A CUSIP® number is essentially a unique serial number for a stock or bond. If you have one, you can use a variety of tools to look up what security it represents, including search tools on brokerage sites. Depending on how you plan to use the number, it may be more convenient to use another identifier, like a stock ticker symbol.
CUSIP is short for Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures. Every stock and publicly registered bond in the United States and Canada is issued a unique, nine-character CUSIP number by an organization called CUSIP Global Services.
The number indicates, among other things, who issued the stock or bond. CUSIP numbers are widely used in bond markets to identify particular securities, though ticker symbols are more widely used in stock markets.
If you want to find out the CUSIP number of a municipal bond, you can look it up in a system called EMMA, which is managed by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. You can also find it in offering documents or get it through your broker.
To look up the CUSIP number for a stock, see if your brokerage firm offers that information in the profile information for the stock or see if it is on the issuing company's website. For both stock and bonds, you can also check with the investor relations department of the organization issuing the security to inquire about the CUSIP number.
Searching with a CUSIP
Once you know a security's CUSIP number, you can use it to look up information about that stock or bond. Some brokerage services, including Fidelity Investments, enable you to search for a stock by CUSIP number and get information like the current stock price, its name and its ticker symbol.
If you're interested in tracking a stock, it's generally more useful to have its ticker symbol than its CUSIP number, since the ticker symbol is widely used in the media and online search tools to refer to the stock. Once you find the ticker symbol using the CUSIP number, you may want to use it instead for future inquiries.
For a fee, you can also subscribe to a service from CUSIP Global Services that enables you to cross-reference CUSIP numbers and the securities they represent. If you just want to look up a few CUSIP numbers, you may be able to work with a brokerage or another firm that subscribes to this service instead of having to pay for it yourself.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.