Routing Number vs. Account Number: An Overview

Account numbers are a lot like a customer ID or fingerprint specific to each account holder. Routing and account numbers are assigned to indicate precisely where funds in a transaction are coming from and going to. Similarly, routing numbers identify each banking institution with a unique numerical ID. Any time you make an electronic funds transfer, for instance, the routing and account numbers must be provided to the relevant financial institutions. Routing numbers are always nine digits long, and account numbers are usually between nine to 12 digits, although some may be longer.

Routing Number

The routing number (sometimes referred to as an ABA routing number, regarding the American Bankers Association) is a sequence of nine digits used by banks to identify specific financial institutions within the United States. This number proves that the bank is a federal- or state-chartered institution and maintains an account with the Federal Reserve.

Once, ABA routing numbers were used with paper checks, and ACH routing numbers were associated with electronic transfers and withdrawals on accounts. However, most banks in the 21st century use one routing number for all transactions, electronic or paper. The routing numbers used for domestic and international wire transfers are not the same as those listed on your checks. However, they can easily be obtained online or by contacting your bank.

Account Number

The account number works in conjunction with the routing number. While the routing number identifies the financial institution's name, the account number—usually between eight and 12 digits—identifies your account. If you hold two accounts at the same bank, the routing numbers will, in most cases, be the same, but your account numbers will be different. Anyone can locate a bank's routing number, but your account number is unique to you, so it is important to guard it, just as you would your Social Security number or PIN code.

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