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How Do ACH Payments Work?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Ever wonder what those little notations about ACH credits and debits in your banking statements mean? You’re not alone. As consumer spending habits have evolved, ACH payments have become an integral part of our financial lives — even if most people don’t understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

ACH is short for Automated Clearing House, a network and processing system that financial institutions use to transfer funds electronically. It’s been around since the mid-1970s, when it began facilitating direct deposits of paychecks and social security payments. The ACH now processes 25 billion electronic transactions each year, totalling $43 trillion. The system is overseen jointly by the Federal Reserve Board and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), which groups more than 10,000 member financial institutions.

“The ACH Network really does serve as the backbone for money movement in today’s economy,” says NACHA Senior Director & Group Manager Victoria Day. “It’s one of the few payment systems that has the ability to reach all U.S. bank accounts, so it provides real value to consumers and business, fintechs and financial institutions.”

Indeed, ACH is the foundation of today’s fintech app ecosystem, as funds transfer services (e.g. PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, Square Cash and Google Wallet) use it to process transactions linked to bank accounts.

How ACH transactions work

ACH Network transactions begin and end with banks. Though the originator of a transaction might be an individual or a company, ACH transactions require bank accounts at both ends. An ACH credit — say, a tax refund or a single bill payment by a consumer — pushes funds into the receiving account. An ACH debit — such as a consumer’s recurring monthly bill payment — automatically pulls money from the originating account.

The process sounds straightforward enough, until you consider the sheer volume of transactions that must be verified and securely processed. An Originating Depository Financial Institution, like your bank, aggregates transactions from all its customers and transmits them in batches at predetermined intervals to the ACH. The batches are processed by ACH and settled — during normal business hours — and then transmitted to each Receiving Depository Financial Institution, where transactions are finalized in the designated receiver’s bank account.

Until a few years ago, NACHA rules required each ACH credit transaction to be settled in one to two business days, and ACH debit transactions to be settled in one business day. However, in 2016 the ACH began offering Same Day ACH, an expedited option that increases the movement of funds between financial institutions from one to three times each day.

“There are times when a consumer or a business needs to send or receive money quickly,” notes Day, and Same Day ACH was designed to help facilitate that.

Benefits of ACH payments for banks and consumers

Safety and reliability are two of the top benefits of the ACH Network, says Day. But there are other advantages as well.

Benefits of ACH transfers for consumers:

  • No fees, typically: Most financial institutions don’t charge customers a fee for ACH transfers. The ACH Network is funded, primarily, by NACHA member financial institutions, who pay fees to cover the costs of operation.
  • Convenience: Paying bills by writing and mailing checks each month takes can take considerably more time and effort than online bill payments via ACH transfers. The ACH system lets consumers feel confident their payments will arrive on time, limiting the risk of late fees or damage to their credit ratings.

Benefits of ACH transfers for banks:

  • Same Day payday: In the past, financial institutions have profited little, if at all, from the ACH Network. The earnings situation has improved somewhat, however, with Same Day ACH. Banks receiving Same Day ACH credits on behalf of customers will be paid an interbank fee of $.052 per transaction by the originating financial institution.
  • New features for bank customers: Same Day ACH give banks new value propositions to include in their products and services for a new generation of consumers. That includes expedited bill pay, better P2P payment service, and cheaper wire service.

What’s the difference between ACH, wire transfers, and EFT?

ACH payments vs. EFT

There is some confusion when it comes to comparing ACH payments and electronic fund transfer (EFT) payments. That’s because various companies commonly refer to ACH payments as EFTs or EDIs (electronic data interchange). Here’s something else that probably doesn’t help: Because the ACH network is electronic, all ACH payments are EFTs, but not all EFT payments are ACH.

Here’s the deal: The banking industry thinks of EFTs as a general term for any method of transferring funds electronically from one bank account to another, including wire transfers, credit card payments and online purchases. Because the ACH Network is backed by the federal government, though, it boasts a higher level of security than other EFT options.

ACH payments vs. Wire Transfer

Both wire transfers and ACH transactions involve one financial institution sending funds to another electronically. However, wire transfers use a different network, Fedwire, and can move funds domestically and internationally with equal ease. (International ACH transfers, on the other hand, are more complicated.)

Speed is the great advantage of a wire transfer, which can send funds from one bank account to another instantly. For certain transactions where speed is essential — closing on a new home, for example — wire transfers may be a requirement. A wire transfer’s speed does come at a cost, though: wire transfer fees can range from $15 to $30 or more for domestic wire transfers and $35 to $45 or more for international ones.

Another caveat is that a wire transfer’s speed can sometimes be a vulnerability. Because the money moves instantly, this type of transfer is particularly appealing to criminals who might try to, say, scam home-buyers into wiring funds into the wrong account.

Payment typeProsCons
ACHMost secure, free of chargeSomewhat less speedy
EFTFacilitates online purchasesLess secure
Wire transferHigh speedFees, risk of outsider fraud

Examples of ACH payments

The 25 billion annual transactions handled by ACH covers a lot of ground, yet they tend to fall into a handful of general categories. Consumers use them for direct deposits of payroll earnings, tax refunds and government benefits, such as Social Security payments.

They are also used to pay taxes and bills, to make payments to individuals, and to move funds from one bank to another. Businesses use them to pay other businesses for goods and services.

Basically, you can use ACH to pay for just about anything that you might previously have paid for by paper check — only more quickly, reliably and securely.

The bottom line

ACH payments have radically changed the way we manage money, and are integrated into the modern fabric of how most of us receive and send funds. There are times, though, when ACH isn’t available — say, with many online stores — and you’ll be paying with a different type of ETF. And there are other times, still, when a wire transfer or money order might make more sense.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Banking

How Much Will My Stimulus Check Be? Calculate Your Payment

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to batter the economy — prompting the stock market to plummet and unemployment claims to spike — the U.S. federal government is throwing taxpayers a life raft, in the form of stimulus checks.

Congress has passed a $2 trillion relief bill that aims to provide emergency assistance to individuals, families and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including one-time payments made to individuals. The amount of money you can expect to see from Uncle Sam, though, is based on a number of factors, ranging from how much money you make to how many children you have.

Who qualifies for a stimulus check?

Under the relief bill — dubbed the CARES Act — most adults who have a valid Social Security number will be able to qualify for a stimulus check, with the size of that check based on your 2019 or 2018 tax return.

You must file a simple tax return if you don’t usually file a return: You also qualify for a stimulus check if you receive Social Security benefits for disability, retirement or Supplemental Security Income, according to the AARP. If you typically do not file a tax return because you receive Social Security benefits or have a low income, however, you will need to file a simple tax return to receive your cash payment.

You must fall below income thresholds: The bulk of those who do not qualify for a stimulus check will likely be high-earners: Under the CARES Act, if you’re an individual with no children who earns over $99,000 or are a married couple that filed jointly and are making more than $198,000, you are not eligible to receive a stimulus check.

You cannot be claimed as a dependent of someone else: Additionally, in order to receive a stimulus check, you cannot be claimed as a dependent of someone else. That’s noteworthy, and may mean that millions of dependents who are not children under the age of 17 could end up missing out on relief checks. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, filers only receive an additional $500 for each child under 17, which could be problematic for people who support dependents like the elderly, adults with disabilities and college students.

You must have a valid Social Security number: To receive a rebate check, each member of the household (including children) is also required to have a valid Social Security number. Per the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, this may mean that households of certain immigrant families with children who are U.S. citizens could still be denied a stimulus check.

How much are the stimulus checks?

The amount of your stimulus check is based off of your adjusted gross income, as well as how many children under the age of 17 you have. Here’s how the one-time, non-taxable payments break down:

  • Up to $1,200 per adult
  • Up to $2,400 for couples filing joint returns
  • $500 per child under the age of 17

However, the checks start to decrease by $5 for every additional $100 of income beyond the following income thresholds:

  • $75,000 for individuals
  • $112,500 for head of households (typically single parents)
  • $150,000 for couples who filed a joint return

Certain individuals with higher adjustable gross incomes aren’t eligible to receive a stimulus check at all. The checks completely phase out at the following income thresholds:

  • $99,000 for individuals with no children
  • $198,000 for married couples with no children

How does the government determine how much I get?

The government will determine the size of your cash payment based on the adjusted gross income (or your total gross income minus certain deductions, such as 401(k) contributions) and information reported on your 2019 tax return. For those who have not filed a 2019 tax return, tax returns from 2018 may be used instead to determine your check amount.

If you don’t typically file taxes and have no income – and instead rely on Social Security benefits – you are still eligible to receive a stimulus check. However, in an update on March 30, the IRS stated that those who “typically do not file a tax return will need to file a simple tax return to receive an economic impact payment.” This includes low-income taxpayers, senior citizens, Social Security recipients, some veterans and individuals with disabilities who are otherwise not required to file a tax return. They will not owe tax.

When will I get my stimulus check?

According to the CARES Act, the cash payments should be made as “rapidly as possible.” On March 30, the IRS announced that the distribution of the payments will begin within the next three weeks.

It’s also worth noting that if you have signed up for direct deposit with the IRS and have chosen to have your tax refunds deposited electronically — as opposed to receiving your tax refunds by mail as a paper check — you will likely receive your stimulus check faster, too.

Still, experts have been critical of that timeline, and have instead said the payment process could take months, not weeks. In 2009, for example, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) took three months to send out checks to households as a cushion during the Great Recession.

How will I receive my stimulus check?

You can expect your stimulus check from the IRS to be either directly deposited into your bank account or mailed to you, based on the method in which you requested to receive your tax refund. However, the IRS also announced that in the coming weeks, the Treasury Department plans to open a web-based portal in which people can share their banking information with the IRS, enabling them to receive their payments via direct deposit as opposed to waiting for a check in the mail.

If you have filed your 2019 or 2018 taxes, there is no action needed from you, and the IRS will issue your payment automatically. In fact, the IRS is actually asking consumers not to contact them about the stimulus checks, stating it will make details available on its website.

Determine how much you will get from your stimulus check

To find out how much you can expect to receive from your stimulus check, reference the table below.

What you should do with your stimulus check

As many Americans face furlough or unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a recent survey by MagnifyMoney found that most people intend to use their stimulus checks on necessities, like paying bills and buying groceries.

Many experts recommend keeping the money you receive from your rebate liquid, like in an emergency savings account, which should have enough funds to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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ACH Transfers: Explained

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

ACH transfers in action
iStock

You may have come across the term ACH when looking at different banking options or making certain banking transactions.

ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, which is a network and processing system that financial institutions use to transmit funds electronically between banks and credit unions. ACH transfers help to cut down on costs and processing times.

ACH transfers can include depositing funds directly to your account (transfers in, or credits to you), or transferring money out of your account to make payments (debits to you). For example, when your employer deposits your paycheck to your bank instead of handing you a paper check, that is an ACH transfer. Other direct deposits made by ACH transfer can include income tax refunds or other types of refunds. ACH direct payments (transfers out) often are used when you pay credit card or retailers’ bills (either one-off or recurring).

How long does it take for an ACH transfer to process?

ACH debit and credit transactions tend to process pretty fast. The National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA) has operating rules that specifically require ACH credits — when you receive money — to settle within one-to-two business days. ACH debits — when you pay money — will settle the next business day. In most cases, all ACH transfers are settled within the same business day. But that doesn’t mean that money will land in your bank account that quickly. It could take as long as a few days, depending on your bank or credit union’s rules and regulations.

ACH money transfers — rules and fine print

Most financial institutions don’t charge a fee for incoming or outgoing ACH transfers. However, you are limited to six withdrawals per month for a savings account based on the Regulation D rule. So, if you go over that limit, your bank or credit union may charge you what’s known as an excess transaction fee.

Another fee you may encounter is a non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee — when you don’t have enough funds to cover the amount you’re transferring. Whether this fee is charged at all, and its amount, depends on the financial institution, so it’s best to check with yours.

Also depending on the financial institution, the limits on transfer amounts will differ. NACHA imposes a $25,000 daily limit on individual transactions. In other words, if you make multiple transactions, each one is limited to $25,000 in a single day. If you go over that amount, then your transfer will be processed the next day.

Wire transfers vs. ACH transfers

Both wire and an ACH transfers involve one financial institution sending funds to another one. Although both are electronic transfers, wire transfers use a different network, called Fedwire, and can involve transfers within the U.S. or internationally. Wire transfers are sent directly from one physical place to another, whereas ACH transfers are sent through a network.

In addition to making a wire transfer at a bank, you may make it at a nonbank provider — companies specifically designed to help you send money domestically or abroad. These companies may not require you to give your bank information. Instead you’ll need the receiver’s name, your personal details and the cash upfront that you intend to send. With an ACH transfer, on the other hand, don’t have this option.

Free and fast ways to transfer money

ACH transfers aren’t the only way to send or receive money. There are many other options that allow you to get almost instant access to funds with no fees involved. Two of these are cited below.

Zelle

Zelle is a peer-to-peer payment service where users can receive, send or request money to and from other bank accounts by using either an email address or phone number. This works even if the sender and receiver use different banks. Zelle claims that it can send money within minutes for no fee.

Many banks already offer Zelle via their existing online platform or mobile banking app. So, you may access it that way. However, if your bank does not have Zelle embedded in its system, then you may download Zelle’s own mobile app, create an account and use it to send and receive money.

Popmoney

Similar to Zelle, Popmoney is is a payment service that may be available at your bank (via their mobile or online banking services) for free. All you need is the recipient’s email address or phone number and you can send money. If you decide to use the service via PopMoney’s website, you’ll be charged $0.95 per transaction. There is also a monthly limit of $5,000 if transfering from a bank account and $1,000 if doing so with a debit card. If you’re using PopMoney via your financial institution, you’ll need to check with them to see what their limits are.

Tips for sending money safely

When sending money online, you want to be sure that you’re sending the money to the right person and that your own personal details are protected. Sounds obvious, but for example, double check your Wi-Fi connection to make sure that it’s secured. Of course you don’t want hackers to steal your sensitive information.

You’ll also want to ensure that you are sending money to a reputable place. NACHA created a booklet to help consumers spot scams and fraudulent behavior, such as merchant impersonations — that is, when someone pretends to be a company and states that you owe money on a purchase or a bill.

If you find fraudulent activity in your account, notify your bank as soon as possible. Sometimes you can reverse your ACH transfer if you accidentally sent the wrong amount or you suspect that there’s been an error.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.