Check Routing Symbol

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 portion of a check that is paid through the Federal Reserve System. It is also called the check's fractional bank number. This number is not used much anymore as all of the information it had is now contained in the routing number that appears on the bottom of the check.

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 complete check routing number is also its 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 some checks.
  • 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 also have the following MICR 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.
  • Fractional check routing symbols do not appear as frequently on paper checks today as they once did.

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.

Check Routing Symbol
Source: Huntington Bank.

Special Considerations

While check writing is decreasing every year, millions of people still use checks to pay bills. The number of commercial checks written daily dropped from 72 million in 1989 to a record low of 14.7 million in 2020, and that number is expected to continue to decline indefinitely.

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 driver's 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.

The American Bank Numbering System

In the early 20th century, a system was developed to identify the banks where people kept checking accounts. This was meant to increase the efficiency of clearing and settling checks while also helping to identify fraudulent or phony checks. These numbers appeared in the numerator of the check routing symbol, but these are not used as frequently anymore as the information it contained is now incorporated into the ABA routing number.

Still, many checks will have these digits even today, which can help identify the region the bank originated from. In the numerator:

  • 1-49 Assigned to Federal Reserve cities and major banking centers
  • 50-58 New York (50) & surrounding states (51-58)
  • 59 Hawaii
  • 60-69 Pennsylvania (60) & surrounding states (61-69)
  • 70-79 Illinois (70) & surrounding states (71-79)
  • 80-88 Missouri (80) & surrounding states (81-88)
  • 89 Alaska
  • 90-99 California (90) & surrounding states (91-99)
  • 101 Various territories - e.g. Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.

And in the denominator, the federal reserve district bank associated with clearing the check:

  • 01-Boston
  • 02-New York
  • 03-Philadelphia
  • 04-Cleveland
  • 05-Richmond
  • 06-Atlanta
  • 07-Chicago
  • 08-St. Louis
  • 09-Minneapolis
  • 10-Kansas City
  • 11-Dallas
  • 12-San Francisco

These numbers do not appear on checks as frequently today, since all the information is now contained in the ABA routing number located at the bottom of a check.

Example of Check Routing Symbol

Consider the check routing symbol 60-011/312.

  • 60 - City/State Prefix
  • 011- ABA Institution Identifier
  • 0312- Federal Reserve Routing Symbol

Parsing the digits in that symbol, the first number tells us that the bank is located in Pennsylvania. The next number is the ABA identifier for the particular bank. These numbers were initially granted by the size of the city within that state as of the year 1910, so this would be a bank in a fairly large city. The denominator is 0312, meaning it is in the third federal district, or the Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

What Is a Fractional Routing Number on a Check?

The fractional routing number, or routing symbol on a check, is a small numerical representation location on the top portion of some paper checks. It has a numerator depicting where the bank is located and a denominator representing the federal reserve bank that would clear the check. These numbers are less common today, since all the information is now contained in the ABA routing number located at the bottom of a check.

What Are the Symbols on the Bottom of a Check Called?

On the bottom of every check is a series of three machine-readable numbers. The first is the bank's ABA routing number. The second is the check writer's account number. The third is the check number.

What Does MICR Mean on a Check?

The magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) refers to the string of numbers found at the bottom left of a paper check that includes the routing, account, and check numbers. This technology allows computers to quickly read, identify, and verify the validity of a check.


Article Sources

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  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Commercial Checks Collected through the Federal Reserve: Annual Data." Accessed Feb. 16, 2022.

  2. American Bankers Association. "ABA Routing Number." Accessed Feb. 16, 2022.

  3. Federal Reserve Banks. "Key to Routing Numbers." Accessed Feb. 16, 2022.