Understanding instant ACH transfer

instant ACH transfer

Last modified on April 23rd, 2024

ACH transfers are cheap, reliable, and secure… but they usually take about three days to settle. For businesses that leave their invoice payments to the last minute, or want to score early payment discounts – this might not be good enough. Fortunately, the instant ACH transfer exists. Learn all there is to know about this instant payment method!

For more details on the risks and opportunities of instant payments, download our dedicated white paper!

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What is an ACH transfer?

ACH transfers are at the forefront of the finance automation revolution in the US. They are digital payments routed through a network of US banks, known as the automated clearing house. The ACH itself is owned by 24 US banks and facilitates electronic money transfers without the need for physical currency exchange. That’s because these transactions are processed in batches, for more efficiency and lower costs.

ACH transfers allow individuals and businesses to send money automatically on a scheduled basis, like a direct debit. They’re aggregated from the various banks and sent in one go, which means that there can be a delay in the payment, it’s not immediate like a wire transfer.

ACH transfers can be categorized into direct deposits (the money received) and direct payments (the money paid out). A company’s payroll is likely to make use of this technology to batch salary payments each month. This way, the accounts information can be completed early on, payments can be approved and the rest can be automated on a large scale.


How long does it typically take for ACH transfers to be processed?

Budget for approximately three working days for an online banking ACH transfer to take place. But it could be as little as the same day, or as much as a few months if the file data is incorrect. That’s largely because ACH transfers happen in batches.

Here’s a breakdown of the timeline for ACH payments:

  • Day 1: You submit the payment and an ACH file is submitted to your bank, which then processes the file on their end and submits this to the ACH network
  • Day 2: The network makes the file available to the customer’s bank, where the funds are debited into an originating depository financial institution (ODFI)
  • Day 3: The funds are collected by your bank, the receiving depository financial institution (RDFI), which is responsible for posting the funds into your account and confirming the accuracy

The terms ODFI and RDFI can refer to any of the banks that support ACH payments (pretty much any bank in the US), and have different responsibilities. ODFIs must ensure the security of the transaction request file, and ensure that ACH returns are kept low (ie. if a customer’s account doesn’t have the required funds to make the payment). Alternatively, RDFIs are responsible for simply receiving the money and posting it into the receiver’s account in a timely manner.

Confusingly, all ODFIs must also take responsibility for RDFIs, but not all receiving banks have to perform originating duties.


What does the term “same-day ACH transfer” refer to?

If you can’t afford to wait for three days to send or receive money, you can still make use of the ACH network to digitize the financial and payment process. But there are some limitations.

Same-day ACH refers to debit and credits, thanks to two additional clearing windows within the network. This is the responsibility of the ODFIs since RDFIs receive payments on the same day anyway.

The two new clearing windows are detailed as follows:

  • ODFI submission by 10.30 am (ET) to settle at 1 pm
  • OFDI submission by 2.45 pm (ET) to settle at 5 pm

Same-day ACH transferring is useful in several business scenarios. Firstly, for same-day payrolls where businesses owe wages or have emergency payment needs. Secondly, in the case of expedited bill pay to suppliers or merchants, where the originating company could receive discounted billing for “early payments”.

As mentioned though, sending money with same-day ACH is not available for every potential payment. Transactions have a limit of $ 1 million, and not all US banks participate. Plus, there’s very little support for international transactions of this nature. In comparison, wire transfers happen in real-time and work for international business transfers.


What is an immediate ACH transfer?

Some third-party providers can facilitate instant ACH transfers. This means that the money is made available before they’re even received by the RDFI. But the ACH network alone doesn’t provide this service.

The most common use case for immediate ACH transfers is peer-to-peer transfers like – Paypal or Venmo. The third-party covers the amount, and the funds transfer is finalized later in a formal ACH process. This could be particularly useful if you need to transfer money at the last minute.

Of course, instantaneous transfers are significantly more limited around the transaction value, which makes them better suited for personal use rather than business use.


What is the difference between ACH and instant payment?

From a business perspective, it’s good to weigh up the pros and cons of each payment type so that you can run as efficiently as possible. So, here are the main differences between ACH and instant payments:

ACH payment Instant payment
Takes a few days to settle Settled immediately
Low fees ($0.25 per transfer) Costly to achieve (approx $25 per transfer)
Best for US-to-US accounts Best for US to international accounts (or vice versa)
Suits recurring payments Suits one-off payments
Secured through a network and Federal Reserve monitoring Less secure as international standards vary


What are the fraud risks for instant payments?

Unfortunately, since instant payments are not subject to the same rigorous security measures of the ACH network, they bring greater challenges for finance departments, especially in the risk of fraud.

When you opt for the ACH, since all payments are routed through the clearing house, they can be reversed if the details aren’t correct. In fact, the ACH has its own file system to ensure that requests are rejected if the account holder, routing number, or checking account data doesn’t match.

Moreover, the entire ACH transaction network is monitored by the Federal Reserve. This is likely to deter money launderers or those financing terrorists, or committing other financial crimes like fraud.

But instant payments aren’t afforded the same protections, meaning they can leave your accounts payable process exposed to fraud. What’s more, since they work in real-time, instant payments put pressure on the internal authentication process of your company. If your verification is not rigorous enough, fraudsters could target the business and essentially, steal your hard-earned money.

But that’s why Trustpair exists. We authenticate the details of your third parties so that you can verify they are who they say they are. Since the platform works in real-time, it will block any pending payments to merchants and suppliers if the invoice information doesn’t match the banking databases. Working on a domestic and international level, your finance team can focus on getting the job done, instead of worrying about the threat of fraud.

To avoid transfer fraud, Trustpair continuously audits supplier data to detect suspicious activity and control payments before the money is out of your hands. Contact an expert to learn more!

demo request trustpair b2b payment prevention plateform

To sum it up:

Instant ACH payments are made possible by third-party platforms, making funds immediately available without being cleared through the ACH (this happens later). Since instant ACH payments happen in real-time, the risk of fraud is much higher. Protect the business by automatically verifying your recipients’ details for every transaction with Trustpair.


ACH payments take up to three days as they go through a formal process to transfer funds. Oppositely, instant payments allow you to send money to recipients in real-time, making the money available before the transfer is cleared. Neither payment type requires your debit card or credit card details, just those of your bank account.

No, most ACH transfers take around three business days to clear. But same-day ACH is possible (if you send the payment before the settlement window closes), and can get the money to your receiver within one working day.

ACH stands for automated clearing house. It means that bank-to-bank transfers have to be routed electronically through a filing system in order to send and receive the money. This is typically reserved for US bank accounts only.

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