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What is an account number?

What is an account number?

A bank account number is a series of numbers (and sometimes letters) that’s designed to identify an individual bank account and its owner. This way, financial institutions can securely provide access to the account for sending and receiving payments.

In the past, social security numbers were used for this role. However, the frequency of their use made fraud and identity theft more common.

As a result, banks have gradually moved away from this practice. While social security numbers are still in use, unique checking account numbers are now used for banking purposes.

How many digits is an account number?

An account number usually has eight to 12 digits—though some accounts numbers can technically have up to 17.

Today, nearly every financial transaction an individual makes is attached to an account number in one way or another. A bank account number is used to tell the bank what account you want to deposit or withdraw money from.

What's a bank account number used for?

A bank account number tells banks from which account to take money or to what account to deposit money.

In business, a bank account number can be used for a variety of things including:

  • payments to other businesses
  • direct deposits  

What’s the difference between an account number and a routing number?

To understand the difference between a routing number and an account number, think of a hotel where your money is staying. The routing number is like the address of the hotel, so it’s the same for all the guests staying at that particular hotel.

Your account number, however, is like your room number in the hotel. Yours is different from everyone else’s, and it’s a more specific way of identifying where a package that’s addressed to you is meant to go.

Your routing number, also known as ABA routing number or ABA number (American Banks Association), tells financial processing algorithms and humans which bank you come from, and your account number is the specific savings or checking account associated with you.

This is all designed to ensure that both computer systems and people working at financial institutions are clear on where the money in a transaction is going or coming from.

Does the account number or routing number go first?

Any basic banking transaction requires both a routing transit number and an account number, whether you're writing a personal check, initiating an electronic payment, or setting up a direct deposit for your paycheck from work.

The routing number is always first and the account number follows.

Like looking up the address of a hotel, anyone who wants to find the routing number for a specific bank can simply locate it online.

Your account number, however, is a unique identifier that is extremely private and should be carefully protected, just like a social security number or a debit card pin code.

If someone knows which bank you hold a checking account at, all they would need to initiate a funds transfer from your account into their own is your unique account number. The rest—such as the bank routing number—they could easily find with a quick web search.

Is your debit card number the same as your account number?

The 16-digit debit card number found on your physical debit card is not the same as your account number. Though they may both be tied to the same account they have different purposes.

The debit card number comes from and is used by the card's network systems where the account number is unique to the bank and its internal systems.

How to find your bank account number

If you’re trying to track down your checking account number, you can search multiple locations for it, depending on what’s most convenient for you.

You can find your account number on checks, bank statements, online banking account profiles, and within the bank's mobile app. You can also access it by calling your bank directly to request it—though you’ll have to provide some verification info over the phone first.

Where is the account number on a check?

For some, the easiest place to track down a bank account number is at the bottom of a check. In particular, if you open up your checkbook and look at the bottom of your checks, the checking account number is almost always the second set of numbers from the left.

The first series of numbers is the nine-digit routing number for your bank, which is the same for all people who use that bank. An account number will usually have a pair of bracketing symbols on either side. It typically looks like this:


On a bank statement

Your account number can also be found on your bank statements. These may be sent to you every month in the mail, or they could be saved online in your online banking account if you’ve requested paperless billing. Usually, the account number on a bank statement appears near the very top of the statement. It’s typically labeled like this:

Account No. 0123456789

On your bank's website

If you have a computer or mobile device handy, you can always navigate to your bank’s website and log in to your account to access your bank account information.

If you have multiple accounts with the same bank (a checking account and a savings account, for example), you’ll usually find their respective account numbers by navigating to the specific account, and then looking for where the account number is listed.

In your mobile banking app

Similar to using your bank’s website, you can access your account number through your mobile banking app.

Contacting your bank directly

If all else fails, you can usually contact your bank directly to find out all your important account information. You’ll find the customer service number on the back of your debit card. If you don’t have access to your debit or credit card right now, you can do an online search to find your financial institution’s contact information.

Is an IBAN number the same as an account number?

An IBAN number is a universally accepted code you can use in addition to your account number to make or receive international payments.

An IBAN code is different than an account number in that it has different identifiers and does not take the place of your existing account number rather it helps banks overseas identify your account in order to send or receive international payments.

Ways to protect your bank account number

While security measures have reduced the frequency of fraud and theft over time, bank account numbers are still at risk of being stolen and used for nefarious purposes if account holders aren’t careful enough to practice safe online banking.

Someone in possession of your account number and your password or pin number can access your account and then authorize payments or withdrawals from it.

Security measures banks take to protect you

Banks have instituted a range of security measures to help prevent this. They include multi-factor authentication, which is the practice of asking for multiple forms of verification before allowing you to access your account.

If you’ve ever had to enter a one-time pin number that’s been sent to your phone by your bank, you’ve used multi-factor authentication.

Other measures, such as security questions and automatic logouts after long periods between uses, are designed to help keep your account information—and your money—safe.

How BILL can protect your account privacy

Another way to keep your account number safe is by reducing the use of paper checks, which feature your full account number printed on each one.

With BILL, you no longer need checks to complete routine financial transactions. BILL can handle those transactions easily, quickly, and with security measures that keep your funds safe. Sign up for a risk-free trial today!

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