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What is an Instant ACH Transfer?

Chris Hooper
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Last editedMay 20222 min read

When you transfer money from one bank account to another within the United States, the transaction will be processed via the ACH, or Automated Clearing House, network. If you need to access payments quickly, you might be wondering if there’s an instant ACH transfer online. Currently, there isn’t an instant ACH transfer solution available through all banks, but there are ways to expedite your transfer. Here’s what you need to know about instant transfers.

What is an ACH transfer?

An ACH transfer or ACH payment is any electronic payment transmitted from one bank account to another. These payments are made using the ACH network rather than card networks like Mastercard or Visa. One thing to note is that ACH payments only apply within the US, so if you need to send an international bank transfer, you’ll need to select another method.

There are two main types of ACH transfers:

  • Direct Deposits include payments sent from governments or businesses to consumers or employees. This includes things like government benefits, tax refunds, or payroll.

  • Direct Payments are used by individuals to make a payment for goods or services.

What are standard ACH transfer times?

If you want to send money from your bank account to another to make a payment, how long does the process take? Standard ACH transactions typically take at least three working days. This is impacted by the time of day that the ACH request is sent to the bank, along with a variety of external factors.

When an ACH transfer request is submitted, it’s added together to a larger batch of files which are processed at intervals throughout the day. It’s also important to note that ACH transfer processing only takes place during business days. If you send a bank transfer on a Friday, you’ll need to factor in the weekend days as well as the usual three-day processing time.

What is a same day ACH transfer?

Although standard ACH transfer times can take three to five days for full processing, it’s possible to pay for a same day service. Same or next day ACH transfers are processed on a per request basis by the bank. You can expect to pay a slightly higher fee for the expedited processing, but it allows your recipient to access their funds more rapidly. While not quite the same as real-time instant ACH transfers, same day processing comes close.

What is an immediate ACH transfer?

The ACH network makes it difficult to achieve truly instant transfers, though same day processing closes the gap. However, you do have additional instant transfer methods to choose from.

  • The RTP network from The Clearing House is a real-time payments platform launched in 2017. It was the first new payments system established in the U.S. in 40 years. As the growth of the RTP network continues, the number of financial institutions taking advantage of real-time payments has increased too. The Clearing House's RTP network delivers real-time payments for numerous use cases, including B2B and P2P real-time transactions, payroll, and Request for Pay (RfP).

  • Companies like Western Union offer wire transfer services between US bank accounts. These can cost anywhere from $20 to $30 as a standard fee, so shouldn’t typically be used for everyday transfer services. For those times when you need rapid settlement, they’re always an option.

  • Another option is to rely on instant transfer apps like Zelle and Venmo. These peer-to-peer apps work like immediate ACH transfers, letting you transfer money from your bank account to another account in minutes. The transfer is instantaneous via the app, and then formalized later using ACH processing. This is what many people mean when they talk about an instant ACH transfer online. However, to use these apps you’ll need to register your account details first.

The options for truly immediate ACH transfers might be limited, but open banking is creating new opportunities for faster payment methods. If your US-based business collects payments from the UK, you can use Instant Bank Pay from GoCardless to enable bank-to-bank transfers in real time. This tool uses the power of open banking to instantly confirm payments, saving time in comparison to domestic ACH transfers.

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