Learn to Link Bank Accounts

Electronic Trasfers Made Easy

Woman on a commuter train looking at her phone.
It's easy to move money electronically (from anywhere). Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

Money is more or less electronic these days, so why not make things easy for yourself? By linking your bank account to other accounts, you can transfer money between accounts and make payments with ease. You won't need to visit a bank branch or write checks, and in most cases, it’s free to move funds electronically.

How to Link Accounts

Linking external bank accounts: The easiest way to link accounts is to do everything online or with an app.

In fact, that may be your only option.

Gather the following details about the account you're trying to link.

  1. Bank name
  2. Bank location (city and state are all you need to provide)
  3. ABA Routing Number (from the bottom left corner of your checks or another source)
  4. Account Number (your account number at your bank or credit union)

Learn where to find these items on your personal checks by viewing The Parts of a Check. You can also get this information by contacting your bank or searching for those details.

While logged into your bank account, look for an option for “transfers” or external accounts. The option goes by a different name at every bank, but the word “transfer” appears somewhere in most cases.

When you enter the area of the website used for transfers, you’ll want to add a new account (perhaps you have already linked other accounts, or you might need to create your first link). Click on something that allows you to add an account.

After you provide your bank information, your financial institution will need to verify that you truly own the account. They’ll make several “trial deposits” to your external account, totaling less than one dollar, just to see if you can confirm that the link was created correctly. Be sure to log into your external account within a few days to look for these deposits.

Then, go back to the other account to verify exactly how much the deposits were for. If the amounts match, your link will be validated. The deposits will be reversed soon after they’re made – you don’t get to keep the money.

At some banks, it’s possible to skip the trial deposits and create a link right away. To do this, you’ll have to provide your username and password for the external account you want to link to. While this is faster, it’s probably not a good idea — it just adds one more opportunity for your password to get stolen.

Setting up online payments: If you're making or receiving payments (as opposed to moving funds between banks), the process is very similar – type in your account and routing numbers. You probably won't have to go through the same verification steps unless you have the ability to move large amounts of money into your account. For simple online bill payments or payments like direct deposit of your earnings, just double check the routing and account numbers before you click "Submit."

Other types of accounts: The simplest type of link is a link between two bank accounts. It is possible to link your bank account to other types of accounts (such as a brokerage account), but the process may be slightly different.

When you’re dealing with accounts that are not bank accounts, you often have to use a special form (usually provided by whoever holds your non-bank account).

For payment services, such as PayPal, Venmo, or any peer-to-peer payment service that uses your bank account, the process is generally the same as if you were linking two bank accounts.

Linking accounts within your bank or credit union:  It's easy to move funds between your checking and savings accounts within the same bank or credit union, but it might be worth taking things a step further. If you're concerned about running out of money in your checking account, you may be able to set things up so your savings account serves as a backup for checking. Instead of bouncing checks, missing payments, or paying steep overdraft fees, your bank can transfer funds from savings to checking to cover the payment.

Find out how much your bank charges for this service before you make a habit of using it (a $10 fee per transfer may apply).

Linking Accounts the Old-Fashioned Way

You may also be able to set up transfers and payments without going online (or that might be the only available method). Ask your financial institution if they will create a link if you provide a paper check. You may have to write a check to the institution – either as a deposit or for a small amount like one dollar – or you may just have to provide a voided check. One way or another, you’ll have to instruct the institution to create a link, either by using a form or by including a note with your check.

Sometimes, institutions automatically create a link when you open an account and make an initial deposit into the account by check (you typically agree to this somewhere in the fine print).

If your Bank Merges or Changes Names

What happens if one of your financial institutions changes names or is involved in a merger? In most cases, you don’t have to do anything. The banks will communicate that information behind the scenes and they’ll keep everything straight. It is possible that you’ll have to update your account information someday – usually years after an ownership change, if ever.

Why Link Accounts?

Now that your accounts are linked, what can you do? There are numerous benefits of getting these accounts connected. You can:

  • Keep savings at the bank that offers the best rates.
  • Prepare for major expenses (get money from online bank accounts) without dealing with paper checks, wire transfers, or trips to the branch.
  • Pay yourself first: Set up automatic savings plans that run on autopilot (and are therefore more likely to succeed).