The 16-digit number on your credit card might remind you of the routing number you see on your checks or bank statements. But they aren’t the same.
In fact, there’s no such thing as a credit card routing number, even if it was issued by a bank or credit union. The series of digits you see on the front or back of your card is your credit card number, and it provides important information about the credit card issuer, the card’s payment network, and you (the card holder).
Read on to learn more about the differences between a routing number and a credit card number and why credit cards don’t need routing numbers.
What Are Routing Numbers?
A routing number is a nine-digit number used to identify a specific bank, credit union, or other type of financial institution in the United States. The American Bankers Association created routing numbers in 1910 to aid in processing checks. Routing numbers are still used today to help keep banking transactions secure, whether you’re making a direct deposit, an automatic bill payment, a wire or P2P transfer, or a phone payment.
Every bank has its own routing number — and some have more than one — that works kind of like a payment address. The routing number ensures the money from a financial transaction is correctly “routed” from one financial institution to another. Once the funds get to the proper financial institution, the money can then be moved into the designated bank account.
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Where Can I Find My Routing Number?
If you still use paper checks, and keep your checkbook handy, that’s probably the easiest place to look for your bank’s routing number. You should be able to find the routing number in the lower left corner of your checks.
The first nine digits are the bank’s routing number. After a gap, the next 10 digits are your account number. After another gap, the last few digits represent the number of the check you’re currently using.
You can also find your routing number by logging into your bank or savings account online. (If you have more than one account at a particular bank, your account numbers will be different, but the routing number for those accounts will likely be the same.) Or you can call your bank’s customer service line and ask for help getting the correct routing number.
If the checkbook or other bank paperwork you have is old, you may want to go online to confirm that the routing number you’re using is still current. Routing numbers can sometimes change, such as when two financial institutions merge, for example, or go through an acquisition. You should receive advance notice if that happens, but you may want to look just to be sure you’re using the most up to date routing number.
Why Don’t Credit Cards Have Routing Numbers?
A routing number is used to move funds between two bank accounts — from your employer’s account to your checking or savings account, for example, or from your checking account to the electric company.
When you use your credit card, you aren’t depositing or transferring money. You’re borrowing money, and processing that transaction works differently. That’s why there’s no routing number on a credit card. Instead, the credit card issuer uses your credit card number to track your transactions and make sure they end up on your bill. The number also can help card processors identify the financial institution that will settle the payment when the card is used.
What Do the Numbers on a Credit Card Represent?
It’s important to note that your credit card number is not the same as your account number. Your credit card number includes your account number, but it has a few more digits. And each of those digits has a purpose.
Every credit card number is unique: If you apply for a credit card and you’re approved, the card you receive will have its own number. But most cards use a similar, formatted sequence that can be used to identify the card issuer, the payment network, and the account holder:
• The first number in this sequence typically represents the card’s payment network. Most credit cards start with a 3 (American Express), 4 (Visa), 5 (Mastercard), or 6 (Discover), as those are the major payment networks.
• The next five digits complete the card’s Bank Identification Number (BIN), or Issuer Identification Number (IIN), and can tell you about the card’s “issuer.” (The credit card issuer is the financial institution that gave you the card and manages your account.)
• The remaining digits — except, usually, the last digit — represent the cardholder and the account the card is connected to.
• And finally, there’s the “checksum” or “check digit,” which is used by card issuers and payment networks to catch errors and help protect against unauthorized card use.
Though this format may differ a bit from one card to the next — some card numbers may have 15 digits instead of 16, for example — all card issuers must follow a set of standards created by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and enforced by the American Network of Standards Institute (ANSI). This allows consumers to use their card or card number no matter where they are in the world.
Does a Debit Card Have a Routing Number?
Although a debit card is typically tied to at least one bank account, it does not have a routing number. Each debit card has a unique 16-digit card number that identifies the card issuer, the card network, and the bank customer and accounts to which it’s connected.
You read that right. While each credit card you own is linked to one specific credit account, your debit card may be linked to multiple accounts (checking, savings, etc.) if they’re at one financial institution.
How does the bank decide which account you want to use for each transaction? If you use your debit card to make a purchase, the money will be pulled from the account you’ve designated as your primary checking account. And if you’re using your debit card at an ATM, you should be able to see a list of all the accounts connected to that particular card, and you can make a deposit to or withdrawal from the account of your choice.
Your debit card will not be linked to your credit card account, however, even if it’s through the same financial institution. And even if your debit card has a payment network logo or hologram in the corner, you cannot use it as a credit card. The money will be withdrawn from your bank account, either right away or after a short delay.
Credit Cards vs Debit Cards
It can be useful to have both a credit card and a debit card on hand to help manage your finances. Though they look a lot alike, there are key differences:
|Credit Cards||Debit Cards|
|Funds are borrowed from the bank.||Funds come directly from your own bank account.|
|You’ll pay interest if you carry a balance.||No interest is charged.|
|A credit card can help you build credit.||A debit card won’t help you build your credit.|
|A credit card can hurt your credit if you overspend.||A debit card can help you stay disciplined and avoid carrying debt.|
|You have access to cash when you need it.||You have access to cash when you need it.|
|Your card may offer rewards and discounts.||Most debit cards don’t offer rewards.|
|Each card is connected to a specific account.||One debit card can be linked to multiple bank accounts.|
Recommended: Can You Use a Credit Card Like a Debit Card?
Do credit cards have routing numbers? No. Though the routing number on your checks and the number on your credit card may look similar, they serve different functions.
A routing number helps ensure a payment comes from or goes to a specific financial institution, but it doesn’t contain information about the checking, savings, or business account the transaction is tied to. An account number is needed to make that happen. A credit card number, on the other hand, contains information about the card issuer, the payment network, and the card holder. It can help identify the financial institution that will settle the payment when the card is used, and it identifies the card holder who will ultimately be responsible for those charges.
Understanding the difference between these numbers — and knowing where to locate them when necessary — can help speed up your financial transactions and make them go smoother.
What is a routing number?
A routing number is a nine-digit number that identifies your bank or credit union in a financial transaction.
Does a credit card have a routing number?
Credit cards don’t have routing numbers. Instead, credit cards have a 16-digit credit card number that identifies the card issuer, the payment network, and the card holder.
Where can I find my routing number?
The easiest way to find your bank’s routing number is to look at your paper checks or a bank statement. The first nine digits in the lower left corner are the routing number. You also can log onto your account online or call your bank’s customer service number to get the correct routing number.
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