What Is a Check Routing Symbol?

A check routing symbol is a set of numbers appearing as the denominator of a fraction that is printed in the upper right corner of any check that is paid through the Federal Reserve system. The check routing symbol contains three or four digits and provides three pieces of information: the Federal Reserve district of the paying bank, the facility that processed the check, and the funds' availability status assigned by the Fed. The upper number in the numerical fraction is the ABA transit number.

Key Takeaways

  • A check routing symbol is a set of numbers appearing as the denominator of a fraction that is printed in the upper right corner of any check.
  • Any check that the Fed deems immediately available is given a check routing number that ends in zero. A check with a routing symbol that ends in any other number is referred to as a deferred availability check.
  • Checks have the following information embedded on them: The routing number appears first (usually at the bottom of personal checks), followed by the account number, and then the check number.

Understanding a Check Routing Symbol

Any check that the Fed deems immediately available is given a check routing number that ends in zero. They are payable the same day as they are presented at any federal reserve bank. Same day payment is available for locations where a Federal Reserve branch is situated. For example, checks issued by a bank located in New York would be payable on the same day because a Federal Reserve branch is located in that city.

A check with a routing symbol that ends in any other number is referred to as a deferred availability check. Checks that end in other numbers are indications that the bank branch is served by a Federal Reserve branch situated in a nearby city.

Decoding Checks

While check writing is decreasing every year, millions of people still use checks to pay bills. Commercial checks written daily dropped from 72 million in 1989 to 20 million in 2017, and that number is expected to continue to decline indefinitely.

But checks can still be a useful no- or low-cost way to make payments, and most monthly rent payments are still made by check in the U.S., in addition to many utility company payments.

Checks have the following information embedded on them: The routing number appears first (usually at the bottom of personal checks), followed by the account number, and then the check number. The routing number is nine digits long, preceded and followed with a symbol that appears to be a bold vertical dash and colon symbol. Routing numbers are assigned by the American Bankers Association and identify the bank with a unique routing number.

It's a good idea not to pass checks to people or businesses you may not have a reason to trust. The account number on the check can be used to pull money out of your account. In addition, never write additional personal information on the check, such as your drivers license number or Social Security number. With these, an identity thief can more easily open an account in your name.

If you are still writing a lot of checks, look into using a debit card instead. Most businesses that accept checks will also take a debit card, which deducts money directly from your account. Memorize your pin number—never write it on the card. Don't give out your checking account number or debit card number over the phone unless the merchant is known to you, and even then it's still not a good idea.

Example of Check Routing Symbol

Consider the check routing symbol 610. Parsing the digits in that symbol, the first number tells us that the bank is located in the sixth Federal Reserve district, which is Atlanta. The next number, one, indicates that the bank branch is served by the head office located in Atlanta. The final digit is zero, which means that funds availability is immediate because the bank's branch is located in head office territory.