CUSIP Numbers and How To Look Them Up Online

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A reader writes in: "I'm trying to look up a CUSIP number, but I'm not having much luck. How do I look up a CUSIP number on the Web?"

First, what is a CUSIP number?

According to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission),  a CUSIP (Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures) number identifies most securities, including stocks of all registered U.S. and Canadian companies, and U.S. government and municipal bonds.

The CUSIP system—owned by the American Bankers Association and operated by Standard & Poor’s—facilitates the clearing and settlement process of securities.

How is this identification system different from stocks that usually show a simple abbreviation (for example, Intel, one of the world's leading technology companies, shows up on the stock ticker with the abbreviation INTC)? Bonds and the bond market require a longer identification designation, thus we have the nine-number CUSIP identifier.

Because the bond market is so much larger than the stock market, with millions of potential bonds being issued and traded, it's imperative that a very precise classification system is in place to correctly identify these items.  

More information from the MSRB (Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board): 

"CUSIP is an acronym that refers to Committee on Uniform Security Identification Procedures and the nine-digit, alphanumeric CUSIP numbers that are used to identify securities, including municipal bonds.

A CUSIP number, similar to a serial number, is assigned to each maturity of a municipal security issue. The first six characters are known as the base or CUSIP-6, and uniquely identify the bond issuer. The seventh and eighth digit identify the exact bond maturity and the ninth digit is an automatically generated “check digit.” 

If you're trying to find a CUSIP number, you're looking for a number that identifies a type of security. Here's more information about these numbers from Investopedia:

The CUSIP number consists of a combination of nine characters, both letters, and numbers, which act as a sort of DNA for the security - uniquely identifying the company or issuer and the type of security. The first six characters identify the issuer and are assigned in an alphabetical fashion; the seventh and eighth characters (which can be alphabetical or numerical) identify the type of issue, and the last digit is used as a check digit.
 

Why would anyone want to look up a CUSIP number? 

There are many reasons why people need this information, but it's mostly centered around getting information about stocks and bonds. More from LearnBonds.com

A CUSIP number is the primary unique identifier used for US bonds. There are CUSIP numbers for most US traded securities.  However, the CUSIP number has primary importance in the bond market, where it is used to process and settle trades. Where most stocks have a 3 or 4 letter ticker symbol to identify them (ie AAPL for Apple stock or BAC for Bank of America), the bond market uses the 9 Character CUSIP Number....At most, there are 20,000 unique stock issues of publicly traded companies.

There are well over 1,000,000 different bond issues.  Most of these bond issues are municipal bonds issued by cities, counties, and states. With so many different bond issues, precise identification is critical.

From initial research, if readers would like to access the entire CUSIP database, this action will actually take a subscription to Standard & Poors or a similar service that has access to the CUSIP database. However, for those users who are looking up basic information, a subscription is not always necessary in order to find a broad overview. 

Four ways to look up a CUSIP number

It's helpful to have as much information as possible for a successful CUSIP search, including:

  • the full name of the security
  • the trading symbol
  • the CUSIP number
  • the fund number

You can use Fidelity Investment's quick look-up tool to find a CUSIP number, as well as a fund number or trading symbol.

Standard and Poor's KennyWeb is a stellar resource not only for looking up CUSIP numbers, but financial information of all kinds.

Sallie Mae offers a simple CUSIP search.

The MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA®) website, at emma.msrb.org,  gives searchers advanced search functions that can be used to track down securities information as well as look up CUSIP numbers.