, however, banks typically use one routing number for all transactions, whether you do them electronically or via paper check.

What Is an Account Number? 

Your account number (typically eight to 12 digits, sometimes more) identifies your unique account, such as your checking or savings account. Each account has its own number, sort of like a fingerprint. You need an account number for any kind of banking transaction, whether you are transferring money between accounts at the same bank or between accounts at two different banks. Account numbers are tied to the account, rather than the individual. So if you have a checking account and savings account at the same bank, they will have different account numbers. (Those accounts will likely have the same routing number though.)Your account number works in tandem with your routing number during a financial transaction; together, they tell the bank exactly where money should be withdrawn from or deposited.While anyone can discover a bank's routing number, your account number is unique to you. It’s important to treat your account number the same way you do your Social Security number to make sure someone doesn’t access your account fraudulently.Recommended: Guide to Opening a Savings Account Online 

Why Are Routing and Account Numbers Important?

Routing numbers and accounts numbers are important because, together, they unlock the key to your bank account. Your account number is your unique customer ID, while your routing number is specific to your bank. You typically need both numbers to:
  • Set up direct deposit
  • Pay bills online
  • Make automated loan payments
  • Transfer money from one bank to another
  • Send and receive wire transfers
  • Set up a peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo or PayPal
  • Making payments from your bank account by phone
  • Reorder checks
  • Link a budgeting app to your bank account

Differences Between Routing and Account Numbers

Routing numbers and account numbers both help to identify your bank account, and both are necessary for bank transactions. However, there are some key differences between these numbers. Here are some to keep in mind.
  • What they represent. Routing numbers identify financial institutions, whereas account numbers identify individual bank accounts.
  • Public vs. private. Routing numbers are shared publicly. You can find a bank’s routing number on a bank’s website even if you don’t have an account with that bank. Account numbers are private. Only an account holder can access their account number.
  • Who assigns them. The ABA assigns routing numbers to banks; banks assign account numbers, giving each customer account a unique number.
  • How long they are. Routing numbers are always nine digits in length. Account numbers can vary in length, with some being as long as 17 digits.

Tips for Finding Your Routing and Account Numbers Online

It’s easy to find your routing and account number online. Here’s how.

Log Into Your Online Account

When you log into your account, you may only see the last four digits of your account number displayed. Typically, if you click on those, you will be able to get the full number. Your routing number may also automatically pop up. If not, you may need to click on something along the lines of “Account Numbers” or “Account Details” to get your routing number.Some banks also post their routing number on the home page of their website or elsewhere on the site. It might be in the FAQs. 

Download Your Statement

Another possible way to find your bank account and routing number online is by opening or downloading a copy of your statement. Depending on the bank, your full account number may be listed (though some banks will only include the last four digits). Typically, your routing number will be printed on the upper or lower right-hand corner of your statement.

Use Your Bank’s Mobile App

You can usually get your account and routing numbers through your bank’s app just by opening the app and clicking on the account you’re interested in. If your account and routing number don’t immediately pop up, you may need to click on an option like “account information” or “account details.”Recommended: 10 Key Benefits of a Savings Account 

Tips for Finding Your Routing and Account Numbers on a Check

One of the easiest ways to the routing and account numbers for your checking account is to look at one of your checks. However, these numbers aren’t labeled, so you’ll need to know how to decode the string of numbers printed along the bottom. Here’s how.

Find Your Routing Number 

When you look at the list of numbers at the bottom of your check, the first grouping is the routing number. It’s a nine-digit number that typically begins with a 0, 1, 2 or 3.

Find Your Account Number

The account number generally comes right after the routing number, in the second grouping of numbers. It may be anywhere from seven to 12-plus digits long.

Good to Know

The last grouping of numbers along the bottom of a check is typically the number for that particular check. This is the shortest set of numbers on the check and doesn’t have any importance other than helping you keep track of the checks you've written.

What to Do if You Can’t Find Your Routing and Account Numbers

If you can’t find your routing number, you can typically find it on your bank’s website. Or, you can use the ABA’s online routing number lookup toolIf you can’t find your account number, you’ll need to call your bank’s customer service line. Since account numbers are private information, you may need to answer a series of questions to verify your identity. For example, they may ask you for your Social Security number and/or your driver’s license number. 

Which Number Is Used for Setting Up Direct Deposit? 

You will need both your routing and account numbers to set up direct deposit. Your employer needs to know which bank, as well as exactly which account, to deposit your paycheck into. You’ll also need both numbers to set up direct deposit for a tax refund from the internal revenue service (IRA) or to receive Social Security or other government benefits via direct deposit.Recommended: How Can You Get a Direct-Deposit Personal Loan?

The Takeaway

Your routing and account numbers are invaluable pieces of information that allow you to both send and receive money through your financial institution. Your routing number identifies your bank; your account number identifies your individual account at that bank.If you have a checking and a savings account at the same bank, these accounts will have different account numbers but likely the same routing number. If you have a checking account at one bank and a savings account at another bank, the accounts will have different account numbers, as well as different routing numbers. However, it’s still easy to make transfers. To move money from a checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank to a high-yield savings account at an online bank, for example, you simply need to have the account and routing numbers for the savings account.If you’re on the hunt for a new savings account (or looking for a better rate than you’re currently getting), Lantern by SoF can help. With our online banking marketplace, it’s fast and easy to compare high-yield savings accounts based on annual percentage yield (APY), fees, and balance minimums. Lantern can help you compare online savings accounts and find today’s best rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need an account number or routing number to set up direct deposit?
Do I need to memorize my bank account and routing numbers?
What can I do if I mess up my routing or account number in a transaction?
Photo credit: iStock/FG Trade

About the Author

Chris Alexis

Chris Alexis

Chris Alexis has been putting pen to paper and fingertips to keyboard since his youth. He ultimately grew into an accomplished and award-winning writer who loves using the power of language to connect with audiences. He also strongly enjoys learning about who he is writing for so he can create something that will truly resonate with them. He has worked for a variety of companies, each of which have given him more experience and insight.
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