Electronic By The Numbers


summer 1I recently had to give up my existing ATM/Debit card because of suspicious activities; well, other than my own anyway! This is always a hassle due to the fact that I am so reliant on it. Suddenly all I can think about, are the ads I used to see while watching the Celtics games (the only real time I watched any TV that I also happen to be paying for; a story for some some other blog),They were the ads for a more personal bank. The bank you could walk into and get a new ATM card on the spot…….yea, I don’t have that bank, so I keep on thinking about switching instead of having to wait the painfully 3-5 business days…..blah, blah, blah.

In addition to loosing the ability to pay with my card in person, I have different accounts that have been severed due to the theft; things like auto pay for Netflix and my cell phone. It’s no secret that today’s society lives by so many numbers, so nobody is really surprised when all the numbers seem to merge and blur. Does this modern proverbial quote ring a bell? “The only phone numbers I now know, are the ones I knew before I had a cell phone.” At the moment, this includes my own cell number.

During my recent “re-initialization” back from the stone age, I began to think about all the numbers that float “out there” in the banking world and I decide to write about a few of them.

In the book version of “Catch Me If You Can.” the main character dates a bank teller so he can learn all about checks; especially what the numbers on the bottom mean. This may seem like a long way around  to get some information (not to mention morally questionable), but life before the internet sometimes required clever thinking, as well as being handsome enough to get a date with the bank teller. On a side note, I once dated a bank teller. I can assure you that although I was plenty handsome in the day, my interest in her had nothing to do with bank numbers (It’s possible I may just had placed a personal ad; “Semi-delusional, partially vain, future blog writer seeks financial-related cutie with banking protocol knowledge)!

Although most adults today are familiar with the numbers on the bottom of the checks, back in the early 70’s, that information was uncommon knowledge. Writing this, I learned a few things myself.  Let’s take a quick look;


I have altered this check to explain some numbers. I have made them real enough to match a legitimate financial institution (how many of you are wondering if I used my own real numbers? Yea, that’s what I thought! NO!!!).

This routing number matches a check from Bank Rhode Island, 625 George Washington HWY, Lincoln, RI 02865


The numbers are read left to right of course………

01–  Federal Reserve Location- Boston

1–    Original Federal Reserve Check Processing Center assigned to the Bank.; Boston

5–    The Bank is not actually in Boston. State Number in the Federal Reserve Area. Rhode Island

0169–  American Bank Association, Actual Bank ID number.

5Check SUM number- Used to validate routing numbers. The formula is; 

3 (d_1 + d_4 + d_7) + 7 (d_2 + d_5 + d_8) + (d_3 + d_6 + d_9) \mod 10 = 0.\,

This check sum number is important if you want to start printing your own checks and not want to have them rejected instantly……..er, ah, I mean if you like to solve math puzzles. I’m not that excited about doing math, but “Math Rules The World” and I had to try it out. The equation actually worked out when I was finally able to translate in to “simple Zulu terms,” what  “mod 10=0” means. Plug the numbers into the equation (d1-d9 being the digit in the routing number), do the math, get the answer and then divide the answer by 10. The remainder of your division will be the check sum number at the end of your routing number.

Looking at other numbers on the check; 57-169/115 is called the Fraction Form number. It’s seldom used anymore but the slash mark is not an internet address but  actually a division sign separating the numerator and denominator (top and bottom numbers), 57 means a Rhode Island bank. 169 is the ABA bank number. Add a zero to 115 and you get 0115. All put together, and you have the majority of your bank routing number on the bottom left hand corner of your check.

I have heard “stories” of people who tear the corner or checks when they pay a bill. The idea being that with out the proper numbers, they must get credit for paying the bill, but it will not be cashed immediately because the routing numbers are missing. This Fraction just goes to show the numbers needed are in two separate places if a bank really wants to know what numbers from the check are missing. Very similar numbering systems are used for credit cards, including the SUM check. 

So, back to the book Catch Me If You Can; the main character would print up his own checks. He would “bounce” a check in Boston that would have a routing number in San Francisco. That way, the check would have to go back to the West Coast to “clear” giving him time to operate, and get out of town before bank security would come looking for him. Obviously, this was done before modern computers were used for instant verification.

Speaking of numbers, If any readers want to know why it seems my blogs appear to be getting shorter as the A-Z challenge goes on, it’s because I lost so much time researching this one and figuring out the math!

Fear not, it was worth it!




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