The Automated Clearing House (ACH) is a system that businesses and financial institutions use for electronic funds transfer (EFT) and the clearing of electronic payments between participating financial institutions. The system and ACH merchant accounts are governed by the ACH Rules.
Trillions of dollars pass through the ACH system each year. The number of ACH payments reached a record high of almost 29 billion in 2021. That calculates to an average of about 87 ACH payments per U.S. citizen. Even if participation in the ACH system is not absolutely necessary for your business right now, it is certain that it will not be long until businesses that do not offer the option of ACH payments are at a significant disadvantage.
An ACH merchant account is similar to a traditional merchant account that process paper checks. Customers provide the same information as is included on a paper check (account holder’s name, bank routing number, checking account number, and amount of the payment) The information is verified and sent through a system that is compliant with the rules and regulations for ACH, initiating an immediate transfer of funds.
Payments can be accepted from any device that has an Internet connection. Many businesses even use ACH payment processing instead of paper checks and physical credit cards. Integrating a check reader into the ACH processing system can reduce or even eliminate the need to visit a bank and deposit checks manually.
There are many aspects of your business where the ACH system can be useful. Ultimately, any type of payment that can be automated is a candidate. In particular, ACH merchant accounts are often used for e-billing, recurrent billing, online transactions, payments by telephone, and mobile payments.
In addition to being useful in automating and streamlining the payment processing system, an ACH merchant account has a variety of other advantages for your business and your customers. Below are a few of them.
ACH payment processing is less expensive than paper checks, credit cards, or wire transfers. The automation and streamlining enabled by the system can also free up more of your time, providing savings in labor costs.
Mailing paper checks creates the risk that the check will be lost. More importantly, it is vulnerable to theft and fraud, and could even lead to identity theft. With ACH payments, there is no need to mail paper checks. In addition, the customer’s personal information is encrypted in ACH transactions, significantly reducing the risk of fraud and identity theft.
Because much of the process is automated, and because recurring payments can be scheduled easily, customers can avoid worrying about forgetting to send payments. Your business can also avoid worrying about not receiving payments. That peace of mind and more predictable cash flow is certain to benefit both your business and your customers.
Because the time required for mailed checks to arrive is eliminated, and the necessary information is entered into the system at the time of payment, ACH payments can be processed much more quickly, often on the same day. The faster cash flow is a benefit, of course, but the faster processing means that you will know at an earlier stage when a payment has been declined, allowing you to resolve the problem before the situation worsens
When using an ACH merchant account and the ACH system, there are three sets of regulations and operating rules that you should be familiar with. These are the ACH Regulations, the Nacha Operating Rules & Guidelines, and Federal Reserve Banks Operating Circular No. 4.
The main regulations for the ACH system are found in Part 210 of Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) (Federal Government Participation in the Automated Clearing House). A variety of related information and resources is also available on the official website of the Bureau of the Fiscal Service of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Nacha (previously known as the National Automated Clearinghouse Association) operates the ACH Network. It is a non-profit association funded by the financial institutions that utilize the ACH Network. In that capacity, Nacha manages and oversees the rules, regulations, and standards that apply to the transfer of money between accounts at banks and other financial institutions and payment processors. Nacha has compiled those rules, etc., in the Nacha Operating Rules & Guidelines.
Federal Reserve Banks (FRB) Operating Circular No. 4 (Automated Clearing House Items) and its appendices are amended from time to time as necessary to reflect changes in the rules that govern the clearing and settlement of ACH credits and debits.
Together, the ACH Regulations, the Nacha Operating Rules & Guidelines, and Federal Reserve Banks Operating Circular No. 4 establish the way that the ACH system functions and the criteria for compliance. Although it is not necessary to have a deep and detailed understanding of the contents, it’s a good idea to have a general knowledge of the basics and main points.
Using an ACH merchant account can be of particular benefit to high-risk businesses. The added layer of security and other aspects of the system not only reduce your vulnerability to fraud, but they can also help reduce the number chargebacks. Talk to your high-risk payment processor about whether or not an ACH merchant account is what you need.
Our team at Zen Payments would be happy to speak with you and answer any questions, so please don’t hesitate to contact us.